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A quick look at royal dogs

The British love of dogs is, of course, well established, the royal affection for them as faithful companions being no exception to the rule. Corgis officially entered the British Royal Family when George VI, then Duke of York, gave two corgis named Dookie and Jane to his daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1933; Dookie being a name that the dog was given after the Duke of York. The Queen received the gift of the corgi Susan for her eighteenth birthday, and all The Queen’s corgis were descended from Susan, The Queen now being one of the most foremost breeders of Pembroke corgis, having owned at least thirty of the breed since her accession.

Royal dogs have been the repeated subject of drawings, paintings and photographs, even other art forms such as sculpture and jewellery, all of which have attempted to record the affection felt for them. One of these dogs achieved a kind of immortality when it survived its royal master; one of Edward VII’s favourite dogs was his beloved Norfolk terrier Caesar which he was given in 1903 after his Irish terrier Jack died. Caesar was photographed with the King and even the subject of a Faberge commission as a figurine part of a model series in 1907, whose bejewelled collar reads: ‘I belong to the King’, as Caesar‘s collar read, in real life. Caesar famously participated in the funeral procession of King Edward VII in 1910 and was later sculpted to guard the foot of the King’s tomb in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Caesar’s grave in the grounds of Marlborough House records that he was the ‘King’s faithful and constant companion until death’. Caesar himself died on 18 April 1914, and his grave contains a photograph of him under his name.

Edward VII’s consort Queen Alexandra owned Japanese chins and Pekingese as well as borzoi dogs, which she bred. One of these was a gift from Tsar Alexander III, her brother-in-law, named Vassilka, of whom a Faberge model was also made in 1907. Queen Alexandra established the Royal Pet Cemetery in the grounds at Marlborough House.

Dogs were, of course, the loyal companions and guardians of youth – the young King Edward VI was sleeping with his spaniel when the fateful attempt was made to abduct him from Hampton Court Palace in 1549. Mary, Queen of Scots’ Skye terrier, which was her favourite pet, was removed by force from the scaffold after the execution having smuggled itself into her skirts. It later had to be washed because it had become stained with the blood of its royal mistress.

Dogs could also be official gifts – Henry VIII gave dogs to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as well as to the French king. On a more personal note, he presented his teenage fifth wife Katherine Howard with two lap-dogs at New Year 1541, which Katherine then gave on instead to Henry VIII’s fourth queen, the recently divorced Anne of Cleves.

In Henry VIII’s reign, there was a department of the Royal Household named simply, The Kennels, with outlets of the unit at the royal palaces themselves, notably at Greenwich. In addition to the dogs that formed the hunting packs of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VIII adored his domestic dogs, mainly his beagles, spaniels and greyhounds, which wore collars to mark them out as dogs of the King. Henry VIII owned two dogs, called Cut and Ball, who must have been particular favourites because he outlaid enormous sums of money to find them when they were lost (Henry VIII: King and Court, Alison Weir, 31).

There were plenty of examples on the continent – Louis XIV adored his ‘sporting dogs’ Bonne, Nonne and Ponne so much that he had them painted. They even had their own feeding room known as the Cabinets des Chiens, where they were fed by Louis XIV, with specially made royal biscuits. His sister-in-law, the English Princess Henriette-Anne – a daughter of King Charles I – loved her spaniel Mimi (a gift from Charles II) so much that she was painted with her and even danced, holding her. Prussia’s Frederick II ‘The Great’ loved his famous greyhounds so much that he requested to be buried on the terrace close to them at his palace of Sanssouci at Potsdam. He and his sister Wilhelmine, Margravine of Bayreuth even conducted a brief make-believe correspondence between his greyhound Biche and her lap-dog, Folichon. Negotiations were later made through the means of Austrian diplomacy, to try to reunite the future Queen Marie Antoinette with her favourite pug Mops, although officially she was meant to have parted with everything Austrian at her hand-over ceremony when she was transformed into French Dauphine.

A mastiff was included in portraits by Van Dyck of the family of Charles I. The King Charles spaniel is particularly well known for its royal association with King Charles II. The beloved spaniel Joy, which belonged to the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, heir to the Romanov dynasty, survived the murder of the Russian Imperial Family at Ekaterinburg in Siberia on 16/17 July 1918. Joy was later buried in the garden at Sefton Lawn, Windsor, following an extraordinary journey across Russia, under a tombstone with the simple words, ‘Here lies Joy’. The area is now believed to have been concreted over.

Queen Victoria’s Scottish sheepdog Noble, was given a grave of his own on the grounds of Balmoral. A sculpture of the dog by the eminent sculptor Sir Edgar Boehm still marks the site, Queen Victoria having made detailed instructions for the burial of what was a particularly beloved pet, who had used to stand guard over her gloves (Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert, 496). There is a cemetery for corgis on the estate at Sandringham, the British royal residence in Norfolk.

Queen Victoria’s beloved King Charles spaniel Dash whom she had been given in 1833 – was the adored pet of her childhood, and she was painted with him holding her gloves by Sir George Hayter. Dash was also painted by Sir Edwin Landseer and references to him fill Princess Victoria’s journal, where she writes his name normally in capital letters. Princess Victoria would walk Dash on Hampstead Heath before she became Queen. When Dash died, he was buried with an epitaph on his grave at Windsor reading: ‘Here lies DASH, the favourite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, in his 10th year. His attachment was without selfishness, His playfulness without malice, His fidelity without deceit. READER, if you would live beloved and die regretted, profit by the example of DASH’.

Queen Victoria adored her dogs and was later much photographed with Turi, a Spitz/Pomeranian she acquired in 1893 and who she even took out with her on drives in her carriage. Turi was also painted – a picture which hangs today in the Durbar Corridor at Osborne House. Poignantly, it was Turi that the dying Queen Victoria asked for at Osborne in January 1901.

Queen Victoria got her first Pomeranian in Italy in 1888, and Pomeranians would become one of the Queen’s favourite breeds, as she owned up to thirty-five of them at one point. Some appeared in the first dog show at Crufts in 1891. Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound Eos was brought over with the Prince from Germany and featured in early family portraits; Sir Edwin Landseer also painted Eos separately, placing the dog next to Prince Albert’s top hat and gloves. A sculpture of Eos can still be seen on the terrace at Osborne House. Queen Victoria owned among other dogs kept at Windsor, a white greyhound named Swan and a further greyhound called Nero. In addition to Noble, Queen Victoria also owned a collie called Sharp, a deerhound called Hector and a favourite dachshund, named Boy, in the 1860s. The grave of Lambkin, a dog that belonged to Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, can be found on the island in the middle of the lake at Frogmore, the retreat of the Royal Family in Windsor Great Park.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received its royal stamp of approval from Queen Victoria in 1840, and The Queen is its current patron. Queen Victoria, who did much with Prince Albert to popularise dogs as domestic pets in the nineteenth century, became Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home’s first patron in 1885 after having donated the sum of £10 to the Home. It was visited by the future Edward VII as Prince of Wales in 1879. Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, famously became the first member of the British Royal Family to re-home a dog from Battersea – he adopted a fox terrier called Skippy in 1884.

The Late Queen Elizabeth II was the patron of Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home from 1956 until 2016, after which the patronage was taken over by the then Duchess of Cornwall. According to the Battersea, Queen Camilla also owns rehomed Battersea dogs – two Jack Russell terriers named Bluebell and Beth.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.