What is the significance of the British Bulldog?

The Bulldog is now a national icon, symbolising British pluck, but where does this reputation come from?

What is the significance of the British Bulldog? © Getty Images

There are several breeds of bulldog today, including the small French, the powerful American and the wrinkled British, but the original breed that earned notoriety is now extinct.

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The Old English Bulldog possessed a muscular, stocky body and a vice-like jaw that clamped shut with tremendous force, making it well-suited to the violent sport of bullbaiting.

Its strength, tenacity and willingness to fight larger animals appealed to 18th-century political cartoonists, who began depicting the female figure of Britannia being accompanied by both a lion and Bulldog.

As the phrase ‘British Bulldog spirit’, meaning unrelenting courage, had evolved during the 19th century, plucky Bulldogs soon became a regular fixture in World War I propaganda posters.

But perhaps the most symbolism came when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.

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His jowly face, broad body, and steadfast determination to overcome powerful Nazi forces in World War II made him an almost living embodiment of the heroic pooch.

This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner.