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.”
“My Dearest Draperchen, (her former governess, Miss Draper, whom she addressed as ‘Ma chere Draperchen), . . . Our Christmas went off very well. The room was beautifully decorated ; there were four fine trees, and these were connected by wreaths of laurel evergreens and holly.”
by the same author
From My Reminiscences By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower
“At Trentham, Christmas 1854, I find, on turning the pages of that record of my early years, much detail regarding our Christmas gifts and of the Christmas tree; now so general in English homes at Yuletide, but then hardly seen but in a few English houses. Our German tutor claimed to have introduced this pretty custom in this country in our family, the first implanted out of Germany having been erected by him in the hall at Stafford House. Until recently there was always one of these Christmas trees, richly decked, placed in one of the drawing-rooms at Trentham on Christmas Eve; and the household attended to see the illuminations and receive the gifts that were one by one cut off from the lighted boughs. No one was forgotten, from the most honored of the guests down to the kitchen-maids and stable-men. Christmas was worthily maintained in those days at Trentham. Generally after the tree there came a ball for the servants, given in a long gallery overlooking the stable-yard. All took part in the dances, which, with itscountry dances and Highland flings and reels, when the Scotch piper was in great demand, were always most successful festivities.”
From Letters by Lady Harcourt, December 17, 1885
“Yesterday I made an excursion to the city with Hilda Deichmann and her husband to buy things for our Christmas trees. It was most amusing ransacking in all the big wholesale houses, and reminded me of my childish days and similar expeditions to Maiden Lane . . . . . . . . Our shopping was most successful. All the prettiest things come from the German shops. The ginger-bread animals were wonderful,—some horses and dogs with gilt tails and ears most effective. The decorations were really very pretty—the stars and angels quite charming.”
To G. K. S., Albert Gate, London, December 24, 1885.
“The sisters and I have been shopping all day getting the last things for the tree, which is to be on the 26th. The streets are most animated, full of people, all carrying parcels, and all with smiling faces. . . We wound up at the Army and Navy Stores, and really had some difficulty in getting in. They had quantities of Christmas trees already decorated, which were being sold as fast as they were brought in.”
Wishing you a memorable Christmas!