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Group: Hounds
Breed Family: Hound

While the Greyhound originated in the Mediterranean basin, it was in England that it was popularized and became an integral part of eighteenth century country life. It has a well-documented and fascinating history, being used predominantly for hunting and coursing the hare.

Although the Greyhound's origins in England are somewhat controversial, there can be no doubt that it existed very early on in this country's history. Number 31 of the original Canute Laws, for example, written in Danish and enacted in a parliament held at Winchester in 1016, and given by John Manwood in his "Laws of the Forest" in 1598 and 1615 states that:

"No meane person may keep any Greyhounds: but freemen may keep Greyhounds..."

Greyhounds were kept in packs, although when hunting the hare, the rules of the hunt stated that no more than two Greyhounds, or a brace, should be used at any one time.

Indeed, to prevent the slaughtering of hare, and the discouragement of a good day's sport, a set of rules was developed which applied to coursing. They originated with the Duke of Norfolk, a Greyhound enthusiast who lived in Queen Elizabeth's times (1558-1603).

Pointers or Spaniels were used in the finding of the hare, and upon point, the brace of Greyhounds was let loose. In order for the hare not to be quickly killed, the Duke felt that the hare should have a head start of at least 12 score yards. To put an end to the Greyhounds simply tearing the hare apart, and effectively finishing the day’s sport, the hare was taken from the dogs by the first person to come upon the death.

While the Greyhound had been depicted in art for centuries, it was in the eighteenth century that pride of ownership prompted the country gentleman to have portraits of his individual dogs painted. In the same tradition as the racehorse portrait, paintings of Greyhounds served to commemorate animals whose performance was paramount importance, and it is for this reason that many Greyhound portraits depict the animal with a dead hare at its feet.


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