This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
Not one of our British dogs has had such justice done to him by writers on canine matters as the greyhound. He has always been popular, and, being probably the oldest of his race, no doubt quite deserves all that has been said and written of him. So far back as the second century, Arrian gives us a long and painstaking work on coursing, which, in 1831 was admirably translated from the original Greek into English by George Dansey. In 1853 that great authority on the greyhound, "Stone-henge," produced his excellent and reliable work, and I fancy the latter will survive as the best of all for very many years to come.
Whether, in the first instance, our earliest dogs hunted by sight or scent I am not going to attempt to decide here. Both forms of "venerie" may have been followed at the same period; the deer and the hare hunted by sight, the wolf, stag, or other beast, by scent. The earliest coursers, dating back to what may be called the uncivilised period of our history, were assisted by nets, and then by bows and arrows, in taking the game, for at that period there were few cultivated stretches of land, free from forest, of sufficient extent to allow the long courses common at the present day. However that may be, greyhounds pretty much of the shape and form they are found now were known prior to King Canute's time, when no one of less degree than a "gentle-man" - possibly a freeholder - was permitted to keep greyhounds.
Mr. Gardner Wilkinson, in his great work on Egypt, gives copies from the Egyptian monuments of dogs used in coursing being taken to the ground in slips, and loosened therefrom in the modern manner, and no pains were spared to properly train the hounds for this sport. Two of these are similar to our greyhounds, though perhaps shorter on the legs, two are more like our modern pointer or foxhound, others resemble a Borzoi or Russian wolfhound, whilst a fourth type is like a big coarse, smooth-coated Irish wolfhound. These were the hounds kept at the time of the Pharoahs. Centuries before the Christian era Xenophon had used greyhounds for coursing which had been sent by the Romans from Britain, and Ovid describes the "greedy Grewnde coursing the silly hare in fields without covert."
In the British Museum there is a fine old sculpture of two greyhounds fondling each other, and this was taken from the ruins of Antoninus, near Rome. In Dansey's translation of Arrian there is an excellent engraving of this beautiful work, and other sculptures of even an earlier period are to be found, in which the greyhound type of dog is predominant. Confined however, to the "gentleman," coursing could not become very popular, especially when even he "was not allowed to take his greyhound within two miles of a royal forest unless two of its toes were cut off." Even so late as 1853 each greyhound had a tax to pay of 22s. each, whilst other dogs, maybe of equal value, could be kept at a charge by the State of from 15s. 4d. to 8s. 2d. each.
However, still keeping to old times, we find our old sporting sovereign King John, receiving, in 1203, "two leashes of greyhounds," amongst other valuables, in return for the renewal of a grant to a certain right, and the same monarch repeatedly took greyhounds in lieu of money where fines or penalties had been incurred and forfeitures to the Crown became due. Two of these are on record, one being "five hundred marks, ten horses, and ten leashes of greyhounds;" the other "one swift running horse and six greyhounds." Thus early, we read of a brace (two) and a leash (three) of greyhounds, when ordinary hounds were known in "couples." It has been said, though there is no proof in support of the assertion, that the "Isle of Dogs," some four miles from the city of London, obtained its name from the fact that certain of our monarchs had kennels of greyhounds and other dogs there.
In the times of the earlier King Edward, Kent must have had some notoriety for the excellence of its greyhounds, for, according to Blount's "Ancient Tenures," the land owners in the manor of Setene (Sittingbourne) were compelled to lend their greyhounds, when the King went to Gascony "so long as a pair of shoes of 4d. price would last."
The erudite Froissart tells the following story of Richard II. which, maybe, redounds as little to the credit of the wretched sovereign as to the dog; for the one proved grossly superstitious and the other exhibited a degree of faithlessness that one does not expect to find in a hound. The king had a favourite greyhound called Mithe, his constant attendant, and so attached to his master that it would follow no one else. One day Henry, Duke of Lancaster and the king were talking together, when suddenly Mithe left his royal master and commenced to fawn upon the duke, whining and showing such pleasure as he had never before done to a stranger or even to a guest. Lancaster expressed his astonishment at the behaviour of the greyhound, but the king said, "Cousin, this bodeth great good for you, as it is an evil sign for me. That greyhound acknowledged you here this day as King of England, as ye shall be, and I shall be deposed. Mithe knows this naturally, so take him; he will follow you and forsake me." And the story concludes that ever after the dog forsook the weak and vacillating Richard II., became the companion of his "cousin," and, in the end, affairs turned out as the king had prognosticated.
Henry VIII. was fond of coursing, and records are extant of his losing money therein by bets, which he made with Sir William Pickering, Lord Rochford, and others. The Royal coursing meetings sometimes took place in Eltham Park. There appears to be a peculiar fatality attending these royal attachments to the greyhound; for we have Charles I. with one as a companion. "Methinks," said he to Sir Philip Warwick, "I hear my dog scratching at the door. Let in Gipsy."Whereupon Sir Philip, who opened the door and let in the monarch's favourite, took the boldness to say: "Sire, I perceive you love the greyhound better than you do a spaniel?" "Yes," replied the King, "for they equally love their masters, and yet the hound does not flatter them so much." This unfortunate monarch met his death on the scaffold.