Despite his reputation for relentless cruelty, Henry VIII had a soft spot for animals and owned a number of pets, including ferrets, birds, horses, hounds, and monkeys.
The Tudor court was itself so fond of animals that in 1526 Henry passed an ordinance decreeing that the only dogs allowed in the royal palace were the ladies’ small lapdogs. The court had become overrun with hundreds of animals, resulting in excessive noise and waste, making it impractical for them to reside with their royal masters. Like his royal descendant, Queen Elizabeth II, Henry cherished his dogs and continued to surround himself with them as his favourite companions.
In addition to a number of lapdogs, which he regularly gifted to members of his court, Henry owned spaniels, beagles, and greyhounds, which, like the King himself, were lavishly kitted out. His hounds (long considered a noble breed) were dressed in extravagant harnesses, which were hung with black silk tassels. An early 17th century biographer of Will Sommers, the King’s fool, recorded that Will ‘laid down among [the King’s] spaniels to sleep’.
Two of Henry’s dogs, Cut and Ball, were noted for their fabulous wardrobe. They wore opulent velvet collars, exclusively reserved for royal dogs, embellished with silver and gold spikes, edged with pearls, and often embroidered with the King’s arms, portcullis, pomegranates, or the decorative red-and-white Tudor rose. In the winter, these pampered canines wore coats made of white silk, and their fur received regular grooming with fine ‘hair cloth’. To complete the look, their leashes were made of silver or silk and dipped in green and white dye – the Tudor livery colours.
The dogs’s occasional mischievousness, however, fetched a steep price for their royal master. Cutt and Ball apparently had a knack for escaping, much to the King’s distress, leading him to offer generous rewards for their safe return. He did so on two separate occasions, in May 1530 and February 1531, offering a reward of almost 15s (equivalent to approximately £225 in today’s currency). Fortunately, the distinctive, high-quality collar worn by Cutt when he disappeared helped servants to locate the lost pup.
With his rivals, Charles V and Francis I, King Henry VIII exchanged hundreds of gifts over the years, and these exorbitant displays of diplomacy often included live animals. In addition to sending horses and wild boar, Henry sent the French King and Holy Roman Emperor numerous dogs wearing expensive iron collars, representing Henry’s love of physical activity and, not surprisingly, sartorial finery.
At the time of the King’s death in 1547, wardrobe inventories revealed that he owned sixty-five dog leashes in total. Henry VIII’s final wife, Katherine Parr, owned a red and white spaniel named Rig, of whom she was particularly fond and regularly dressed to the nines.
Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, also had an affection for animals.
In January of 1533, Lady Lisle – keen to secure entrée for her daughter into the Queen’s household – attempted to butter Anne up with a gift. Through Sir Francis Bryan, a member of the King’s household, she sent the Queen a Havanese, a rare toy breed closely related to the Bichon. Anne fell instantly in love with the little dog, bidding Francis to bring it to her at once so that she could cradle it in her lap. Sir Francis assured Lady Lisle that ‘the Queen liked [the dog] so well that she took it from me before it had been an hour in my hands’.
Anne later expressed her sincere gratitude for the gift, although parting with the pet brought Lady Lisle considerable unhappiness.
The delighted Queen took to calling her new pet Pourqoi – or Purkoy – meaning For What? In French. This playful choice of name may have been a nod to the breed’s endearing tendency to tilt their heads inquisitively, rendered in English as ‘Purkoy’.
Purkoy soon became a constant companion to Queen Anne, although Lady Lisle’s gift ultimately failed to secure a place for her daughters in the Queen’s household. Thwarted, but scarcely deterred, the ambitious Lady Lisle later sent quails, a linnet, and dotterels as a present to her mistress. The birds were slain and plucked at Dover, and brought to the Queen’s chambers by Anne’s sister-in-law, Jane Rochford.
Anne expressed her gratitude to Lady Lisle, exclaiming that she enjoyed the birds ‘very well’. She particularly praised the linnet, a delightful songbird whose melodic tunes never failed to bring her joy. But still there was no invitation for Lady Lisle’s daughters to join her household. They would not be invited to join the Queen’s royal chambers until several years later, during the reign of Jane Seymour.
Tragically, Anne had cause for sorrow in December of 1533 when Purkoy sadly ‘fell’ from a window and died of his injuries. Margery Horsman, a lady in Anne’s retinue, wrote to Lady Lisle that the Queen’s ladies were so fearful of delivering the news to Anne that they implored the King, a fellow dog-lover, to inform her himself:
‘ … she saith that the Queen’s Grace setteth much store by a pretty dog, and her Grace delighted so much in little Purkoy that after he was dead of a fall there durst nobody tell her Grace of it , till it please the King’s Highness to tell her Grace of it. But her Grace setteth more store by a dog than by a bitch [female dog], she saith…’
Purkoy’s sudden death left Anne utterly devastated, to the point that when Lady Lisle raised the possibility of gifting her another dog, she was advised against it. It was evident that Anne had no desire to replace her beloved companion. The determined Lisles then contemplated sending the Queen a pet monkey instead. However, this idea was quickly dismissed, possibly due to the strong association of monkeys with Anne’s rival, Katherine of Aragon, who had been so often depicted with the animal imported from her native Spain.
In addition to Purkoy, Anne also owned another dog named Urian, long held to have been gifted to her by Urian Brereton, brother of William Brereton.
An incident occurred during Queen Anne’s last progress where the King was forced to compensate a farmer with 10 shillings after Urian – ‘my Lady Anne’s’ rapscallion greyhound – killed one of the farmer’s cows, ripping out its throat as it grazed in a nearby pasture. Clearly, Urian was not nearly as pampered as Anne’s little Purkoy (although it is worth noting that greyhounds of the 16th century considerably larger and more muscular than later generations – and may not have been as amenable to the Queen’s loving pats and affectionate gestures!).
Sources & Suggested Reading
Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2016.
Richardson, Glenn. 2022. “The ‘Diplomatic Masculinity’ of Henry VIII.” The International History Review 44 (5): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/07075332.2022.2046130.
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: King and Court. Ballantine Books, April 18 2011.
Under These Restless Skies http://under-these-restless-skies.blogspot.com/2013/09/anne-boleyns-pets.html