Her Majesty the Queen has ever-so-quietly discontinued breeding corgis, which has been her passion since she received one named Susan as a present for her 18th birthday. She personally supervised the mating and care of the fourteen succeeding generations, a total of thirty dogs, all of whom she nurtured, loved and knew intimately.
She hasn’t made a fuss about it, or an announcement—the last thing she wants is a public debate—but those around her began to realize gradually in recent years that there would be no more puppies–that when a dog died it would not be replaced. There are only two left, Holly and Willow, both 12 years old. The saga of the corgis is coming to an end.
Why? Several reasons. One is that of all her grandchildren, only one, Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne, caught the Corgi Fever and kept one as his canine companion. With no other family members clamoring for a corgi, the Queen told a confidant she “didn’t want to leave a young dog behind”.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi, as the Queen’s little ones are properly called, can be a complicated dog to like and care for. For hundreds of years they were working dogs, employed in Wales to herd cattle and sheep by nipping at their heels. The domesticated creatures are not entirely devoid of their ancestors’s nature and instincts.
The Queen, a prisoner of protocol within a cocoon of civility, perhaps was drawn to the wildness inherent in the breed. She enjoys walking with them through the forests and glades of Balmoral, and when they take off chasing after rabbits and squirrels, she shouts at them to “Keep going, keep going”, encouraging their mad pursuit of the quarry.
Another thing she likes is that dogs don’t know she is a monarch, elevated above ordinary mortals, bowed and scraped to by every person she encounters from breakfast to bedtime. The canines see her for herself—someone they have known all their lives, who gives them food and doggie treats and kisses and attention and vigorous rubs on their heads and bellies. As well as sharp reprimands when they misbehave, which they respect and respond to.
For her corgis, the Queen is a familiar face who earns their affection by knowing their names (she bestowed them) and their idiosyncrasies. She recognizes their individual personalities and understands their moods, just as they understand hers. She gets down on the floor and interacts with them. Always has. Still does.
The downside of treating the little darlings as equals is that they aren’t intimidated by her and don’t repress their playfulness. In 1991, when the Queen tried to break up a free-for-all among ten or so corgis belonging to her and the Queen Mother, she was bitten on her left hand and had to have three stitches. It wasn’t the only time blood has been shed.
Another reason the Queen has decided to phase out the doggie dynasty was the death at 85 of Nancy Fenwick, known as Keeper of the Queen Corgis. She was the wife of the gamekeeper at Windsor Castle, and she enjoyed the total confidence of her employer. Mrs. Fenwick was the only royal staffer with carte blanche to contact Her Majesty at any time for any reason 24 hours a day. It is extremely rare for a monarch to attend the funeral of a staff member, but when Mrs. Fenwick was laid to rest last February, her employer was there, on the arm of Prince Andrew.
The two women had consulted constantly on diet and medical issues and grooming and moving the dogs around to the various royal residences—Sandringham at Christmas, of course, and Balmoral in August. The two dog whisperers, who had an extraordinary rapport and level of trust, carefully pondered and plotted which male corgi stud from throughout the realm would be brought to Windsor to do his duty (in the kitchen) when one of the Queen’s bitches was in heat. It is said that the Queen knows the bloodlines of her corgis and racehorses as thoroughly as Burke’s knows the genealogy of its peers.
But time moves on, things change, we all age, and the British sovereign, contemplating her own mortality, has decided to conclude this fairy tale while there is still a happy ending.
What is the lesson to be learned? Monty Roberts, a California cowboy who is an adviser to the Queen on all things equine and some things canine, told Vanity Fair that the corgis exemplify the Queen’s greatness as a leader in one specific way, distinct from the sense of continuity that many claim to be the essence of her existence. “The dogs are so critical, and the horses, the cows, and the other animals, the wild deer and the stags of Scotland—they all play into it, because in my opinion the Queen created an avenue by which people could include animals as part of our social structure.” And full respect for animals is a modern way of thinking.
Do you remember the scene in “The Queen” when Helen Mirren, alone on the heath at Balmoral, glances up to the hillside and is gobsmacked by an epiphany–the majesty and universality of the wild stag? Do you see how these threads come together? Of course you do. That’s why you read Orb.[Editors Note: Some of the facts in this article were woven together from stories that appeared in The Express, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and Vanity Fair.]