The Queen’s Dogs

Then-Princess Elizabeth with Susan, her first pet Corgi, at Windsor Castle in 1944.
The Queen’s Dogs
A look at Elizabeth II’s lifelong love affair with Corgis

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Queen Elizabeth II was a notoriously private person and not prone to public displays of affection. The longest-reigning monarch knew her role wasn’t to display emotion, so she rarely did. A notable exception? Elizabeth was clearly enchanted by her dogs and couldn’t help but laugh and smile around them.

The Queen and her Corgis were virtually inseparable—a love affair that spanned more than 90 years. During her life, her dogs were loyal, constant companions. To watch her engage with her dogs was to get a glimpse at the woman behind the crown.


Queen Elizabeth II is greeted by local Corgi enthusiasts, 2005. Photo Fiona Hanson, PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

 

About the Breed

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a medium-sized, short-legged working dog developed in Wales to herd cattle and sheep. It’s an old breed—records date as far back as 1107AD, when Welsh workers brought their dogs along as they settled in England.

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi has been a distinct breed from his Cardigan Welsh Corgi cousin since the late 1800s. The Pembroke is a tough little dog with a surprising amount of speed and agility. They’re known for being active, very playful—and loyal.

 

"It was Princess Diana who famously referred to the Queen’s Corgis as a “moving carpet,” always surrounding her."

 


Her Early Years

When she was just seven years old, then-Princess Elizabeth was given a Pembroke Welsh Corgi by her father, George VI. The family named him Dookie, and he was soon followed by another Pembroke named Jane. At the time, Corgis were commonly found in Wales but still quite a rare sight in England.

On her 18th birthday, Elizabeth received a Corgi named Susan. It would be the first dog that would be hers and hers alone. Elizabeth was so devoted to Susan that—when the time came to head off on her honeymoon—she reportedly hid the dog under some blankets in her royal carriage! Yes, Susan joined Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, on their honeymoon. Could that be one of the reasons that Prince Philip so notoriously disliked the breed? It’s said that he made no effort to hide his displeasure of the noise of her Corgis—and the sheer number she kept.

Well, Philip may not have been a fan, but the Queen’s devotion to Corgis was extraordinary and unwavering. In fact, she adored Susan so much that she decided to breed her. In doing so, she would create a sort of Corgi dynasty—one that would last more than seven decades.


Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Andrew and her Corgis, 1962. Photo Smith Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

 

The Queen personally oversaw the breeding program at Windsor Castle, and her knowledge of the breed and study of foundation stock was second to none. She worked closely—and discreetly—with exceptional Pembroke breeders to find dogs whose type and temperament would complement her breeding line.

Susan’s descendants produced 14 generations of Corgis, and the Queen owned more than 30 over the years. Elizabeth never sold any of her dogs, although she did give some Corgis away as gifts to very special friends and family members.

 

"Oops! Elizabeth’s Corgi, Tiny, spent a little too much unsupervised time with Princess Margaret’s amorous Dachshund, Pipkin. Their alone time resulted in a litter of six puppies—dubbed Dorgis."

 

The popularity of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi peaked in England during the 1960s. During that time, press photos of the Royal Family—so often with the Corgis afoot—had captured many hearts and led to a surge in the breed’s popularity. But over the years, this shifted. At one point, registrations were so few and far between that The Kennel Club placed the Pembroke on its vulnerable native breed list.

Fortunately, this has shifted again—this time in conjunction with the popular Netflix series “The Crown.” In this series about the Queen’s reign, Corgis are featured in various flashback scenes. Once again visible and capturing the interest of many, demand for Corgis surged. Corgi puppy registrations rose 16 percent and 47 percent after the first and second seasons, respectively.


Then-Princess Elizabeth pictured at her childhood home, playing with the family’s Corgis, 1936. Photo Chroma Collection / Alamy Stock

 

Even further attention to the plucky Pembroke came when Daniel Craig performed a skit for the opener of the 2012 Olympics. The widely watched performance features three Corgis and the Queen herself, along with Craig in his role as James Bond. Corgis are officially back on the public radar, and the Pembroke is no longer deemed at-risk.

Oops! It’s a Dorgi!

In 1971, the Queen’s Corgi breeding program expanded in an unexpected and unplanned way. Elizabeth’s Corgi, Tiny, spent a little too much unsupervised time with Princess Margaret’s amorous Dachshund, Pipkin. Their alone time resulted in a litter of six puppies—dubbed Dorgis.

Notwithstanding her love of purebred dogs and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed, in particular, the Queen and her sister couldn’t help but fall in love with this litter. In fact, they bred the pair again.

 


Queen Elizabeth II with her Corgis at Virginia Water watching the Marathon of the European Driving Championship, 1973. PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Pampered Pooches

So, what was a day in the life of a royal Corgi like? Well, despite having run of a castle, the Corgis were happiest to be with the Queen. It was Princess Diana who famously referred to the Corgis as a “moving carpet,” always surrounding the Queen wherever she went. As any Corgi lover will attest, this no doubt led to many incidents of staff and visitors tripping over the dogs. Corgis are renowned for their habit of lying down in very awkward locations.

The Queen’s dogs typically went for two lengthy walks a day. Elizabeth loved to walk the grounds with her dogs and credited those daily outings for her longevity and good health. Apparently, when she walked in a room with her trademark headscarf on, the Corgis went wild, knowing that the scarf could only signify one thing: venturing out for a walk with her.

Mealtime for the Corgis was as good as you might imagine. Former Chefs to the Royal Family note that the dogs were always fed fresh, chopped meat that was served with rice and often some cabbage. The dogs’ food was very high in quality and prepared alongside the Queen’s own meals. Meat and other ingredients were sent up, but the Queen reportedly liked to mix the food up herself to give to the dogs. Their favourite treat? Scones from afternoon tea, of course!


Queen Elizabeth II with her family, 1960. Photo Smith Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

 

The dogs slept in their own room—called the Corgi Room, naturally—that was located within the Queen’s private apartment. Raised dog beds and plenty of blankets and comforts filled this room, and there were two footmen ready to give the dogs any additional care needed.

Where she went, her dogs went. There is no end to video footage—both old and recent—of the Queen and her Corgis getting in and out of planes and limousines. Heading off for a trip? Six or seven Corgis were part of her entourage. It seems the desire to remain close worked both ways. When out with her Corgis, Elizabeth always looked a bit more relaxed and content. But let’s be clear: she was no pushover. The Queen loved her dogs, but also trained them and reared them to be well-mannered.

 


Queen Elizabeth II with some of her Corgis walking the Cross Country course during the second day of the Windsor Horse Trials, 1980. Photo PA Wire

 

The End of an Era

Willow, the last in the line of Susan’s descendants, passed away in 2018. The loss reportedly hit the Queen very hard. Willow’s loss signified the end of an era—14 generations of Corgis stemming from Elizabeth’s heart dog, Susan. By this time, the Queen had long since decided to discontinue her breeding program. A responsible and ethical breeder, she simply didn’t want to keep breeding and leave young dogs behind when she passed away. The Queen’s line of Corgis thus ended with the loss of Willow.

Elizabeth did continue to have pets, however. In 2021, she was given two Corgis—Muick and Sandy—by one of her sons, Prince Andrew, and his daughters.

Elizabeth II was a complex woman in many ways, but her love of dogs was pure and simple. She adored them, and the feeling was mutual. She was the Queen, but she was also a dog mom, caring for and loving her pets, just as any dog lover would. Who knew that the longest-reigning monarch packed stockings full of goodies for each of her dogs at Christmastime?

On September 8, 2022, Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96. As the funeral process made its way to the chapel, Muick and Sandy were seen waiting for her outside of Windsor Castle—a poignant image.


Members of the Royal Household stand with the Queen’s royal Corgis, Muick and Sandy, as they wait for the funeral cortege on September 19, 2022. Photo Justin Setterfield/Pool via REUTERS

 

The Duke of York, also known as Prince Andrew, will keep the dogs in the family, says a spokesperson for the duke. He and his former wife, Sarah, Duchess of York will take care of the two surviving Corgis. They will live at Royal Lodge in Windsor, the country estate Prince Andrew shares with his ex-wife. (Who will care for the Queen’s two other dogs, Candy, a Dorgi, and Lissy, a Cocker Spaniel, has not yet been reported.)

The Queen may have been a mystery in many ways, but those of us who have lost our own dogs can recognize a dog lover when we see one. Let’s hope that Dookie, Jane, Susan, and the rest of the Queen’s beloved, passed Corgis have been reunited with their cherished guardian.

 

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!

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