London's First Celebrity Dog Was Accused Of Witchcraft

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 6 months ago
London's First Celebrity Dog Was Accused Of Witchcraft
The image used to depict Boy at the top of the pamphlet.

Observations From Prince Rupert's White Dog Called Boy. Sounds like a benign enough name for a pamphlet. A bit strange perhaps. Actually, come to think of it, why would anyone write a pamphlet on a member of the royal family's pet dog?* However, Boy isn't any ordinary canine — despite what his benign name might suggest.

Let's start with his owner: Prince Rupert of Bohemia was the nephew of Charles I. You might have seen a portrait of him at the National Portrait Gallery. Aged 17 or so, the Prince was taken hostage in Germany during the 30 Years' War. Rupert's uncle — the Earl of Arundel — arranged for him to be given a pet dog to keep him company. Isn't that sweet.

A modern white poodle sans outlandish haircut.

The dog that Prince Rupert was given, was the imaginatively named Boy, a white hunting poodle. Hunting might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of poodles, but back when every dog had a working purpose, a poodle's was to catch ducks. Their curly hair isn't just a fashion statement; it's actually incredibly functional, helps them to swim and stay buoyant in water.

Said function was improved by Boy's haircut, which looks mighty confusing to someone from the 21st century, almost the dog equivalent of a half-shaved beard. The dogs were bare at the back to aid swimming, hairy at the front to keep them upright — almost like a hairy lifebelt. Loops of hair were kept on the joints, to keep them warm when swimming.

Eventually Prince Rupert's release was negotiated, and he came to London, bringing Boy with him. Except no one in Blighty had ever seen anything like this strange poodle, meaning Boy rapidly became instantly recognisable. He was, if you will, London's first celebrity dog.

"To him pudel" is perhaps the greatest battle cry ever.

Then the Civil War broke out: on one side the Cavaliers (royalists) and on the other the Roundheads (parliamentarians). As you'd expect, Rupert was a Cavalier, which made him — and by association Boy — a target of the Roundheads.

Which is how we get a pamphlet dedicated to observations about Boy. Those observations: that he used witchcraft. Here are a few of Boy's powers as listed in the pamphlet: "He can prophecie"; "He hath the art of finding out concealed goods"; "He is endued with the gift of languages, which yet he hath the art to hide very well"; "He is weapon-proofe himself and has probably made his master so too"; "He can goe invisibly".

So to recap, this is an invisible, indestructible, poly-lingual (but quiet about it), psychic dog. Where can we get one of those?

A contemporary woodcut depicting the death of Boy.

Accusing someone of witchcraft was a popular and easy form of slander at the time, however, there is a theory that this pamphlet didn't actually originate from the Roundheads. Instead the current prevailing view is that either Prince Rupert or someone close to him wrote the pamphlet as satire, framing this as another one of the parliamentarians' ridiculous views.

Unfortunately for Boy, it turned out he wasn't weapon-proof as previously claimed. The Civil War wasn't all about pamphlets, there was some actual fighting too. At the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, Boy escaped onto the battlefield from the camp where he'd been tied up. The battle didn't go well for the Cavaliers and Boy was one of their casualties.

An ignominious death for London's first celebrity dog. Boy is also the oldest London dog that there are detailed historical records of, including (rough) date of birth, breed, colour, who his owner was, and his exact death date. So while he might not have been magic, he was still a pretty special dog.

With thanks to The Kennel Club Library.

*To be fair there are a couple of books about the Queen's corgis

Last Updated 09 April 2018