Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Elizabeth Charlotte: the Animal Friend

While having pets at court was not a novel initiative but Elizabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orléans, was fonder of animals than most.

The Princess Palatine - as she was also known - firmly believed that dogs possessed an immortal soul like humans. In her time this was a sentiment not shared by many people; the age is notorious for performing vivisection (surgery without any form of anaesthesia) on animals because it was thought that they did not experience pain like humans. She was particularly fond of Leibnitz who was the first philosopher to exclaim that animals indeed had souls. On the other hand she found Descartes "ridiculous" because he regarded animals as "machines".
It was a great comfort to Elizabeth Charlotte to think that when she died she would be greeted by her friends and family - and pets. Nevertheless, the loss of her pets always affected her. Such a sad occasion took place shortly before the birth of her grandson, the Duc de Chartres, when she lost her favourite dog.

She had also full empathy for the feelings of other people's pets. Following the tragic death of the Duc de Bourgogne in 1712 she was brought to tears by seeing the Duc's dog looking for him in the chapel since it had last seen him there.

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Elizabeth Charlotte with two of her dogs

Her pet of choice were so-called dwarf spaniels which were a type of English setters. She absolutely adored them and had at least a dozen living with her at all times. Her brother-in-law, Louis XIV, was not so keen on that particular type of dog; he considered them to be too "feminine".

Elizabeth Charlotte was rather indifferent to the King's opinion on this particular matter. Her vast correspondence with her German family shows how big a part of her life her dogs were. In one letter from 1709 she apologises for the blurring of a letter which was apparently caused by a dog jumping onto her table and stepping on the paper. She also notes that she named that dog "Robe" because she was born on one of her mistresses' velvet gowns - not that it bothered Madame.

Her letters are full of anecdotes relating to her beloved dogs. On one memorable occasion (letter written on 3 Maj 1715) she relates how she entertained her grandson, the Duc de Chartres, with a procession out of the ordinary. She had had a little cart brought in which was drawn by two of her dogs. A pigeon "held the reins" while a cat sat majestically in the cart.
That same letter also relates of a specific dog of her's - called Badine - who could fetch anything imaginable.

The Duchesse enjoyed walking in the royal gardens with her dogs. At one point she is alleged to have complained that she could not walk her dogs at Saint-Cloud without running into "a copulating male couple"! Whether she actually said it is unknown but it would surely be in tune with her usual frank expressions.

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