The Royal Corgis
It's cool to be the Queen's favourite pet!
In May 2009 it was reported that Her Majesty was so devastated by the death of two of her pets that she decided NOT to replace her four remaining corgis by breeding - as she had done for 65 years - but rather let her love affair with them come to a natural end.
This would certainly mean the end of an era. The reign of the corgis as most-loved and indulged royal pets might soon be over and they will no longer rule supreme over the Queen's apartments.
On the other hand, the news may have sparked a private display of high-fiving and heel-clicking on the part of the various footmen, chefs, ladies-in-waiting, family members, Prince Philip, you name it, who have been terrorised over the years by her darling dogs. Or sat on what turned out to be a suspiciously soggy royal sofa. Or carried them, yapping and squirming, in and out of the royal Rolls-Royces, or helicopters, or aircraft. Or hoovered the dog hairs out of Her Majesty's bed. Or tripped over them, stretched out all over the floor.
While they might not look terribly imposing - barely 12 inches tall with stumpy legs, no tail and enormous ears - corgis can run faster than the average dog and were sufficiently agile to guard against wolves in past centuries.
They are also experts at herding sheep and cattle by nipping at their heels. But it's not just livestock they nip. Over the years, it seems they've nipped pretty much everyone in the royal household - footmen reportedly favour soda syphons to squirt them off.
And looking after a corgi is harder work than you'd think. Among his countless revelations, Paul Burrell, once personal footman to the Queen, claimed he was knocked unconscious when nine leashed corgis pulled so hard that he slipped on the steps at Sandringham.
But they are also lively, affectionate, highly intelligent and fiercely loyal. They have been the Queen's constant companions for more than 60 years and, as such, have been rewarded with a life that most dogs could only dream of.
Officially, they live in the Corgi Room, a converted box room which houses their specially made wicker baskets, thoughtfully elevated a few inches off the floor to avoid nasty draughts. But, in reality, they have the run of the royal apartments - and a large stack of blotting paper is kept in each room to deal with their 'accidents'.
Their diet's pretty enviable, too. According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, who worked for the Queen for 11 years, a daily menu for the corgis would be typed up and posted on the kitchen wall.
'The corgis had a wonderful diet,' he said. 'One day it might be chuck steak, which we boiled and diced and served with finely chopped, boiled cabbage and white rice. The next they'd have poached chicken or liver. Or rabbits shot by William and Harry which we'd clean, cook, debone and chop for them.'
It is also Royal custom for the corgis to have dog biscuits thrown to them after lunch. On one occasion it is believed that a nervous bishop took a dog biscuit from the footman's tray and ate it by mistake.
But if that all sounds a teeny bit diva-ish, the Queen is also surprisingly practical when it comes to maintenance. She defleas her dogs herself, gets down on her hands and knees to prise open their jaws and dispense cough mixture, and dishes out their main meal from silver salvers at 5 o'clock - whatever's on the daily menu plus Pedigree Chum, biscuits and gravy.
She also walks them after lunch whenever she can. And because all that smart gravel outside can be tough on the paws, some of the older dogs boast special rubber-soled booties.
Discipline, however, is the Queen's domain alone. One source says if anyone else even attempts to tell them off, they'll get the 'evil eye' from Her Majesty.
Breeding was also the Queen's area - each corgi/dorgi bitch was allowed one litter by a pedigree sire. She moved heaven and earth to be present when they were giving birth and was refreshingly no nonsense about it. But the royal puppies never made it onto the market. Some the Queen had - until now - kept back to replenish her stocks. Others she gave away to good homes. But not to members of her own family because, well, they don't seem to like them very much.
Poor old Prince Philip was once heard to complain: 'Bloody dogs! Why do you have to have so many?'
Nor is Prince Charles a fan - he much prefers labradors. And when Princess Michael said she sometimes felt like shooting them, the Queen is said to have remarked: 'They're better behaved than she is.'
But the corgi/dorgi ritual had been an unshakeable part of palace life. They move from home to home with her and, come Christmas, they each have their own stocking, filled by the Queen with toys (since 2001 without 'squeaker'!), goodies, including a cracker and a cake.
This love affair started nearly seven decades ago, when the Queen was a young girl playing in Hyde Park with a corgi belonging to Viscount Weymouth.
Corgis were a little-known breed back then (they were admitted by the Kennel Club only in 1928), but Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret didn't give a fig for tradition and immediately started clamouring for one of their own.
In 1933, three puppies were duly delivered to the Yorks' London home and Dookie (Rozavel Golden Eagle) was chosen because he was the only one with even a stump of a tail.
Three years later Dookie was joined by Jane (Rozavel Lady Jane) but Dookie wasn't one for nookie and the matriarch of the royal corgi line was Susan, given to Elizabeth on her 18th birthday by her father as a substitute for Jane who had accidentally been run over by a car in Windsor Park.
Susan was a constant presence - even as the newlyweds drove through London in their open carriage on the way to their honeymoon in Hampshire. Unbeknown to Prince Philip, she was hidden under a pile of rugs by a Palace servant.
And while she may have spawned a dynasty of more than 30 royal corgis, she wasn't much of a role model. Her crimes were myriad, but most notably included a nasty bite out of the leg of royal clock winder Leonard Hubbard.
She wasn't alone. Her grandson, Whisky, disgraced himself by tearing the seat out of a Guard Officer's trousers and, in 1991, the Queen needed three stitches in her hand when she tried to break up a corgi fight at Windsor Castle.
In 1989, Chipper, her favourite 'dorgi' (corgi/dachshund cross), was 'ripped to shreds' by Ranger, one of the Queen Mother's corgis.
And, on Christmas 2003, Pharos, named after The Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Queen's favorite at the time, had to be put down after being savaged by an English bull terrier owned by Princess Anne.
All the royal pets are buried in the grounds of the royal residence they are living in when they die. Susan, Sugar and Heather, all have gravestones at Sandringham
The 'Royal' Corgis from the film The Queen
At present, the Queen owns three corgis: Monty, Willow and Holly and three 'dorgis': Cider, Candy and Vulcan.