Thursday, 21 April 2011

One Man and His Dog

Rupert of the Rhine, son of Elizabeth of Bohemia and nephew of King Charles I was renowned for his love of animals, a curious and rather endearing trait in a man also known for his ferocity in battle! In this he was said to take after his mother who, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, was recorded as “preferring her dogs, her hunting and her monkeys to her children, in that order,” according to her youngest child Princess Sophie. Perhaps this explains why Elizabeth was estranged from all her children at one time or another.

It was said that when Rupert was little more than a boy and captured during one of the battles in the Thirty Years War he had a pet hare to keep him company in prison and trained it to open the door of his cell. Now that I would have liked to have seen... Given that Rupert also had a pet dog at the time, it would have been interesting to see how the dog and the hare interacted.

The most famous of Prince Rupert’s dogs was a standard poodle called Boy or Boye, who ran with his cavalry. Boy was a particular target for the Roundheads, who became obsessed with the idea that he was Rupert’s familiar and attributed various magic powers to him, including that he was fluent in several languages, that he was invulnerable in battle and that he could put a spell on the enemy. Boy began to feature in Roundhead propaganda. In a pamphlet of 1643, “Observations upon Prince Rupert’s Dogge called Boy” the writer reported that Boy sat beside Rupert in council meetings and that the King himself allowed Boy to sit on the throne. Boy attended church services most… doggedly. After one Royalist victory it was said that Prince Rupert and his officers sat up all night drinking in celebration and raising a toast to Boy. The Roundheads tried both poison and prayer to destroy “this Popish profane dog, more than halfe a divill, a kind of spirit.” Although the dog was a white poodle they depicted him as black in the propaganda pictures in order to identify him with the traditional colour of the devil.

Almost inevitably, Boy fell prey to a Roundhead bullet at the Battle of Marston Moor. The Puritans claimed in another pamphlet, “A Dog’s elegy, or Rupert’s Tears” that Boy had been “killed by a valiant soldier who had skill in Necromancy.” The verse ran:

“Lament poor cavaliers, cry, howl and yelp,
For the great losse of your malignant whelp.”

In an age of superstition it is easy to see why men might attribute magic powers to such a creature and also why the enemy might use it as a symbol of the Royalist cause. To the cavaliers, Boy was a talisman and they mourned his loss very deeply. Boy went down in the Army records as the first official British Army dog.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Palatine Pets!

In a memorable line in her memoirs, Sophie of Hanover, youngest daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, commented that her mother preferred "her hunting, her dogs and her monkeys" to her children. This may be a little unfair - Sophie was renowned for her sharp tongue and her criticisms of Lord Craven, amongst others, were somewhat ungrateful perhaps - but there was certainly some truth in the fact that Elizabeth was devoted to her animals.

Even as a girl at Combe Abbey Elizabeth had a pet dog, a "ruffle dog" as he was referred to in the accounts when Lord Harington paid twelve pence for his shearing. She also had pet monkeys, who slept on beds of herbs and cotton that cost three pence, and parrots, whose cages were renovated by a joiner for three shillings and ten pence.

After her marriage Elizabeth took her dogs and her monkeys with her to Heidelberg where Frederick extended and modernised his palace to include a monkey house and menagerie. Friends sent Elizabeth pets; Irish dogs and more monkeys which were apparently shunned by the older ones already in residence. Elizabeth loved her monkeys so much they were referred to as her "jewels" and they became so conceited with her attention that they would come to no one but her. She would play with them every morning.

There is a story that when Frederick and Elizabeth were forced to flee Prague after the Battle of the White Mountain, a servant was hurrying through the palace checking that nothing of importance had been left behind and discovered that Prince Rupert had been left behind in the nursery. He rushed out to the carriage with the child, only to find that Elizabeth had made sure that her monkeys were safely on board! Whether or not this is true, by the time she had been in exile in The Hague for a few years, Elizabeth's menagerie had increased to thirty dogs and monkeys. Jack, the most senior monkey, would sit by her writing-desk in the salon. Apollon, her favourite dog, was a beautiful greyhound. Right until the end of her life, in fact, Elizabeth took solace in her menagerie and in her letters often enquired into the health of her relatives' pets whilst sometimes forgetting to ask after their family!

Some of the portraits of Elizabeth feature animals though in the 16th and 17th century the inclusion of an animal in a painting might have a symbolic meaning rather than indicate that it was necessarily a pet. Dogs in particular have been human companions for thousands of years and so might feature alongside other possessions. Their close connection to the sports of hunting and shooting also make them obvious choices to include. In Elizabeth's case, though, it seems likely that the animals that appeared in her portraits were real pets.

Of her family, Prince Rupert notably inherited Elizabeth's love of animals (despite having had to take second place to a monkey) and next time I will be blogging about Rupert and his dog Boye.