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The article in this issue is about the sighthound breeds of hounds that were developed in the Middle Ages for hunting or chasing game, and dogs used for guarding and protection. I hope you enjoy.
Hounds in the Middle Ages
|Greyhounds, alaunts, spaniels, mastiffs, and hounds from Livre de la chasse.
Paris, France, ca. 1406-1407, MS M.1044 fol. 28v
Excerpt from Hounds of Muckle Speed by Cynthia Cameron
"Up with ye -- ye big beast."Morag looked down at the large dog peacefully sprawled across the hearth. Gareth was fully absorbed in the gnawing of a bone and didn't show the slightest interest in moving from his favorite spot. "Come now ye great wiry-haired giant, let me to the hearth,"she nudged the hound with her foot as she spoke. "The master will be wanting after his breakfast."Morag managed to wedge herself up to the fire while still attempting to push the big dog away with her foot. "He'll be needing his strength for the hunt." Gareth stopped chewing, looked up at her as if to consider, then returned his interest to the bone, oblivious to Morag's continued grumbling. "Then again, I suppose the real hunter could use a better breakfast too."She fished a kipper from the pan and dangled it from its tail a moment before tossing it backwards across the room. "Aye, that's better."Morag stepped back into the now open space just as Rory MacPherson entered the room wrapped in the muted colors of hunting tartan, quiver slung across his back and bow in hand. Gareth rose and looked at him expectantly. "Mornin', your lairdship."Morag set a plate of kippers and bannocks on the table. "Morning, Morag. A fine day it tis, but even finer for the feast this eve!"A handful of bannocks vanished into the recesses of his plaid. "Come hound of muckle speed,"he tossed the waiting dog a kipper. "Awa for the chase."
In historic times ownership of rare sighthounds (dogs that hunt by sight rather than scent) was restricted to persons of rank or nobility and hunting dogs were highly valued. While possession of sighthounds today is not restricted, it is enjoyed by a limited number of enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more frequent to see these dogs in their historic roles at re-creation events. Not only does it add flavor to the event, but such accompaniment can add rich authenticity and accuracy to the persona itself. Hounds of present have survived with their aristocratic character and traits intact and their physical norms only slightly altered from earlier standards. The sighthound's heritage is a colorful picture of medieval life which due to their exclusive status brought some breeds near to extinction. Heraldry and tapestries abound with Greyhound-type dogs. One of the panels of the Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold accompanied by a pack of hounds varying in size.
The border of the Bayeux Tapestry contains many breeds of dogs, some of which appear to be Greyhounds, Deerhounds, Wolfhounds and Mastiffs. What follows is a brief history of the nobleman's best friend--dogs prized by kings, princes and nobility for their great speed and endurance and respected for their beauty, grace and dignity.
Sighthounds or gazehounds are some of the most ancient breeds in the world. For thousands of years man relied on their superior hunting skills. Throughout history royal houses from many lands have been linked with sighthounds. While its origins are not positive, the Greyhound is thought to date back over 4000 years to ancient Egypt--a favorite of the pharaohs and predecessor of other sighthound breeds. Explorers from Greece brought Greyhounds from the Middle East. Alexander the Great is said to have kept one. Their popularity grew in Greece and from there the dogs spread across Europe.
|A lord and lady hunting with a greyhound. Pierpont Morgan
Library, MS m131.
The name Greyhound is thought to be derived from the Saxon word "grei"which means beautiful. During the Dark Ages Greyhounds were saved from near extinction by priests who bred the dogs for noblemen. In 1014 possession of a Greyhound became an exclusive right of the nobility, put into law by King Canute. Well-stocked royal forests were the hunting grounds for these hounds and their masters. Forest laws introduced in 1016 made hunting and poaching forbidden to all people other than those connected with royal estates. Throughout the Renaissance Greyhounds were a favorite of royalty--prized by Queen Elizabeth--and the most common dog used in heraldry. Coursing, the chasing of a...Continued on Renstore