For Queen and corgis: “Around her dogs, she can be completely herself”

In the Queen’s 70 years as monarch, no symbol has become more identifiable with British royalty than a corgi, her faithful companions since childhood. They make an iconic couple.

So much so that when Britain celebrates four days of platinum jubilee celebrations this week, the image of the corgi will play a central role. Sculptures of Corgi have been installed in the streets of central London and their images adorn memorial ornaments, pillows, mugs and cookies.

The Queen with her corgi Susan in 1952, the first year of her reign. Credit:Getty

On social media, a specially crafted emoji of a cheeky-looking corgi with its tongue out, smiling and wearing a purple and silver crown was posted last week. A group of 20 puppet corgis are to parade as part of the contest, causing mischief on The Mall.

At Musselburgh Racecourse, near Edinburgh, a corgi derby will take place on Sunday. Among the competing corgis is a distant relative of one of Her Majesty’s own named Paddy of Port Seton. The race will be broadcast live on television.

The Corgi Derby at Musselburgh Racecourse is one of many corgi-themed tributes during the Platinum Jubilee.

The Corgi Derby at Musselburgh Racecourse is one of many corgi-themed tributes during the Platinum Jubilee.

“Her bond with her dogs reveals something vital about the Queen,” says royal biographer Penny Junor.

“She’s an essentially shy woman, thrust into a public role at an early age that doesn’t come naturally to her. Around her dogs, she can be completely herself, knowing they love her for who she is, rather than for who she is. This has made them her most trusted companions.

While the royal family has always had dogs, over the centuries the corgi is a recent Windsor tradition. From the family’s first pet, Dookie, in the 1930s to her first adult dog, Susan, the Queen has not only adored but raised 14 generations of Pembroke Welsh corgis. Not to mention the dorgis (dachshund-corgi crosses) and several generations of hunting dogs.

Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England, 2016.

Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England, 2016.Credit:© Annie Leibovitz

Dogs, as she repeatedly pointed out, are part of the furniture. Princess Diana called them “a moving carpet” at the palace because of their numbers and their tendency to follow the sovereign. The Queen calls them “the boys” or “the girls” depending on the motley crew that accompanies her at all times.

The Queen, seen here with Prince Philip and her corgi Sugar in 1959, apparently brought a corgi on her honeymoon.

The Queen, seen here with Prince Philip and her corgi Sugar in 1959, apparently brought a corgi on her honeymoon. Credit:Fairfax Media

They’re such an extension of the family that the palace won’t comment on the dogs, as it’s considered a “personal matter.” Numbers have fluctuated over the years with litters given to friends and family, but traditionally the Queen has kept at least one, to maintain the connection. Until Willow, the last of the line, died in 2018.

In 1981, it was reported that as many as 13 Corgis accompanied her to Balmoral for her summer vacation.

Susan, the bloodline’s founding dog, was smuggled by the bride-to-be into the royal carriage under a pile of blankets on her way to her wedding at Westminster Abbey. She joined their honeymoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

In 1955, Susan’s daughter, Sugar, was sent to Thelma Gray’s legendary kennel to be mated with a handsome boy named Rebellion.

When Gray took the litter to Windsor to show off young Charles and Anne, the Queen – who had every intention of keeping just one – couldn’t make up her mind.

‘Don’t tell your father,’ she told the children, according to Junor’s book All the Queen’s Corgis. “We have two new puppies!”

She named them Whiskey and Sherry and gave them as Christmas presents to the young prince and princess. The Queen has personally named all of her dogs, of all breeds. There’s always a theme – flowers, islands, birds, drinks, trees, metals, car brands or fictional characters from favorite books.

She named Sherry Sandringham’s son Sydney because she was in Australia when he was born. The entire scope has been named after Australian landmarks.

And the royal line potentially lives on Down Under. In 1975 Thelma Gray emigrated to set up Rozavel Kennels in Coromandel in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, where she bred beagles, chihuahuas and a few rottweilers. More than a hundred dogs remain in Britain, but among those who accompanied her on the long journey were a pair of Pembrokes, including Windsor Loyal Subject, who were bred by the Queen.

She corresponded with the Queen for years before her death in November 1984. Each February the Adelaide Hills Kennel Club hold the Thelma Gray Memorial Show in her memory – with a perpetual trophy donated by the Queen to the best of the Welsh breed Corgi.

The Queen inspects Adelaide Kennel Club corgis in February 2022.

The Queen inspects Adelaide Kennel Club corgis in February 2022. Credit:Fairfax

Corgis were originally bred to herd cattle and sheep. There are stories of royal corgis biting guests, household staff and even members of the royal family. Prince Philip was known to complain about these “bloody dogs”.

Given their own room at Buckingham Palace with wicker beds, they never ate shiny sterling silver dishes. They may be pampered, but their royal owner is nothing if not practical.

Their bowls are a collection of metal and porcelain, but their diets are tailored to their individual needs. In the country, they were fed with many rabbits slaughtered in the fields; otherwise, it is a variety of fresh and cooked meats, vegetables and rice, prepared especially for them in the royal kitchens. Sometimes they are thrown leftovers from the queen’s plate.

Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist, was once brought to Windsor after dramatic dog fights and observed the Queen at feeding time. He wrote in his book Dr. Mugford’s casebook: “The Queen watched the semi-circle of calm but salivating dogs gathered a few yards away and called each in turn to take their food. There was never a growl or a rude look between the dogs and I was amazed at the harmony inside at this theoretically high risk time.

The Queen explained that she had always been strict in requiring good manners between the dogs at feeding time and that each had to wait their turn, with the eldest to be fed first and the youngest last .

“There is hardly anyone else on the planet who could achieve this level of control over their dogs,” Mugford wrote.

When the queen approached 90, she decided not to breed or buy any new dogs. Welsh Corgis were added at the same time by the Kennel Club to the list of native breeds in danger of extinction, numbering in the mid to low hundreds nationwide.

But the club’s latest registration data showed 1,223 corgis registered nationwide in 2021, marking the highest annual figure in nearly 30 years. And the queen is among them again. After Philip died, his family gave him two corgi puppies to add to his cocker spaniel, Lissy, and his dorgi named Candy.

The explosion of canine influencers on social networks and the Netflix series The crownis credited with the sudden turnaround of the breed.

Crown is credited with helping the Pembroke Welsh Corgi's rise to popularity as a pet during lockdown.

Crown is credited with helping the Pembroke Welsh Corgi’s rise to popularity as a pet during lockdown. Credit:Sophie Mutevelian Photography for Netflix

Kennel Club spokesman Bill Lambert said seeing the Pembroke Welsh Corgi once again become a beloved breed across the country, in such an important year for the Queen, was joyful.

“The breed has certainly seen a boom in recent years, much of it down, it seems, for their starring roles in The crownbut the Queen was instrumental in bringing corgis into the public consciousness originally, so what a wonderful testament to her 70th year on the throne, to see her beloved breed enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

Junor believes the Queen’s devotion to her dogs stems from the fact, as a former courtier told her, “the dogs don’t respect position.”

“To us, she is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, one of the most revered figures of our time. But to her dogs? They don’t complain, they don’t judge and they may be the only souls in her life who see her for the happy and fun human being that she really is.

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