Anne Boleyn’s dog Purkoy

A mock-up of Anne Boleyn and Purkoy
A mock-up of Anne Boleyn and Purkoy
I’m feeling a bit ‘fragile’ today after taking our elderly cat (about 19 years old!) to the vet’s last night to be put down. I know it was the best thing to do because Poppy had kidney failure and was going downhill rapidly, but it’s a heartbreaking decision to have to make. Anyway, it made me think about Anne Boleyn losing her little dog Purkoy, and the grief she must have felt at losing her little canine friend.

Anne Boleyn had a lapdog called Purkoy, which came from the French ‘pourquoi’, meaning ‘why?’. The little dog was originally given to Sir Francis Bryan, Anne’s cousin, by Lady Lisle as a New Year’s gift. She’d given the dog to Bryan on the advice of John Husee because the Lisles needed Bryan’s help. Lady Lisle had obviously been fond of Purkoy, but she had to follow Husee’s advice:

“But madam, there is no remedy, your ladyship must needs depart with your little Purkoy, the which I knew well shall grive your ladyship not a little.”1

However, Bryan ended up passing the gift on to the queen. He wrote to Lord Lisle on 20th January 1534 asking him to thank his wife for the gift but explaining what had happened:

“…it may please your Lordship to give her hearty thanks on my behalf for her little dog, which was so proper and so well liked by the Queen that it remained not above an hour in my hands but that her Grace took it from me.”2

Unfortunately, Anne’s beloved Purkoy was killed in an accident just a few months later. Thomas Broke wrote to Lady Lisle on 18th December 1534, advising her on gifts for the Queen and passing on the advice of Margery Horsman, one of the Queen’s ladies:

“Also she saith that the Queen’s Grace setteth much store by a pretty dog, and her Grace delighted so much in little Purkoy that after he was dead of a fall there durst nobody tell her Grace of it, till it pleased the King’s Highness to tell her Grace of it.”3

He went on to advise that Anne preferred a male dog to a female. It is not known what kind of dog Purkoy was, but perhaps a toy spaniel or toy poodle. Anne obviously loved her little dog and it must have been hard for her to cope with the idea of her beloved pet being killed in such a tragic accident. She must have been devastated.

Anne Boleyn also had a greyhound. Although it is often said that her greyhound was called Urian and was given to her by Urian Brereton, brother of William Brereton, I have found no evidence of this. In Henry VIII’s Privy Purse Expenses, there is a record of a farmer being paid 10 shillings for a cow which had been killed by two greyhounds, one belonging to Urian Brereton and the other belonging to Anne:

“Itm the same daye paied for A Cowe that Uryren a Breretons greyhounde and my ladye Annes killed – x s.” 25 September 15304

Although this could be read as one of the greyhounds being called “Urian”, but belonging to the Brereton’s, there were definitely two dogs involved and I’m not sure that Urian Brereton or William Brereton would have called their dog “Urian”. It is more likely that “Uryren a Breretons greyhounde” means “Urian Brereton’s greyhound’. I am convinced that the cow was killed by two greyhounds, both unnamed: one belonging to Urian Brereton and the other belonging to Anne Boleyn.

Notes and Sources

  1. Lisle Letters, Volume 2, p21-22, letter 109
  2. Ibid., p30, letter 114
  3. Ibid., p331, letter 299a
  4. The Privy Purse Expenses of Henry VIII, p74

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44 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s dog Purkoy”
  1. My sympathies, Claire, and to your family. Looking at the cards on Zazzle recently, I saw one of St Francis of Assisi and the Rainbow Bridge, which reads…
    “Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.” (F of A)
    which is a beautiful thought, for isn’t it how an animal loves? There’s a poem we dog walkers found pinned to a christmas tree in our local Arboretum called ‘If I should grow frail’ by an unknown author, which is online, and is comforting, if you like poems. The little dog you’ve mocked up with Anne reminds me our ‘Little Ted’, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who had that exact same habit of cocking his pretty head at us. Lovely post. Thank you.

    1. I just looked up that poem, Globerose, and it really helped. I’ve never had to make that decision before and found it so hard to do.

  2. I am terribly sorry for your loss. Losing a pet is hard. Animals have a special hold on us. Thank you for this article! I like learning about Anne and her little dog. I’m a dog person myself, had a dog as a child, and was quite fond of it. I can sympathize with her loss and you as well. God bless during this Holy Week.

  3. So sorry for your loss, Claire. We had to put our chessie down this fall and it’s so heartbreaking losing them.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss , the same thing happened to me last month with my cat , it is heartbreaking . On a lighter note I’m visiting Hever castle tomorrow , I can’t wait xx

  5. Awww, I’m so sorry to hear Claire! Losing a family member is rough…huge hugs to you!

    Kindest regards always,


  6. So sorry about your cat Claire 19 years old is a very good age for a cat, I know how your feeling, my little dog died about 15 yrs ago but I still miss him our pets are so lovable aren’t they, take comfort in the fact that you will see Poppy again one day, take care.

  7. That pic of Anne with an imaginary Purquy is good, I wonder what sort of dog it was, it’s been described as small so maybe it was a terrier?

    1. Lapdogs are among the oldest breeds of dog we know of, and little spaniels were very popular, as you may know Charles II had a lot of them, hence the name King Charles Spaniel, although they existed long before him. Purkoy may have been a spaniel, or a Maltese (a very old breed) or indeed a terrier, although these were more likely to be working dogs rather than ladies’ lapdogs. I’m not sure whether poodles existed at the time, but a French poodle would seem very suitable for Anne!

      1. I don’t think poodles were around then I’m sure I remember reading once that they came into being in the early part of the 19c or the 18 c tho of course I could be wrong.

        1. Poodles are a very old breed – they were originally a German water retriever – but I don’t think they were being bred that small in Anne’s time. Bichons were popular in France; Henri III kept them.

  8. Sorry for your loss hon! I have a rescue cat that I adore and I can imagine your pain! Hugs!

  9. I know how much you’ll miss Poppy. I’ve lost two cats to kidney failure, and the most that can be said is that it’s said to be painless. In some ways it isn’t even the decision to have her put down — when she’s so ill and won’t get better, you know it’s the right decision for her. It’s just the emptiness where she was. I still miss Cassilda, whom we lost to kidney failure in 1995.

  10. Sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved cat. I’ve made “that journey” to the vet too many times myself and it never gets any easier. You know that you did the right thing though.
    I’ve always thought that Anne’s affection for her pet is something that brings her closer to us. Those of us with pets can all understand and empathise with her feelings of loss.

  11. Oh, I feel for you – losing your beloved pet is just heart breaking. I am so, so sorry for your loss. Thank you for this interesting article. In Wolf Hall it seemed implied that someone had killed Anne’s dog. I hope that wasn’t the case in real life. : (

  12. So Sorry Claire I just lost my Sammy cat after 13 years. It is so hard they are our furry babies. She awaits you over the rainbow bridge. <3

  13. Claire, I am so very sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. 19 years is indeed a wonderful span for a cat, and I’m sure living with you and your family made her life a particularly happy one!

    Yes, hearing about Anne Boleyn’s beloved pet brings her closer to us. I wonder how Henry broke the news to her. So strange to think that a husband could do that for his wife, and then sign her death warrant a few years later . . . I’m sure little Purkoy’s love was purer, somehow.

  14. we had to do the same for our beloved Yorkie, ‘Hank’ one year ago yesterday. It truly is heart wrenching. You have our sympathy.

  15. I had to have our English Springer Spaniel, Bailey, put down last week. I understand your pain. My condolences on the loss of your precious kitty. I hope you’re feeling better soon.


  16. I lost one of my own beloved cats last September, due to a brain tumor, so I understand the pain you feel. They leave their paw prints on your heart.

  17. So sorry to hear about your loss. You have my deepest condolences. Pets are not like a member of the family, they ARE members of the family.

  18. Dearest Claire,
    My heart goes out to you. We had the exact situation with our beautiful blue lynx point Himalayan. Lapis was only 13 when her kidney’s shut down. I was devastated, but she went down hill fast. They found a heart murmur too. She was at the ER for 4 days and thought she was improving but in one day she became much worse. My husband held her while they put her down. It is devastating because they are part of your family.

  19. Claire I know how you feel and only too well. I have had to put down so many of my cats. Ages 18 20 and sadly, soon another 19 year old. It is always difficult but it is the right thing to do. Never doubt that. They love us unconditionally and we owe them to repay that love by not allowing them to suffer needlessly. They do not understand what is wrong and it is so sad to see them deteriorate. I make the decision that when they stop eating and any medicinal efforts would be uncomfortable and have no long term benefit that the time has come. Nevertheless I am always hoping they will quietly slip away in their sleep and spare me the pain of the decision.

  20. Again, I am sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine a life without animals. They are just pure, unquestioning love and hopefully they bring out the best in us. Life is better for us because of them.

  21. My condolences to you on your loss. I know how hard it is to make that decision. I had to “put to sleep” my 13-year old shi tzu dog six years ago and I still remember the sorrow and emptiness. Especially after asking myself over and over if that was what she would have wanted…if they could only talk! But please have comfort as we will all reunite someday!!

  22. Sorry for your loss of your puss. Although 19 is a great age for a cat, they become a family member and losing them is very sad. My own cat died last year, at home, on the sofa, wrapped in her favourite blanket. She is buried in this, under ber favourite tree. Even though we knew she may live only a year after being told she had kidney failure, she actually remained healthy till a rapid decline over a few days. She was about 18_20, we actually cannot be sure. I really feel for you at this sad time, but your pussy is at peace and sleeping in heaven with the angels.

    Take care.


  23. It’s such a pity when they go, but at least yours had a long happy life and a good end. Purkoy has often been said to have been killed, either by being dropped over a balcony or knocked out of a window, by someone who wanted to cause Anne grief, but whether it’s true I don’t know. If only Purkoy had been a cat, he would have survived! I assume he was called Purkoy because he had that common dog habit of putting his head slightly on one side as if puzzled.

  24. I lost my lovely blue tabbypoint ragdoll, Georgie, to kidney failure just over a year ago. He was only 10, but had survived 18 months after diagnosis, which I understand from the vet is normal. This was only 5 months after losing my adored Maine Coon Henry to bone cancer, aged 15. Left me without any cats at all for the first time in my life. I have been adopted by a local cat, a gorgeous tabby and white girl, who I love very much!

  25. Claire:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Poppy. I know how much you loved her, but she had a good long life where she was loved and taken care of. I lost 2 of my cats within a week in December – Dandelion and Huggy, so I can sympathize with you.

  26. Kitteh just diagnosed with kidney failure today. Still has one working, but I’m sorry for your loss.

    It always touches me as a history teacher to learn of people’s love for their pets – it builds empathy I think, where it is otherwise hard to do so.

  27. So Sorry to hear of your loss. You did the right thing although it does not feel like it now. Look on the internet for a poem called “The Last Battle” . The words may help.

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