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.
Failing any further information on the subject than we at present possess, it will always be a moot point whether the hounds used for Queen Elizabeth's delectation at Cowdray Park, in 1595, that "pulled down sixteen bucks in a laund," were ordinary greyhounds or Scottish deerhounds. The latter were likely enough to be fashionable animals at the close of the sixteenth century, for they had already been described by Hector Boece, in his History of Scotland, printed in France 1526-7, which by royal command was translated into English in 1531. Thirty years later, Gesner, in his "General History of Quadrupeds," gives an illustration of three "Scottish dogs," one of them answering to our modern deerhound in general appearance. The drawing for this was supplied by Henry St. Clair, Dean of Glasgow at that time, whose family kept the breed for very many years, an interesting story in connection therewith being told on another page.
Good Queen Bess was fond of her dogs and the sport they showed, and there is nothing unreasonable in supposing that those provided for the purpose above-mentioned in Cowdray Park were in reality deerhounds. However, whether my supposition be correct or otherwise, there is no gainsaying the fact that this mention in the Scottish history is the earliest to be met with where the deerhound is actually alluded to.
That he was highly valued by the clans or chieftains of his native country may be judged from the following pretty story told by Boece. On one occasion many of the Pictish nobility repaired to Craithlint, to meet the King of Scots to hunt and make merry with him, where they found the Scottish dogs far excelled their own in "fairness, swiftness, and hardness, and also in long standing up and holding out." The Scottish lords gave their guests both dogs and bitches of their best strains; but they, not contented, stole one, belonging to the king, from his keeper; and this the most esteemed hound in the lot. The master of the leash being informed of the robbery, pursuit was taken after the thievish Picts, who, being overtaken, refused to give up the royal favourite, and in the end slew the master of the leash with their spears. Then the Scots mustered a stronger force, including those who had been engaged in hunting, and they fell upon the Picts. A terrible struggle took place, one hundred of the Picts were slain and "threescore gentlemen " on the other side, besides a great number of commoners. The latter, poor fellows, not being deemed worthy of numeration in those bloodthirsty times, and, so long as the hound was recovered, little thought would be given to the dead "commoners" who fought for its possession. Moreover, it was stated few of the combatants knew what they had been fighting about.
Another interesting story is that relating to the family of St. Clair. King Robert Bruce, in following the chase upon the Pentland Hills, had often started a "white faunch deer," which always escaped from his hounds. He asked his nobles if any of them possessed dogs that they thought might prove more successful. Naturally, there was no one there so bold as to affirm his hounds better than those of the sovereign, until Sir William St. Clair came forward. He would wager his head that his two favourite hounds, "Help" and "Hold," would kill the deer before she could cross the March burn. Bruce, evidently of a sporting turn, at once wagered the Forest of Pentland Moor, to the head of the bold Sir William, against the accomplishment of the feat. The deer was roused by the slow, or drag hounds, and St. Clair, in a suitable place, uncoupled his favourites in sight of the flying hind. St. Clair followed on horseback, and as the deer reached the middle of the brook, he in despair, believing his wager already lost, and his life as good as gone, leaped from his horse. At this critical moment, "Hold" stopped her quarry in the brook, and "Help" coming up, the deer was turned, and in the end killed within the stipulated boundary. The king, not far behind, was soon on the scene, and, embracing his subject, "bestowed on him the lands of Kirton, Logan House, Earncraig, etc, in free forestrie." Scrope says the tomb of this Sir William St. Clair, on which he appears sculptured in armour, with a greyhound (deerhound) at his feet, is still to be seen in Rosslyn Chapel.
A common but erroneous idea has prevailed, that the Irish wolfhound and the Scottish deerhound were identical, and, indeed, that the latter was merely an ordinary greyhound, with a rough, hard coat, produced by beneficent Nature to protect a delicate dog against the rigours of a northern climate.
About the end of the sixteenth century (1591), we are told that the Earl of Mar had large numbers of deerhounds, but at the same period the Duke of Buckingham had great difficulty in obtaining Irish wolf dogs, a few couples of which he wished to present to "divers princes and other nobles." So the Irish dog was even then becoming extinct, but the Scottish one survives to the present day, and is now more popular and numerous than at any previous period of his existence. Still, judging from what Pennant, writing in 1769, says, the deerhound must, about his time, have been rare in certain districts, for he says, "he saw at Gordon Castle a true Highland greyhound, which has become very scarce. It was of large size, strong, deep chested, and covered with very long and rough hair. This kind was in great vogue in former days, and used in vast numbers at the magnificent stag chases by powerful chieftains." Even the Kings of Scotland were wont to command those of their subjects who had good hounds to bring them together in order that they should have a suitable hunt, and their commands were freely responded to by the presence of the Earls of Argyle, Huntly, Athol, and others.
Towards the close of the past century and early in the present one the deerhound was by no means so uncommon in various parts of Scotland as some have inferred. A good many were scattered up and down in various holdings, especially in the western portions of the Highlands, extending to the Hebrides. The smaller farmers kept one or two, and so did many of the shepherds, who were never loth to chase and kill a deer, and when a stag, or even hind, was not to be had, the deerhound was trained to hunt and kill foxes and otters, and other small game or vermin. After the rebellion of 1745, a good deal of uneasiness and unpleasantness remained, and the animosity caused thereby was a long time in being allayed. In many instances the Highland residences were neglected, their owners going to reside on the Continent or elsewhere. Their hounds were, therefore, spread abroad in out-of-the-way places, and thus perhaps came the impression conveyed by Pennant of their scarcity. Mr. George Cupples ("Scotch Deerhounds and their Masters") tells us the lowlier families used these hounds in competing against each other, and matches between certain celebrated hounds in adjoining districts were frequent. No doubt the deerhound, under such surroundings, would improve, especially as he was, to a certain extent, more of a companion than when kept in a large kennel.