The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries

The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries

by Mimi Matthews


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From elaborate Victorian cat funerals to a Regency era pony who took a ride in a hot air balloon, Mimi Matthews shares some of the quirkiest—and most poignant—animal tales of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Meet Fortune, the Pug who bit Napoleon on his wedding night, and Looty, the Pekingese sleeve dog who was presented to Queen Victoria after the 1860 sacking of the Summer Palace in Peking. The four-legged friends of Lord Byron, Emily Brontë, and Prince Albert also make an appearance, as do the treasured pets of Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, and Charles Dickens.

Less famous, but no less fascinating, are the animals that were the subject of historical lawsuits, scandals, and public curiosity. There’s Tuppy, the purloined pet donkey; Biddy, the regimental chicken; and Barnaby and Burgho, the bloodhounds hired to hunt Jack the Ripper. Wild animals also get a mention in tales that encompass everything from field mice and foxes to alligators and sharks lurking in the Thames.

Using research from eighteenth and nineteenth century books, letters, and newspapers, Mimi Matthews brings each animal’s unique history to vivid life. The details are sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, but the stories are never anything less than fascinating reading for animal lovers of all ages.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781526705006
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 750,679
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (published by Pen & Sword Books) and The Lost Letter: A Victorian Romance. Her articles on nineteenth century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at BUST Magazine, New York. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.

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The Pug Who Bit Napoleon

'About thirty years ago, the fashionable lapdog was the Dutch-Pug; every old Duchess in the kingdom had three or four, and these ugly little animals were the ladies' favourites from the accession of William the Third to the death of George the Second.'

The Sporting Magazine, 1803

In the late eighteenth century, Joséphine de Beauharnais had a beloved lapdog named Fortune. He had been given to her as a young pup by her great friend Thérésa Cabarrus, Madame Tallien, and has been described as having a fawn or russet-coloured body, a black muzzle, and a curly tail. He was, in short, a pug – a breed of dog which had been quite fashionable for many years with society grand dames and aristocratic ladies of leisure. He was not the best example of his breed, either in appearance or temperament, but Joséphine would soon come to prize him above all of her other pets.

On 21 April 1794, at the height of the Reign of Terror, Joséphine was denounced as an enemy of the republic. She was arrested and taken away to be imprisoned in the Convent of the Carmelites. Les Carmes was a dank and sinister place, infested with vermin, and filled with prisoners who were sometimes forced to sleep as many as eighteen to a cell. Joséphine spent much of her time there playing solitaire and weeping.

Even so, the situation was not wholly intolerable. Joséphine's husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais was also imprisoned in Les Carmes and she was able to see him quite often. In addition, Joséphine was allowed regular visits from her children, Eugene and Hortense, and their governess, Madame Lanoy. These visits took place through the prison bars and in the presence of the turnkey. Intimate conversation was impossible. Luckily, Fortune was also allowed to visit the prison and, unlike Joséphine's children, he was able to slip through the bars and into his mistress's cell.

Fortune had been pining dreadfully in Joséphine's absence and, upon arriving at the prison with Eugene and Hortense, he would rush straight into Joséphine's waiting arms. These moments of affection between the future empress and her little pug facilitated a secret communication, for hidden beneath Fortune's collar were private messages from Joséphine's children and her friends. Joséphine would stealthily remove these hidden notes and replace them with secret letters of her own. By this means, she was able to communicate with not only her family, but with influential friends who, she hoped, would help in securing her freedom, as well as the freedom of her husband.

Three months later, Joséphine was released from prison. Her husband, Alexandre, was not so fortunate. On 23 July 1794, he was guillotined at the Place de la Révolution. This left Joséphine a widow, paving the way for her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte only two years later.

Fortune's role in carrying messages for his mistress while she was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror forever endeared him to both Joséphine and her children. As the little pug grew older, becoming even more bad-tempered as he aged, they were willing to forgive his many shortcomings, choosing instead to spoil him with caresses and praise. By 1796, Fortune's place in the hierarchy of the household – and in his mistress's affections – was unassailable. This fact did not bode well for her new husband.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais were married on 9 March 1796. Napoleon was only twenty-six years old and it was his first marriage. Joséphine was a widow and six years his senior. Upon joining her in bed that evening, Napoleon was surprised to learn that the two newlyweds were not to be alone. Fortune was long accustomed to sleeping in his mistress's bed and no exception had been made for her wedding night. When Napoleon sought to have the dog removed, Joséphine stringently objected, insisting that Fortune remain not just in the bedroom, but in the marital bed.

Fortune was, by this point, well-known for his quarrelsome and aggressive behaviour. He had a reputation for snarling, snapping and biting the ankles of any stranger who dared approach his mistress in a threatening manner. Apparently, Fortune still considered Napoleon to be a stranger, for as the consummation commenced the little pug began to bark furiously. Napoleon made several attempts to cajole him. When that failed, the impatient bridegroom kicked Fortune from the bed.

Fortune was not so easily routed. He leapt back onto the bed and – as Napoleon resumed his marital duty – the livid little lapdog viciously bit him on the calf. Though not fatal, the wound inflicted by Fortune's teeth was really quite severe. As a result, the remainder of the wedding night was reportedly spent with Joséphine applying compresses to Napoleon's calf and Napoleon moaning that he 'was dying of hydrophobia'.

Ultimately, Napoleon did not contract hydrophobia (or rabies as we know it today); however, Fortune's bad behaviour on his wedding night was neither forgiven nor forgotten. Napoleon would bear the scars from his diminutive rival's vicious assault for the rest of his life, a fact which he is known to have reflected on with some bitterness. On one occasion, for example, when talking to playwright Antoine-Vincent Arnault, Napoleon pointed at Fortune as the little pug lay on the sofa beside Joséphine and said:

'Do you see that gentleman? He is my rival. He was in possession of Madame's bed when I married her. I wished to remove him; it was quite useless to think of it. I was told that I must either sleep elsewhere, or consent to share my bed. That annoyed me considerably, but I had to make up my mind. I gave way. The favourite was less accommodating; I bear proofs on my leg of what I say.'

Despite his own feelings, Napoleon was well aware of the deep affection that Joséphine had for her pug. He mentions Fortune in several of his subsequent love letters to Joséphine, closing one sent on 17 July 1796 – a mere four months after their disastrous wedding night – with the following sentiment, 'Millions of kisses, some even to Fortune, in spite of his naughtiness.'

In another letter, Napoleon loses his temper with his new bride when, after months of begging her to leave Paris and join him on campaign in Italy, she has still not arrived. Jealous and frustrated, he writes:

'You ought to have started on May 24th. Being good-natured, I waited till June 1st, as if a pretty woman would give up her habits, her friends, both Madame Tallien and a dinner with Barras, and the acting of a new play, and Fortune; yes, Fortune, whom you love much more than your husband, for whom you have only a little of the esteem, and a share of that benevolence with which your heart abounds!'

After nearly four months of excuses, Joséphine finally consented to join Napoleon in Italy. She did not make the journey alone. With her in a three carriage convoy, complete with a full accompaniment of luggage, servants, and a cavalry escort, was her brother-in-law, Joseph Bonaparte; her new husband's aide-de-camp, Colonel Junot; her current lover, Hippolyte Charles; and her pug, Fortune.

In Italy, Fortune became a fast favourite. According to an 1842 edition of the Court Magazine and Monthly Critic, he was 'caressed and petted by all the officers on the staff' and soon regarded as 'an important personage at headquarters'. Napoleon himself was less than pleased. Time and distance had not improved his opinion of the pampered pug. He tolerated him for Joséphine's sake only. But he would not have to tolerate him for much longer. Fortune was destined to meet his end in a most unfortunate way.

One day, while roaming the gardens at Montebello, Fortune encountered the cook's giant dog. In some historical accounts this dog is described as a mastiff and in others a bulldog. Whatever he was, he did not take kindly to Fortune's threatening snaps and snarls. When Fortune attempted to assert his dominance, the cook's dog seized the little pug in his jaws, breaking his ribs in one bite. Within a few hours, Fortune was dead.

Napoleon was far from grief-stricken by this turn of events and he had no patience with anyone who was. When he found one of the guards on duty inside the palace weeping over Fortune's demise, the Court Magazine and Monthly Critic reports that he had the soldier put under twenty-four-hour arrest, telling him, 'Deep rooted griefs require quiet and solitude.'

Joséphine's own grief was not so easily managed. Devastated by the loss of Fortune, she was utterly inconsolable. Napoleon forbade her from acquiring another pug, but Hippolyte Charles, unable to bear the sight of his lover's tears, lost no time in presenting her with a pug puppy.

Sometime later, Napoleon crossed paths with the cook. The remorseful servant apologized for his dog killing Fortune and assured Napoleon that the larger dog had been sent away never to return. Napoleon allegedly replied, 'Bring him back. Perhaps he will rid me of the new one too!'


The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope

'Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.'

Alexander Pope, 1709

Eighteenth century poet and satirist Alexander Pope was a lover of dogs all of his life. He preferred large dogs as his writing occasionally provoked threats of violence from those he attacked with his acerbic wit. Small, frail and stricken at a young age with a form of tuberculosis that affected his spine, he was incapable of defending himself in an actual physical altercation and depended on his canine guardians to protect him.

Over the years, Pope owned a succession of Great Danes, each by the name of Bounce. The first Bounce was a male dog, as was the last. The rest were all females, the most well-known of which was the 'great faithful Danish dog' that Pope owned in 1728. Following publication of the Dunciad, Pope received a great many threats. On one occasion, he is even rumoured to have been beaten by two gentlemen who set upon him during one of his walks. Such a traumatic experience made him extraordinarily cautious about his safety and, in future, he never went out walking unless he was accompanied by Bounce – and a pair of pistols.

Pope was a small man, standing no more than four and a half feet tall. Bounce was of an equal height. Any other dog so large might have overpowered such a diminutive master, but Bounce was generally well-mannered. The only time she posed any danger to Pope was when she was released from a prolonged period of confinement. It was then that, in her exuberance, she sometimes knocked Pope down. George Lyttleton alludes to this in a letter sent to Pope on 22 December 1736 in which he writes:

'You need not be told that the desire of seeing you is one great cause of that impatience; but to show you how much I am master of my passions, I will be quiet here for a week or ten days longer, and then come to you in most outrageous spirits, and overturn you like Bounce, when you let her loose after a regimen of physic and confinement.'

When Bounce wasn't overturning Pope, she was protecting him and lending him her support as he wrote. While Pope worked, she lay quietly at his feet. While Pope entertained, she socialized with the guests and happily received their every attention. She even inspired a poem or two, the most famous of which was the 1736 poem titled Bounce to Fop: An Heroic Epistle from a Dog at Twickenham to a Dog at Court. Written as if Bounce is addressing a spaniel named Fop, it is a satire of courtiers and court life.


To thee, sweet Fop, these Lines I send,
Who, tho' no Spaniel, am a Friend.
Tho, once my Tail in wanton play,
Now frisking this, and then that way,
Chanc'd, with a Touch of just the Tip,
To hurt your Lady-lap-dog-ship;
Yet thence to think I'd bite your Head off!
Sure Bounce is one you never read of.

FOP! you can dance, and make a Leg,
Can fetch and carry, cringe and beg,
And (what's the Top of all your Tricks)
Can stoop to pick up Strings and Sticks.
We Country Dogs love nobler Sport,
And scorn the Pranks of Dogs at Court.
Fye, naughty Fop! where e'er you come To f – t and p – ss about the Room,
To lay your Head in every Lap,
And, when they think not of you – snap!
The worst that Envy, or that Spite E'er said of me, is, I can bite:
That sturdy Vagrants, Rogues in Rags,
Who poke at me, can make no Brags;
And that to towze such Things as flutter,
To honest Bounce is Bread and Butter.
While you, and every courtly Fop,
Fawn on the Devil for a Chop,
I've the Humanity to hate A Butcher,
tho' he brings me Meat;
And let me tell you, have a Nose,
(Whatever stinking Fops suppose)
That under Cloth of Gold or Tissue,
Can smell a Plaister, or an Issue.

Your pilf'ring Lord, with simple Pride,
May wear a Pick-lock at his Side;
My Master wants no Key of State,
For Bounce can keep his House and Gate.

When all such Dogs have had their Days,
As knavish Pams, and fawning Trays;
When pamper'd Cupids, bestly Veni's,
And motly, squinting Harvequini's,
Shall lick no more their Lady's Br –,
But die of Looseness, Claps, or Itch;
Fair Thames from either ecchoing Shoare Shall hear, and dread my manly Roar.

See Bounce, like Berecynthia, crown'd With thund'ring Offspring all around,
Beneath, beside me, and a top,
A hundred Sons! and not one Fop.

Before my Children set your Beef,
Not one true Bounce will be a Thief;
Not one without Permission feed,
(Tho' some of J – 's hungry Breed)
But whatsoe'er the Father's Race,
From me they suck a little Grace.
While your fine Whelps learn all to steal,
Bred up by Hand on Chick and Veal.

My Eldest-born resides not far,
Where shines great Strafford's glittering Star:
My second (Child of Fortune!) waits At Burlington's Palladian Gates:
A third majestically stalks
(Happiest of Dogs!) in Cobham's Walks:
One ushers Friends to Bathurst's Door;
One fawns, at Oxford's, on the Poor.

Nobles, whom Arms or Arts adorn,
Wait for my Infants yet unborn.
None but a Peer of Wit and Grace,
Can hope a Puppy of my Race.

And O! wou'd Fate the Bliss decree To mine (a Bliss too great for me)
That two, my tallest Sons, might grace Attending each with stately Pace,
Iulus' Side, as erst Evander's,

To keep off Flatt'rers, Spies, and Panders,
To let no noble Slave come near,
And scare Lord Fannys from his Ear:
Then might a Royal Youth, and true,
Enjoy at least a Friend – or two:
A Treasure, which, of Royal kind,
Few but Himself deserve to find.

Then Bounce ('tis all that Bounce can crave)
Shall wag her Tail within the Grave.

And tho' no Doctors, Whig or Tory ones,
Except the Sect of Pythagoreans,
Have Immortality assign'd To any Beast, but Dryden's Hind:
Yet Master Pope, whom Truth and Sense Shall call their Friend some Ages hence,
Tho' now on loftier Themes he sings

Than to bestow a Word on Kings,
Has sworn by Sticks (the Poet's Oath,
And Dread of Dogs and Poets both)
Man and his Works he'll soon renounce,
And roar in Numbers worthy Bounce.

Bounce did have 'thund'ring Offspring all around'. As referenced in Bounce to Fop, puppies from a 1736 litter by Bounce found their way into the homes of the Earl of Strafford, the Earl of Burlington, Viscount Cobham, and Lord Bathurst. Perhaps the most celebrated puppy of all was the one given as a gift to Frederick, Prince of Wales. It came with a collar upon which had been engraved Pope's now legendary lines: 'I am His Highness' Dog at Kew; Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?'

But Bounce was much more than a literary muse. One night, she actually saved Pope's life. Earlier that day, Pope had hired a new valet. Bounce took an instant dislike to the man and, that evening, after the valet helped Pope into bed, she crept into his chamber to keep watch over him while he slept.

Pope was later awakened by the sound of Bounce struggling to subdue an intruder that she had pinned to the ground by his throat. Pope hurried to the window to scream for help. His servants responded at once, quickly managing to capture three more thieves who had been lurking in the garden. As for the intruder apprehended by Bounce, he proved to be none other than Pope's own valet. Armed with a pistol, he had intended to murder Pope and rob the house with his confederates.


Excerpted from "The Pug Who Bit Napoleon"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Mimi Matthews.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction viii

Part I Dogs 1

Chapter 1 The Pug Who Bit Napoleon 3

Chapter 2 The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope 12

Chapter 3 The Spaniel Willed to Horace Walpole 22

Chapter 4 Lord Byron's Firmest Friend 29

Chapter 5 Prince Albert's Favourite Greyhound 36

Chapter 6 Emily Brontë and Her Dog Keeper 42

Chapter 7 Looty the Pekingese and the Destruction of the Summer Palace 48

Chapter 8 The Bloodhounds Hired to Hunt Jack the Ripper 54

Chapter 9 Dogs and Other Animals that Grieve 61

Part II Cats 67

Chapter 10 Samuel Johnson's Favourite Cat 69

Chapter 11 The Cat Show at the Crystal Palace 74

Chapter 12 The Case of the Victorian Cat Ladies 82

Chapter 13 Cat Funerals in the Victorian Era 90

Part III Horses and Farm Animals 95

Chapter 14 Whistlejacket and Eighteenth Century Equine Artist George Stubbs 97

Chapter 15 An 1828 Balloon Ascent … On a Pony! 102

Chapter 16 The Case of the Purloined Pet Donkey 108

Chapter 17 The West End Rambles of London's Piccadilly Goat 114

Part IV Birds 119

Chapter 18 The Parrot, The Monkey, and the Two Rival Lovers of Madame de Choiseul 121

Chapter 19 The Widower Swan of the Château de Malmaison 124

Chapter 20 The Ravens Who Inspired Charles Dickens 129

Chapter 21 A Regimental Chicken 135

Part V Rabbits and Rodents 139

Chapter 22 Robert Burns and the Mouse at Mossgiel Farm 141

Chapter 23 The Portable Pet Rabbit 145

Part VI Reptiles and Fish 149

Chapter 24 The Sailor and the Shark 151

Chapter 25 The Alligator in the Thames 155

Part VII Strange and Exotic Pets 161

Chapter 26 The Duke of Richmond's Pet Fox and Viscount Doneraile's Vixen 163

Chapter 27 A Victorian Flea Circus 167

Sources 172

Notes 175

Index 178

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