It all started with Susan. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi was a gift to the then-Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of King George VI, for her 18th birthday. Registered as “Hickathrift Pippa,” the dog at first went by Sue, which evolved into Susan. Susan and Elizabeth became so attached to one another that Susan accompanied the princess on her honeymoon with Prince Philip, hidden under blankets in the royal carriage.
The now-Queen Elizabeth II, perhaps the most famous Pembroke Welsh Corgi owner in history, has owned more than 30 of the dogs in her lifetime. On that birthday in 1944, a love affair was born, for both the future Queen and the world.
The Royal Pembroke Welsh Corgi History
Susan, however, was not Elizabeth’s first exposure to the breed. In fact, Pembroke Welsh Corgis had been a part of the royal family before. In 1933, breeder Thelma Gray brought a litter of puppies to show the then-Duke of York, the future George VI, and his family. The family chose a dog and named him Dookie. A few years later, Gray gave the royal family another Pembroke Welsh Corgi called Jane. And thus, there were two.
At the start of World War II, Dookie passed away, but Jane gave birth to a puppy called Crackers, and there were two royal Pembrokes again. When Jane was accidentally run over and killed in 1944, Princess Elizabeth was heartbroken, but wrote to the driver to tell him that she was sure it wasn’t his fault, according to Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair. Susan then became the first Pembroke Welsh Corgi to belong solely to Elizabeth and also became the foundation of a royal breeding program.
The Queen’s Breeding Program
As Gross writes, the Queen has personally overseen a program of Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeding at Windsor Castle; purebred puppies bred by Her Majesty incorporate the affix, or kennel name, of Windsor into their monikers. It wasn’t until recently that much of this information was known, as “according to a set of unwritten but strictly observed conventions, the breeders who took part in the Queen’s program never discussed their experience in public, and rarely even with one another.”
But now, we know that Susan is the common ancestor of all Queen Elizabeth’s Pembrokes, an incredible genetic legacy. Two of her final pups, Holly and Willow, appear to have been the 14th generation of Susan’s descendants. Over the years, the Queen called on prominent breeders, such as Gray, Maureen Johnston, Ally Boughton, and others, to help her continue her lines.
How did she care for all those dogs? The answer: Bill and Nancy Fenwick. Bill Fenwick became Windsor’s head gamekeeper, and in doing so, he and his wife also became the caretakers of the Pembrokes. Nancy trained the dogs to walk up stairs, fed and looked after them, and assisted with finding matches to mate with Queen Elizabeth’s canines. When Nancy Fenwick died, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, attended the memorial service, accompanied by the Queen. By royal protocol, the monarch does not attend staff funerals, but it seems here an exception was made.
The End of an Era
When Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother died in 2002, people in the community began to realize that the breeding program had stopped. In 2012, Monty Roberts, the Queen’s equine advisor, asked her about the breeding of her Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Queen Elizabeth reportedly said that she “didn’t want to have any more young dogs. She didn’t want to leave any young dog behind.”
The Queen has also owned numerous mixed-breed dogs. While officially, the palace has kept quiet on matters involving the dogs, The Washington Post reported that the Queen was hit particularly hard by Willow’s death in 2018. After all, she was the last real tie to the dog that started it all, Susan.
The Royal Pembrokes Today
However, the Queen has revived her love of the animal. According to an excerpt from The Other Side of the Coin, The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, written by Her Majesty’s dresser Angela Kelly, Queen Elizabeth was given two puppies in February 2021: a mixed-breed dog named Fergus and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Muick. Three months later, Fergus died, but Prince Andrew and his family gifted her a new Pembroke Welesh Corgi puppy, Sandy. She also still has an older mixed-breed dog named Candy.
During her years on the throne, the Queen has used her love for her dogs to make the monarchy friendly and put people at ease. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, once quipped that the dog resemble “a moving carpet,” noted biographer Sally Bedell Smith in Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess. The Pembrokes have often helped to break the ice with strangers, even at one point providing therapy for a war surgeon suffering a post-traumatic stress disorder attack. Now, in pop culture, the Pembrokes have been featured in productions like The King’s Speech and The Crown, and the UK Kennel Club cites these instances as producing new interest in the breed.
Elizabeth II died at 96 years old on September 8, 2022, making her the longest-lived British monarch thus far, and in addition, she was also one of the most prolific and dedicated Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeders and ambassadors that the world has ever seen.