This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
OF the many distinct varieties of the domesticated dog, the bulldog, although one of the oldest and purest, is the most neglected and misrepresented. From being very numerous and popular, it has become so scarce that other dogs number hundreds, even thousands, to every bulldog. It is rarely seen except at dog shows, where it is looked upon only as a relic of a barbarous and bygone age. Most writers agree that the bulldog existed in this country before any record, and that it is indigenous to this, and has never been found in any other country. The unfounded supposition "that he has been produced by a mixture of the blood of the hyaena with that of the common dog " is not probable or generally admitted.
CAPT. G. E. A. HOLDWORTH'S BULLDOG "SIR ANTHONY." Sire Crib, by Duke II. out of Rush - Dam Meg, by Old King Dick out of Old Nell.
On the origin of the bulldog there has been some dispute between the admirers of that breed and those of the mastiff, each being asserted to be the stock whence the other is derived. All I can gather on the subject points to the conclusion that the ancestor of both breeds was the dog called the " alaunt," "mastive or bandog," the description of which is more applicable to the modern bulldog than to the modern mastiff. Mr. Jesse says "Cotgrave gives the following, which is evidently copied from the ' Master of the Game': Allan, a kind of dog, big, strong, thickheaded, and short snouted. Allan de boucherie is like our mastive, and serves butchers to bring in fierce oxen and keep their stalls. Allan gentil is like a greyhound in all properties and parts, his thick and short head excepted. Allan vautre, a great and ugly cur, of that kind (having a big head, hanging lips, and slouching ears) kept only to bait the bear and wild boar.' Du Fouilloux gives, in his 'Interpretations de Venerie': * Allans qui sont comme Leuriers fors qu'il ont grosse teste et courte.' "
The "Master of the Game," after reviewing the kinds of alaunt above mentioned, says: "Ye heued ye whiche should be greet and short; and thouze ther Alauntes of alle heues ye vray hue of ye good Alauntz yat is most common shuld be white, with a blak spot a bout ye eerys; small eyne and white stondying eres. . . . Any beest yat he might come to he shuld hold with his seseurs, and nought leave it, for an alaunt of his nature holdeth faster his biting yan shuld three greehoundes. ... A good Alaunt should be hardy to nyme al maner beestis without turning and hold fast and not leave it." The "mastives" are by the same author described separately as watch dogs.
Dr. Kaye (or Caius, a.d. 1576) describes the "mastive or bandogge " as watch dogs, "serviceable against the foxe and the badger, to drive wilde and tame swyne out of medowes, pastures, glebe lands, and places planted with fruite, to bayte and take the bull by the eare when occasion so requireth . . . for it is a kind of dogge capable of courage, violent, and valiant, . . . standing in feare of no man, in so much that no weapons will make him shrincke nor abridge his boldness . . . No dogge can serve the sundry uses of men so aptly or so conveniently as this sort."
From the descriptions it is evident that the original" alaunt," "mastive or bandog," was a dog distinguished by a large, short, and thick head and a short muzzle, and his chief qualities were his high courage and his ability to "pin and hold." These characteristics have always been, and still are, peculiar to the bulldog, "as true a dog as ever fought at head." "The broad-mouthed dogs of Britain" could only refer to a breed having the broad mouth possessed by the bulldog, and by no other dog. In the middle ages dogs that were used for the same general purposes, although of various kinds, were most probably called by the same name, alaunt (of which there were several sorts, as described above), meaning any house or watch dog, in contradistinction to hounds. The dog that was used, as Dr. Cains says, "against the foxe and the badger," etc, would be the same used in baiting animals, and as "sport" increased it must soon have become apparent that a certain size and make of dog was best adapted for a certain purpose.
Spenser wrote, a.d. 1553-98:
Like as a mastiff, having at a bay
A salvage bull, whose craell homes do threat
Desperate daunger if he them assaye.
Baiting the bear and the bull was undoubtedly a very ancient pastime, and was patronised by persons of both sexes of the highest rank, as recorded in cases where King Henry II., Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth, etc, were interested spectators.
The bull being very different in its mode of combat to other animals, caused bull-baiting to become a distinct sport, for which a distinct class of dog was exclusively kept. One author says, "The bulldog exhibits that adaptation to the uses to which he is rendered subservient which we see in every race of dogs; and we have only to suppose the peculiar characters of the animal, called forth from generation to generation by selection, to be assured that a true breed would be formed. This has been so in a remarkable degree in the case of the bulldog. After the wild oxen of the woods were destroyed, the practice was introduced so early as the reign of King John of baiting the domesticated bull and other animals, and thus the breed of dogs suited to this end was preserved, nay cultivated, with increased care up to our own times," centuries after his larger and coarser brother "Allan Vautre, kept only to bait the bear and wild boar," had become extinct on account of the cessation of its employment. The introduction of the sport referred to is thus given in the "Survey of Stamford": "William, Earl Warren, lord of this town in the time of King John (a.d. 1199 to 1216), standing upon the castle walls of Stamford, saw two bulls fighting for a cow in the meadow till all the butchers' dogs, great and small, pursued one of the bulls (being maddened with noise and multitude) clean through the town.