A dog's life (and death) gives paws for thought

It's almost the end of the line for the Queen's corgi entourage after Olympic star Monty passes on.
  • @Simon_Kelner

It may have escaped your attention, what with Britain's post-Olympic festival of self-congratulation followed by Andy Murray's victory in New York, but one of the figures who helped launch this "amazing summer" (copyright: every athlete interviewed during the victory parade) died last weekend. Can you even remember how it all started?

Yes, with Danny Boyle's remarkable imagining of British culture and history, and with that startling sequence of the Queen being escorted to the stadium by James Bond. And there, alongside them, was Monty, a 13-year-old corgi who seemed to get as many close-ups as Daniel Craig and whose performance should have been enough to get him an Equity card. And now, after a gilded life in which he ate only organic meat cooked by the Royal staff and was fed marmalade on toast every morning by the Monarch, he is being laid to rest at Balmoral.

The Queen, who is said to have cried only once in public - when Britannia, the Royal Yacht, was taken out of service in 1997 - will do well to fight back the tears. This is partly because Monty's death will give an 86-year-old woman a very real sense of her own mortality. Monty, like her remaining two corgis, Willow and Holly (she also has two corgi-dachshund crosses), has a lineage that goes back all the way to Susan, the dog that the then Princess Elizabeth was given for her 18th birthday and who became the matriarch in a canine family tree that's equivalent to the House of Windsor.

Down the years, the Queen has replaced those of her corgi entourage – which once numbered double figures – who died, but she decided a few years ago not to continue this process. She wanted to let the line come to a natural end, and with Monty's demise, that reality comes that much closer.

Corgis are not everyone's cup of tea, and by all accounts, they are not the most popular members of the Royal household. They are snappy, rather bolshie, characters for whom everyone's calves are fair game for a sharp nip (they were bred as cattle herders in Wales, and are hard-wired to keep you moving).

In the wake of the Jubilee and then the Olympics, there was a surge in their popularity, but those who are attracted by their cheeky looks and devil-may-care personality should know that, even with impeccable upbringing, these dogs are no strangers to the odd Asbo.

They are no respecters of authority, or even majesty. In 1991, the Queen herself required three stitches in her hand when one of her corgis bit her as she attempted to break up a fight. And earlier this year, Princess Beatrice was distraught when Max, her 11-year-old Norfolk terrier, was attacked by the resident corgis at Balmoral and was left with very serious injuries.

As the Queen says farewell to Monty, she won't be thinking of this incident. Nor probably of the day she played the straight woman to James Bond. She'll surely be reflecting on more mortal matters, and how, through the life cycle of our pets, we prepare ourselves for a final reconciliation of our own.