A Royal Love Affair

Today Buckingham Palace sadly announced the death of Monty, one of the Queen’s beloved corgis. It’s well known that the Queen has a particular affection for the Welsh corgi but her predecessors had a fondness for much more exotic breeds.

Both the Pekingese and borzoi are two of the focus breeds featured in our forthcoming exhibition Breed: The British and their Dogs, and their patronisation by the royal family is well documented. Queen Victoria’s Pekingese Looty was presented to her by Lieutenant Dunne in the late 19th century. Dunne, along with other British and French troops, had captured the dog following the defeat of China in the Second Opium War in 1860. Prior to this the Pekingese had belonged exclusively to the Chinese imperial household.

Pekingese figure made by Carl Fabergé. UK, 1907, precious stone. The Royal Collection © 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The borzoi had equally impressive imperial connections. This breed, originally used for hunting wolves, was a favourite of the Russian imperial family, and the Tsar’s kennels were globally renowned. This imperial proximity and luxurious association made it the target of Russian revolutionaries in 1917. The Tsar’s kennels were closed and the dogs destroyed. In Britain breeders mobilised to prevent the borzoi’s extinction, this action was dominated by aristocratic women including Queen Alexandra.

Borzoi figure made by Carl Fabergé. UK, 1907, precious stone. The Royal Collection © 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The Royal Collection have very kindly loaned us several objects which illustrate this royal love affair, two of which you can see above.

Over the next several weeks I will reveal the remaining three focus breeds and more of the wonderful objects we’ll have on display.

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Queens and Cotton

With the UK press hotly debating the significance of the British Royal Family it’s fascinating to think that Victorian Manchester was a veritable monarch magnet. Queen Victoria had an intimate relationship with the city in the late 19th century but  so too did a lesser known contemporary, namely Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar.

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar, 1861 - 1917

In an attempt to deter the French from colonising Madagascar Ranavalona strengthened diplomatic and economic ties with the UK and USA. Manchester had been exporting cotton cloth to Madagascar throughout the 19th century so Ranavalona would have been acutely aware of the citys economic importance.

Tootal-Broadhurst and Lee Co Building, Victorian cotton manufacturers, Manchester

In recognition of this Ranavlona sought the favour of Sir Kenneth Lee of  Tootal-Broadhurst and Lee Co, eminent Manchester cotton manufactorers. She did this by corresponding with Lee via her ambassadors and by means of a royal gift in the form of an exquisite piece of Malagasy lamba cloth. The cloth was eventually donated to the Manchester Museum by Lee’s sister-in-law Mrs. Crawley in 1936.

Malagasy lamba cloth, Madagascar, late 19th century. Living Cultures collection, the Manchester Museum

Unfortunately, Ranavalona’s attempts to stave off colonisation failed, by 1886 she was in exile and the French had seized control of the island nation. Lamba cloth sent by Ranavalona to important individuals can now be found in entnographic collections in both the UK and USA. These royal gifts are testiment to one woman’s struggle to desperately defend her kingdom.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Imperial Lather

With the forthcoming British Royal Family wedding the media have their microphones and lenses trained squarely on the happy couple. However, an ancestor of Prince William’s is also receiving some attention, Queen Victoria no less.

Shrabani Basu has recently updated her bookVictoria and Abdul using recently discovered archival material. The book explores Victoria’s relationship with her Indian servant Abdul Karim. Queen Victoria has captured the imagination, and frequently adulation, of the British people and beyond since she assumed the throne in  1837.

A rather out-of-place object in the Living Cultures collection demonstrates this adulation perfectly. It is a bar of soap which was donated to the Museum in 1897 by William Worthington. This particular bar of soap was believed to have been used by the Queen when she visited Manchester on 1st July 1888 to open the Victoria University. Worthington was Head Porter at the time and in the perfect position to collect the soap.

Bar of soap, Port Sunlight Soap Works, Liverpool, 1888. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

The object was clearly acquired because of it’s imperial association and to commemorate a significant event in Manchester’s history. The soap’s quality is not in doubt but whether is was used by Victoria remains dubious.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures