Historically, the dogs of great rulers are majestic beasts of the hunt: athletic, intelligent and slightly intimidating. Ancient Egyptian rulers kept Salukis. Prince Albert had greyhounds. King Louis XIV declared the great Pyrenees the royal dog of France. Or, the dogs of royalty are the opposite: tiny, decorative fluffs for fancy, silky laps, like Marie Antoinette’s pug, Queen Alexandra’s Japanese chin and the Pekingeses of the Chinese imperial court.
And then there are Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis.
Lil’ stumpy guys. Potato-shaped bodies and clownish faces. Short kings. Stocky, bossy dogs who think they’re big — who have seemingly no idea that they’re a toast-colored puffy cylinder of dog, suspended merely inches above the ground — because they have a job (herding cattle and/or small children, by nipping at their heels). Whose most notable characteristic after their stubby little legs is their thick, fuzzy butts.
“We talk a lot about their butts,” says Connie Cheng. “Floofy butts. Wiggle butts.”
Cheng, 33, is the owner of CorgiThings, a line of corgi-themed merchandise, and the “we” in that sentence is corgi people, for whom the death of the British monarch is the end of an altogether different era: the fluffbutts of Buckingham Palace.
Corgi people have long leaned into the breed’s association with royalty.
“People would say, ‘What kind of dog is that?’ and we’d say, ‘A corgi, you know, like the queen has.’ And that would immediately bring that image to people’s minds because they’d see her on television with them,” says Carrie Chase, 63, a Martinsburg, W.Va., corgi breeder and American Kennel Club judge. “She was almost like part of the family.”
Many of the champion corgis in the United States have a connection to the queen’s dogs, even if it’s distant — Chase, for example, has a dog descended from one of the stud corgis that bred with royalty. Her dog’s mother is, alas, a commoner, but the dog is still a purebred: Not a dorgi, the dachshund-corgi cross that the queen is credited with accidentally creating.
“I don’t really approve of that,” says Chase, a corgi purist.
When Bobbe Lord, a longtime New Jersey corgi breeder, was tasked with manning the booth for the Westminster Dog Show’s annual “Meet the Breeds” event years ago, a colleague mentioned she shared a certain resemblance with the sovereign. She decided to take advantage of it.
“So I made a gown,” Lord says, “and over the years I’ve gotten different wigs so that, you know, as she aged, I got a lighter wig.”
The corgi folks set up a castle backdrop for Lord to pose for photos with her subjects, like a mall Santa Claus for lovers of stubby, oblong dogs. Posing with Rebecca, a prizewinning corgi, she tried to stay in character — carrying a handbag, as the queen customarily did, so commoners wouldn’t commit the faux pas of trying to shake her hand. “I’d do a little wave,” says Lord, who impersonated the queen for several years, until the coronavirus shut down the “Meet the Breed” event.
If that sounds a little over the top, know that corgi people are a special breed, Cheng says.
“I think we’re innately a little bit goofy, but we’re also kind of bossy,” she says. Corgis “have a little attitude, but like, in a bubbly way. I think that’s what most corgi owners are like.”
That could describe Her Royal Highness, one supposes. But chances are, she didn’t have the same vocabulary to describe the breed’s other charms.
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“When they sit, their little thighs and legs look like drumsticks. We call them ‘drummies,’ ” Cheng says. “When they lay down, because their bodies are so thick, they literally look like loaves of bread you can slice,” so there are loads of memes about Wonder bread, a popular Halloween costume for corgis.
That brings us into the realm of commoners. Many members of a new generation of corgi owners associate the breed with memes more so than monarchs. Corgis had a moment in the mid-2010s as the internet’s “it” dog, in between Shiba Inus and, briefly, huskies. In 2021, they were the 11th most popular breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. Influencer database Influence.co lists more than 1,200 corgifluencers.
“I kind of credit BuzzFeed a lot for that, because I remember they would always post corgi memes and corgi GIFs and all the listicles of just like, silly corgi things,” says Connie Wu, 38, the owner of Sneakers, an internet-famous corgi who has more than 130,000 Instagram followers and charges $200 for a personalized Cameo video. Wu only came to learn of the queen’s corgis later, and though she found it “charming,” she also wasn’t too impressed. Let’s just say that Sneakers won’t be doing any tribute posts in mourning.
“The British monarchy is something that … people have really mixed feelings about,” Wu says.
But the corgis were one of the things about it that people found endearing. In a family for whom lineage is everything, of course the dogs have a family tree: After a few childhood pet corgis came Susan, the queen’s first breeding corgi — a birthday gift from her parents — who spawned more than 30 descendants, with such names as Geordie and Jolly, Pickles and Tinker, “Windsor Loyal Subject,” Dipper and Disco and Dagger, and, curiously, a second Dipper. A 1986 UPI story about the family said BBC employees quippily referred to the queen’s Christmas broadcasts as “Corgi and Bess.” They played a prominent role in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
They may have been cute, but they weren’t always well-behaved. You know there are some good stories when the Royal Corgis’ Wikipedia page has an entire section titled “Victims.” One of them was the queen herself, who suffered a bite to the hand that required three stitches while breaking up an eight-corgi melee at Windsor Castle in 1991. Buckingham Palace would not name the culprit, but the Sydney Morning Herald implicated Spark, Myth, Fable, Diamond, Kelpie, Phoenix and Piper in the brawl.
One royal commentator referred to those corgis as “ghastly little hairbrushes, horrible little brats.” Another — Bruce Fogle, author of “The Dog’s Mind” — said such attacks have happened before.
“Indeed this kind of thing can go on for years, especially with bitches because they rarely, if ever, forgive,” Fogle told the Herald. (“Bitches Rarely Forgive,” incidentally, would make an excellent T-shirt, corgi or otherwise.)
The queen stopped breeding her corgis by 2015, though she had received several dogs since then as gifts. When the remaining dogs die, there will no longer be any royal corgis.
“I haven’t come to terms with it,” Cheng says. “I don’t want the legacy to end.”
When the palace announced the queen’s death last week, it set off a flurry of questions among the corgmmunity. Where were the corgis? What would become of them? Who would care for them next? Corgi memers riffed off a line in a 2015 Vanity Fair article about how the queen pulled back on breeding because she “didn’t want to leave any young dog behind. She wanted to put an end to it.”
“Wild that the queen requested her surviving corgis be mummified to serve her in the afterlife,” tweeted comedian Vinny Thomas.
Corgi fanciers soon got their answer: Earlier this week, the palace announced that the remaining dogs would be cared for by Prince Andrew, the queen’s most scandal-ridden child, and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson. This was, for many corgi people, a great disappointment.
“Not our top choice, for sure,” says Wu, referring to Andrew.
Even without the queen, corgis will maintain their royal aura — for a little while, at least.
“I think eventually it will fade like anything else,” Chase says. But “going forward, we’re going to still use it. We’re going to still say, ‘Like the queen has.’ ” Er, had.
The young royals have different tastes in dogs. Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales have a black English Cocker Spaniel named Orla. Just last month, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, adopted Mia, a beagle rescued from abusive conditions at a Virginia breeding facility. Meghan previously adopted Guy, another beagle, and has described herself as “a proud rescue dog owner.”
As for the new king and queen consort: Charles and Camilla own two Jack Russell terriers, named Beth and Bluebell. Could it be the dawning of a new, regal era for Jack Russells?
“I haven’t heard any fanfare,” says Catherine Brown, 77, the chairperson of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Jack Russells are “the working man’s terrier,” she says, so they’re a good fit for the king, who “does have a very humble side about him.”
The breed will make an excellent royal dog, says Keleigh Lawson, 54, a Yorktown, Va., Jack Russell fancier and the past president of the Virginia Jack Russell Terrier Club. The dogs are known for their hunting instinct, focus, bravery, and most of all, energy.
“It’s exciting” to think of Jack Russells romping around Buckingham Palace, Lawson says. “But I can’t imagine my dogs in there. They’d tear the place up.”
A previous version of this article said that the queen’s original corgi was Susan. Other pet corgis preceded Susan, but when the queen began to breed corgis, Susan was the first in the breeding lineage. This version has been corrected.