The funeral of Edward VII in May 1910 attracted the largest gathering there had ever been, or ever would be, of European royalty.
But the mourner walking in pride of place directly behind the coffin was not one of the nine kings in attendance but a wire fox terrier called Caesar, Edward’s devoted four-legged friend.
Edward’s volatile nephew, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, was said to have considered playing second fiddle to a dog to be an unforgivable affront. But most of those who watched or read about Caesar’s dignified final journey with his master were enormously moved.
And when a short book was published soon afterwards, purportedly written by 12-year-old Caesar himself, it quickly became a bestseller.
Entitled Where’s Master?, it chronicled the dog’s sadness and loneliness at not being able to find the King in the immediate aftermath of his death, and came to represent a nation’s grief at the loss of a hugely popular monarch.
In similar fashion, Where’s Ma’am? begins: ‘Where is she? I’ve been looking for ages now and I can’t find her anywhere. She’s not reading in the library, she’s not sitting at her desk or resting on the squishy green sofa that we share in the afternoons when we’re both tired’
The actual author remained anonymous. In fact, his name was Ernest Hodder-Williams, and he ran one of Edwardian England’s mightiest publishing houses, Hodder & Stoughton.
Now, his great-great-nephew, Jamie Hodder-Williams, inspired by the charm and spectacular success of Ernest’s story 112 years ago, is about to publish Where’s Ma’am?, by Muick (pronounced Mick).
Muick was one of the Queen’s two corgis (the other being Sandy) which were held on leads by a pair of footmen and sat obediently watching as the hearse carrying her coffin passed underneath Windsor Castle’s Round Tower. It was a sight to melt the stoniest of hearts.
The parallels between the two books, even beyond the strikingly similar covers, are deliberate. The 1910 book began: ‘Where’s Master? I’ve been hunting for him high and low for days. I can’t find Master anywhere, and I’m so lonely.’
In similar fashion, Where’s Ma’am? begins: ‘Where is she? I’ve been looking for ages now and I can’t find her anywhere. She’s not reading in the library, she’s not sitting at her desk or resting on the squishy green sofa that we share in the afternoons when we’re both tired.’
There are further similarities in the old-fashioned font and large typeface, but Where’s Ma’am? reflects decidedly modern attitudes to death and bereavement.
The funeral of Edward VII in May 1910 attracted the largest gathering there had ever been, or ever would be, of European royalty. But the mourner walking in pride of place directly behind the coffin was not one of the nine kings in attendance but a wire fox terrier called Caesar, Edward’s devoted four-legged friend
‘It’s about the dog coping with his loss, and coming through the grief, helped by talking to Emma, the Queen’s pony,’ explains Jamie, who was the long-standing CEO of Hodder & Stoughton until earlier this year, when he left to set up Bedford Square Publishers.
Where’s Ma’am?, his company’s first publication, is ghostwritten, very sweetly, by Helen Coyle, with delightful illustrations by Madeleine Floyd, but the idea came — at the height of this summer’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations — from Jamie himself.
‘I was on holiday with my family. There was a lot of royalty in the air and so we talked about that first book, and how it might be interesting, when the time came, to recreate its spirit.’
Jamie never knew his great-great uncle, who died in 1941, but it’s safe to assume that Ernest, looking down, would be tickled by a family endeavour ignited by what, at first, was a bit of whimsy.
Ernest Hodder-Williams was at the King’s funeral, and like everyone else (except the Kaiser), was enormously touched by the sight of Caesar leading the mourners. But Ernest caught a cold that day, which turned into flu. Confined to bed, he decided to invent a story from Caesar’s point of view.
He wrote it mainly to amuse his wife, Ethel. She was fond of saying ‘Where’s master?’ to their family dog. So that was what he called it, putting into Caesar’s mouth a poignant memory of ‘marching in front of the kings’ at the funeral. ‘I’ve no pedigree,’ added the canine narrator. ‘I’m not high-born. But I loved him, and I was faithful to him, and he didn’t care how lowly or humble man or beast might be as long as they did their best and were faithful.’
There are further similarities in the old-fashioned font and large typeface, but Where’s Ma’am? reflects decidedly modern attitudes to death and bereavement
When Ernest recovered, he had just four copies printed of Where’s Master? He gave one to his wife (who wept), two to friends, and had the fourth sent to Buckingham Palace, with a note asking if the King’s widow, Queen Alexandra, would like to read it.
A stern message came back, commanding the author to reveal his source. A gardener at Sandringham was suspected of leaking information about the late sovereign’s routine, but Ernest insisted there had been no informant.
Still, the book contained references that really might have been recorded by Caesar, as well as a recollection of a trip to Biarritz which allowed Caesar to have another sharp yap at Anglo-French relations — and Ernest to take a playful dig at the English mindset of the time.
Baring his teeth at a French poodle, he is admonished. ‘What a typical Englishman you are, Caesar,’ says the King, affectionately. ‘You can’t meet a foreigner without beginning to growl and strut about as if the whole world had been created just for you.’
The Palace may not at first have liked Where’s Master?, but readers loved its sentimentality. Ernest’s friends encouraged him to give it a wider circulation, so he had another 500 copies printed, which sold out practically overnight. By Christmas 1910, the book had reached its 15th edition; more than 150,000 copies had been sold.
Noting its immense popularity, the Palace got over whatever umbrage there may initially have been. In September 1910, Ernest received a letter from Queen Alexandra’s private secretary, Charlotte Knollys, thanking him for stimulating public interest and assuring him that he had evoked Caesar’s grief with admirable accuracy.
On returning to Sandringham (the late King’s favourite residence), the characterful little terrier had indeed roamed the big house, looking forlornly for his royal master.
It is said that after the King’s death, his long-time mistress Alice Keppel (great-grandmother of Camilla, the Queen Consort) asked Queen Alexandra what would become of Caesar.
Alexandra, by all accounts, had not been the dog’s greatest fan, but he stayed in the Royal Household — wearing his collar inscribed ‘I am Caesar. I belong to the King’ — until his own death in April 1914. There is still a figurine of him, commissioned by Edward from the House of Faberge, in the Royal Collection.
As for Muick, named by the Queen after Loch Muick on the Balmoral estate, he was a gift from Prince Andrew, reportedly intended to keep her company when Prince Philip was hospitalised in February last year.
He now lives at Royal Lodge with Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York, who has talked about the ‘great honour’ of giving a home to Muick and Sandy, and integrating them with the five Norfolk terriers they already had.
‘The carpet moves as I move,’ Sarah has said, ‘but I’ve got used to it now.’
We have to assume that Muick has got used to life without his late mistress. But Where’s Ma’am? will strike a chord with dog-lovers everywhere. And with the U.S. rights already sold to HarperCollins, the early signs are that it might even do as well for Jamie Hodder-Williams as Where’s Master?, more than a century ago, did for his great-great-uncle Ernest.
Where’s Ma’am is published by Bedford Square Publishers on November 24 at £9.99.