Origin of the breed
It is widely accepted that the St Hubert hound was the forerunner of today's Basset Hound. The St Hubert was developed by the abbots of the monastery bearing that name, and located in the French forest region of the Ardennes. St Hubert founded his order during the sixth century. Early accounts describe them as being black and tan with heavy heads, long ears, long bodies and comparatively short and heavy legs. These hounds had a wonderfully keen noses and deep melodious voices. The long ears assisted them in hunting by acting as a sort of “fan”, blowing the scent up from the ground towards the dogs’ noses. (These comments sound remarkably like the Basset Hound we know today!)
As time passed, St Hubert hounds were scattered throughout France and were crossed with local hounds. The name “Basset”, derived from the French - “bas”, meaning “low-set”, there are early reports of a hound that stood less than 16 inches high. Mounted hunters used the dogs bred by the abbots for hunting deer, boar, wolves and stag. While the short-legged variety, was maintained for hunting smaller game afoot, on heavier cover. In France the Basset Hound developed into three main types: smooth coated, half rough coated and the rough coated. Each type had its own followers who preferred the straight-legged type, or full crook. Hunting was a tradition in France, so it is not surprising many of these proficient short-legged hounds were to be found in the kennels of the aristocracy, which as a result of the French Revolution were then dispersed among the peasants.
Searching through literature, one can find references to the St Hubert hound or hounds of that type, which indicates these dogs were imported as long ago as the 15th century. It is said that King James IV of Scotland imported Bassets, which were used to rout game, driving the animals into the open, after which the hunters would release their swift sight hounds that would run down and catch the quarry. Shakespeare mentions their type in “A Midsummer Nights Dream”. However it is not until the 19th century that the Basset as we know it today can be traced. Sir Everett Millias imported “Model” from France, and it is after this when enthusiasm for the breed began and all is very well recorded. The Basset Hound Club was formed in 1883 to encourage the breeding of Basset Hounds for exhibition and hunting. Such eminent people as HRH Princess Alexandra (later to become Queen), Lord Galway, Sir Everett Millias and others became members. The breed now flourished both in the ring and with the sporting fraternity and by 1886 a few packs had been established to hunt hare. However it is worth remembering during WWI many packs were disbanded and the numbers being exhibited dropped dramatically, in fact the Basset Hound Club was a casualty too, being wound up in 1921. Between the wars the breed was kept by the dedicated few. However, we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Miss Peggy Keevil without her efforts during WWII the breed, as we know it in this country would have died out.
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