Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, and no icon was more associated with the late monarch than the humble corgi. The corgi in mourning became one of the dominant pop culture images of the queen’s death last September. But now the queen’s last pets, Muick and Sandy, are enjoying their retirement in obscurity, shacked up with the disgraced Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Fergie. (The late queen did not actually intend, as a runaway internet joke suggested, for the dogs to be killed upon her death.) With Charles III’s coronation, British retailers tried to recapture the Corgi-mania of last year’s Platinum Jubilee, when it was possible to buy corgi-themed cakes, beer (aka “corgi juice”), and mincemeat balls.
Two pretenders have emerged to claim the corgis’ crown.
The first candidate is obvious: the namesake of the most recent King Charles, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel (and its much less popular cousin, the King Charles spaniel). King Charles II was famous for his love of little spaniels—the diarist Samuel Pepys reported that in council meetings the king spent most of his time “playing with his dog all the while, or his codpiece, and not minding the business.”
These dogs emerged as icons of Charles’ reign shortly after his death, and their descendants have carried his name ever since. Aldi offers its shoppers a limited-edition series of beers featuring Cavaliers, while restaurant chain Bill’s promised free dog treats “fit for royalty” to any King Charles spaniels who dined with their owners over the coronation weekend. King’s Road in London’s Chelsea hosted a parade of more than 100 Cavalier King Charles spaniels on the day King Charles was crowned.
But it turns out the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is not Charles III’s favorite dog. Enter Beth and Bluebell, Queen Camilla’s Jack Russell terriers. The duo is on message: Beth and Bluebell were rescues who came to Camilla from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, one of the oldest and most famous animal welfare charities in Britain. They serve as a reminder of the couple’s personal values and—perhaps more importantly—Camilla’s charity work, one of the ways she has tried to rehabilitate her image. Camilla herself is harnessing her pets’ potential star power: Observers noticed that Beth and Bluebell were embroidered in gold thread on the front of the gown she wore to the coronation. (According to the BBC, the royals declined to comment on the dogs.) Beth and Bluebell also appeared during the Coronation Concert broadcast on BBC one.
Often when we talk about animals, what we are really talking about is humans, and the human values we think they represent. Jack Russells are perceived as no-nonsense, hardy little dogs, descendants of ratting terriers who provided vermin control and, at one point, entertainment in rat-baiting pits. In a nation that remains obsessed with class (however much it tries to pretend otherwise), Jack Russell terriers have unusually broad appeal across social boundaries. You are as likely to find them snapping at the feet of a pack of Labradors in a lord’s country pile as you are to find them peeking through the net curtains of a widow’s council estate house. The same isn’t necessarily true of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ cocker spaniels, which occasionally appear in their family pictures.
It’s no wonder that some retailers have jumped on the dogs as potential icons of the new king’s reign. Waitrose, the supermarket of choice for well-heeled Brits, has a coronation range featuring Beth and Bluebell—their likenesses festoon the brand’s commemorative biscuit tins, and celebrating subjects could nibble their coronation quiche from paper plates decorated with the two dogs. There was even a succulent planter in the shape of a Jack Russell and a Jewel-the-Jack-Russell cake, each sold in aid of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Cath Kidston, one of Middle England’s lifestyle brands of choice, has hedged its bets: Its commemorative coronation plates came as a pair with two designs, one featuring the late Queen Elizabeth with a corgi, the other King Charles with Beth and Bluebell.
The U.K.’s retailers clearly bet that dog-themed food and commemorative royal memorabilia would win the public’s affection and hard-earned disposable income, as with all the corgi goods. The problem is that Beth and Bluebell as icons of Charles’ reign have been introduced quite late compared with the corgis, which began appearing in photographs of the Princess Elizabeth when she was still a young girl and Pembroke Welsh corgis themselves almost totally unfamiliar to the public. If Prince William wants to get in early on his grandmother’s soft-and-fluffy brand power, he would do well to choose a distinctive-looking but lesser-known dog breed now. (He might consider, for instance, an English setter or another dog from the British Kennel Club’s vulnerable native breeds list.)
The U.K. loves to think of itself as a nation of animal lovers, and rarely passes up an excuse to get animals involved in any important event. I passed a photo shoot for a mock dog coronation in East London a few days before the big day, and last week thousands of voters took their dogs to the polling booths to vote in local elections. Beth and Bluebell’s starring appearance reinforces that the new king shares such a fondness for animals. But more importantly, companion animals have a knack for making the distant and impersonal feel familiar. Just as the corgis gave us a glimpse of the queen’s private life, so Beth and Bluebell help to humanize the king: We can project our love of our own dogs onto people and pets we have never met.