No More Corgis for Queen Elizabeth?
Why did Queen Elizabeth stop breeding Corgis after 14 generations of dogs?
Posted May 02, 2018
Last week it was announced that Willow, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who was the devoted companion to Queen Elizabeth II, died. She passed away at the respectable age of 14 years and according to reports by palace insiders, the Queen is heartbroken at her loss. Over the years the Queen has had a breeding program that produced many Corgis, but what is significant this time is that there are no replacements for Willow, and apparently none are planned and many people are wondering why.
The short legged, bat eared Corgis have been as much a symbol of Queen Elizabeth's reign as the crown and the British flag. If you scan press photos coming out of her long regime you will find hundreds which show royal activities that include this iconic dog breed. Many photos have Her Majesty strolling through palace corridors or gardens flanked by one or more of these dogs. Pictures of the Queen greeting eminent visitors at Buckingham or Windsor Palace are often sprinkled with images of Corgis standing around watching her interacting with world leaders from Canada, Germany, Japan, the United States and elsewhere.
It was in 1933 that a Corgi by the name of "Dookie" was first given to Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret. That dog and its successors served as companions to the two girls during the Battle of Britain when they had been secretly evacuated to Windsor Castle for safety. However the dog that would be the basis of the Queen's long dynasty of Corgis was given to her as an 18th birthday gift. She had the registered name "Hickathrift Pippa", but afterward was known simply as "Susan".
The young Princess and her dog became inseparable. In 1947, when Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten left for Scotland to begin their honeymoon, Susan was smuggled along as her companion. The dog was hidden under blankets in the royal carriage and apparently Philip did not object. In 1948 Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Charles and a year later Susan followed her mistress into motherhood giving birth to two puppies. One pup supposedly belonged to the infant prince, and the other lived with the Queen Mum. This began what would be a seven decade long dynasty of Windsor Corgis, with Susan as the foundation bitch or common ancestor of all of them.
The Queen has said, several times, "My corgis are family." In many ways they are treated as such, with the Queen taking time to feed them personally whenever possible. The Queen's Corgis are never sold although many of them have been given away. Her dogs are also never shown in dog shows. When they die most are buried in a special pet cemetery at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
The Corgis have served a number of important functions for the Queen. Her position isolates her from many social interactions, so the dogs serve as an important source of love, socializing and physical affection. It also gives her a chance to break free of the confines of protocol by walking the dogs every day. Her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has often referred to the dogs as some form of therapeutic mechanism which is vital for Elizabeth. However it seems as though the Queen also uses the dogs as an informal means of breaking the ice when, as part of her duties she is confronted with strangers who might also be political heavyweights. Doubtless this accounts for all of those press photos of formally dressed people of great importance in the same room as one or more of her pet dogs.
When the dogs were not spending time with the royal family they were cared for by the Royal Gamekeeper and his family. It is in the gamekeeper's home that the dogs were house trained. It was because of the dogs that the gamekeeper was given a two-story house to live in. This was necessary so that the dogs could learn to go up and down stairs. This is an important skill when the dogs are traveling with the Queen and they need to go up and down stairs to enter an airplane.
A number of Elizabeth's dogs kept the Queen Mum company throughout her long life. In 2002, when the Queen went to Clarence House to view her mother's body, she took the Queen Mum's Corgis away with her and re-integrated them into her own family pack of dogs.
It was in the years following her mother's death that people began to realize that the Corgi breeding program at Windsor Castle had stopped. This became apparent to Monty Roberts (the California horse trainer who became known as the original horse whisperer). Roberts, who frequently visited the Queen to help train her horses, and occasionally provided guidance on dog training, he asked her why. Her response suggested that at her age she didn't want to leave any puppies behind.
In 2015 another explanation for the cessation of the breeding program was offered by members of the royal family. The suggestion was that with a flock of younger dogs swirling around her feet the Queen might accidentally trip over one of them and hurt herself. There is actually data which suggests that this is one of the risk factors associated with owning dogs especially for older individuals. Whether this was the Queen's idea or it emerged as an expression of concerns by family members and staff, is not clear.
The popularity of Corgis rose dramatically following the coronation of the young Queen and continued for many years. In recent times Corgis have become less popular because people have come to identify the breed as being "an old woman's dog". Even within her own family there have been individuals who did not share the monarch's fondness for these nippy little herding dogs. In a television interview in 2012, Prince William, the Queen's grandson and second in line to the British throne, complained "They're barking all the time. I don't know how she copes with it." A similar noise complaint was registered by Prince Harry, William's brother, who noted that he had spent the last 33 years of his life being barked at.
Although the corgis appear to be gone there are still dogs in the palace, namely two "dorgis". These are the result of an accidental crossbreeding between her sister Margaret's Dachshund and one of the Queen's Corgis.
The status of the Royal kennels at Sandringham, some hundred miles north of Buckingham, is not clear at the moment. It is here that the Queen's sporting dogs, especially a line of well-respected working Labrador Retrievers have been bred. Elizabeth is also fond of this breed of dogs, and has had a couple of Land Rover jeeps modified so that she can travel more easily with the retrievers. There have been some suggestions that that breeding program has been ramped down somewhat, but is still continuing.
The one thing which seems certain though is that after 14 generations of Corgis descended from the Queen's Susan, this iconic breed now seems to be gone from the palace hallways and the royal family's living quarters.
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