Description & History

The Beagle is generally considered to be a British breed although its ancestry is not known.

Some canine historians trace its history back to Greece in the pre-Christian era. There is also mention of small hounds in Saxon times and centuries later in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. In the fifteenth century a prioress at Sopewell Nunnery made reference in her writings to a small hound as we know it today – the Beagle. Its name is taken from the Celtic-Gaelic word "beg" which means "small".

The Beagle is a scent and pack hound which hunts hare and is followed on foot. Beagling was a popular pastime until the eighteenth century when foxhunting – a faster sport – gradually brought the decline of beagle packs.

Down the centuries these hounds have been favoured by royalty. They are not only the smallest of our native hounds but also probably one of the oldest used for the chase in the British Isles.

Elizabeth I kept pocket Beagles – they were no more than 10 inches at the shoulder – and she called them her singing or glove beagles. Charles II hunted a pack on Newmarket Heath, whilst the Prince Regent, later George IV, kept a pack of dwarf Beagles which he hunted on Brighton Downs. Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, kept rabbit Beagles which he would hunt in Windsor Great Park.

A popular breed which is affectionate and makes an ideal companion due to its adaptability and excellent temperament. Unfortunately, owing to their non-aggressive behaviour and suitable size, they have been used for medical research over a number of years.

Rosamund Walters.

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