VICTORIA

By  Lucio Rocco

 

I think I have always loved this woman with respect, esteem and admiration. In silence, as Queens are to be loved. She was the first woman I met when I started to read the history of the collie, when I was a young boy, and from where I looked for the origins of this breed, and the fact that she was a Queen helped to create that idea of dignity, of aristocracy, and refinement which, in my head, has always surrounded this noble breed like a halo.

Furthermore, no other woman has taken care of my spirit as she has done. With no other woman have I shared, so profoundly, my passions as I have done with her.

I owe everything to her. I owe her what I am today.

If the poems of Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, or Elizabeth Barrett have permitted me to understand what emotions are; if the stories written by Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll have taught me how to dream; if Charles Darwin’s theories, Michael Faraday’s inventions, the research carried out by John Dalton have triggered my curiosity; if Edwin Landseer’s, Dante Gabriel Rossetti‘s and John Everett Millais’s paintings have introduced me to the magic of art, and, if, last but not least, I have been able to render the collie a companion, and the object of study throughout my life, I owe it to her, and what she gave her people during her reign.

She was born on the 24th May 1819; in a century different from mine, unfortunately.

She was eighteen on the night of the 20th June, when she noted these words in her diary:

‘’I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conynygham were here wished to see me. I got down from my bed and went to my sitting-room (wearing only my dressing-gown) and, alone I saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) told me that, my poor uncle, King William IV, was no more; that he had expired 12 minutes after 2a.m this morning, and consequently, that I am Queen.’’

However, it is not of her role of Queen that we wish to talk. Of that era of progress and hope, which comes under the name of ‘the Victorian Age’, so much has been said, but not always the truth. What interests us is to narrate the human aspect of the Queen: her authentic l and selfless love for dumb and defenceless creatures, her unbinding relationship with collies.

The deep love she had for all animals made her really unhappy when she witnessed any wrong-doing or form of violence towards them.

She strongly, and strenuously opposed vivisection, and she always remained near The Royal Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals. In her kennels it was absolutely forbidden to cut off the dogs’ tails, or ears, and the same rule applied to all other animals. No pity for those who were then found guilty of acts of cruelty.

Queen Victoria claimed that possessing an animal meant caring for its well-being. Because of this belief she personally took interest in the organization and building of the stables; the kennels and, even the hen-houses in Windsor Park. The animals’ cages were planned with great care; they were large and comfortable, with large green spaces, which allowed the animals to run and play, and an area of shade to shelter from the sun. A little further away, there was a small cemetery, with stone slabs on which were carved the names of each animal, and the date of its death.

Even in the royal residence at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, there was a piece of land on which the Queen’s dogs were buried. Each grave had a white, marble tombstone and it was closed by terracotta tiles.

The royal kennels of Windsor housed sixty or seventy dogs of different breeds, and Victoria knew them all and she remembered to ask the keeper about them; a man who had no other duty than to dedicate his time to the well-being of the Queen’s dogs. A lot of these dogs had been given to her, and they had reached Windsor from distant lands; others she bred herself.

She loved to sit on a bench in front of the kennels and remain there and contemplate the joy her dogs showed when they could run happily on the grass in front of her. On these occasions she would repeat a phrase from Schopenhauer:

“If it were not for the honest faces of dogs, we should forget the very existence of sincerity.”

She was very close to all her animals, but especially to her collie which reminded her of her beloved Scotland and her faithful Highlanders. Of course, she had her favourites, and, at times some of those dogs became jealous of the attention she gave to the others.

Sharp came to Balmoral in 1865; it was the first collie to have the honour of being the Queen’s pet dog. It was allowed to stay by the Queen while she ate her meals, and, except for  John Brown, the Queen’s trustworthy man, almost everyone at the Castle kept away, because the dog barked; and more often than not, it bit too. However, the Queen loved her dog, and as she herself narrates, it was able to break the monotony of her walks making them fun and unpredictable. When Sharp died, in 1879, it was buried in the dog cemetery at Windsor Castle. On its tombstone was written:

“Sharp, the favourite and faithful Collie of Queen Victoria from 1866 to 1879. Died now aged 15 years.”

To this day, Sharp lays next to his Queens.

Another collie the Queen was very attached to and never separated from was Noble. It had been given to her as a gift from the Duke of Roxburg. Victoria wrote this in her diary about Noble:

“My favourite collie Noble, is always downstairs when we take our meals, and was so good, Brown making him lie on a chair or couch, and he never attempted to come down without permission, and even held a piece of cake in his mouth without eating it till I told him he might. He is the most ‘biddable’ dog I ever saw, and so affectionate and kind; if he thinks you are not pleased with him, he puts out his paw and begs in such an affectionate way.’’

Noble had chosen a very responsible task: to guard Her Majesty’s gloves, and, we can be sure that no one, except his mistress, could get near those gloves. When Noble started to age, his muzzle became white and his sight almost completely left him. Tied to a rope he just followed his keeper, but, even if old and ill, he still showed all his joy when the Queen patted him.

Her Majesty loved white collies which were not very popular among her subjects. One of them, Lily, never separated from her, and went with her everywhere, even on her travels. Lily was born in Windsor like her parents, Squire and Betty, and they were part of a line of white collies bred by Mr. and Mrs. Charles from Warwickshire Squire was a really beautiful dog, one of the best bred in the Windsor Kennels: it had a wonderful coat a sweet character. The Queen wanted to give it to the Duchess of Albany, to thank her for the good work done at the Royal Kennels.

Her Majesty had many white collies. Two of them were Maggie and Snowball, and another one was Nannie, a gift from the Count of Haddington. Nannie arrived at Windsor in 1885 when it was only nine months old; unfortunately it did not live long because it died in 1889.

   

Another white collie was given to the Queen as a gift in 1887 on the occasion of her Jubilee. Again, the dog was given the name of Snowball.

For many years the Queen’s favourite dog was Darnley. It had been bred by the best breeder of the time, Rev. Hans Hamilton, President of the Collie Club, who had paid tribute to the collie. At Windsor Castle this dog was treated as a real ‘King’; it lived in a ‘cottage’ of its own, separate from the kennels where the other doges lived.

Victoria was able to transmit her passion for these dogs to her children. It was 1900 when the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, was given a collie by the name of Squire. It was almost all white, with a little colour on its ears.

The Queen’s love for her dogs brought her happiness throughout her life; it suffices to read her diaries. There was a dog in Kensington Palace when she was a child and there was a dog in the residence at Osborne when she was about to die. A little before breathing her last, she had asked if they would bring her Turi, her favourite pet dog at the time; a Spitz from Pomerania.

It was during her reign, thanks to her and her husband, Prince Albert that dogs ceased to be simply a working tool or an object to play with, and became a  pet animal, a friend, and this opened the doors of numerous English houses.

Queen Victoria died on the 22nd January 1901. She was 82 and she had reigned for 63 years. Few British subjects had memories of when Victoria had not been on the throne.

She had been given a nation and she turned it into an empire, even if among thousands of contradictions.

So much has been said and written about the pureness of the Queen’s collies; and some say they were everything but collies. All this has little importance. The Queen was tempted to exhibit her dogs very few times, as she was against displaying such sensitive creatures in public. That she, undoubtedly, contributed to the diffusion of the popularity of the collies just by owning them, goes without saying; in fact, this breed is connected to her name.

Sometimes history is cruel and gossipy, and men forget only too soon how they had dreams of changing the world, however saints do not exist, less than ever in Heaven; and she who did so much for humanity and for her people, can surely be forgiven one or two human weaknesses.

 
Queen Victoria and family at Balmoral Queen Victoria in Dublin Queen Victoria's funeral  (1901)