Although the Royals have not often been seen at Crufts, in the past they have played a huge part in the growth and rise of the show and showing, as Charles Cruft made sure to gain press coverage through their presence.
The little book below details Queen Victoria’s pet dogs in 1846. She had 28 breeds, many of which are very exotic – Chow Chows, Havanese, Esquimeaux dog etc. She received dogs as gifts and also gave dogs as gifts to aristocrats and royalty across Europe.
So, the demise of blood sports and the rise of showing were not just driven by welfare concerns but by the realisation that there was a market for fancy dogs amongst the wealthier classes and that shows, such as Crufts, acted as a shop window for these dogs.
Charles Cruft decided, in 1886, it was time to launch his own show. At the suggestion of the Duchess of Newcastle, a formidable presence on the male-dominated dog scene of the day, he decided that London should have a terrier show and the six Terrier shows run by Charles Cruft at the very central Royal Aquarium in Westminster between 1886 and 1890, are the roots of the Crufts show we have today.
The first show held at the Agricultural Hall and the first to carry his name was held from 11th to 13th February 1891. The entry was large for the time – 2437 entries in total (note: actual dogs less – some compete in more than one class). The coverage was positive, if not entirely uncritical, with the Field magazine praising the quality of entries in some breeds but finding others somewhat lacking. One crucial factor was that his show attracted the attention of the nation’s most famous fancy dog enthusiast, Queen Victoria herself.
Royalty exhibited at this first show on Wednesday 11th Feb 1891. Although the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was the patron of the Kennel Club, this was the first time any Royalty has shown at any dog show. It is unknown how Charles Cruft achieved this. The show had 35 breeds plus “Foreign Dogs”.
The monarch, though a lifelong dog lover and successful breeder, had never previously entered a dog show. The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (and Patron of the Kennel Club) also entered as did Queen Victoria’s son-in-law, King Haakon of Norway. How Charles Cruft pulled this off is a mystery, but it was publicity gold. The Royal dogs were accommodated in a roomy kennel rather than on a standard bench, but were in full view of an enthusiastic public.
Queen Victoria entered 4 dogs – a Rough Collie named Darnley II and three Pomeranians named Gina, Nino and Fluffy. The Rough Collie Darnley II competed in ordinary classes and took a Fourth in Open Dog. The three Poms had their own special class and Fluffy and Gena got first prizes (presume one each for dog and bitch) and Nino got a Very Highly Commended. However, the Prince of Wales won in open competition (not without complaint, dismissed by Charles Cruft ).
“Foreign Dogs” had a class called Esquimeaux Dogs (Eskimo or Sled Dogs) included a Samoyed (spelled Samoyede and sometimes also called a Lapland Sled Dog) named Perla belonging to the Prince of Wales and a Husky (spelled Huska) co-bred by King Haakon of Norway, who was Queen Victoria’s son-in-law. Perla and Huska both took prizes and The Prince of Wales also showed Rough Bassetts, which likewise won every prize in their class.
In 1892, Queen Victoria competed again, in open classes rather than in special classes just for her. This was the only other year she entered, and all her dogs were Poms and competed in ordinary classes – Fluffy Nino, Beppo, Mina, Luna, and Gilda. Prizes as follows
The Royal glamour was enhanced by entries from The Tsar of Russia Alexander III, Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (soon to be Tsar Nicholas II) and Prince Constantine Oldenburg, who sent over a team of champion Borzois.
Even after his coronation, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were regulars at Crufts and Charles Cruft laid on a sumptuous, and very visible, Royal Box for their comfort. His decision, from 1906, to dress his show staff, somewhat incongruously in “Jack Tar” naval dress may have been to reflect his own sailing interests or a patriotic gesture to amuse their Majesties. In 1908, the Royal box is described as being as luxurious as the Royal box at Ascot, and was furnished with gilt furniture and blue silk drapery, which was the Queen’s favourite colour. There was a parade of the larger dogs and afterwards, Queen Alexandra visited the benches to see the smaller dogs for herself, taking a particular interest in the Pekingese and West Highland White Terriers.
After 1904 the Kennel Club consolidated its authority over dog showing and rules around special prizes became more transparent and fair, so that a quality dog could gain awards without the need to pay additional fees. Though Royal exhibitors did not always attend, Charles Cruft ensured flattering press coverage for those prominent members of the aristocracy who were also serious dog exhibitors who did attend.
King George V entered for the first time in 1916 and did well with his Labrador Retrievers (using his own Wolverton kennel name, which was largely associated with gundogs, especially Labradors and Clumber Spaniels) and in 1921, when the show resumed after WW1, the show continued to enjoy Royal patronage with the King and his mother, Queen Alexandra both competing.
Although, as a young princess, she expressed a wish to enter the show with her Corgis, the Queen has never actually shown any dogs at Crufts. She has only visited once in 1969, though one of her Labradors, FT CH Sandringham Sydney featured in a parade in 1975 (though was not entered in a class).
Here are some unique images of the Royals at Crufts: