Over the years the British Royal Family have embraced dogs – most notably corgis – as their favoured pets but it has not always been so. See how animals have been immortalized in family portraits in royal households through the ages.
Animals as pets were considered a great luxury during the 16th century. The royal family were known to house many, including exotic animals typically given as gifts to the monarch. Many Tudor families owned dogs. Greyhounds had symbolic value, as an occasional element of the Tudor Coat of Arms alongside the Tudor Rose, in addition to being great hunting partners.
Dogs were sought after not only as companions but also to attract fleas away from their owners, and in the case of small lapdogs, keep ladies’ legs warm during carriage rides.
Of the more peculiar pets, many portraits depict monkeys (most notably the painting of Catherine of Aragon, below). Monkeys were kept not only for affection but to train dogs for bear and bull baiting, a royal passion. Many portrait artists of the times placed animals into paintings as visual clues into the personality of the sitter. Monkeys were known to symbolize foolishness (although in Catherine’s case that symbology might not be appropriate), whereas squirrels conveyed obedience and dogs symbolized fidelity.
The Victorian Era
Perhaps the royal most associated with having a love for animals is England’s Queen Victoria.
When she was 14, Princess Victoria was given a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, whom she named Dash. The portrait of her prized pet (below left) was commissioned by Victoria’s mother for her seventeenth birthday.
It is said that when Victoria first met Albert, his behaviour towards Dash endeared her towards her future husband. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert surrounded themselves with a menagerie of pets.
The Royal Collection has a wonderful selection of images of the family’s dogs and birds, many painted by Sir Edwin Landseer, including one of Princess Victoria with Albert’s favourite greyhound and a funny scene of a macaw and a pair of love-birds toying with two spaniels, Islay and Tilco.
Queen Victoria adored Islay, training him to beg for bits of food, which he skilfully demonstrates in this portrait. Both Islay and Dash are buried at Adelaide Cottage, Windsor Castle.
Below a portrait of Looty, a Pekinese Lion dog. The little dog had been found by Captain John Hart Dunne of the 99th Regiment after the Summer Palace near Beijing (Peking, as it was then known) had been looted on 8 October 1860. When he returned to England he presented it to Queen Victoria for ‘the Royal Collection of dogs’. Looty was considered ‘the smallest and by far the most beautiful little animal that has appeared in this country’. When Keyl was asked to sketch Looty he was told he ‘must put something to show its size it is remarkably small’. A replica of this picture was painted for Captain Dunne.
Although dog paintings were not unusual, Victoria’s love of dogs and her particular influence increased the popularity of both pet portraits and dog ownership tremendously during the 19th century. Wealthy and fashionable women owned dogs, lapdogs or ‘toys’ in particular, and took them everywhere. Many dogs lived as lavishly as their owners, some getting up to five thorough brushes and grooming sessions everyday, not to mention sleeping on satin cushions and even having access to a specially trained maid to dote on their every need. Among the most popular dog breeds during this time were Pomeranians, Yorkshire and Skye terriers (below), Cavalier King Charles spaniels and Japanese spaniels. Queen Victoria’s love for animals extended to her public service, in which she served as the first patron of the RSPCA, an organization established in 1824 to “prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate the suffering of animals.
The Windsors and Welsh Corgis
The Welsh Corgi and the House of Windsor have a very close relationship. Elizabeth’s love for the breed started when she was just 7 years old, when her father King George VI introduced a corgi named Dookie to the Royal Family in 1933. On her eighteenth birthday, Elizabeth received her very own corgi whom she named Susan.
The Queen has owned more than 30 corgis during her reign, and she also introduced a new breed known as the ‘dorgi’ which is a cross between a corgi and a dachshund. The Queen also raises and trains labradors and cocker spaniels. Elizabeth II has been a great supporter of animal causes and charities. She is Patron of over 30 animal charities and clubs, from the RSPCA and the Kennel Club to the Red Poll Cattle Society and the Labrador Retriever Club. In fact, many animal charities boast a long line of royal patronage, some going as far back as 150 years.
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