On the occasion of their first wedding anniversary, Queen Victoria presented Prince Albert with a portrait of his beloved female greyhound Eos by Sir Edwin Landseer. Eos stands against a rich red tablecloth, her muscles taut. In concert with the tablecloth, she wears a royal red and gold collar and guards her master’s top hat and gloves.
But is the picture really of Eos? Plenty think it is a fairly accurate portrait of Albert himself, the fine lapdog with his gentlemanly accessories to hand. A similar portrait was released last week by the Cambridges on their Instagram account as they revealed the death of their spaniel Lupo. With sand on his nose, Lupo looks straight at the camera, the blue skies of a Norfolk beach behind him. Yet as with Albert, who are we looking at? Lupo, or the Duke of Cambridge? Such is the power of canine portraiture we can elide the monarch and the dog with ease – one huge dog bowl of affection and identification for all.
Like Presidents and Prime Ministers, the Royals need dogs. An axis upon which to convince us of their humanity, to remind us that they’re not all Hanoverian humbugs forbidding true love and ignoring their children. As a symbol of soft – or should that be furry – power, Lupo certainly earned his keep, furnishing hints at the “normal” life of the Cambridges, making us think they’re just like us.
A present from Kate’s brother James Middleton, Lupo neatly joined up the families before the arrival of their three children. No Uncle Gary here, the Middletons are all spaniels and wellies, thank you very much. Photographs of Kate walking the dog in her skinny jeans and Barbour, William cradling his dog after a polo match, or Lupo sitting obediently next to Kate and the infant Prince George are important signals – ones that ensure we hold the Royals in our affective universe. If Instagram is anything to go by, over 300,000 people seemed to agree and Kensington Palace played a blinder. Not to be outdone, James Middleton offered his own lengthy advice on mourning dogs over on his Instagram but it seems unlikely the Cambridges asked him to do so.
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The Windsors are famously doggy, but it’s not all corgis. The Crown’s canine casting budget alone must have run into the millions: labradors next to Princess Anne on the sofa as she waits to hear whether Charles will propose to Diana, pointers and beagles swarming around Balmoral during stalking season, fleets of corgis running after the Ma’am as she steers herself around the corridors of Buck House, a weimaraner lurking under a table at Highgrove after dinner. Peter Morgan may have been hard on The Firm but he kept it country with the doggies, directing them to sit – as we know they all do – on the vast brocade sofas.
Netflix aside, the Royal Family has kept dogs for centuries. And if you have the space as they say, then why not? Poor old Mary Queen of Scots found solace in fleets of pugs, spaniels and Maltese terriers, Charles II had his eponymous King Charles Spaniels immortalized in the Van Dyck portrait and set loose all over Parliament and St James’s Park, Queen Victoria had Dash who seemed to preoccupy her more than anything else upon returning from her coronation, and our Queen goes for the corgis thanks to George VI’s model Dookie.
The young royals clearly follow in the family tradition, although Meghan rather embarrassingly left her rescue beagle Bogart behind in Canada when she packed her bags for Kensington Palace, citing Harry and Bogart’s mutual dislike as the reason. Bogart notwithstanding, the Palace must have briefed the Duchess of Sussex successfully as she swiftly purchased a new Labrador named Pula. We need the Royals to have dogs as much as they need them for companionship in their vast palaces and blacked out Range Rovers. For every picture of a spaniel licking a royal ice cream, the Crown lives to fight another day.