Royal Canines

Royal Dog

If you've spent any time at all studying the British Royal Family, you probably know they've been big fans of dogs for centuries. In fact, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has a gallery of portraits showing royals and their dogs as far back as 1635, when two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were painted into a portrait called "The Three Eldest Children of Charles I" by Sir Anthony Van Dyck.

King Charles II is known to have bred spaniels starting as early as the 1660s. One of his legacies is the breed now known as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He was also responsible for a law that allowed dogs into any public place. The first Duke of Marlborough further refined the royal line of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in the mid-18th Century, establishing the Blenheim line.

The Victorian Era

After Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married in 1840, a painting known as "Windsor Castle in Modern Times" was commissioned. Artist Sir Edwin Landseer included not only the Queen and Prince, but also the infant Victoria, known as the Princess Royal, and four of the family's dogs: Eos, Islay, Cairnach, and Dandie Dinmont.

None of the dogs in the portrait appears to be a Collie, but Queen Victoria is said to have been particularly attached to Noble, a Collie who died at Balmoral in 1887. His gravestone was inscribed,

"Noble by name by nature noble too
Faithful companion sympathetic true
His remains are interred here."

Another favorite of Queen Victoria was her childhood Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dash. He was memorialized in a portrait by Sir Edwin Landseer (circa 1836). When Dash went to his final resting place, Queen Victoria had his tombstone inscribed,

"Here lies Dash the favorite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victoria,
By whose command this Memorial was erected.
He dies on the 20th December 1840, in his 9th 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."

As a small child, King Edward VIII was captured in a sweet portrait with a black standard poodle named Sammy. Another photo shows Sammy balancing on the backs of two chairs, holding a stick in his mouth. (Scroll down the linked page to see the correct photo, but don't miss the photos of the other royal canines on the way.) Unfortunately, Sammy later met an untimely death after accidentally eating rat poison.

A photo of a young King George V (in 1815, when he was merely the Duke of York) shows him holding a pug decked out in a hat a scarf. This photo graces the cover of the book Noble Hounds and Dear Companions, Link to by Sophie Gordon, the Curator of the Royal Photograph Collection.

Edward VIII's grandfather, King Edward VII was terribly fond of his terrier Casear. The King had the dog's gem-encrusted collar inscribed, "I am Caesar. I belong to the King." In addition, a Faberge sculpture was created to honor the dog. It is part of the Faberge collection housed at Sandringham.

The Royal Kennels at Sandringham

Sandringham is a very appropriate place to keep the sculpture, as King Edward VII was the one who established Sandringham Kennels in 1879. The Royal Kennel is still an on-going enterprise, and breeders working at the kennels have produced numerous Field Trial Champions, as well as working dogs used for hunting on the many Royal Estates throughout the United Kingdom.

When Edward VII passed on to the great castle in the sky in 1910, his beloved dog Caesar was a part of the funeral procession.

Where do Royal Canines come from?

Edward VII's queen, Alexandra, was known for her eclectic taste in canines, having acquired Japanese Chins, Papillons, Pekingese, and Borzois. The latter were introduced to Sandringham as a gift from Tsar Alexander III of Russia, who gave Vassilka and Alex to the Queen. Vassilka was the subject of a silver Faberge sculpture which is also part of the Royal Collection at Sandringham.

Queen Victoria is said to be responsible for the one-time popularity of Pomeranians in England. She brought a Pom named Marco home from an 1888 visit to Italy, and the Royal Kennels at Sandringham had as many as 35 Poms at one time. Six of these toy dogs were shown at the 1891 Crufts show. Turi, one of Queen Victoria's favorites, was said to have been at the Queen's side when she died.

Many dogs ended up as part of the Royal Family as gifts. Quarry, a Russian dog, was given to Queen Victoria by British troops who had suffered near annihilation from Russian gunners at the Quarries in Redan during the Crimean War. German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck gave a Samoyed to King Edward VII.

Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria's son, once adopted a dog named Skippy from the Battersea Dog Home. This is the same shelter that was rumored to have been the beneficiary of a 5 donation from Queen Victoria after she had made a similar donation in support of famine relief during Ireland's great potato famine. (These rumors were later proved false, as the Queen had in fact donated 2000 to Ireland.)

Royal Corgi Dog
Corgis are greatly favored by the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II and beyond

King George VI may be the person most responsible for the current Queen's fascination with Corgis. He bought a Pembroke Corgi named Dookie at a local kennel and brought it home in 1933 for his daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Later, Jane was added to the family, and two of Jane's puppies (Crackers and Carol) were kept by the family.

When Queen Elizabeth turned 18, she was given a Corgi named Susan, who was subsequently bred to produce more royal canines. Most, if not all, of the Queen's Corgis throughout the years have been descendants of Susan.

At one point, the Corgis were cross-bred with Princess Margaret's Dachshunds to create Dorgis. The Queen's current menagerie includes Corgis Linnet, Monty, Willow, and Holly, as well as Dorgies Cider, Candy, and Vulcan. It is said she cares for them herself, as much as her official schedule allows. (Somehow I have trouble imagining her getting woken up and jumped on at 2 am when a thunderstorm brews over Buckingham Palace.)

The Queen continues to name all of the puppies born at Sandringham Kennels. When the puppies are registered with the Kennel Club (as all of them are), their official names all begin with "Sandringham," identifying their royal roots. One of the most famous dogs to have been born and trained at the Royal Kennels is Sandringham Sydney, who ran in the Field Championships five times.

More recent generations of Royals have continued the family's love affair with dogs. Prince Charles at one time had several Labradors, but these days he makes his home with two Jack Russell Terriers named Tosca and Rosie, favorites of his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The newlyweds, Prince William and Princess Catherine recently experienced dog trouble just like the rest of us do when Otto, Princess Catherine's black Cocker Spaniel, ate a pair of pearl earrings given to her by the Prince. No word on whether or not the earrings were ever retrieved.

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