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Tudor Dogs: A Post in honor of National Dog Day

There are plenty of blogs and books about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s best human friends. The soap opera of the Tudor Court never fails to entertain. Who is Charles Brandon sleeping with this week? Who’s in favor? Who’s out? Which wife is Henry on? But what about the other non-human players of the Tudor court? What about the Tudor Dogs?

During the Middle Ages kings and noblemen became interested in owning purebred dogs. Hunting for sport was really taking off, and the dogs were useful in that pursuit. Ladies of the court began to own lap dogs, calling them “comforters.” Many noble women would also add collars to the necks of their noble hounds, made of leather, gold, silver, and even velvet.

According to records, people brought their dogs to church with them to use as foot warmers during the cold winter months. Sumptuary Laws at the time dealt with what kinds of clothing and food people of different classes could eat, but they also dictated what kinds of breeds of dogs people could own. Only the nobility could own a Scottish Deerhound or a Greyhound.

If you had a certain breed of dog close to the King’s forest, laws decreed that it needed to be crippled so that it didn’t help you poach. The enforcers of this law brought a hoop along, and if a dog was small enough to jump through it, it would be safe. If not, the pup needed to break a leg. Literally.

Big dogs were barred from court. Spaniels and lapdogs for the ladies were okay. People believed that it was good for a weak stomach to hold a small dog. Both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth had small spaniels, and Mary I had an entire pack of spaniels for hunting.

“Two of Henry’s dogs, Cut and Ball, were prone to getting lost, and he paid out the huge sum of nearly 15 shillings (about 225 pounds sterling today) in rewards to those who brought them back.”
~ Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: the King and his Court

The most famous Tudor Dog is likely Anne Boleyn’s lap dog, Pourquoi (or Purkey).

Honor Grenville (Lady Lisle) gave it to Anne as a gift in 1533. At the time Honor was working towards a good marriage for her daughters. She thought a puppy would be a good gift. The dog was a hit, but it didn’t do much to help Honor’s daughters. Anne would often feed Purkey from her own plate, and always kept him close. When he died in 1534, supposedly falling from a window, Anne was heartbroken.

Another fun story about Tudor dogs comes from Charles Brandon’s second wife Katherine Willoughby.

She was a good friend of Katherine Parr (Henry’s last wife) and was a strong Protestant. Katherine had a favorite dog she named “Gardiner” after Stephen Gardiner, the conservative bishop (who would later become Mary I’s Lord Chancellor – one can imagine he was none too pleased with this anecdote). She dressed the dog in ecclesiastical clothing, much to the delight of her household.

One final story is of Mary Queen of Scots. She had lap dogs, and her favorite was a white Skye terrier. After she lost her head, and the executioner was cleaning up, the tiny dog was discovered hidden in Mary’s skirts. Supposedly Mary’s ladies tried to take good care of the puppy after she died, but the dog had a broken heart and died soon after his mistress.

So there you go. File it away in the “Tudors: They’re Just Like Us” drawer. Happy National Dog Day!