Looty, the first Pekingese dog in Britain, brought by Captain Dunne, 99th Regiment, from Yuanming Yuan, the Summer Palace near Beijing, as a gift for Queen Victoria in April 1861. Dunne had found Looty in the burned out remains of the Summer Palace at Pekin, curled up amongst soft shawls and rugs in one of the wardrobes.
During a trip to Italy in 1888, the Queen purchased a sable red Pomeranian she named Marco and brought him back to England. Marco weighed only 12 pounds and many dog historians point to him as being the instigator of the desire to breed smaller Pomeranians. Marco went on to compete under the Queen’s name in many dog shows and he won many honors. Victoria also bought three other Poms on the same trip to Florence in 1888 and the most famous next to Marco was a cute little female named Gina who also became a champion at London dog shows.
Dogs and dog shows nowadays seem such a large part of British life but it wasn’t until 1803 that the first Great International Dog Show was held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, two classes being provided for Bulldogs, while the first Crystal Palace Show was held in 1870.
Of course, Queen Victoria was not the only Royal to have been fond of dogs. Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII, was known to have bred and kept greyhounds. There was King Charles and his spaniels, which were also kept by King Edward VII and George V, while Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, kept pugs. In 2009, British news outlets reported that Prince William gifted his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, with a chocolate Labrador. And then there is the Pembroke Welsh Corgi . . . . . . . .
Queen Victoria was a devoted dog lover and owner throughout her life and raised more than 15 different breeds of canines.
Perhaps the most famous of these dogs remains Dash, who was her faithful companion during her childhood. The artist Sir Edwin Landseer first won Victoria’s favour when he painted Dash, a King Charles spaniel. Dash had been presented to Princess Victoria in 1833 by the vile Sir John Conroy, personal secretary to her mother, the Duchess of Kent. No doubt Conroy hoped that Dash would mitigate the ill feelings Princess Victoria harbored towards him due to his machinations. Princess Victoria and Dash were soon inseparable and he lived by her side, with the Princess dressing him in scarlet jacket and blue trousers, and at Christmas she gave him three India-rubber balls and two bits of gingerbread decorated with holly and candles. There is a scene in the movie, Young Victoria, which illustrates how the newly crowned Queen returned home from her coronation in order to bathe Dash. Dash also appears in a garden scene in the film.
When Dash died in 1840, three years after she became Queen, Victoria buried him herself at Adelaide Cottage, and had inscribed on his tombstone: `Profit by the example of Dash, whose attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, and his fidelity without deceit.’
Then there was a Skye terrier called Islay, the little dog Victoria came to love most of all. She taught him to beg for treats. Combined with a pair of wet, soulful eyes, Islay’s gentle begging earned him treats galore from the household and visitors alike. Once again, Landseer was inspired to capture one of the Queen’s dogs, sometimes in the act of gathering tasty morsels.
Islay was the inspiration for Landseer’s painting entitled `Dignity and Impudence‘, one of his most successful works.
Islay also features prominently in a painting Landseer created in order to amuse the Queen at Balmoral. It shows the terrier doing his begging act before a macaw, who sits high on his perch holding a large biscuit, which he is feeding two lovebirds. Next to Islay at the bottom of the painting is Tilco, a Sussex spaniel, who nurses a wound on his nose inflicted upon him by the macaw after he’d tried to take the biscuit away. When Landseer unveiled the work before the Queen at Balmoral, Lord Melbourne was said to have commented, “Good God! How like!”
In later years, Queen Victoria’s favorite dog and constant companion was Sharp, a smooth-coated Border Collie, born in 1854. A statuette of Sharp in silver gilt dominated her dining table.
From Queen Victoria’s Journal of a Life in the Highlands – Sunday, September 14, 1873:
My favorite collie Noble is always downstairs when we take our meals, and was so good, Brown making him lie on a chair or couch, and he never attempted to come down without permission, and even held a piece of cake in his mouth without eating it, till told he might. He is the most “biddable” dog I ever saw, and so affectionate and kind; if he thinks you are not pleased with him, he puts out his paws, and begs in such an affectionate way.
William IV, the Sailor King, died on 20 June 1837. He was the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV and was the last king and penultimate monarch of the House of Hanover. While William’s reign was much more sedate than that of his brother, George IV, with less scandal and spending and more attention being paid the business of running the country, William IV did have one bane to his existence – his sister-in-law the Duchess of Kent, mother to Princess Victoria.
King William’s problems with the Duchess began early in his reign – in fact, at his coronation, as related in a book called When William IV was King By John Ashton:
During the procession to the Abbey (for the Coronation of William IV) the weather was fine, and the sight a brilliant one; but, soon after one o’clock, a very heavy rain descended ; the wind, too, blew with great violence, and occasioned rattling and tearing among the canvas canopies of the newly erected stands. It ceased for a short time, between two and three, when it broke out afresh, and was particularly lively when the ceremony was over, at half-past three. It quite spoilt the return procession, some of the carriages driving straight away, and those that fell into rank had their windows up.
In spite of the weather, London was brilliantly illuminated, and the theatres and Vauxhall Gardens were thrown open free. There was a display of fireworks in Hyde Park, at which many were more or less hurt by the falling rocket-sticks, six so seriously as to have to be taken to St. George’s Hospital. Throughout the country the festivity was universal. One little thing marred the universality. The Duchess of Kent was not present at the coronation, neither was the Princess Victoria. It was an open secret that the King and the Duchess were not on friendly terms, but it was thought very bad taste on her part not to be present.
Though more contretemps between the King and the Duchess were to come (as will be shown in future posts), for the time being, all was well in the land. In his Memoirs, Charles Greville included the following entry for July 18th.— King George had not been dead three days before everybody discovered that he was no loss, and King William a great gain. Certainly nobody ever was less regretted than the late King, and the breath was hardly out of his body before the press burst forth in full cry against him, and raked up all his vices, follies, and misdeeds, which were numerous and glaring enough.
The new King began very well. Everybody expected he would keep the Ministers in office, but he threw himself into the arms of the Duke of Wellington with the strongest expressions of confidence and esteem. He proposed to all the Household, as well as to the members of Government, to keep their places, which they all did except Lord Conyngham and the Duke of Montrose. He soon after, however, dismissed most of the equerries, that he might fill their places with the members of his own family. Of course such a King wanted not due praise, and plenty of anecdotes were raked up of his former generosities and kindnesses. His first speech to the. Council was well enough given, but his burlesque character began even then to show itself. Nobody expected from him much real grief, and he does not seem to know how to act it consistently; he spoke of his brother with all the semblance of feeling, and in a tone of voice properly softened and subdued, but just afterward, when they gave him the pen to sign the declaration, he said, in his usual tone, “This is a damned bad pen you have given me.” My worthy colleague, Mr. James Buller, began to swear Privy Councillors in the name of “King George IV.—William, I mean,” to the great diversion of the Council.
A few days after my return I was sworn in, all the Ministers and some others being present. His Majesty presided very decently, and looked like a respectable old admiral. The Duke [of Wellington] told me he was delighted with him— “If I had been able to deal with my late master as I do with my present, I should have got on much better”—that he was so reasonable and tractable, and that he had done more business with him in ten minutes than with the other in as many days.”
Recently, I was reading a royal biography and, as so often happens, it led me to another title, The Quest for Queen Mary, by James Pope-Hennessy (2018). The mention of this book described how screamingly funny the Queen Mary book was in parts. Of course, I went straight to Amazon Books online and searched for it, when I found other, similar quotes on the book jacket:
“One of this year’s funniest and most eccentric books.” Mail on Sunday.
“. . . Arguably the most riotously funny volume published this year.” The Sunday Times.
“Illuminating, intriguing and boundlessly entertaining.” Country Life
Naturally, I clicked the buy now button.
The Quest for Queen Mary is not a biography (find that here), but a compilation of the notes Pope-Hennessy wrote up regarding the people he met and the interviews he conducted while researching the biography, the whole edited by Hugo Vickers.
I was familiar with P-H (Pope-Hennessy) through the various inter-war diaries, letters and biographies I had read. He was a mainstay of the Bright Young Things set, socializing with the likes of the Mitfords, Cecil Beaton, Lord Berners, Rex Whistler, Duff and Diana Cooper, et al. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall that anyone had ever said that P-H had been particularly funny.
At one time, Richard James Arthur Pope-Hennessy had been editor of The Spectator. He was also a travel writer and a biographer whose book on Lord Crewe led to his being commissioned by the Queen in 1955 to write the biography of Queen Mary. His brother was Sir John Pope-Hennessy, who had served as the Director of both the V&A and British Museums.
Friends did describe P-H as being two different people inhabiting one body. He could be a brilliant and talented work horse of a writer, but he was also known to have a darker, somewhat brooding side. James Lees-Milne once wrote of Pope-Hennessy that ‘the devil got a firm grip of him in his twenties and early thirties.’ He spent the money of older women whilst frankly discussing his homosexual life to them.
At one time, P-H had been in a relationship with Harold Nicolson, the former diplomat, writer and MP, and had also once shared a flat with the disgraced spy, Guy Burgess. His friends knew that he often sought the company of shady individuals and on occasion P-H paid for the services of ‘rent boys,’ one of whom lived at P-H’s flat at the time that newspapers reported that P-H had received $150,000 to write a book about Sir Noel Coward (1974). Believing that the money was in the flat, the rent boy recruited two friends and the trio bound P-H, who was then 57, and viciously beat him. P-H’s valet, Leslie (Walter) Smith, 25, returned to the property during the course of the attack and was stabbed. He managed to make it out into the street and summon help. Smith survived, Pope-Hennessy did not.
What makes The Quest for Queen Mary funny are P-H’s wonderfully drawn descriptions of the places he visited and the people he interviewed. His razor sharp perceptions and eye for both detail and the absurd all contribute to the laugh out loud moments in his book.
Regarding Sandringham – Across the head of the main stairs is situated a truly sinister warren of small rooms . . . You go through and down two or three steps in a very narrow carpeted passage; the first door on the left is where the Duke of Clarence died. This dim and cheerless hole is surprisingly small: opposite the door a window, to the right of the door a fire-place and immediately on the r-hand wall the brass bedstead, so that you could touch the mantlepiece with your hand if lying on the bed. . . How 14 people, including the (rather fat) Duchess of Teck crammed into this room on the morning of 14 January 1892 foxes me completely . . . To sum up: this is a hideous house with a horrible atmosphere in parts, and in others no atmosphere at all. It is like a vast morgue . . . .
Pope-Hennessy related how he’d told Sir Owen Morshead (Royal Librarian) about being introduced (to Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone) as Mr. Poke-Henderson. Sir Owen duly addressed his next letter: “My dear Poke-Henderson . . . “ and told him that he had been called every possible name, including “Alan Horsehead.”
P-H was invited to stay with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester at Bramwell in order to conduct his interviews with them – I returned to the drawing room, having seen my very comfortable room, and observed with pleasure a small, framed notice on the dressing table . . . ‘Guests are particularly requested not to offer gratuities to the indoor or outdoor staff as they are NOT allowed to accept them.’ I sat down, waiting for the next episode and looking at the drink tray, and smoking. There was a huge, high, Coromandel screen with six folds hiding the door, so that it was rather exciting, like a good play with new characters, waiting to see who was going to enter next. There was a good deal of heavy breathing and heavy martial shuffle, and the Duke of Gloucester, eyes bulging and his hair standing on end from the wind, entered, wearing corduroys, a jersey, a Guards tie and a tweed coat. . . he veered off like a tacking sailing ship towards the drink tray and began delicately dropping angostura bitters out of a tiny silver-topped bottle into a large glass. He then took the gin bottle out of the three bottle canister on the table and said: “Haven’t you had a drink?” . . . He struggled to get the ice, which was a half moon shape I had never seen anywhere before, out of the silver ice pincers. “Oh, damn.” There was a long silence while we stood by the window and looked at the floor.
Staying with the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort at Badminton – P-H joined the Duke and Duchess at the breakfast table on the morning after his arrival. The Duchess was busy giving the dogs their porridge out of plastic saucers coloured pink and pale green. They related how when Lord Digby stayed for three days during the Badminton Horse Trials, he had eaten the dogs’ porridge by mistake one morning and none of them knew how to break it to him, so he went on doing it throughout his stay.
Lady Reid, Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria and widow of James Reid, Queen Victoria’s doctor, told P-H how as a new Maid of Honour, she accompanied Queen Victoria while she was out for a drive at Osborne – Miss Baring (as she was then) trotted beside the pony-carriage. These were the only times one was alone with her, and could speak of anything, but it was all rather breathless, ‘keepin’ up with the pony.’ Her first real outing with the Queen was soon after her arrival for first duty. Miss Phipps explained to her that the Queen liked to distribute her Christmas presents herself at Osborne, and off they set in a great high royal carriage, the Queen and Miss Phipps facing the horses, Miss Baring with her back to them and a pile of presents beside her. At the first cottage a woman came out and stood on the steps of the carriage (‘poor woman it was agonizing for her to hold on’); Miss Baring took the appropriate parcel and handed it to the Queen, saying, “It’s a rug, your Majesty.”
The Queen said nothing and turned to Miss Phipps. “What an odd thing to say, a rug, a r-r-r-rug! I have never heard it called that before. A rug is something which one stands on. It can be called a plaid, or a shawl, or even a wrap. But not a rug. And Susan calls it a r-r-r-rug. I have heard it called a plaid or a wrap, but never a rug. This monologue went on for several minutes, over and over again while the woman was clinging to the steps; and Miss Baring, overcome by it all, laughed and laughed till she nearly died.
About the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, with whom P-H stayed twice at their house in France while conducting interviews – The Duke of Windsor is, on first sight, much less small than I had been led to believe; he is not at all a manikin, but a well-proportioned human being. . . I was soon startled to find that, except for occasionally repeating a complete story (which the Duchess stops when she can), he is not only the one member of the Royal Family for whom one needs to make no allowances whatever, but that he is exceedingly intelligent, original, liberal minded and quite capable of either leading a conversation or taking a constructive part in one. He is also one of the most considerate men I have ever met of his generation. Like the Duchess, he is perhaps too open and trusting towards others; or else he was determined to be specially helpful to me.
On the Duchess of Windsor – This is one of the very oddest women I have ever seen . . . Like her house, she is tremendously American, and specifically Southern – it was like being back in Montgomery, Alabama, without the tree moss. I should therefore be tempted to classify her simply as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that she is not a woman at all. She is, to look at, phenomenal. She is flat and angular, and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. The shoulders are small and high; the head very, very large, almost monumental; the expression is either anticipatory (signalling to one, ‘I know this is going to be loads of fun, don’t yew?) or appreciative – the great giglamp smile, the wide, wide open eyes, which are so very large and pale and veined, the painted lips and the cannibal teeth. . .
There’s royalty galore in this book, on both sides of the Channel, and they are infinitely amusing whether being interviewed or being spoken about by the interviewee. If you’re a fan of royalty, or Queen Mary or historic houses or the period in general, I highly recommend this book.
Oddly, no one P-H interviewed once mentioned Queen Mary’s alleged habit of pinching things from the homes she visited.