Poignant tale of a king and his ‘naughty, naughty’ dog
PUBLISHED: 11:17 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:58 16 October 2017
Royal Fabergé - part of a new Russia-themed exhibition at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts – explores the story of the famous artist-jewellers and their links with the Royal family. Its curator
Ian Collins tells the tale of an item with a poignant local connection.
When the King’s Irish terrier, Jack, died in 1903, the Duchess of Newcastle gave him a Norfolk terrier. Caesar soon became a favourite – present at the inspection of Fabergé wax models, which included his own likeness in chalcedony, with ruby eyes and a collar in gold and enamel bearing the legend ‘I BELONG TO THE KING’.
As the years advanced, Caesar remained a boisterous puppy. He barked, snapped and ‘worried’ the trousers of gentlemen striving for decorum in the presence of the King. Cue roars of royal laughter. George Stamper, the chauffeur and motor mechanic who took monarch and mutt on long drives in Norfolk and elsewhere, recalled outings on which Caesar would inevitably misbehave.
He said the King would shake his stick at him and say very slowly: “You naughty dog. You naughty, naughty dog.” Caesar would wag his tail and “smile” cheerfully up into this master’s eyes, until His Majesty smiled back in spite of himself.
The wire-haired terrier was taken to France and Germany, and at the Bohemian spa of Marienbad in August 1907 Caesar suddenly fell ill. This prompted such alarm that a vet costing £200 a day was nearly summoned from London, before Vienna supplied a cheaper solution.
The patient recovered and returned to Sandringham to sit for a Fabergé modeller.
Caesar was a wild symbol for his wayward master’s successful reign. The man deemed by his mother constitutionally unfit for kingship had a coronation delayed by near-fatal appendicitis. But he was far more suited to the role of a modern monarch than she had ever been. With the diplomat’s gift of seeing both sides, the King was able to mediate in Liberal–Tory political and constitutional battles. He had been a pall-bearer at the funeral of William Gladstone, the veteran Liberal premier whom Victoria had loathed, and had sought to introduce old-age pensions at his first State Opening of Parliament. All those travels to foreign fleshpots and watering holes had made ‘Edward the Caresser’ the perfect peacemaker. He spoke fluent French and
German; the Entente Cordiale was his initiative, and this Uncle of Europe fully agreed with his wife in wanting closer ties with Russia.
Caesar’s antics were devoured in the press of a dog-loving nation, and indeed across an empire. His portrait featured on popular postcards and on the lid of a children’s board game designed in his honour, in which he played havoc with a scatter of cats. When the King died, Caesar was said to wander the corridors of Buckingham Palace in search of his master. A saga of dogged devotion was perpetuated when the Norfolk terrier, led by a Highlander, walked immediately after the coffin on Alexandra’s instructions – the crowned heads of Europe, including an enraged Kaiser Wilhelm, following on behind. In 1901 Wilhelm’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, had died in his arms. In 1910, after nine years of rising personal and national rivalry, he processed to his uncle’s funeral service with a view of a dog’s bottom. The Kaiser’s emotions had always been deeply conflicted, and his actions erratic. Now, with a supreme sense of self-importance greatly offended, his hatred of Britain hardened.
Bertie’s funeral – with twice the crowd that came out to mourn Victoria – saw an outpouring of public sympathy for his dog. More tribute postcards were printed in huge quantities, and in Germany the Steiff family of toy-makers, inventors of the teddy bear in 1902, caught the mood – and the market – with a model Caesar. A portrait study by Maud Earl, entitled Silent Sorrow, was published in the Illustrated London News a fortnight after the King’s death; and a book, Where’s Master?, purporting to have been penned by Caesar himself, was hurriedly printed – and reprinted. Over more than a score of editions, the volume sold in excess of 100,000 copies and became the runaway best-seller of 1910.
Alix was often said to have loved all dogs. But despite the funereal theatrics she had stage-managed, she may have made an exception of Caesar. When a visiting Margot Asquith, wife of the then Prime Minister, remarked on Caesar’s devotion, the Dowager Queen responded: ‘Horrid little dog! He never went near my poor husband when he was ill!’ Margot then mentioned that her spouse had seen the pet lying at the dead King’s feet. ‘For warmth, my dear,’ Alix replied. Such antipathy may have aided a story that when the dowager was sending key possessions to Bertie’s friends as souvenirs, Caesar was dispatched to Lillie Langtry. In fact, she came to love the King’s favourite dog in the early years of her widowhood and, when he died, in the fateful year of 1914, had him buried in the cemetery for very special pets in the grounds of Marlborough House. And Caesar, in sculpted marble, now sits at the feet of the King on his tomb in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
Sadly, a peacemaker’s legacy is not set in stone. Friendships also foster fiendships. Little more than four years after Bertie’s funeral, the world exploded. As W C Sellar and R J Yeatman joked in 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, published in 1930: ‘Edward VII smoked cigars, was addicted to entente cordials... and invented appendicitis... King Edward’s new policy of peace was very successful and culminated in the Great War to End War.’
This is an edited extract from Ian Collins’ book ‘Fabergé from St Petersburg to Sandringham’, available for £18 at the exhibition and £20 elsewhere.
The Russia Season: Royal Fabergé and Radical Russia is running at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, from today to February 11 2018.
The sister exhibitions are being staged to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution and will contrast art, life and culture in Russia before and after the events of 1917.
Royal Fabergé will explore the glittering saga of the world’s greatest artist-jewellers during the decades preceding the First World War. Radical Russia will show how avant-garde artists – who had scandalised conservative society with outrageous and subversive painting, poetry and theatre – came with revolution to briefly become the State’s officially-approved culture.
The Russia Season admission is £12/ concs £10.50. The venue has 54 free car parking spaces on a first-come, first-served basis.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, 01603 593199, www.scva.ac.uk