Certain aspects of Queen Elizabeth II’s life were naturally kept out of the spotlight, but her love of dogs wasn’t one of them. She absolutely adored her corgis, and she wasn’t afraid to show it! But having said that, the late British monarch’s passion for canines goes back much further than you may think. In fact, her deep-rooted affection has continued to have an impact on the animals even after her passing.
How it all started...
When did this love affair with dogs begin, then? Well, it happened long before Elizabeth was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom. The year was 1933, and little Elizabeth was just a seven-year-old princess enjoying a childhood in the royal lap of luxury. One day, though, the future monarch had a surprising request for her mom and dad. And so, before long, her father, the Duke of York, embarked on a mission to give his young princess the one thing she so desired.
After noticing that friends of the family owned a corgi, Elizabeth set her sights on acquiring a dog of her very own. Not wanting to disappoint his young daughter, the Duke of York then started to look around to find the perfect dog breeder.
Searching for a breeder
The Duke's search ultimately led him to Surrey, England, where he met a woman by the name of Thelma Gray. And as you'd expect, she was a woman who held an impeccable reputation in the breeding community. Anyway, once the Duke outlined his daughter’s wishes, Gray went on to select three Pembroke corgis living at her kennel. From there, she took the dogs to his family home so they could pick out which one to adopt.
In the end, the royals were won over by a tiny pooch who went by the name of Rozavel Golden Eagle. But their decision wasn’t only influenced by his cute appearance!
Unlike the other two pups, Rozavel Golden Eagle had a tail. And while it was only small, that swayed the Duke and his family. Why? Simple: with the wag of his tail, the U.K. royals would have a better idea of his mood at home. Without one, that’d be a lot trickier! So, the young corgi was welcomed with open arms, and gained a new moniker along the way, too.
It's not often that a family pet has a three-part name, but then again, Rozavel Golden Eagle wasn't destined to go to any old home. And it was at the time the Windsor's decided they'd be bringing him home that his unusual name took hold.
According to the Royal Trust Collection, it’s said that Gray’s workers at the kennel started calling Rozavel Golden Eagle by the name of “Dookie” once they discovered that it was the Duke who was adopting him. After that, the name endured. And let’s be honest, it rolls off the tongue better! But while Princess Elizabeth and her family got to grips with the corgi, others saw a rather nasty side of him.
While corgis may not look particularly fearsome, according to the BBC website, Dookie was known to be a little menace behind the scenes, clamping his jaws around guests and royal aides alike.
Quite the biter
To say he had behavioral issues would be an understatement. Still, Elizabeth fell head-over-heels for the corgi. And in Dookie's defence, the urge to bite at passers-by is a trait that's been ingrained in the breed over centuries. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Cardigan Welsh Corgis are herd dogs, which means they've been bred to round up livestock with — you guessed it — a little nip on the ankle!
Unwanted biting aside, young Elizabeth was smitten with her new four-legged friend. And a short time later, her family were headed back to Gray's esteemed kennels to pick up a partner for Dookie.
After some deliberation, they set their hearts on a beautiful pup named Lady Jane. But sadly, tragedy was just around the corner. As World War II rolled into action, Dookie passed away. Life carried on, though, and Lady Jane became pregnant. And with Dookie sadly no longer with them, the family kept one of Jane's litter, a puppy who they named Crackers. And it was these two dogs that would play such a defining role in Elizabeth's experience of the war.
Just like many children during the war, Margaret and Elizabeth were evactuated to the safety of the countryside. Unlike other children, though, they were ushered away in secret — along with their beloved corgies — to Windsor Castle.
Another devastating blow
With the war raging on around them, Jane and her pup became a constant comfort for the royal sisters. But they were soon dealt another emotional blow. In 1944, Jane was accidentally run over, a trauma that deeply affected Elizabeth. The driver of the car was a member of staff from Windsor Great Park. A driver, no doubt, who was filled with dread at what would lay in wait for someone who took away a princesses dearest pet.
That very same day, the young princess penned a letter to the driver. And despite her young years, Elizabeth handled the situation with a measured maturity well beyond her years.
Say hello to Susan
Thankfully, Elizabeth held no grudges. She forgave the driver for his misfortunate accident and acknowledged that it wasn’t his fault. Despite Jane and Dookie's influence on the Queen-to-be's love of corgis, it could be argued that her unadulterated love of the breed wasn’t solidified until her 18th birthday in 1944. It was at this time, you see, that Elizabeth's father had an extra-special gift to mark his daughter's coming of age.
The Duke of York handed over what would go on to become one of the Queen's most important pets. Initially named Sue — a name that would later evolve into Susan — the Pembroke Welsh Corgi changed Elizabeth's life forever.
The pair became inseparable from that moment on, staying by each other’s sides whenever they could. And that’s not an exaggeration, either! Take, for example, the time following Elizabeth’s wedding ceremony with Prince Philip in 1947 when Susan snuck aboard their royal carriage. She hid underneath one of the rugs and remained undetected as the newlyweds headed off for their honeymoon in Scotland. The cheeky dog was found a little while later.
We get the feeling that no one else would get away with gatecrashing that particular event! And it seems the British public were also falling head-over-heels for Elizabeth's prized pooch.
The problem of jealousy
By 1948, Susan had become such a well-known figure, that members of the public would write to her directly! When the then-princess gave birth to her first child, the Mirror newspaper ran a feature that called on their young readers to send in advise for Elizabeth on how best to alleviate any jealousy that Jane might feel about the new arrival in the house — baby Charles. One answer in the flurry of replies came from an Alan Moore.
"First. Show baby to Susan, stroking Susan all the time. Second. When nursing baby let Susan have a nice saucer of milk or tea beside you." And but a year later, Susan would do as her owner had done, and embark on the path to becoming a mother.
Extending the line
With a baby of her own, Elizabeth decided that she wanted to extend Susan’s family line. So, she got back in touch with Gray, who promptly began scanning the dogs in her kennel for a suitable mate. The breeder eventually selected a Rozavel corgi named Lucky Strike. And luckily, when Susan came on heat during a trip to Balmoral, royal resources allowed for her to be flown down south on a mail plane to meet up with her allocated date!
And the effort was all worth it, as in May 1949, Susan gave birth to two healthy puppies. They were called Honey and Sugar. But the breeding didn’t stop there.
Circle of silence
If we were to go into all the details, this breeding program might resemble some super-secret government scheme or something straight out of a secret society. Although there weren’t any official written rules, everyone involved knew this was a very strict procedure. Overseen by Her Majesty’s watchful eye, breeders involved weren’t allowed to talk about the program in public. It was so respected, in fact, that breeders and corgi traditionalists alike hold Susan's impressive pedigree lineage in the utmost esteem.
The new Windsor Pembroke corgi line spanned for another 14 generations — all of which were direct descendants of Susan. Each new litter joined Elizabeth at different stages of her life.
And Susan was still there for part of that, including her owner’s coronation as Queen. Sadly, Elizabeth's trustiest pet passed away in 1959 — and it broke the monarch’s heart. With Susan gone, Elizabeth had some very specific requests for the headstone that would mark the corgi's final resting place. In a letter to the estate manager, the then-Queen requested that the headstone — the design of which she'd sketched herself — should read, “Susan / died 26th Jan 1959 / for 15 years the faithful companion of the Queen.”
Not completely satisfied and having found more information about Susan's exact birth date, she wrote again,“So could you have that inserted between her name and her death on the stone, please?” Clearly, though, commemorating her pet's life correctly was playing heavily on her mind.
For sale? Nope...
And so, two weeks after her follow-up message, Elizabeth wrote yet again to the estate manager. “My only comment is that for accuracy’s sake we ought to put for almost 15 years. The rest is quite alright.” She had underlined the word “almost,” and finished off the note with the initials, “ER.” The precious pup was finally laid to rest in the pet cemetery in Sandringham. Susan’s growing family line must’ve come as some comfort to Elizabeth during that tough time. At least some part of her was still around.
And boy, did the royals become familiar with them! You see, the Queen didn’t sell a single puppy from any of the various litters. She either kept the dogs herself, or handed some off to her family, close pals, and fellow breeders.
But Elizabeth’s reluctance to sell couldn’t just be attributed to keeping Susan’s memory alive. It also tied back to her childhood with her beloved dad. The Queen adored that “carefree” period in her life, and each new pup served as a big reminder of it. Away from that, though, the U.K. sovereign didn’t just create a royal corgi line. She had her sights set on even more adventurous breeding plans.
In fact, Elizabeth's dog breeding prowess was so great, that she created a whole new breed entirely! And the lucky fluke resulted in an adorable hybrid that the royals loved so much, that they added more and more to their family for decades to come.
It all started back in the 1970s. Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret owned a dachshund called Pipkin, who got close with one of the royal corgis. Very close! As a result of their... closeness, along came the adorable dorgi. And Elizabeth couldn’t take her eyes off the puppies! So, she and Margaret brought Pipkin and the corgi together once more to establish a different line of royal dogs.
Going back to Elizabeth’s overall connection to dogs, though, a royal writer raised a very interesting point. Penny Junor suggested the Queen’s love of canines also offered her a welcome chance to bond with people she otherwise mightn’t have.
An opportunity to bond?
The author went into more detail on that front in the book All The Queen’s Corgis. Junor penned, “Dogs and horses are [Elizabeth’s] passion and it’s with them, and the people who share that passion, that she truly relaxes. Horses are a rich man’s game but dogs are not. They’re a great leveler, they attract people from all walks of life. And, over the years, the Queen has had strong and genuine friendships with many of her fellow dog enthusiasts.”
Which makes sense — an adorable dog is the perfect ice-breaker for any situation. More than that, though, she often looked at her happiest when she was with her corgis, which sometimes baffled Prince Philip. He once asked why she had so many around, and according to those close to her it was because the dogs relaxed her. She found talking to them and taking walks with them therapeutic, which was important for a woman in her position.
The Kennel Club reacts
So how did the Kennel Club react to Elizabeth’s dorgis? Well, according to The Guardian it remarked, “The dachshund was evolved to chase badgers down holes, and the corgis to round up cattle. If anyone loses a herd of cattle down a badger hole, then these are just the dogs to get them out.” But if the monarch’s general canine devotion is anything to go by, she bred them for love, not work.
And nothing is more of a testament to that fact than the amount of time she devoted to the wider promotion of animal welfare and the charities that fight so hard to protect it.
“A powerful statement”
As well as a champion breeder, Elizabeth was also very public in her support of charitable organizations that centered their efforts on animals. To give you a couple of examples, she was the patron of The British Horse Society and the Dogs Trust. Plus, we can’t forget that the Queen backed the RSPCA as well, following in the footsteps of her great, great grandma Victoria. Like we mentioned earlier, Elizabeth had no issue broadcasting her love for animals.
And in the RSPCA’s case, the chief executive highlighted just how integral that was following her passing. In a blog post, Chris Sherwood wrote, “The Queen’s continued involvement has given important recognition to our work, and made a powerful statement that animals have a vital role in our society.”
"Beware of the dog"
But while the Queen made a legacy of supporting animal rights at large, not everyone in the royal sphere has been a fan of her corgis. On more than one occasion, the dogs have been known to attack royal staff. Once in 1954, one or more of the Queen Mother’s corgis sunk their teeth into a police officer. A postman was also bitten in 1968, which prompted the British Labor Party’s Peter Doig to call for action.
The party member made a bold statement when he called for Balmoral Castle staff to put up a “Beware of the dog” sign. As if this wasn’t enough, Elizabeth herself was once attacked by her own dogs.
Biting the hand that feeds
A story from the early 1990s claims that a bold Elizabeth once stepped up when a vicious dog fight broke out. According to sources, ten dogs were involved in the brawl, two of which belonged to the Queen Mother. Not one to sit back and watch while her beloved canines potentially came to harm, Elizabeth tried her best to break things up. According to the newspaper the Toledo Blade, she “was bitten on her left hand during the dogfight at Windsor Castle.”
Her injuries were bad enough that they needed three stitches to patch up. And what's worse, her efforts didn't end the fight. A royal chauffeur also tried to break things up, but he also got bitten in the process. Luckily, all he needed was a tetanus shot instead of stitches!
They were famous!
But with such a feisty nature also comes fame. After all, who could ever resist a pack of pretty-looking royal corgis? Probably their most famous appearance was for the James Bond 2012 Summer Olympics sketch involving Daniel Craig and the Queen at Buckingham Palace. For this occasion, Willow, Monty, and Holly trotted alongside Her Majesty, keeping a close eye on Mr Bond. Fame aside, though, many people will be wondering — did the Queen take care of the dogs by herself?
Well as we know, Elizabeth had a busy schedule being monarch, but according to Phillip, her time with the dogs served as a much-needed form of therapy. Wherever possible, then, she would try to be involved in feeding and walking.
Devoted dog owner
But, of course, Elizabeth couldn't care for all of them herself. Back in the day, there was gamekeeper George Hallett who did a large portion the corgi-related work. But when he retired, Bill Fenwick and his wife Nancy moved in and took over. In particular, it was Nancy who became known as "The Keeper of the Queen’s Corgis." Along with Bill, she took great care of all the dogs, even meticulously preparing rabbit meat meals for the pampered canines every day.
On top of that, Nancy was available at any time of day or night for the privileged pooches. Needless to say, she and the Queen became close. And when Nancy and Bill passed away, Elizabeth took on the couple’s own dogs.
Breaking the protocol
Naturally, being a monarch in the U.K. came with an incredibly strict set of rules. Yet for Nancy’s funeral in 2015, Elizabeth didn’t send a representative, as was the usual protocol for non-royals. Instead, she attended the service herself, along with her son Prince Andrew, Duke of York. A bold decision which just goes to show how much her dogs and everything that came along with them meant to her.
After all, Elizabeth once said, “my corgis are family,” so it's little surprise that she was willing to bend the rules to honor one of their primary caregivers. But what happened to her surviving corgis in the days and weeks that followed the Queen's death?
The two surviving corgis
At the time of her passing, Elizabeth had two corgis left by the names of Sally and Muick. But neither of them was part of Susan’s family line. The final descendent from that group lost their life in 2018, as the U.K. monarch decided to bring breeding to a halt. Instead, Sandy and Muick were gifted to Elizabeth in 2021 from her granddaughters and their father Prince Andrew. So where did they end up, then?
Well, it didn’t take long until it was revealed that the pair would go home with Andrew and his former spouse Sarah Ferguson. The exes still live together in Windsor. But that news might’ve come as a surprise to some.
As noted in Junor’s book, Andrew had a rather frustrating history with some of his mom’s old corgis in the past. Apparently, Elizabeth called upon her canine chums whenever she needed a bit of breathing room from stressful affairs. It gave her an avenue to escape, and her son felt the effects of that during one particularly tricky period in his life. Junor said, “[The Queen’s] family refers to it as ‘the dog mechanism.’”
The 'mechanism' was supposedly a way for Elizabeth to cope with the stresses of ruling, but, unfortunately, it resulted in some tensions amongst the human members of the family.
“The dog mechanism”
Junor continued to explain the workings of Elizabeth's unusual coping mechanism, “If the situation becomes too difficult she will sometimes literally walk away from it and take the dogs out. Prince Andrew is said to have taken three weeks to fight his way past the dogs to tell his mother that his marriage to Sarah Ferguson was in trouble.” As it happened, a source told CNN that in addition to Prince Andrew's complicated history with the corgis, Sarah Ferguson was one of the Queen's regular dog-walking pals.
Sarah maintained a close relationship with her mother-in-law after her divorce and would have had a front-row seat to how much Elizabeth loved her prized corgis. So no doubt, the Queen trusted Sarah to care for and make decisions for the dogs in her absence.
And it was Sarah Ferguson who seemed to answer the question on everyone's lips — where were those corgis going to end up? She took to Instagram with a sweet snap of the pups and gave the corgis’ loyal fans a much-awaited update. It was the first time they'd been seen after the monarch's passing, and it left fans relieved to know they were being cared for by family members who already knew them.
Ferguson's decision to adopt the Sally and Muick seems like the logical solution — not only did she adore Elizabeth, but she and Andrew were the ones to gift the dogs to the monarch in the first place. And according to the Duchess, the corgis are fans of hers too.
"They're with me a lot, and they think I'm very funny," she shared with People. Still, taking on two national treasures doesn't come without it's fair share of stress. "Every time they run chasing a squirrel, I panic," the Fergie went on. "But they're total joys, and I always think that when they bark at nothing, and there's no squirrels in sight, I believe it's because the Queen is passing by."
And if it is Elizabeth's spirit causing the dogs to bark, then she'd be happy to see that her two pups are being well looked after. Ferguson even walks them along the same spots that they're used to treading with their former owner.
Keeping up a tradition
By accepting the responsibility, Andrew and Sarah — who still live together despite their divorce back in 1996 — are continuing another dog-themed royal tradition that Elizabeth started. Yes, when relatives or close friends passed away during her life, the British monarch would sometimes welcome their dogs into her inner circle at home. One of the more famous examples of that was back in 2002, after her mom, the Queen Mother died.
At the time of her death, the Queen Mother owned a trio of corgis. And they remained at Clarence House in the aftermath, until Elizabeth came to see her, that is.
The Queen Mother’s dogs
As per Vanity Fair, the Elizabeth did what she had to. In 2002, not long after her mother had sadly passed away, Elizabeth collected all three of the dogs and brought them back to the palace with her. In fact, It seemed like she had absolutely no intention of ever leaving them behind. Elizabeth had a similar reaction after losing Bill Fenwick as well, who used to serve as Windsor’s “head gamekeeper.”
Both he and his spouse, Nancy, owned a corgi named Whisper while they were alive, and just like with her mother, Elizabeth took in the lone pup after they'd gone.
What about Lissy?
So knowing how much the former Queen loved the breed, it’s heartwarming to know that Muick and Sally will be staying in the family. But what about the Queen's other dog who wasn't a corgi? That's right. Queen Elizabeth had another beloved dog, a cocker spaniel named Lissy, who was largely left out of the conversations surrounding the corgis' future. But that doesn't mean she is any less impressive.
Lissy — who's pedigree name is Wolferton Drama — is a champion in her own right, taking home the title of winner of the 91st Kennel Club Cocker Spaniel Championship.
But her recent achievements aside, would Lissy also end up with Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson? Well, at the time of the Queen's passing, Lissy was in the care of her trainer Ian Openshaw. And while the final word about Lissy's new home hasn't been made official yet, it's believed that she will remain with Openshaw for the time being and not join Sally and Muick at Royal Lodge.
In any case, the Queen would've seen fit that her pets were taken into the right hands. Though, her plans for her other non-corgi were dashed in the months leading up monarch's death.
The Queen's final heartbreak
The only other non-corgi pooch in the royal household was a charming dorgi, a dachshund-corgi mix named Candy. The public was introduced to Candy when she nonchalantly interrupted the Queen's memorabilia viewing at Windsor Castle’s Oak Room before her Platinum Jubilee. “And where did you come from?” the Queen asked Candy before knowingly offering her a treat. The moment tugged at heartstrings, but only a few months later, the 18-year-old Candy tragically died.
Palace insiders said the news of Candy's passing "hit the Queen hard” and left her "distraught." After all, Candy was her longest-surviving dog, and her loss left a major impact on the royal's heart in the months before her own passing.
Everyone wanted a corgi
But the loss came with the territory for the lifelong pet lover, who loved more than 30 corgis during her time on the throne. But even beyond her pets, the Queen also impacted the breed's global popularity for decades. Broadly speaking, the royal corgis weren’t the only ones to benefit from Queen Elizabeth’s affection. The breed as a whole became exceptionally popular in the United Kingdom thanks to the growing association with the crown as well.
It’s been evident even as far back as the mid-1930s — the Dookie and Lady Jane years. And the stats make for compelling reading.
According to the Kennel Club, Pembroke corgis were in huge demand in 1936, before the next big bump in 1944. Yep, that’s when Susan was gifted to Elizabeth. Meanwhile, the greatest spike arguably came during the ’60s, when the new monarch posed for family snaps that also included her beloved pups. Apparently, there were close to 9,000 annual “puppy registrations” then. But with their popularity, things started to change with the breed.
According to Vanity Fair, the higher demand of corgis was resulting in the breed itself taking a whole new shape. Their bodies were bred to be closer to the ground, and their faces began taking on a more cartoon-like appearance.
Puppy dog eyes
Instead of working dogs, corgis were slowly morphing into caricatures that would appeal to the masses. Still, there were a number of breeders who sought to withhold the more traditional features. Speaking to Vanity Fair, the chairman of the Welsh Corgi League, Diana King, explained how Queen Elizabeth's taste in corgis definitely appealed to classic corgi tastes. “She preferred the darker red, as they used to be. She preferred them with not too much white on them,” King shared.
And sadly for King, Elizabeth apparently once sent some subtle shade her way. She remembered a time with the then-monarch laid eyes on her own dog and said, “Oh, he’s got a lot of white on him, hasn’t he?” Perfect coloring aside, the breed remained in hot demand.
A painful dip
In a sense, Elizabeth was like the influencers of today — just with a lot more corgis by her side! But it hasn’t been plain-sailing all the way. There was a substantial dip in interest towards the end of the 1990s, and it culminated in a truly horrible year for the breed in 2014. Only 274 pups were born during that spell due to the breed’s low demand.
Thankfully for the breed, there was a resurgence three years later in 2017. And once again, it could be attributed to Elizabeth, albeit not directly.
And that's because the date was just 12 months on from The Crown’s successful small screen debut. The drama, which details the Queen’s life, was a huge hit, with corgis front and center alongside the main human cast. It was undeniable — they were firmly back in the spotlight. Puppy registrations jumped by 16 percent going into 2017 following the opening season. Then, the next year, it rose by nearly 50 percent.
And while King Charles III doesn’t share his late mom’s love of corgis, there’s a hopeful belief that they’ll continue to endure thanks to their ties with Elizabeth. Given the life she lived, you couldn’t say that isn’t a fitting legacy!