Now that Downton Abbey is over for the season, I’ve turned to another English family for vicarious pleasure, one that is no stranger to sniffing around a family tree or two (in both the figurative and literal sense). Coming from a long line of kennel clubs, rascals and aristocrats, my bulldogs Boz and Gracie recently regaled me with a few stories of their own—juicy kibbles and bits of pedigrees (or not) from a bygone era—British bulldogs of historical note.
Odelia, the Dowager Countess of Barkley, known for her halting beauty and keen sense of style, brought Boz’s family to prominence as a steadfast and trusted companion to the royal family. Her insights and advice steered many a young prince away from the temptation of impropriety and scandal. Her brother Sir Dudley Osbourne Gainsworth, a poet and scholar, fell on hard times due to his unchecked habit of gaming, and his love of costly tobacco mixes and marrow bones. With his sister’s intervention, he learned to focus his energy on the written word and became a celebrated author and lecturer.
On Gracie’s side of the Atlantic, her too-many-greats-to-note grandfather Broderick “Skippee” Bunkport was making a name for himself as an expert boat builder and yachtsman. His swore never to relinquish the America’s Cup under his watch or under one of his hulls, especially to likes of his arch-rival and distant relation Sir Thomas Lipton.
His revolutionary 90-foot yacht Reliance, the largest gaff-rigged cutter ever built, swept the America’s Cup in three races in 1903. After the race, Skippee married his long-time love Daisy Baker, whom he met in 1899 at the christening of another winning yacht, the Columbia. The two settled in Newport, Rhode Island.
When I asked why had I never heard these stories before, Boz and Gracie remained silent, their sheepish look reminiscent of the times I’ve called them out for a spot on the rug or a missing dinner roll from the table. Now I’m not one to question a storyteller’s veracity, but I may check my computer’s history for visits to Wikipedia or dust its keyboard for paw prints.
Boz and Gracie were gobsmacked that I had not included a photo of them in this post. I could see their point, and obliged by including their favorite indoor portrait, the one that makes them look “well-bred but not snooty.” (Their words not mine.)