Queen Victoria’s Dog Was Stolen from Chinese Emperor and Mockingly Called ‘Looty’
What at first glance appears to be an unexceptional dog, actually started out its life in the household of the Chinese emperor before being looted by the English during their sacking of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. The tiny Pekingese was then shipped back to England as a gift for Queen Victoria, who flippantly named her Looty.
When Looty arrived in Queen Victoria’s household, she was a rare curiosity. While its history is a little murky, historians believe that Pekingese were first bred to resemble tiny lions possibly as far back as 2,000 years ago. A breed of toy dog, they were reserved exclusively for members of the imperial household, while miniature Pekingese were bred as “sleeve dogs” so they could hide inside the sleeves of robes.
According to legend, Pekingese dogs originated from the romance between a lion and a marmoset monkey who fell in love despite their vast difference in size. Associated with these stories of sacred origins, some claim that servants of the Chinese court had to bow when they passed a Pekingese.
The story of Looty is entwined with the political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China during the Second Opium War, when Anglo-French troops returned to pressure China into opening its borders to Western commerce and ensure control over the lucrative trade in opium.
Photograph of Looty the Pekingese in 1865, described by Captain Dunne as “most perfect little beauty.” She died at Windsor Castle in 1872 and was buried in an unmarked grave. (Public domain)
After the Chinese Qing Dynasty captured and tortured an Anglo-French delegation, the British retaliated when James Bruce, Earl of Elgin, ordered the destruction and looting of the Old Summer Palace. (Incidentally, Bruce was the son of the brainchild who ordered the plunder of the Elgin Marbles.) Known as Yuanmingyuan, meaning “the Garden of Perfect Brightness,” this sprawling complex of palaces and gardens was a Chinese paradisiacal Neverland, filled with priceless artworks representing thousands of years of Chinese history.
During its rampant destruction, remembered by the Chinese as the ultimate humiliation, five Pekingese dogs were discovered. One was taken by a British Captain by the name of John Hart Dunne, who later penned the following letter to Queen Victoria:
“This little dog was found by me in the Palace of Yuan-Ming-Yuan near Pekin on the 6th of October 1860. It is supposed to have belonged to either the Empress, or one of the ladies of the Imperial Family. It is a most affectionate and intelligent little creature – it has always been accustomed to being treated as a pet and it was with the hope that it might be looked upon as such by Her Majesty and the Royal Family that I have brought it from China.”
Looty’s subsequent insensitive naming, and the proliferation of artifacts from the sacking of the Old Summer Palace, have become symbolic of brazen British imperialism and colonial looting during this era.
Top image: Portrait of Looty the Pekingese lion dog, commissioned by Queen Victoria and painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl. Source: Public domain