History's Most Absurdly Spoiled Pets

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Did you wake up this morning feeling a little more inclined to love your flea-bitten furball than usual? That makes perfect sense, because it's National Pet Day — hence why Instagram is crammed with lovey-dovey images of horrendously spoiled pugs (I mean, moreso than usual). If you think today's automated-feeder-using, massage-parlor-pampered, gourmet-dog-treat-chomping breed of elite pets is over the top, though, you ain't seen nothing yet. History has given us many examples of deeply indulged animals who gave pleasure to royalty and other luminaries, and they put the modern pampered collective to shame.

The notion of being devoted to an animal is very old indeed; religious worship of animals is deeply ancient, and everybody from the Romans to the Elizabethans loved their pets (the latter were among the first Europeans to keep guinea pigs as pets, though only for children younger than six). But there's devotion, and then there's putting gold flakes in their food and giving them a 250-dog entourage to their own wedding. The modern epitome of a spoiled dog is likely Trouble, the notorious New York hotelier Leona Helmsley's dog, who was left the bulk of her fortune when she died in 2007; but Helmsley was merely carrying on an ancient tradition of decadence, opulence and pure devotion to one's best animal friend.

Caligula's Very Spoiled Horse Became A Politician

No history of incredibly spoilt pets is complete without the entry of Caligula's famous horse, Incitatus, but history is somewhat split on what exactly happened to the steed, and why. Historians have made out that Incitatus was not only grotesquely over-indulged (marble stalls, purple clothing otherwise only restricted to the emperor himself, jeweled necklaces and feed laced with gold leaf were part of the horse's alleged daily procedure), but that Caligula in his madness decided that his beloved stallion would  make a good politician, and got him an appointment as a consul, one of Rome's highest political roles.

There are a few issues with this story, but the main one is probably Caligula's intent. While historians recounting the story often made out that the horse's appointment was a signal that Caligula was completely off the deep end, it may actually have been a calculated insult to all the human consuls, with whom Caligula had a hate-hate relationship. And we have no idea if it actually happened or not. Incitatus may just have been another spoiled royal stallion with no real political responsibilities.

Queen Elizabeth I's Lioness Was Considered A Prophet

Isaac Oliver

Elizabeth I, like many European royals, had a menagerie, though hers had the particularly English distinction of being housed at the Tower Of London, which must have been charming for the prisoners housed inside (Elizabeth, monarchical to her boots, quite liked lions). Animals were often gifted to her as part of diplomatic missions or as lavish attempts to gain her favor, though it doesn't seem as if anybody went all the way and gave her a pet pelican, her favorite symbol (pelicans represented epic self-sacrifice and she used them a lot in royal insignia, but I suspect a pet one would be a handful).

When it came to the lions themselves, though, one gained a reputation for being eerily prophetic through its death: when the Queen was suffering through an illness that would eventually kill her in 1603, one of her Tower Of London lions passed away. Its name was Elizabeth, and it was taken to be an omen of the Queen's death.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Adored Wombat Was Immortalized In Portraits

The Lewis Carroll Society

Has anybody loved a wombat as much as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the famed Pre-Raphaelite artist, loved his? He got one as a pet in 1862, named it Top, and proceeded to lavish it with adoration. It was taken for walks and sketched and painted regularly by a besotted Gabriel Rossetti, who even gave the marsupial a halo. (Wombats are both very large and often extremely crotchety, so perhaps Top was an exception to the general rule of Australian wildlife and didn't dig up the whole of Rossetti's house.) When Top died, unsurprisingly chilled by the London weather, Rossetti was inconsolable, drew a mourning portrait, and had the animal stuffed. He consoled himself by buying himself a woodchuck.

Empress Josephine's Orangutan Was Treated Like A Child

Francois Gerard

The orangutan given to the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, had an extremely strange relationship with the pairing: it seemed to function basically as their small, orange child. It was dressed in infant-sized white dresses, taught to eat with a knife and fork, and apparently slept in the marital bed.

The orangutan was christened "Rose," and we know that she adored turnips, but also that she didn't adapt very well to life as Josephine's pet: she died within a year of her residence in the Bonaparte household. Josephine, mournful but wanting to be helpful, donated her to the French scientist Georges-Frederic Cuvier, who published Description of an Orangutan and Observation of Its Intellectual Faculties based around little Rose's body.

Pope Leo X's Elephant Is Buried Under The Vatican

Wikimedia Commons

Yes, there is an elephant buried under the Vatican. Its name was Hanno, and it was the beloved pet of Pope Leo X, who was given him as a gift by the country of Portugal. Hanno, a white elephant, had nearly caused riots as he walked to Rome from Lisbon, with reports that he had to be housed outdoors because indoor places would soon be broken into by onlookers curious to catch a glimpse of the pachyderm. He became the Pope's favourite accessory, largely because of his ability to understand commands, participate in processions and put on miniature performances for guests. Sadly, Hanno died young, and the Pope composed an epitaph for him himself, as well as requesting a memorial portrait from Raphael (which is, alas, lost).

The Marquis Of Lafayette's Alligator Visited The White House

Joseph-Desire Court

Question: where do you put an alligator in the White House? Answer: the bath, obviously. This at least was the solution adopted by the Marquis of Lafayette, whose gift of an alligator came with him as he toured the country and eventually ended up with him at the White House when he stayed there in 1825. No alligator in history has perhaps had a more lavish place to live, though Lafayette apparently carefully chose the bathroom of a room that was at the time unfurnished and unoccupied. (While it's sometimes thought that Lafayette gifted the alligator to the President at the time, John Quincy Adams, it seems that Lafayette had no intention of letting the First Family have his pet, and carried it off with him when he left — though he apparently did scare numerous people with it to amuse himself during his stay.)

The Maharaja of Junagadh's Dog Had A Lavish Wedding

The Maharaja of Junagadh, Nawab Sir Mahabet Khan Rasul Khan, was a man who didn't take half-measures. He allegedly owned over 800 dogs, all with their own private room and telephone, and a hospital devoted entirely to taking care of their ailments — a devotion that took up about 10 percent of the state's yearly economy. In 1922, he decided to do some true party-throwing (and annoy the hell out of Lord Irwin, who was the British Viceroy of India at the time and famously once shot 917 sand grouse in one day, which indicates what kind of animal lover he was). The Nawab married his favorite dog, Roshanara, to a golden retriever called Bobby, and declared the event a three-day state holiday. Bobby was given a brocade-and-pearl groom's outfit, brought to the ceremony on a palaquin, and accompanied by 250 dogs seated on elephants. The demented event was finished when Nawab dismissed Bobby back to the kennels so that Roshanara could sleep at the end of his bed as usual. Because at the end of the (extremely pampered) day, isn't that really what we want to do most with our furry friends?