A brief history of beagling

The sport of beagling as we know it first developed around the early fifteenth century. From then, the idea of using beagles in packs to hunt hares rapidly grew in popularity. Queen Elizabeth I was an enthusiastic follower. As deer became scarce following the Enclosure Acts of the seventeenth century, the sportsmen of the era increasingly turned to hunting the hare instead.

The beagles of that era did not have the uniform appearance seen today. They were descended from crosses of various assorted breeds, both Anglo-Saxon and Norman, with an infusion of greyhound blood for speed and better conformation. The word 'beagle' is generally believed to have been derived from the Celtic word "beag", meaning small, so if you had a pack of small hounds, then they were beagles regardless of their exact breeding.

From around the mid eighteenth century, there was a sudden and rapid explosion in the popularity of foxhunting. This provided the young gentlemen of the Regency era with a new sport whose excitement, glamour and element of risk made the poor old beagle look rather sedate. Beagling became increasingly the pursuit of ladies and elderly gentlemen, and by around 1840 it was in danger of disappearing altogether. However, a few enthusiasts remained who were determined not to let the sport vanish. They set themselves the task of breeding a better type of beagle to hunt in a manner that would appeal to more people. In 1875 there were only about ten packs of beagles in the country; by 1903 there were fifty-five, and the number continued to increase. In 2009, 62 packs in the UK are registered with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB).