by Katherine Ashe
“I am His Majesty’s Dog at Kew. Pray, tell me Sir, whose dog are you?” The Hanoverians, like many kings, were fond of their dogs and fond of a jest; the poet Alexander Pope proposed this inscription for one of their royal dog’s collars.
Mary Queen of Scots found solace in her many dogs and had them about her even when she was imprisoned. Unwilling to be parted from them, when they died she had them stuffed.
One characteristic of the dog does seem to date from the time of the Revolution: the Phalene was the proper form with drooping ears heavily fringed with silky hair. After the Revolution the ears became erect, the profuse, hanging hair forming the broad headdress that gives the breed its modern name, Papillon, as its head seems framed with butterfly wings.
Of course, long prior to the 1500s there were tiny dogs favored by high-born ladies. Carved in stone on tombs, the portraits of medieval dead often include a small, pug-like dog curled under the deceased’s feet, giving rise to questions: did the dog die of a broken heart? Was it buried with its mistress in a sort of canine sutee? Or is the image merely figurative, a sentimental reference to loyalty, as in the painting John Ruskin so praised, “The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,” the mourner being a grief-stricken Collie.
King Henry II of France bred a variety of hound that was all white and extraordinary for beauty as well as coursing skills. While his dogs no doubt were derived from earlier French lines, the Talbot was quite different, though also a white hound used for hunting through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Depicted in the dining room at Haddon Hall in the 1400s, to commemorate the marriage of Sir Henry Vernon to Ann Talbot, the dog has a shorter snout that most hounds. There are some efforts to recreate this extinct breed.
But before the sleek, spotted white hound of the hunting prints, there was the Allaunt, a large, fierce beast that could hurl himself at stag or boar. The lordly household of the 13th century was incomplete without its Allaunts, and Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester, in her account roll surviving from the year 1265 makes monetary allowance for her own Allaunts and their keeper.
There was also in medieval times the smooth-coated Allaunt, and this breed has been reconstructed as the American Allaunt, somewhat like a Great Dane with a more Mastiff-like head.
For hundreds of years the Great Pyrenees has guarded sheep, and it was to guard our sheep that I acquired one some years ago to protect against Eastern Coyotes. (Our local coyotes are a new wild breed of canine believed to be a blend of Western Coyote, Canadian Timber Wolf and assorted domestic dogs. In appearance they look like ill-bred German Shepherds, but they practice choruses of howling like any other coyotes.)
Our Pyrenees, Thibaut, with a bark that was basso profundo, kept the coyotes away solely by the impressiveness of his voice. He took his sheep guarding seriously. But when the sheep were safely in the barn for the night, he and I would dance a waltz, his forefeet gently placed on my shoulders and his head reaching seven feet high. When he rode in our station wagon for his yearned-for visits to the ice cream shop his hind feet were on the back seat, his forefeet on the front seat and his head up against the windshield.
Katherine Ashe is the author of the acclaimed four volume Montfort series on the life of Simon de Montfort, the founder of England's Parliament in 1258. Montfort is available in soft cover and Kindle e-book format from Amazon. Her animal population, formerly including horses, sheep, goats, geese, peacocks, and of course dogs, in now reduced to just three dogs, three cats and two Koi.