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Why did Queen Elizabeth II love the royal corgis?

Why did Queen Elizabeth II love the royal corgis?

Did you know that Elizabeth II owned over 30 corgis over the course of her life? Author Caroline L Perry traces the royal corgi family tree

Salvador Dali and his ocelot, Lord Byron and his bear, Caligula and his horse. Throughout history, famous figures have frequently been flanked by four-legged companions, but never has a legacy been so intrinsically linked with a pet as that of Queen Elizabeth II and her royal corgis.

The late monarch owned more than 30 corgis over the course of her life, and she was often photographed with a pack of the low-riding dogs by her side. In 2012, three members of the royal corgi crew, Monty, Willow and Holly, starred alongside Queen Elizabeth and Daniel Craig in the infamous James Bond sketch during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, becoming stars in their own right. 

"Never has a legacy been so intrinsically linked with a pet as that of Queen Elizabeth II and her royal corgis"

Queen Elizabeth II’s adoration for her pedigree pooches was clearly a love story for the ages, but what was it about these dogs that enchanted her so? 

Why did Elizabeth II love corgis?

When I was researching my book, The Corgi and the Queen, I discovered that Queen Elizabeth II’s devotion to the Pembroke Welsh corgi breed had started during her formative years. The then-Princess Elizabeth of York’s beloved “Papa” bought two corgis, Dookie and Jane, as companions for “Lilibet” and her sister, Princess Margaret. 

The girls were enjoying a relatively normal upbringing before their uncle King Edward VIII’s shock abdication changed the course of their lives, and set Elizabeth on the path to becoming queen. 

Illustation of Elizabeth II and the royal corgis

Queen Elizabeth II and the royal corgis. Illustration by Lydia Corry

The family moved into Buckingham Palace and, when Elizabeth was only 11 years old, “Papa" was crowned King George VI. Elizabeth and Margaret’s worlds shifted on their axes, but the dogs remained steadfast in their loyalty.

Elizabeth turned 18 during the dark days of the Second World War. This milestone celebration was marked with a gift that was to establish a regal dog dynasty, and change a young royal’s life forever: a six-week old, sable-coloured corgi puppy named Susan. 

"Susan was by Elizabeth’s side for some of the most momentous events in her life"

Elizabeth was smitten with the little dog, who quickly became her closest companion. The pair were inseparable, and no wonder: who else could a queen-in-waiting trust with her innermost thoughts and feelings? Even the decidedly non-royal amongst us can empathise with that yearning for acceptance, and all dog owners can attest to their pets’ innate ability to dispense reassurance and unconditional love with a wet-nosed nuzzle or tail wag.

Susan was by Elizabeth’s side for some of the most momentous events in her life: when the princess served in a wartime women’s regiment; when she married Prince Philip (Susan was a stowaway in the royal honeymoon carriage!); when Elizabeth became a mother; and when her beloved “Papa” died, unexpectedly. Susan also witnessed her companion being crowned Queen at the age of only 25

Life after Susan

When Susan died, the distraught monarch sent a letter to Norfolk vet Harold Swann, who had tried to save her cherished pet. “I had always dreaded losing her as I had had her since she was six weeks old,” she wrote. “...But I am ever so thankful that her suffering was so mercifully short. Yours sincerely, Elizabeth R.” 

The little dog was buried on the grounds of the Sandringham Estate, and Elizabeth chose the inscription for Susan’s headstone: “For almost 15 years, the faithful companion of The Queen.”

While Elizabeth grieved for her pet, the legacy of this famous friendship was to continue. Susan was the matriarch of fourteen generations of royal corgis, and her descendents even created the “dorgi” ( one of Elizabeth’s corgis, Tiny, had illicit relations with Princess Margaret’s dachshund, Pipkin. Along with a litter of adorable puppies, a whole new breed was born!) 

Royal corgis family tree

While the Queen was famously disciplined and even-tempered, her corgis frequently got into scrapes. The breed, described by one corgi expert as “punk rock” in their temperament, are feisty, energetic working dogs. It isn’t too much of a stretch to consider that Queen Elizabeth II was, perhaps, expressing her wild side through her choice of companions, who paid precious little regard to stifling royal rules! 

The dogs’ intelligence was clearly attuned to the Queen’s compassionate nature, however. During a lunch meeting with the Queen, war surgeon David Nott witnessed the monarch use her corgis as therapy dogs to help him feel at ease. 

In his memoir, Nott recalled that, while engaging in polite small-talk with the monarch, he found himself overcome with memories of his time in Syria. "My mind instantly filled with images of toxic dust, of crushed school desks... My bottom lip started to go," he recalled. 

"The dogs’ intelligence was clearly attuned to the Queen’s compassionate nature"

Queen Elizabeth reached for a box of dog treats, and called for her corgis.

 "All the while we were stroking and petting them, and my anxiety and distress drained away," Nott wrote. "'There,' the Queen said. 'That's so much better than talking, isn't it?'"

The Queen’s last corgi descended from Susan, Willow, died in 2018, but she was gifted two corgi puppies to keep her company after  Prince Philip’s death in 2021. The monarch’s dresser Angela Kelly described Muick and Sandy as a “constant joy” for the Queen during her final months. 

The dogs’ appearance at Elizabeth’s funeral was one of the most poignant moments in an extraordinarily moving ceremony. The Queen had painstakingly planned every moment of her own send-off, and the pups’ inclusion was a painful reminder that the curtain had fallen on both the second Elizabethan age, and on the most iconic human/animal pairing of all time. 

Corgis will forever be emblematic of Elizabeth’s reign, and I hope that my book will help both Elizabeth and the corgis’ legacies to live on. 

The Corgi and the Queen Caroline L Perry

The Corgi and the Queen, written by Caroline L. Perry and illustrated by Lydia Corry, is available now (Andersen Press)

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