History of Greyhounds | Medieval times
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History of Greyhounds
Medieval times and Renaissance.


Before the 11th century, greyhound coursing was very popular in Britain both among the wealthy as well as among common people. Much to the discontent of the lower stratum of society, king William the Conqueror enacted the Forest Laws in 11th century which made hunting exclusively kingly pastime.

The Forest Laws were a considerable source of income for the medieval rulers. The kings who were only answerable to the God imposed heavy fines for those breaking the law. For example, killing the deer was forbidden under the threat of capital punishment, as was causing the death of a greyhound. Only the aristocracy and clergy were allowed to hunt with the trained greyhounds and enjoy the activity at will.

It was also outlawed to common people to possess greyhounds in Medieval England. The value of greyhound was greater than that of a serf. Thus, the breed was present mostly in castles and palaces, and was generally associated with high status. Among the royalty greyhounds were valued for their stately appearance, agility and unmatched speed.
Interestingly, the greyhound is the first dog breed which was mentioned in English literature, namely in Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th century 'The Canterbury Tales.' A description of a perfect greyhound is also contained in Edmund de Langley's 'Mayster of Game' which dates to 1370.

Originally, coursing was a game in which a single greyhound demonstrated its exceptional hunting skills. In the 16th century, however, coursing became more of a competition as two dogs were set one against the other in the race for the game. Obviously, coursing became a perfect occasion for betting, both for the owners and for other spectators witnessing dogs' rivalry.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I abolished the the Forest Laws. Coursing was becoming more and more popular in the 16th century, Lord Norfolk created the first formal rules of competitive coursing. These rules determined hare's handicap (head start) and the criteria for judging the two hounds (e.g. speed, agility, concentration).

Because of Queen Elizabeth I and Cleopatra's fascination with greyhounds, the discipline was called "Sport of Queens" throughout the 16th century. Interestingly, apart from Elizabeth I, greyhounds were also kept by other English monarchs, for instance by Henry V (1386-1422), or James I (1566-1625).

In fact, James I was a great enthusiast of greyhound coursing and even built a hunting residence in Newmarket. To make hunting more enjoyable, the king even ordered the annual release of 100 partridges and 100 hares. From that moment on each year James I came to Newmarket and organized competitive greyhound coursing.

As fuedalism came to an end by the end of 16th century, commoners grew in number nad experienced freedom that was unknown to them for centuries. At that time, greyhounds were affordable to average middle class people.