Jumping the broom
A common-law wedding custom’s bristling visual satires
in Changing satire
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The common-law wedding custom of jumping the broom has been illustrated for at least 450 years, sweeping across Europe and the United States. Since the custom was seen to have little religious and legal authority, it became the subject of visual satires by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, William Heath and the Cruikshanks, among others. The custom finds its satirical origins in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the image tradition leapt to its greatest heights in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when it was illustrated in satirical prints that responded to the social and political issues of the day. Jumping the broom was initially used in graphic satires as a shorthand for a clandestine or hasty marriage undertaken by royalty, the elite or the lower classes. By the early nineteenth century, graphic satires had developed a sophisticated visual language, where illustrations of jumping the broom could also stand for an unsuitable contract between two countries, or an objectionable ‘leap’ to a new political role. As the production of satirical prints diminished in England, jumping the broom in the United States was exploited for disturbing purposes for enslaved men and women.

Changing satire

Transformations and continuities in Europe, 1600–1830


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