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.


Alison said...

Poor Rupert! I shall look forward to the next post.

Nicola Cornick said...

Amazing really that he ended up being one of the children on the best terms with his mother, I think!