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REIGNING CATS AND DOGS by Katharine MacDonogh


A History of Pets at Court Since the Renaissance

by Katharine MacDonogh

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-22837-6
Publisher: St. Martin's

A sprightly, anecdote-laden, handsomely illustrated history of the pets of royals over the past five centuries. Historian MacDonogh, an Oxford graduate who has written for History Today, the Literary Review, and the Evening Standard, has pored over documents ranging from the diaries of Samuel Pepys to the memoirs of Catherine the Great and the Duchess of Windsor to assemble this entertaining account. While in Europe, royal dogs held center stage—cats lacking the macho image sought by kings and being for a time associated with witchcraft—in Asia, cats were often the pampered favorites. MacDonogh explores in detail the psychological role played by loyal and affectionate pets in the artificial and isolated life at court. The attachment of owner to pet was at times astonishing: Quoted at length are letters between Frederick the Great and his sister Wilhelmina addressed to and signed as if by his greyhound and her spaniel, and the author describes a lavish wedding thrown by the Maharajah of Junagadh for his favorite dog. In a more serious vein, the author reveals how the very existence of some breeds has been threatened by their royal owners’ downfalls: Borzois, beloved by the imperial family, almost vanished after the Russian Revolution. While her narrative is rich in fascinating trivia, MacDonogh has provided a goodly amount of solid history. Royal pets are the ostensible subject, but the social customs of the court provide the background. In depicting the care and treatment of the pets (dwarfs and later black pages were often entrusted with their care) and in describing how their illnesses and deaths were handled (since Queen Victoria all British monarchs have erected headstones for their pets), for example, MacDonogh reveals much about the life and times of their royal owners. An appealing gift for both animal lovers and history buffs. (70 color and 50 b&w illustrations)