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On Period Hunting Dogs

On Period Hunting Dogs

By Duchess Elina Einarsdottir

Over the last several issues, we have discussed the SCAdian sport of lure coursing with sighthounds, and their history of hunting through the ages. we have also discussed the best way to find and adopt these fine hounds, in addition to a brief lesson on dog ownership in general.

This issue, I would like to delve into the topic of dog hunting; that is, other breeds of dogs that were used throughout history for hunting purposes, and what game it was that the individual breed concentrated on. Please do know that this has been a difficult task, and that this is still a work in progress. The hounds that I list here are what I have found in the incredible work by Edward, Second Duke of York, in his work: “Master of Game.” This book was published in 1909 with a forward by Theodore Roosavelt as a first edition. It is a hardbound release of the original Edward text, written between 1400 and 1416. Edward’s text, a translation of the French work “Livre de Chasse” By Gaston de Foix, also called Phoebus because of the color of his hair, is a treasure, and I was lucky to find it in a small book shop in Leeds, England.

So let’s begin. The chapters in this beautiful text cover every question a perspective master could ask: “of the Hart and his nature,” “of the ibex and his nature” and so on, listing a great number of animals that could be found on the hunt in these times. He then goes on to the chapters of our interest today: “of running hounds and of their nature,” “of greyhounds and of their nature,” “of alauntes and of their nature,” “of spaniels and of their nature,” and “of the mastiff and of their nature.” As depicted in his work, these 5 very different types of hounds were essential in the medieval hunt. They were often all used together on a given day, and each was used to bring down different types of game.

Of the Running Hound and of their Nature:

Edward describes the running hound as a large hound, with a large head, and strong back. He continues that the running hound should be tan or brown, as this is the best color for this hound. His eyes should be red (brown) or black, and he is best suited for hunting Boar. He explains that this hound is not meant for running long distances as this would tire him too much for the fight and the kill, and he would not be best to do his job tired from running. He has also said that this hound can be most easily found in Spain. I have not yet found what this hound might have become (in today’s breed standards) but in the illuminations from the original manuscript and in the sound of the description, it is possible that this hound may well have been related to the bloodhound.

Of Greyhounds and their Nature:

We will skip this section, for as we know, greyhounds are a sighthound, and this article is dedicated to other types of hunting hounds.

Of Alauntes and of their Nature:

Edward writes that an alaunte, which is a lost breed to us in modern times, should be “shaped as a greyhound, even of all things save of the head, which should be great and short.”(116) There is a small group of people who believe that this perfectly describes the “alano” which is also a lost breed to us, only much more recently in the early 1900’s. The alano is strikingly similar to the great dane, which is a possibility for the alaunte as well. Edward goes on to describe the Alaunte as “:stordy,” but as the editors of this edition point out in a footnote, the original French word was “estourdiz” which means “giddy.” (116) Edward picks up on this thread later saying that the Alauntes are very playful and quite harebrained if left to their own devices. Edward continues on saying that one should be careful when hunting with alauntes, for they can often mistake the horse as game and bite it. They are best suited for any game really, Oxen, sheep and swine, and “some men have seen the alaunte slay their masters.” (117) Unfortunately they are too harebrained and “foolish” to know the difference, apparently. The Alaunte is best seen in a white coat with black spots.

Of Spaniels and their Nature:

Edward in his translation describes spaniels as very loyal dogs. He says that they are best suited to the hunt as a tawny or white color, and are best used with the hawk to flush out the partridge and the quail. This loyal hound originates in Spain, though “notwithstanding that there are many in other countries.”(119) They are able to run in the hunt with other hounds, however, are best suited alone with the hawk, as they tend to bark and become quite excited as the other hounds are doing their job, thus causing a distraction. They are also suited to water hunting, because of their coats, which are often seen as rough or wiry.

Of the Mastiff and of his Nature:

Edward only dedicates one page in his translation to this large hound. In this page, he states that the Mastiff is best suited for” to keep his master’s beasts and his master’s house, and it is a good kind of hound, for they keep and defend with all their power all their master’s goods.” (122) We also know from Edward’s writings that this dog is wonderfully suited for Boarhunting, (due to its large size) and therefore is often referred to as the Boarhound. A small amount of outside research teaches us that these hounds were referred to as “the dogs of war” by Shakespeare, and several hundred were gifted to Charles V of France by Henry VIII to be used as fighting dogs on the battlefield. Taking a moment to imagine that image, I would not want to be on the receiving end of that battle!

In summary, while sighthounds were often used for hunting throughout history, many other breeds of hounds were utilized as well. We have highlighted just a few of those different breeds in this article, with hopefully (after some more research) more to come. Please look foreword to next month’s article, “companion hounds” as we take a look at the different small breed dogs that were kept as lady’s companions.

Do remember to join us for our Coursing events this spring, Sylvan Crusades, The Hunt, and just added, Blackstone Raids! Please feel free to contact me at AECoursing@yahoo.com, with any questions at all. We look foreword to seeing you this spring!

And with that, TALLY HO!
Elina, Prinzessin

All quotes taken from “The Master of Game by Edward, second Duke of York: the Oldest English book on hunting: edited by WM. A and F. Ballie-Grohman with a foreword by Theodore Roosavelt.” London, Chatto and Windus 1909.