From bears and hippos, to crocodiles and crows, the royals have always been surrounded by animals both exotic and homely.
The Queen continues this tradition as the proud owner of over 200 pigeons at her Sandringham Estate and let us not forget she owns all the mute swans in the UK and the dolphins that swim in the British seas.
But it is the humble dog that has become the symbol of the family’s warmth and down-to-earth nature, and if it wasn’t for their enthusiasm for all things canine, there wouldn’t be as many breeds as there are today.
The family’s love of dogs stretches back to the 17th century, when Charles I immortalised his King Charles Spaniel in several portraits, which in turn helped popularise the breed in Britain.
Victoria’s Pekingese called Looty
But it was Queen Victoria who really set the tone. Her first dog was a King Charles Spaniel called Dash, who was described by Victoria’s biographer Elizabeth Longford, as “the Queen’s closest childhood companion”. Sadly Dash dies three years in to her reign at 10 years of age and is buried in the grounds of Windsor Castle with its very own headstone.
In 1861, Victoria was given a dog named Looty, a Pekingese that is widely considered to be the first pug of its kind in Britain. The dog was given to her as a diplomatic gift after the Second Opium War of 1856-60 and she would go on to own as many as 38 pugs during her reign.
Like the pigeon loft at Sandringham, the royals are well-established breeders of dogs, having kennels at Windsor Castle that were built between 1840-1 and have housed hundreds of dogs ever since.
The first Crufts
Queen Victoria’s love of dogs was so great that 70 to 100 dogs were housed at the kennels, a mix of both domestic and working dogs plus those that were given as diplomatic gifts.
After a trip to Italy in 1888, she fell in love with a Pomeranian named Gina who was brought back to the kennels. Victoria was so proud of her pedigree-bred Pomeranians that she entered six of them into the first Crufts in 1891, and at one point she went on to keep 35 at the kennels.
Jack the Caesar
Victoria’s eldest son, Edward VII, continued his mother’s love of dogs with a penchant for terriers and a favourite called Jack the Caesar.
Edward’s attachment to Caesar was so great that he personally requested Fabergé to create a commissioned model of him in 1907, along with an enamelled collar reading “I am Caesar, I belong to the King”. When Edward died in 1910, Caesar took part in his funeral procession, walking behind the cortège.
The beloved corgi
Of course there is one particular breed that has become synonymous with the royal household and that is the beloved corgi which our current Queen bred until 2009.
George VI introduced her to the breed with one named Dookie in 1933. But it wasn’t until her 18th birthday in 1944 that she received Susan who went onto spawn many generations of pedigree-bred corgis that the Queen has loved and cared for throughout her reign.
Elizabeth’s first corgi, called Dookie.
Following in Queen Victoria’s footsteps, Elizabeth chose to have all of her dogs buried within the grounds of Sandringham after the death of Susan in 1959.
Today Elizabeth II is known as one of the biggest breeders of corgis in the world and every dog that is bred at the kennels is automatically registered in The Kennel Club, for which she is a patron.
Along with speculation the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have named their new Labrador Oz in honour of their upcoming tour down under, it’ll be interesting to see which will be the next pampered pooches to join the royal household.
If you want to learn more about royal pets we recommend you watch Royal Pets at TrueRoyalty.tv