For decades, the image of Queen Elizabeth II surrounded by corgis has been a beloved symbol of the British monarchy.
So a report in The Daily Mail that the queen’s last corgi, Willow, had died, naturally sent the British press (and more than a few outlets in the empire’s former colonies) into a tizzy. Buckingham Palace declined to comment or answer questions, saying the issue was a private matter.
But with much of the internet mourning the apparent end of the royal corgi lineage, now feels like a good time to explain the enduring appeal of the royal pets.
The House of Windsor came by its first corgi in 1933, when King George VI, then the Duke of York, acquired a puppy known as Dookie for his family.
He was joined shortly thereafter by Jane, who was with the royal family until 1944, when she was fatally struck by a car.
Susan was given to Elizabeth later that year, as an 18th birthday present. According to an article in Vanity Fair, Elizabeth, then a princess, became so inseparable with her dog that she sneaked Susan with her and Prince Philip on their honeymoon in 1947.
Over the nearly 80 years since the queen acquired Susan, she and her family have continued to breed dogs from Susan’s lineage. The queen has owned at least 30 Pembroke Welsh corgis, all of whom have descended from Susan. Willow was believed to be part of the 14th generation in the line.
But Willow’s death would signal the end of an era for the queen, who reportedly stopped breeding corgis sometime after the death of her mother in 2002.
In 2015, Monty Roberts, a horse trainer who has advised Queen Elizabeth, told Vanity Fair that the queen said to him in 2012 that “she didn’t want to leave any young dog behind.”
Still, while Buckingham Palace may have lost its corgis, the so-called “dorgis” remain.
The queen has two such dogs, Vulcan and Candy, who are part of a crossbreed created when a dachshund belonging to the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, mated with one of the queen’s corgis.
Queen Elizabeth has also had other dogs over the years, including hunting dogs like the ones bred at Sandringham, her royal estate in Norfolk, England, about 100 miles north of Buckingham Palace. At one point, she also adopted a Sealyham terrier from her sister.
Despite the constant presence of animals, the corgis’ time with the royal family has not been without incident.
In 1954, one of the queen’s corgis — there were three at the time — bit a member of the Queen’s Guard. Some time earlier, The International Herald Tribune reported, one of them, believed to be Susan, had also bitten the royal clockwinder.
Fourteen years later, a member of Parliament called upon the royal family to post “Beware of the Dog” signs outside the queen’s residences after one of the corgis bit a postal worker delivering mail to Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
The queen herself has not been spared, either. In 1991, she was bitten by one of the dogs after she tried to break up a fight between some of them, Reuters reported.
She wasn’t the only victim; her mother’s chauffeur at the time was also bitten and had to receive a tetanus shot.
It was not the only time relationships between the dogs and the royal staff have sometimes been strained. In 1999, a royal footman was demoted after he allegedly spiked the dogs’ food and water with gin and whiskey. He was reportedly caught when an exam on one of the dogs found traces of alcohol in its blood.
It also appears that not everyone in the royal family has shared the queen’s enthusiasm for her fleet of corgis. In a television interview in 2012, Prince William, the queen’s grandson and the second in line to the British throne, expressed some issues with the dogs.
“They’re barking all the time,” he said. “I don’t know how she copes with it.”
Prince Harry, his brother, has also registered a noise complaint. “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at,” he told the BBC in 2017.
One person who did receive the dogs’ approval? Prince Harry’s fiancée, Meghan Markle.
In the BBC interview, the prince commented that the dogs “took to (Markle) straight away.”
“That’s true,” Markle replied.
It wasn’t the dogs’ only moment in the spotlight.
In 2012, Willow co-starred in a sketch that opened the London Olympics. In the taped skit, James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) travels to Buckingham Palace to escort the queen to the Olympic opening ceremony. Joining Willow were Holly, who reportedly died in 2016, and Monty, who died in 2012.
The corgis are featured in close-ups as they greet Bond, follow him and the queen down the stairs of the palace and stay still as a helicopter takes off for London Stadium.
Willow and Holly, along with their dorgi cousins, were also featured prominently in a Vanity Fair cover that celebrated the queen’s 90th birthday. In a photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz, Holly sits next to the queen in Windsor Castle while Willow, Vulcan and Candy roam at her feet.
Over the nearly 80 years that the queen has owned the corgis, they have become so closely associated with her that the dogs have even made their way into pop culture depictions of the monarchy.
The dogs are featured in “The King’s Speech,” the 2010 movie depicting King George VI’s ascension to the throne. The corgis are prominent enough throughout “The Queen,” in which Helen Mirren portrayed Queen Elizabeth during the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in 1997, that the dogs portraying them received awards for their on-screen performances.
Mirren later played opposite corgis again on stage as the queen in the play “The Audience” in 2013.
More recently, the corgis’ appearance in the Netflix series “The Crown” has been credited for renewing interest in the breed in Britain.
“People used to have the impression that while corgis were in the spotlight, because of the queen, they could be seen by young people as an older person’s dog,” David Robson of the Kennel Club told The Telegraph in February. “Now that’s changed, partly because we are seeing the character of the younger queen surrounded by them.”
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