I was preparing material for a workshop on memoir, in particular memoir inspired by the writers’ recollections of their pets past and present. There were my own memories to call on. The cat who went into mourning when our daughter left home to go to university. He sat on the gatepost staring out into space, waiting for her every afternoon for about a month. Then there was the dog who organized the sale of the house – see ‘Raf the Dog’ https://carmelbird.wordpress.com/2018/03/
Throughout literature, there is no shortage of tales to tell about people and pets. The dedication of animals to humans is one of the great and beautiful mysteries of life on earth. Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who guarded his master’s grave for fourteen years, is possibly the star.
However, a story that kept coming back to me was that of Mary Queen of Scots and herlittle Skye Terrier. I haven’t yet decided whether or not I will bring this one up at the workshop – it sort of depends on whether I think the students can handle it. How will I tell? I don’t really know yet. I never intended for the workshop to be grisly. I haven’t seen the latest movie about Mary – it probably includes the story I am about to write.
This dog story haunts me, and I need to write it down. You can find it also in Emma White’s History of Britain in a Hundred Dogs.
When Mary Stuart returned from France to Scotland after her young husband, Francis the Second of France had died (from an ear infection – interesting in itself, I think), she brought with her twenty-two little dogs. (Mary was always fond of dogs.) In 1587 Mary was executed for treason by a particularly incompetent executioner who had to chop away at her neck several times before severing her head. To her beheading Mary had brought a Syke Terrier hidden under her dress. After the execution, people could see something moving beneath her clothing. When the executioner was in the process of removing Mary’s garters (!) he discovered the dog who was guarding the body of his beloved mistress. The dog ran up to where the body was separated from the head, lay down there in a puddle of blood and refused to be moved. When it was finally removed, it pined and died, and no wonder.
I confess that I took the words for the title of this story from within an account I read in a history of Scotland. It seemed to me to be a poignant and almost misleading statement, and it kept ringing in my head – so I used it myself.
Yes, Mary had always been fond of dogs.
Image of Mary Queen of Scots ascending the scaffold. Where is the Skye Terrier?