Anne Boleyn’s dog Purkoy has become quite famous alongside his mistress. ‘Purkoy’ comes from the French ‘purquois,’ meaning ‘Why?’, ostensibly due to the little dog’s curious expression. Though modern historians have settled on the spelling ‘Purkoy,’ the sources also use ‘Purquoy’; spelling was a matter of phonetics during this period.
I have seen it claimed that the name was testament to Anne’s French style and upbringing; however, the dog already had this name when owned by Lady Lisle. Lady Lisle was residing in Calais at this time, but it is unknown if she or one of her family members came up with the name, or if the Purkoy already had this name when Lady Lisle took ownership of him.
Lady Lisle was then compelled to send Purkoy to Francis Bryan, a courtier to Henry VIII and a cousin to Anne Boleyn, to whom he was, in turn, compelled to give Purkoy.
An interesting element to Purkoy’s story which is often overlooked is Francis Bryan’s connection with the dog; at some point prior to any of the letters being written he clearly had met Purkoy, to have taken such an interest in him as to ask after him ‘two or three times a day.’ He may have been the original owner, and had merely left Purkoy in Lady Lisle’s care; or perhaps he had just been enchanted by the pup on a visit to the Lisles in Calais.
Whatever his origins, this curious little dog had quite a tumultuous life and a tragic end, but we can see through the sources that he was loved by many people.
7th Jan 1534
John Husee to Lady Lisle.
I sent you ½ lb. riband by Mr. Planckney, containing 17 pieces. As for your cap of “sharlet” I cannot be sped under 14 groats, nor of the “past launds” under 12d. apiece. I have received your letters by Colton and this bearer. Mr. Brian says your bill for St. Nicholas’ church is not signed but he will do his best, and if he had had your patent of Claringdon it would now have been finished according to your desire. But, Madam, there is no remedy, your ladyship must needs depart with your little” Purquoy; the which I know well shall grieve your ladyship not a little…
In anywise your ladyship must send Purquoy, for Master Brian asks for him two or three times a day. Since my coming I have found more friendship to my lord in Mr. Brian and Mr. Kingston than in any others. London, 7 Jan.
20th Jan 1534
Francis Bryan to Lord Lisle
I beseech your Lordship, after my most hearty recommendations made unto my very good lady your wife – unto whom and to your lordship, because ye be both but one soul though ye be two bodies, I write but one letter – that it may please your lordship to give her hearty thanks on my behalf for her little dog, which was so proper and so well liked by the Queen that it remained not above an hour in my hands but that her Grace took it from me. Nevertheless, her ladyship and any friend of hers, for the same, and her kindness therein, shall be assured of such pleasure as in me at any time shall be. As our Lord God knoweth, who have our lordship, with my said good lady, in his blessed preservation.
At Westminster, the xxth day of January
Yours at commandment,
18th Dec 1534
Thomas Broke to Lady Lisle
I have delivered your token to Mrs. Margery Horsman, who says she knows not the man she sent to your Ladyship, but was desired by a near friend to write in his favor. She says also the Queen sets much store by a pretty dog; and her Grace delighted so much in little Purkoy, that after he was dead of a fall there durst nobody tell her Grace of it. But she values a dog more than a bitch. Mr. Smythe says it would have been no use speaking of 160l. or 180l., for they would not agree to more than 120l., but preferred that it should go to law. Jas. Roberts is come to London this day, but I cannot meet with him. As soon as I receive the cap I will have it sent to the prioress of Winchester. My bedfellow has been three times at Mr. Judd’s, but has failed to find him. London, 18 Dec.