Friday Cartoon: “On the Brain – The Duke of Cambridge ” – Phil May (1891)


Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, Grandson of King George III, was “Commander-in-Chief of the Forces”, head of the British Army, for 39 years, from 1856 to 1895 – the height of the British Empire. A lifelong soldier, he fought in the Crimean War in 1854, and was present at the battles of Alma, Inkerman, and Balaclava – the scene of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade.

As commander-in-chief, his legacy appears to have been rather a mixed one. Keenly interested in the welfare of his soldiers, technological advances in warfare, and the need to protect the colonies, he was nevertheless highly resistant to enacting the kind of wider doctrinal modernisation being undertaken by the other European Great Powers.

A one time potential suitor to his cousin, Princess Victoria, the Prince was a weak man when it came to women, entertaining a series of wives and mistresses over the course of his long life. Interestingly, however, in contravention of social convention, and indeed the law at the time, he chose to marry a commoner, a Ms Sarah Fairbrother, an actress.

While the symbolism of the toy-soldiers is obvious in May’s cartoon, I have to admit I am at something of a loss when it comes to the other object depicted as being “On the Brain” of the Duke of Cambridge. It appears to be an umbrella, but if anyone has any idea about what it’s meant to represent I’d really love to know.

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