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
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.