Dogs at The Tudor Court

Dogs have lived with humans since the earliest times. But what kinds of dogs did the Tudor royalty have, and what did they use them for? 

The Tudors loved their pets. And although they owned more exotic animals such as monkeys and birds, they seem to have had a real fondness for dogs. 

The British Library, Public Domain, Flickr Archive

Dogs at the Tudor Court
Modern breeds such as the Jack Russell Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the beloved Cockerpoo hadn't yet been developed in the sixteenth century, but the Tudors did often mention mastiffs (used to guard), spaniels (small lap dogs kept for entertainment and company) and greyhounds. The greyhound, although had been bred during Medieval times, was of special significance to the Tudors because it was one of the symbols of the Beaufort family, Henry VII's mother's line (1). Greyhounds seem to have been used for hunting, and possibly these were the hounds mentioned in various sources, being given as gifts to royalty overseas (2). Henry VIII kept a number of dogs, which were kitted out with expensive collars (3). Henry's accounts are full of payments to those who brought him 'hawks and greyhounds' at various places in the country and so it seems he had someone to organise his hunting dogs for him, suggesting that they weren't regarded as pets and were definitely working dogs (4). We can also see that Henry made payment for lost dogs in 1530, to 'Robt. Lee and Robt. Shere, for finding a buck and the hounds in Waltham Forest when they were lost'. There's also a payment in the same account 'for a cow that Uryen Brereton's greyhounds and lady Anne's killed,' which sounds like an unfortunate accident involving a grazing cow and perhaps an example of Tudor dogs' pack mentality (5). It's like the dogs went wild that day! 

Lap dogs - small spaniels - were popular among the court, and when the Eltham Ordinances attempted to tighten up the King's court in 1526, these were the only dogs courtiers were allowed to bring, with permission from the king (6). Anne Boleyn was said to have owned a greyhound and a smaller dog given to her by the Lisle family, unfortunately the latter was killed in an accident and no one wanted to tell the Queen. Eventually it was decided the King would break the tragic news (7)

Dogs could also find themselves caught up in drama, quite literally. 

In the 1571 accounts for the Revels at Court, under Elizabeth I, there's payment to
 'John Tryce for money to him due for Leashes, t dog-hookes, wt staves, and other necessaries; by him provyded for the hunters that made the crye after the fox (let loose in the Coorte) with theier hownde, hornes and hallowing, in the playe of Narscisses. (8)'
As well as being let loose in the court during a performance of a play, other dog dramas - more on the tragic side - included Mary Queen of Scots' terrier, who was found hiding under her skirts after her execution in 1587 (9), and the 'big, noxious, biting dog, given to worry and bite the Queen's subjects' that finds itself in Elizabeth I's records for Middlesex in 1575, having 'bitten and injured Katherine Yonge, a girl of eleven years of age' (10)

But the most dramatic (and traumatic) case of a dog getting mixed up in political intrigue in the royal household comes from an Ambassadorial letter to the Emperor, Charles V, in late January, 1549, when the young Edward VI is king. The dog barks and warns of an approach to the king's bedchamber by Edward Seymour, Lord High Admiral and The Duke of Somerset - and the whole incident is taken to be a kidnap attempt. The Ambassador writes: 

'Sire, I have heard here that the Admiral of England, with the help of some people about the court, attempted to outrage the person of the young King by night, and has been taken to the Tower. The alarm was given by the gentleman who sleeps in the King's chamber, who, awakened by the barking of the dog that lies before the King's door, cried out "Help! Murder!". Everybody rushed in, but the only thing they found was the lifeless corpse of the dog. (11)'

Traded, gifted, worked but definitely loved, the life of a Tudor dog was varied, as it is today. Do you have any thoughts? Let me know in the comments below. 

Never want to miss a post? Subscribe to my newsletter here: 


(1) University of Cambridge, Going To The Dogs - The 500-year old Greyhounds of Kings and the Fight Against Cancer, accessed 10 March 2020. 
(2) British History Online, 1526 Calendar and State Papers, Nov 5, Sanuto Diaries, v. xiiii.p.195, accessed 10 March 2020
(3) Tracy Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors
(4)) Henry VIII Privy Purse Accounts, 1530, f.34. accessed 10 March, 2020 
(5) Ibid., f.37, accessed 10 March, 2020
(6) Alison Weir, Henry VIII: King and Court, page 31
(7) The Boleyn Files, Anne Boleyn's Dog Purkoy, accessed 10 March, 2020
(8) Extracts of the Accounts of The Revels at Court, Elizabeth and James I, page 11, accessed 10 March 2020
(9) History Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots and Her Loyal Canine Companion, accessed 10 March 2020
(10) British History Online, Middlesex County Records, 25 March. pp90-96, accessed 10 March 2020
(11) British History Online, Calendar and State Papers, vol 9, pp327-335, Jan 27. Vienna Imp. Arcxh. E17. Accessed 10 March 2020.