Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee also a celebration of corgis

So much so that when Britain indulges in four days of celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee this week, the image of the corgi will play a central role. Corgi sculptures have been installed around the streets of central London while their images adorn commemorative ornaments, pillows, mugs and biscuits.

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

On social media a specially designed emoji of a cheeky looking corgi, tongue out, smiling and wearing a purple and silver crown was released last week. A pack of 20 puppet corgis are to be paraded as part of the pageant, causing mischief on The Mall.

At Musselburgh Racecourse, near Edinburgh, a Corgi derby will be staged on Sunday. Among the corgis to be competing is a distant relative of one of Her Majesty’s own named Paddy from Port Seton. The race will be broadcast live on TV.

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 essential about the Queen,” says royal biographer Penny Junor.

“She is an essentially shy woman, thrust into a public role at an early age that does not come naturally to her. Around her dogs she can be completely herself, sure in the knowledge that they love her for who she is, rather than what she is. That has made them her most trusted companions.”

While the royals have always had dogs, spanning the centuries, the corgi is very much a recent Windsor tradition. Since the first family pet, Dookie, in the 1930s to her first dog as an adult, Susan, the Queen has not only endowed on but bred 14 generations of Pembroke Welsh corgis. That’s not to mention the dorgis (dachshund-corgi crosses) and several generations of gun dogs.

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

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

The dogs, as she has pointed out to many times, are part of the furniture. Princess Diana called them “a moving carpet” at the palace because of their number and tendency to follow the sovereign around. The Queen calls them as “the boys” or “the girls” depending on which motley crew accompany her at any time.

They are such an extension of the family that the palace will not comment on the dogs, as it is regarded as “personal matter”. Numbers have fluctuated over the years with litters given away to friends and family, but traditionally the Queen kept at least one, to keep the connection going. Until Willow, the last of the line, died in 2018.

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

In 1981, it was reported that no fewer than 13 Corgis accompanied her to Balmoral for her summer holiday. Susan, the foundation bitch of the bloodline, was smuggled by the bride-to-be in the royal carriage under a pile of blankets while on her way to her wedding at Westminster Abbey. She joined their honeymoon to Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

In 1955 Susan’s daughter, Sugar, was sent off to the legendary kennels of Thelma Gray to be mated with a handsome boy called Rebellion.

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

“Don’t tell your father,” she instructed the children, according to Junior’s book All The Queen’s Corgis. “Don’t tell your father, we’ve got two new puppies!”

She named them Whish and Sherry and gave them as Christmas presents to the young prince and princess. The Queen has personally named all her dogs, of every breed. There is always a theme, either flowers, islands, birds, drinks, trees, metals, makes of car and fictional characters from favorite books.

She called Sherry’s son, Sandringham Sydney because she was in Australia in 1970 when he was born. The whole litter was named after Australian landmarks.

And the royal bloodline potentially lives on down under. In 1975, Thelma Gray, emigrated to set up Rozavel Kennels at Coromandel in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, where she bred beagles, chihuahuas and a few Rottweilers. More than a hundred dogs stay behind in Britain but among those who accompanied her on the long trip were a couple of Pembrokes, including Windsor Loyal Subject, who was bred by the Queen. She corresponded with the Queen for years before her death in November 1984. Every February, the Adelaide Hills Kennel Club, holds the Thelma Gray Memorial Show in her memory – with a perpetual trophy donated by the Queen to the best of breed of Welsh Corgi.

The Queen inspects corgis from the Adelaide Kennel Club in February 2022.

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

Bred originally to herd cattle and sheep, there are tales of the royal corgis biting guests, household staff and even members of the royal family. Prince Philip was known to moan those “bloody dogs”.

Given their own room at Buckingham Palace with wicker basket beds, they have never eaten out of shiny sterling silver dishes. They may be pampered, but their regal 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 lot of rabbit shot on the estates; otherwise it is a variety of fresh, cooked meat, vegetables and rice, prepared specially for them in the royal kitchens. Occasionally, they are thrown scraps from the Queen’s plate.

Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist, was once brought into Windsor after some dramatic dog fights and observed the Queen at feeding time. He wrote in his book, Dr. Mugford’s Casebook: “The Queen looked across to the semicircle of quiet but salivating dogs congregated a few meters away and called each one in turn to take his or her good. There was never a growl or rude look between the dogs and I was amazed at the harmony which reigned indoors at this theoretically high-risk time.”

The Queen explained that she had always been strict in inquiring good manners among the dogs at feeding time and each was obliged to wait for their turn, the eldest to be fed first and youngest last.

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

When the Queen was approaching 90, and she decided that she would no longer breed or buy any new dogs, Welsh Corgis were at the same time added by the Kennel Club to the list of native breeds in danger of extinction, numbering in the mid to low hundreds nationally.

But the latest registration data from club, showed 1223 corgis registered in nationwide in 2021, marking the highest annual figure in nearly 30 years. And the Queen is again among them. After the death of Philip, her family gave her two corgi pups to add to her cocker spaniel, Lissy, and dorgi named Candy.

The Crown is credited with contributing to the Pembroke Welsh corgi's surge in popularity as a pet during lockdown.

The Crown is credited with contributing to the Pembroke Welsh corgi’s surge in popularity as a pet during lockdown. Credit:Sophie Mutevelian Photography for Netflix

The explosion of dog influencers on social media and the Netflix series The Crownis credited with the breed’s sudden turnaround.

Kennel Club spokesman Bill Lambert said to see the Pembroke Welsh Corgi once again becoming a beloved breed nationwide, during such an important year for the Queen was joyous.

“The breed has certainly seen a boost in recent years, largely down it would seem to their starring roles in The Crownbut the Queen did play an integral part in introducing corgis to the public consciousness originally, so what a wonderful testament to her 70th year on the throne, to see her beloved breed having a resurgence in popularity.”

Junor thinks the Queen’s devotion to her dogs comes from the fact, as one former courtier once told her, “dogs are no respects of position”.

“To us, she is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, one of the most revered figures of our age. But to her dogs? They don’t complain, they don’t judge and they are perhaps the only souls in her life who see her for the joyous, fun-loving human being she really is.”

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