History of the Queen's Corgis throughout her reign
When we think of Corgis, we automatically think of Her Majesty the Queen. They make an iconic pairing. People often assume that the Royal Family’s history with Corgis must go far back in history, but in fact, the Queen is the first British monarch to take an interest in the breed.
There are two breeds of Corgi – the Pembroke, which is the Queen’s breed, and the Cardigan Corgi. Officially, they are known as the Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) and the Welsh Corgi (Cardigan) and are sometimes referred to as “Pems” or “Cardies” for short. They have working roots as cattle drover dogs in Wales.
The Queen’s involvement with Corgis dates all the way back to her childhood in the early 1930s. The little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret first got to know Corgis through the children of family friends who had a pet Pembroke Corgi. The breed was obviously well known in Wales, but was fairly new to England. The princesses enjoyed this smart, characterful dog belonging to their friends, and wanted to have one too.
The Queen's first Corgi
Their parents, then the Duke and Duchess of York, approached a well-known breeder, Thelma Gray, who brought three puppies from her Rozavel kennels in Surrey, and they chose one together as a family. His Kennel Club registered name was Rozavel Golden Eagle, but he was given the pet name ‘Dookie’ by the Rozavel kennel staff, once they knew who his new owners were going to be – the Duke of York and his young family. A press photo of Princess Elizabeth and puppy Dookie in 1933 proved popular with the public and sparked an interest in the breed.
The first Royal puppies bred
The family later got another dog from Thelma Gray, called Rozavel Lady Jane, known simply as ‘Jane’ at home. An illustrated photo book for children, 'Our Princesses and Their Dogs' was published in December 1936 and was very popular. Jane was later mated to one of Thelma Gray’s dogs, named Tafferteffy, and this resulted in two more puppies entering the household – Carol and Crackers. Carol did not live long, unfortunately. Jane had no more puppies and both Dookie and Crackers were never mated, so this first tranche of Royal Corgis did not continue their line.
A special friend
Princess Elizabeth’s next Pembroke Corgi would, however, found a dynasty. Her name was Susan (registered Kennel Club name Hickathrift Pippa) and she was given to the Princess as a gift for her 18th Birthday. Susan and the Queen were inseparable – Susan even accompanied her on her honeymoon in 1947. Continuing the association with Thelma Gray, Susan was mated to one of her dogs, Ch. Rozavel Lucky Strike. This mating founded the line of Windsor Pembroke Corgis, which continued for 15 generations. Susan died in 1959 and there is a touching gravestone at Sandringham to commemorate this very special friend of the Queen. It reads “Susan / born 20 February 1944/ died 26 January 1959 / for almost 15 years the faithful companion of the Queen."
The life of a Royal Corgi
The Queen has always been a pet owner first when it comes to her Corgis. Even with all the demands of her time, she has been a hands-on pet owner. Their food is prepared for them by the Royal kitchens and, with some assistance, from the Queen's footmen, she has attended to their daily feeding herself in the “ Corgi room” where their wicker sleeping baskets are also kept.
The Queen's relationship with Corgis
She has taken them on their daily walks as often as possible. Whenever she has met other Corgi owners, she has been pleased to chat with them about their shared love of the breed. Corgis are “heelers”, which refers to their traditional work of moving cattle, getting in and around the cattle’s heels to drive them forward. The Queen favoured Corgis of the traditional type, sturdy with a foxy appearance and deep red coat, a confident temperament and full of stamina to do their traditional job well. She even remarked to a fellow visitor at Crufts, in 1969, that one of her dogs was trained to move cattle. It is said that the Corgis certainly think of the Queen as their pack leader and are obedient to her, though not necessarily to anyone else.
Timeline of the Queen's Corgis
Numbers have fluctuated over the years and, as these are her personal pets, it can be hard to say how many she has had in total, but it is clear the Queen has enjoyed having lots of dogs around her. In 1981, it was reported that no less than 13 Corgis accompanied her to Balmoral for her summer holiday.
The Queen’s great support in looking after and breeding her dogs was Nancy Fenwick, a great dog lover who became a Corgi expert in her own right, after working so closely with the Queen for many years. The Queen came to know Nancy Fenwick when her husband Bill took up the role of gamekeeper at Windsor. She was always on hand to help with the Corgis, looking after them in her own home on the Windsor Estate whenever the Queen was overseas, or otherwise engaged.
Why the Queen stopped breeding Corgis
As for breeding, the Queen chose mating partners from the kennels of established breeders whose dogs she admired. It was Nancy Fenwick who liaised with breeders to arrange mating and breeders who knew to be discreet, if contacted by her to visit Windsor. These breeders usually received a puppy from the resulting litter as a gift. The Queen’s choices of names for her dogs have ranged from food and drink (e.g., Honey, Sugar, Whiskey and Sherry) to nature-based names like Jay, Linnet and Foxy. The final litter, bred by the Queen herself, was born on 9 July 2003, although she has kept Corgis since then, she is no longer active as a breeder. This final litter of eight all had beautiful botanical names e.g., Bramble, Cedar, Holly, Jasmine, Larch, Laurel, Rose and Willow. Of this litter, she kept Willow and Holly, but decided not to breed another litter.
The reasons why the Queen decided to stop breeding dogs are her own, but may have been influenced by the deaths of her mother and sister. The Queen Mother’s own three Corgis then came to join the Queen’s pack at Windsor. When her greatest supporter in all doggy matters Nancy Fenwick passed away in 2015, the Queen also took on the care of her surviving dogs. In 2018, her final link with Susan died – this was Willow, one of the pups she kept from that final litter. Angela Kelly, the Queen’s Dresser and Personal Assistant has revealed that the Queen now has a couple of young Corgis, Muick and Sandy, to keep her company.
The Queen's dog show success
The Queen has never participated in dog shows with these beloved Corgis. This is in contrast to her working Labradors and Cocker Spaniels, which have been very successful in competitive field trials. Only one Windsor Corgi has competed at dog shows – this is ‘Windsor Loyal Subject’ who was a gift to Thelma Gray from the Queen. He was the son of the Queen’s own ‘Windsor Brush’ and related to Gray’s Rozavel dogs. Thelma Gray asked for the Queen’s approval to show the dog, which was granted, and he went on to win two Challenge Certificates.
Corgis - the platinum breed
After many years of declining interest in the breed, Pembroke Corgis are once again becoming popular. Some of this renewed interest is media-driven and includes the Queen’s own star turn at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, when she and the Corgis took part in a James Bond skit, with actor Daniel Craig. A new generation of dog owners are learning the joys of this special breed of dog, something the Queen has known all about for nearly seven decades.