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Map of Lilliput (Hermann Moll, before 1726)
Gulliver surrounded by citizens of Lilliput.

Lilliput and Blefuscu are two fictional island nations that appear in the first part of the 1726 novel Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. The two islands are neighbors in the South Indian Oceanmarker, separated by a channel eight hundred yards wide. Both are inhabited by tiny people who are "not six inches high", i.e., about one-twelfth the height of ordinary human beings. Both kingdoms are "empires", i.e. realms ruled by a self-styled emperor. The capital of Lilliput is Mildendo.

History and politics

Lilliput and Blefuscu were intended as, and understood to be, satirical portraits of the kingdom of Great Britainmarker and the kingdom of Francemarker, respectively, as they were in the early 18th century. Only the internal politics of Lilliput are described in detail; these are parodies of British politics, in which the great central issues of the day are belittled and reduced to unimportance.

For instance, the two major political parties of the day were the Whigs and the Tories. The Tories are parodied as the Tramecksan or "High-Heels" (due to their adhesion to the high church party of the Church of England, and their exalted views of royal supremacy), while the Whigs are represented as the Slamecksan or "Low-Heels" (the Whigs inclined toward low church views, and believed in parliamentary supremacy). These issues, generally considered to be of fundamental importance to the constitution of Great Britain, are reduced by Swift to a difference in fashions.

The Emperor of Lilliput is described as a partisan of the Low-Heels, just as King George I employed only Whigs in his administration; the Emperor's heir is described as having "one of his heels higher than the other", which describes the encouragement by the Prince of Wales (the future George II) of the political opposition during his father's life; once he ascended the throne, however, George II was as staunch a favorer of the Whigs as his father had been.

The novel further describes an intra-Lilliputian quarrel which involved a quarrel over the practice of breaking eggs. Formerly, in Lilliput, all eggs were broken on the larger end; but a few generations in the past, an Emperor of Lilliput had decreed that all eggs be broken on the smaller end. The differences between Big-Endians (those who broke their eggs at the larger end) and Little-Endians had given rise to "six rebellions... wherein one Emperor lost his life, and another his crown".

The Big-Endian/Little-Endian controversy reflects, in a much simplified form, British quarrels over religion. England had been, less than 200 years previously, a Catholic ("Big-Endian") country; but a series of reforms beginning in the 1530s under King Henry VIII (ruled 1509-1547), Edward VI (1547-1553), and Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) had converted most of the country to Protestantism ("Little-Endianism"), in the episcopalian form of the Church of England. At the same time, revolution and reform in Scotland (1560) had also converted that country to Presbyterian Protestantism, which led to fresh difficulties when England and Scotland were united under one ruler, James I (1603-1625).

Religiously-inspired revolts and rebellions followed, in which, indeed, one king, Charles I (1625-1649) lost his life, and his son James II lost his crown and fled to France (1685-1688). Some of these conflicts were between Protestants and Catholics; others were between different branches of Protestantism. Swift does not clearly distinguish between these different kinds of religious strife.

Swift has his Lilliputian informant blame the "civil commotions" on the propaganda of the Emperor of Blefuscu, i.e. the King of France; this primarily reflects the encouragement given by King Louis XIV of France to James II in pursuit of his policies to advance the toleration of Catholicism in Great Britain. He adds that "when (the commotions) were quelled, the (Big-Endian) exiles always fled for refuge to that empire (Blefuscu/France)". This partially reflects the exile of King Charles II on the Continent (in France, Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, and the Dutch Republic) from 1651 to 1660, but more particularly the exile of the Catholic King James II from 1688-1701. James II was dead by the time Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels, but his heir James Francis Edward Stuart, also Catholic, maintained his pretensions to the British throne from a court in France (primarily at Saint-Germain-en-Laye) until 1717, and both Jameses were regarded as a serious threat to the stability of the British monarchy until the end of the reign of George II. The court of the Pretender attracted those Jacobites, and their Tory sympathizers, whose political activity precluded them staying safely in Great Britain; notable among them was Swift's friend, the Anglican Bishop of Rochester Francis Atterbury, who was exiled to France in 1722.

Swift's Lilliputian claims that the machinations of "Big-Endian exiles" at the court of the Emperor of Blefuscu have brought about a continuous war between Lilliput and Blefuscu for "six and thirty moons". This is an allusion to the wars fought under King William III and Queen Anne against France under Louis XIV, the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). In both cases, the claims of the exiled House of Stuart were marginal to other causes of war, but were an important propaganda point in Great Britain itself, as both James II and James Francis Edward were accused of allying with foreigners to force Catholicism on the British people.

In the novel, Gulliver washes up on the shore of Lilliput and is captured by the inhabitants while asleep. He offers his services to the Emperor of Lilliput in his war against Blefuscu, and succeeds in capturing the (one-twelfth sized) Blefuscudian fleet. Despite a triumphant welcome, he soon finds himself at odds with the Emperor of Lilliput, as he declines to conquer the rest of Blefuscu for him and to force the Blefuscudians to adopt Little-Endianism.

This position of Gulliver's reflects the decision of the Tory government of to withdraw from the War of the Spanish Succession, despite the opposition of Britain's allies, on the grounds that the important objects of the war had been met, and that the larger claims which Whig members of Parliament claimed on behalf of Britain were excessive. This withdrawal was seen by the Whigs as a betrayal of British interests; Swift, a Tory, is here engaged in an apology on behalf of the policy.

Gulliver is, after further adventures, condemned as a traitor by the Council of Lilliput, and condemned to be blinded; he escapes his punishment by fleeing to Blefuscu. This condemnation parallels that issued to the chief ministers of the Tory government that had made peace with France, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, who was impeached and imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker from 1715 to 1717; and Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, who, after his political fall, received vague threats of capital punishment and fled to France in 1715, where he remained until 1723.

Other references

  • Lilliput is reputedly named after the real area of Lilliput on the shores of Lough Ennell in Dysart, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in Ireland. Swift was a regular visitor to the Rochfort family at Gaulstown House. It's said that it was when the Dean looked across the expanse of Lough Ennell one day and saw the tiny human figures on the opposite shore of the lake that he conceived the idea of the Lilliputians featured in Gulliver's Travels. There is also an early Christian association - St. Patrick’s sister, Lupita is known to the Lilliput area, which may recall her name.

  • Lilliput and Blefuscu were the names used for Britain and France, respectively, in a series of semi-fictional transcripts (with mutated names of people and places) of debates in the British Parliament. This series was written by William Guthrie, Samuel Johnson, and John Hawkesworth, and was printed in Edward Cave's periodical The Gentleman's Magazine from 1738 to 1746.

  • The word lilliputian has become a common adjective meaning "very small in size".

  • The use of the terms "Big-Endian" and "Little-Endian" in the story is the source of the computing term endianness.

  • Neela Mahendra, the love interest in Salman Rushdie's novel Fury, is an "Indo-Lilly", a member of the Indian Diaspora from the politically unstable country of Lilliput-and-Blefuscu.

See also


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