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Although the Beagle is generally regarded as a British breed its origin, however obscure, is almost certain to be found outside the British Isles. In the opinion of those who have researched the subject the Beagle has evolved from small hounds used for hunting small game in southern Europe, as opposed to the larger sight-hound used for hunting larger and faster quarry.

Evidence to this effect comes from the Greek author Xenophon born about 433BC who was an enthusiastic follower of hunting and wrote a "Treatise on Hunting" in which he refers to the small hounds which hunt hare and rabbit on foot. The method of hunting used then differs from that today in that the hounds were used to drive the game into nets laid out by the huntsmen. Illustrations on pottery of that period show two types of hounds: the small ones with thick muzzles and long ears, and the much longer legged hound with slim more pointed muzzles and shorter ears.

The development of the Beagle is exclusive to this country, starting with the Romans who acquired the small Greek hounds and brought them to this country for trading and hunting. The Saxons were known to have used them for hunting hare and exempted the from the Forest Laws drawn up by King Canute in 1016. Whether or not there were any hare hunting hounds native to Britain at this time is not certain, but Capt. Otho Paget, described as the "dean of all Beaglers" wrote: "There were, however, in England packs of hounds before the time of the Romans and it is on record that Pwyll, Prince of Wales, a contemporary of King Arthur, had a special breed of white hounds of great excellence." The Normans who were keen hunters brought over some larger hounds, probably of Harrier size. In the 14th century Chaucer mentions in his Canterbury Tales the "Small Houndes" belonging to the Prioress, and in the 15th century the name Beagle was used for the first time by several writers. In Tudor times, Queen Elizabeth 1st had a pack of "Singing Beagles", a name inspired by their cry which is still used today. These Beagles were also supposed to have been small enough to fit inside a lady's gauntlet. Another Royal reference came from James 1st who referred to his wife as his "Deare littel Beagle", apparently as a term of affection!

No names appear to have been given by the Greeks, Romans, Saxons or Normans to their small hunting hounds. In the 11th century the name Kennetty was used to refer to hounds of similar size to the Beagle; Rache was also used at about the same time but this was thought to refer to the larger hounds of Harrier size. Hayreies and Hayrers were names given in the 15th century for harrying game, those names becoming Harrier sometime during the next century. The first recorded use of the name Beagle appears to be about 1475 in "The Squire of Low Degree" in which it is written:

"With theyr Beagles in that place and seven score raches at his rechase."

The origin of the name is obscure but various opinions have been expressed. Some believe it to be derived from the Old English "Begle"; others prefer the Old French "Beigh" or the Celtic "Beag" all of which mean small. Another opinion is that Beagle is the Anglicised version of the French word Begueule meaning "gaping throat", a reference to the Beagle's unique voice.

During the next few centuries the role of the Beagle as a hunting hound changed very little. They were kept in packs all over the country by the aristocracy, some colleges maintained packs and a few were kept in private packs by landed gentry but rarely, if ever, were they kept as pets. The Master of each pack had his own idea on the type and size desirable, often dictated by the type of country to be hunted, and this is true today to a lesser degree. But in the 18th & 19th centuries this difference of opinion led to many variations in type from the short, cobby little hounds, short in muzzle with heavy dewlaps to those with lighter boned legs and ungainly bodies. Youatt wrote about these differences in the 19th century: "They were curiously distinguished by the names of "deep flewed" or "shallow flewed" in proportion as the had the depending upper lip of the Southern, or the sharper muzzle and more contracted lip of the Northern dogs. The shallow flewed were the swiftest and the deep flewed the stoutest and surest."

During the middle of the 19th century the breed was suffering from neglect and was in danger of losing its distinctive characteristics. at the same time a few Masters controversially started to exhibit their hounds at hound shows and later at beauty shows where the variety of size and type became more apparent. This created an opinion that the Beagle was in danger of becoming a miniature Foxhound with consequent loss of type. To counteract this, steps were taken to organise the breed's activities by the formation of two separate bodies: The Beagle Club was formed in 1890 to promote the breed for sporting purposes and for exhibition under the auspices of the Kennel Club; a year later the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles took on the responsibility of co-ordinating the activities of the hunting packs.

The only other country to use Beagles for hunting during this period was the USA where General Rowlett of Illinois had imported some pack hounds from Britain in the 1860s. Their packs were regulated by the National Beagle Club of America formed in 1887 to organise field trials of hounds engaged in hunting cotton tail rabbits.

As the 20th century progressed hunting activities started to decline with many packs being disbanded or merging; private packs almost entirely disappeared because they became so expensive to maintain. at the end of the century political pressure was threatening the very future of all hunting with dogs in Britain. However the newer activities flourished. Until the Second World War a small but constant number of Beagles were exhibited at KC shows all over the country, but very few were kept as pets until an astonishing change took place in the 1950s. In 1950, 64 Beagles were registered at the Kennel Club; in 1955 that had risen to 200 and in 1960 an amazing 1519 were registered. The annual registrations kept rising to a peak of 3979 in 1969. This big change brought with it a large increase in show entries from barely 40 per Championship Show in the early 1950s to to more than 120 today, with entries at the Beagle Club's annual Ch. Show regularly exceeding 200 hounds. Eight more breed clubs were formed as more and more people found the Beagle to be an excellent domestic pet as well as a show dog.

The Beagle's acute sense of smell has made it a big success in other roles such as sniffing out banned substances at airports and finding traces of fire-raising substances in cases of suspected arson. Strangely, none of these activities are found in Britain, but in overseas countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. As in most European countries, most have developed their hounds on British lines but in the USA two types of small Beagles have been developed, under 13" and 13-15" in height.

One very undesirable role emerged during the latter part of the 20th century when the desirable qualities of size , sociability, temperament and robust health of the Beagle were exploited by scientists in experimentation on a wide range of products from cigarettes to sex pills. Tragically, thousands of Beagles have been bred and used for this purpose but popular opinion is starting to cause a reduction in the number of experiments involving dogs.

So, the beginning of the first century in a new millennium sees an attractive little hound in essence differing little from its predecessors of some 2500 years ago. It is still used to hunt hare, additionally it is valued by breeders for exhibition; it performs valuable public service and it is popular as a domestic pet. Long may its success continue!
 

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You get an A! As you have clearly done your home-work! :thumbup: But when your beag has entered his/her seniour years...They can get "grumpy" if
you need to move them off the couch! /forums/images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/eek.gif Goober
has become a "special-needs" beag now that he is nearly 16 yrs old! Care has to be taken if I plan
to run an errand that means evicting him from the couch!!! :rolleyes:
 

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Bonnie,
Great info! Thanks for posting. Could you please provide your source(s)? I want to learn more....

Sylvia
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
We have picked up a few old Beagle books from shows and flea markets etc, plus the UK Hound clubs put out periodicles which have good info in them. One book which is very good is Beagles Today by Andrew H Brace which tells the full story behind the british show beagle.
 

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I have Beagles Today. I got mine on ebay, but think I have seen it on Amazon
 
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