Purkoy – Anne Boleyn’s dog

Apr12,2023 #Anne Boleyn's dog #Purkoy

A photo of our dog Boni
Our dog, Boni
Yesterday, Tim and I said a final goodbye to our 15-year-old dog, Boni. She’d been diagnosed with bladder cancer and was having problems so we made that awful heart-breaking decision to let her go before things got really bad. It never gets easier saying goodbye to a beloved pet, a member of the family, and I feel very raw at the moment.

Anne Boleyn must have been grief-stricken when her little dog Purkoy died in 1534. Purkoy’s death was recorded in a letter dated 18th December 1534 from Thomas Broke to Lady Lisle, who wrote:

[…] 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.

Anne hadn’t had the dog very long, but he had clearly stolen her heart, as animals so often do. Purkoy originally belonged to Honor, Lady Lisle, but she gave him as a New Year’s gift in January 1534 to Sir Francis Bryan on the advice of her London agent, John Husee, as the Lisles needed Bryan’s help. Bryan, however, ended up passing the dog on to his cousin, the queen, writing to Lady Lisle on 20th January 1534:

[…] 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.

Purkoy’s name, which comes from the French word “pourquoi”, “why”, wasn’t named by Anne but by Lady Lisle. We know this because when John Husee advised Lady Lisle to give the little dog to Bryan, he wrote:

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

Perhaps Lady Lisle called him Purkoy because he had a questioning look or did that questioning head tilt that some dogs do. We don’t know what breed of dog Purkoy was, perhaps a toy spaniel or toy poodle, but he’s described as “little”.

As I said, Anne Boleyn was clearly heartbroken by Purkoy’s sudden death in a fall, so much so that nobody wanted to tell her and her husband, King Henry VIII, was called upon to break the news to her. In his letter of December 1534, in which he wrote of Purkoy’s death, Thomas Broke also passed on advice to Lady Lisle regarding possible gifts for the queen. Anne Boleyn’s lady, Margery Horsman, had told Broke that “the Queen’s Grace setteth much store by a pretty dog” and that she preferred male dogs to females. I’m not sure whether Lady Lisle did follow this advice.

Poor little Purkoy and poor Anne. I hope the short time they had together was one filled with love.

By the way, we know Anne also had a greyhound, but he would have been a dog used for sport rather than one she spent time with like Purkoy. Anne Boleyn’s greyhound is mentioned in the records in September 1530 when it was involved, with another greyhound owned by Urian Brereton, in killing a cow:

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

Sources

  • ed. St. Clare Byrne, Muriel (1981) The Lisle Letters, Volume 2, University of Chicago Press, pp.21-22, letter 109; p.30, letter 114; p.331, letter 299a.
  • ed. Nicolas, Nicholas Harris (1827) The privy purse expenses of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529, to December 1532, William Pickering, p.74.

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