The Duchess Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina had married Frederick, the Duke of York – the second son of King George III – in 1791. She took up permanent residency at Oatlands after becoming estranged from her husband. The Duchess had an amiable, intelligent, and charitable nature, but one passion in particular overshadowed all others: her love of animals.
With her marriage to the Duke remaining childless, Frederica instead doted on a huge and ever-expanding family of pets. Indeed, it was a love which was well-known and recorded at the time.
The diarist Thomas Raikes noted, somewhat resentfully, that:
“There were some twenty or thirty different sorts in the house; and many a morning have I, to my annoyance, been awakened from an incipient slumber, after a long sitting at whist, by the noisy pack rushing along the gallery next to my bedroom, at the call of old Dawe, the footman, to their morning meal”.
His contemporary, Charles Greville, wholeheartedly agreed:
"Her dogs are her greatest interest and amusement, and she has at least forty of various kinds. She is delighted when anybody gives her a dog”.
The inherent truth of the words of the two writers could not be more apparent than in the historic remnants and relics leftover from the Duchess’ life at Oatlands. Many of them are held in Elmbridge Museum’s collection, including this intriguing dog collar of silvered copper. It has a swivel ring fixed to one side, and on the other side a loop with adjustable slots. The edges of the collar are turned over wire, and clamp a leather inner lining. In tiny italic letters, it reads “Satan! at her feet we depose - our wiles, all must be good when'ere Frederica smiles, The very Saints rejoice and chaunt aloud in Heaven by Hompesch - Satan's self is to an Angel given.” ‘Satan’ was one of the many dogs belonging to the Duchess of York.
The uniformly arranged slabs at Oatlands Park are hardly distinguishable from the manicured lawn where they lay. The only feature which highlights their presence is a small green sign, reading “Duchess of York’s Dog Cemetery, Circa 1790 – 1815”. Although the cemetery has been moved as the years have progressed, ultimately it was here, in the grounds of her treasured home, that the Duchess laid her much-loved companions – ‘Satan’ included – to rest.
August 2020 marked 200 years since the Duchess of York's death at Oatlands. Click here to find out more about how she is commemorated across Weybridge.