Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queen Victoria's Favorite: Sharp, the Border Collie

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Susan reporting:

It's difficult to imagine English monarchs without their dogs. Whether King Charles II surrounded by his scurrying spaniels or the current queen with her corgis, royalty and dogs seem inseparable. The connection makes sense, really. What human courtier could ever offer the complete and unquestioning loyalty of a canine counterpart?

Queen Victoria was no exception. With her love of all things Scottish, the little queen admired the collies bred by sheep farmers in the border lands between England and Scotland. The first of the Queen's favorites was named Sharp, acquired in 1866 soon after the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, and the dog proved the perfect comfort to the grieving queen, even earning a place in royal photographs such as this one, upper left. He was also painted, right, by the queen's favorite animal portraitist, Charles Burton Barber. (This painting is soon to be sold at auction, where it is predicted to bring between $4,000-6,000 from either an art or dog lover.)

Border collies were still an unfamiliar breed to most 19th c. Englishmen, and many surrounding Her Majesty wished they had remained so. While Sharp was devoted to his mistress and to her personal servant, John Brown, others found the dog to be quarrelsome and badly trained. Wrote a contemporary:

One pet collie rejoiced in the name of Sharp. He had all his meals with his mistress, being seldom away from her. Though such a favorite...the popularity of the quadruped had limits. The households used to retreat before him, for Sharp not only barked with vigor, but could bite with spite. Even the Queen mentions that the pet was fond of fighting. Referring to him after a ramble, she mentions that the collie varied the monotony of the walk by numerous 'collie shangies'; it is the Highland phrase for a set-to between dogs of Sharp's breed.

Even after his death in 1879, Sharp continued to hold his place in the queen's affections. He was buried in her garden in Windsor Home Park, Berkshire, beneath the elaborate tomb, lower left, and immortalized as the "favourite and faithful Collie of Queen Victoria." What dog –– or queen –– could ask for more?

Above left: Queen Victoria with Sharp the Border Collie at Balmoral, 1867
Right: Sharp, Brother of Fern by Charles Burton Barber, 1877
Lower left: Monument to Sharp, Windsor Castle, Berkshire

9 comments:

Pai said...

A common misconception is that the Queen's favorite were Rough Collies, something that is repeated even among breed clubs. Though to be fair, there was a lot of overlap in 'type' between early Rough Collies and early Border collies.

Actually, being a dog nerd, one of my biggest pet peeves is when films show modern styles of a breed when the actual appearance of the dogs were much different in the era the film is supposed to be in... like the modern-style Bulldog in the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, when in reality an American Bulldog or an Olde English Bulldogge would actually represent the 'type' of dog Watson would've owned back then.

Heather Carroll said...

Poor Sharp! He probably just was lashing out because he needed a field to run in and something to heard. I had a friend whose mother was a breeder and she said the border collies would herd each other when they could find nothing else. Great post!

Alexa Adams said...

I have had two border collies, and they were the most wonderful dogs imaginable. So intelligent, so loyal, and two of the greatest friends it has ever been my privilege to have. Yes, they are more than a bit high spirited and need massive amounts of exercise in order to settle down, but mine were as gentle as could be - though I do think my mom was about ready to slaughter the second (a boy) on more than one occasion when he was a puppy. He could be a terror! I miss him desperately. Thanks for the lovely post, recognizing a most remarkable breed.

Margaret Evans Porter said...

My own favourite courtiers are my 2 dogs, both Border collie mixed with other breeds. The little one has the stronger herding instinct and often the other dog functions as her "sheep"--highly entertaining. Sometimes we humans are the sheep, too, though we prefer thinking of ourselves as shepherds.
Once at Sandringham we saw a wonderful and very extensive art exhibition on Queen Victoria's pets--many, many works of art (paintings, statuary) of the dogs and horses she kept throughout her reign. Sharp was well-represented!

Anonymous said...

What a touching portrait of the queen and Sharp. You almost never see such affection in old photos like that. How the dog leans into her and her hand on his back as she smiles is very loving. Don't believe what her servants said. Border collies make wonderful and devoted pets!

Theresa Bruno said...

When you loss a husband, replace him with a dog. It works wonders.

Charles Bazalgette said...

We will be ready for another border collie one day. In the meantime we have Harvey, whom we thought was a BC when we adopted him as a few-day-old puppy (his mother was a BC cross) but he grew into a shepherllie doberlap. This FaceBook pic shows out dear-departed BC Willoughby on the left, with Harve as a puppy.
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=1268394780&aid=2003026#!/photo.php?fbid=1390309238940&set=a.1016226847114.2003026.1268394780&theater

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Everyone I know with a border collie loves him/her dearly - and the replies here bear that out.

I, too, really like this picture of the Queen and Sharp. The connection between the two is so clear - love her little half-smile! - and it's just as clear that Sharp would have defended her so fiercely against her own "households."

Jolene said...

Actually Victoria's first dog was her beloved Dash whom she had as a princess. A dog lover myself, in my own historical novel I have Dash make an appearance at the Children's Ball dressed in costume--Victoria is known to have dressed Dash like a doll. Edward Landseer did a lovely portrait of Dash, a Cavalier Spaniel, for her 17th birthday.

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