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Queen Victoria’s dogs

Queen Victoria’s love of dogs provided the inspiration for royal sculpture and painting, as well, of course, the Queen’s journal entries. References to her dogs abound throughout. Interestingly, her life may in one way, be charted through her dogs, because they were with her from her youth until literally the very end. It was a dog that was with her as a young princess at Kensington and a dog that she asked for in her bedroom as she was dying at Osborne, in 1901. I wonder then, what light this love of dogs also might help to shed on our understanding of Queen Victoria. The amount of artwork connected with Queen Victoria in the Royal Collection which contains dogs proves that she valued them highly and felt the need to record her affection for them, both in life and in death.

Metaphorically, dogs also may have constituted something far more for the Queen than just royal pets; tellingly, it was her beloved King Charles spaniel Dash, who was the cherished companion of her lonely childhood at Kensington Palace. We might also suppose that it again appealed to the Queen’s need to be protected, in which might be read a desire which even probably pre-dated her marriage to Prince Albert; the fatherless child, the ‘soldier’s daughter’, of the Duke of Kent, the father she had never known, who died in 1820. Canine fealty would also have been something which the Queen would have surely valued, given the nature of royalty and the need for trusted servants.

Dogs also became the subject of gifts, of paintings acquired or commissioned by the Queen or Prince Albert – once again, they were part of the broader picture of royal, family life. Certainly, the Queen and Prince did a great deal to popularise them as pets in the domestic homes of England. An example of this may be seen in the successful painting made by Sir Edwin Landseer: ‘Windsor Castle in Modern Times: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Victoria, Princess Royal’, which depicts the toddler Princess Royal – future Crown Princess of Prussia and German Empress – with her parents, with dead game birds at the feet of a scarlet-booted Prince Albert, with two small dogs and Eos, the Prince’s beloved German greyhound whom he had brought over with him from Coburg, on his marriage, in 1840.

The future Queen Victoria was given her adored King Charles spaniel Dash in 1833, the year after she began the first volume of her journal, the great diary which she would keep up until the last two weeks of her life. His name is often a mini ‘event’ in the diary entry, for it appears on occasions in capital letters, as the young Victoria would often employ to denote a special emotional emphasis. Dash was, however, not the first King Charles spaniel, of course, to be royal. The connection with Queen Victoria’s Stuart forebear, King Charles II (whom she found an attractive ancestor regarding personality), is well known; the spaniel features in several of the portraits of the family of King Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Landseer was commissioned by the Queen to paint Dash and also Eos. The royal dogs perhaps underlining the marriage of the Queen and the Prince, given the symbolic importance that each dog had respectively in their individual lives, similarly to how the dogs of our partners and we might be put together as ‘pairs’.

Queen Victoria owned a variety of dogs including dachshunds, collies and pugs and there were up to about a hundred dogs housed in the royal kennels, which were situated in Windsor Great Park. The growth of photography as a documentary art form enabled the development of this process to also record these dogs as portraits previously also had done in the Royal Collection – Queen Victoria commissioned the photographer William Bainbridge to repeatedly photograph the dogs in her Windsor kennels, even until the end of her reign. The Queen greatly prized her dogs and promoted their care in the royal kennels – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received its royal stamp of approval from Queen Victoria in 1840; the Queen became the first patron of the Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home in 1885. A dachshund is at Queen Victoria’s feet in one of the great family group photographs taken at the gathering at Coburg in 1894. Dogs featured in the large painting ‘Sorrow’ by Sir Edwin Landseer, showing the widowed Queen at Osborne, attended to by her Highland ghillie, John Brown.

Dash was painted with the young Princess Victoria holding her gloves by Sir George Hayter. 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’. Even the inscription on his grave echoes the journal entries of her favourite King Charles spaniel, a typical one being: ‘DEAR SWEET LITTLE DASH’ (Quoted in Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, 43). Perhaps the fact that he was buried in Windsor Great Park was also significant – where King George IV had once had his menagerie at Sandpit Gate, which she had visited as a child.

The Queen’s beloved collie ‘Noble’ was sculpted in his own right. There is a sculpture of him at Osborne, on the ground floor. He even featured in the letters written by Queen Victoria to Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, one of her favourite grandchildren. These mentions of a treasured dog lend wonderful domestic detail to the Queen’s letters. We read a first mention of him in this particular correspondence – edited by the author Richard Hough – dated 11 June 1875: ‘Noble is quite well again...’ (Quoted in Richard Hough, Advice to a Granddaughter, 4). Somewhat charmingly, she describes Noble’s offspring to Princess Victoria in a letter from July 1880 which demonstrates perhaps more than any other letter, the Queen’s deep interest in her dogs: ‘I wish you cd [could] both see the 3 lovely Collie puppies wh [which] arrived here today – Noble’s gd children [grandchildren] born at B. [Buckingham] Palace gardens – Such loves – very like what Collie & her brother were when we saw them at Loch Callater last October. These are 7 weeks old just a day younger than Floe’s [sic – misspelling for Flo, the Queen’s terrier] at the Shaw Farm but much bigger – black & tan. Ella would be in extacies [ecstasies] over them…’ (Quoted in Ibid, pp. 23-24). The tone is warm and fond, as if the Queen were discussing a grandchild; in a way, her canine family was another enormous family, at which she was the centre.

This correspondence features Noble again in 1884: ‘Dear beautiful Noble has been very poorly for the last few days with an upset stomach & incapacity of eating tho’ he has eaten again – but as he is old, it made me very anxious & still does. He is so dear & good & sensible – I know how you all loved him – & then dear Brown [her Highland ghillie, John Brown] was so fond of him!’ (Quoted in Ibid, 59).

When Noble died, the Queen left instructions for how the Scottish sheepdog which she loved should be buried: ‘I wish the grave to be bricked. The dear dog to be wrapped up in the box lined with lead and charcoal, placed in it… I will then tell Mr Profeit to write to Boehm [Sir Edgar Boehm – sculptor] to get a repetition of his statue of the dear Dog in bronze to be placed over the grave…’ (Quoted in Ibid, 496). So distressed was the Queen that she could not even choose the site of the dog’s grave. These details were given to her celebrated doctor, Sir James Reid, with orders that the means should be used which were employed to bury the ‘Prince’s beloved old dog’ [presumably Eos]; Reid recorded that she was ‘much upset and cried a great deal…’ (Ibid).

Noble died at Balmoral; his grave is in the grounds among trees, marked by a fine sculpture as detailed in the Queen’s letter regarding Sir Edgar Boehm. It similarly bore an inscription, which – typically for the Queen – described not only his name but the qualities which had endeared him to her. Like Dash had once been painted with her gloves, Noble had even guarded the Queen’s gloves (Ibid, 496). Eos was also painted next to Prince Albert’s top hat and gloves.

Noble’s death occurred in the aftermath of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887. Queen Victoria was deeply distressed and sent two photographs of the dog to her granddaughter, Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, with the commentary: ‘It is indeed a grievous loss to me of a real friend whom I miss terribly’. (Quoted in Ibid, 91).

Of particular mention were other dogs documented in art forms, such as a white greyhound named Swan and a greyhound called Nero. There was another collie called Sharp, a deerhound called Hector and a dachshund, named Boy. Her Pekingese called Looty was a political gift, given to the Queen in the aftermath of the Second Opium War; Swan was the subject of a skilled watercolour by the Queen herself; Looty also inevitably, found his respective artist, in Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl.

The Queen’s first Pomeranian dog was acquired by her in Italy in 1888. She seems to have really grown to love this breed, owning up to thirty-five at one point in her life; several of these appeared at the dog show at Crufts in 1891. One particular dog, a Spitz/Pomeranian named ‘Turi’ was a special companion to the Queen. He even was allowed to share her carriage and appears on her lap in photographs. The Queen acquired him in 1893, and he was with her – literally to the end. There is a picture of him in one of the corridors at Osborne House. When the Queen lay dying at Osborne in 1901, it was ‘Turi’ that she wanted: ‘Then may I have Turi?’ (Hibbert, 493). The dog which had gone out with her on so many outings in her carriage was put on her bed but jumped off; he seems though to have remained in the room when his royal mistress died, at half-past six at night on 22 January 1901.

I have so far not managed to find out what became of Turi. Perhaps he returned to Windsor with the Queen’s body. He did not, like Caesar, the beloved Norfolk terrier of her son, Edward VII when he died in 1910, follow movingly in the funeral procession of Queen Victoria, or feature like Caesar did, like a sculpture on the sarcophagus of his royal master at St George’s Chapel, guarding the tomb of the dead King.

The Queen’s dogs do help to tell her story because they allow us another insight into her personality. She expressed her love for them in painting, sculpture and her own words. She rewarded her loyal and faithful servants with her affection, and this certainly appears also to have been the case with her dogs.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018
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.