Sir Alfred Munnings was a famous and successful painter and President of the Royal Academy of Arts, but for a time his wife Violet’s pet Pekingese, Black Knight, was equally famous.  Violet took Black Knight with her everywhere and frequently concealed him in a specially designed handbag with a “window” in the end through which he could observe the goings on.

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“The most famous dog in the world.”  Black Knight in his handbag.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum. 

He attended exhibition openings, horse shows, and horse races.  In his black velvet evening bag he was smuggled into formal dinners and receptions.  Eventually the press discovered him and after a photo of Black Knight at a reception at the Prime Minister’s residence made the papers, the public became a bit obsessed with the small black dog.

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“Sir Anthony Eden, myself, and Violet Munnings at a party at the P. Minister’s 10 Downing Street, 1949.”  Photo Courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

Readers were able to keep abreast of all of Black Knight’s activities as the newspapers regularly reported on the events he attended, what he dined upon, the people he met, and his tips on the outcomes of horse races.  Violet collected the newspaper articles about him, as well as his photos, in a scrapbook.  Most of the photos in this post are from Black Knight’s scrapbook courtesy of The Munnings Museum which was kind enough to share them.

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A collage of newspaper clippings about Black Knight.  Photo from the back dust jacket of Diary of a Freeman.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

His popularity was such that he published an autobiography in which he described his adventures for his fans.  He talks about his activities at home, such as riding the mare Chena, or cuddling on the longest sofa in the library, his favorite room in the house.

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A. J. Munnings, Violet Munnings, and Black Knight.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

Black Knight’s social calendar was rather full.  He attended many parties and receptions at St. James Palace and Buckingham Palace.  Five different Lords Mayor of London welcomed him as a guest that their banquets, and he was even made an honorary Freeman of the City of London.

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Violet and Black Knight looking through his scrapbook.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

He was presented to the Queen at the Royal Garden Party, attended the King and Queen’s silver anniversary party at Buckingham Palace, and even attended Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.  According to Black Knight’s account of the event, he stowed away in Violet’s hand muff and was not discovered until she was seated in the Abbey!

He enjoyed attending horse races and would indicate his picks for the winners by barking at them.  He even had his own account with a bookmaker where Violet placed his bets for him.  Black Knight accompanied Violet everywhere for ten years until his death in 1955.  After his death she refused to be parted from him and had him stuffed.

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Black Knight today, on his cushion in Violet’s room.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

And so he continued accompany her for years afterwards.  Today he resides on a cushion in her room, at the house they lived in, which is now the Munnings Art Museum.

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The Munnings residence, Castle House, now The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham, England.  Photo from the European Museums Network.

If you’d like to read about Black Knight’s exploits and adventures in his own words, his autobiography, The Diary of a Freeman, is available the Main Reading Room here at the Library.  It is quite delightful to read about events from his point of view.

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Black Knight recreating his pose for the portrait that was used as the cover of his book, Diary of a Freeman.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

The Library also holds numerous books about Sir Alfred Munnings, including his autobiography, which shows the events portrayed in Black Knight’s book from another, taller,  point of view.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

 

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