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EARLY HISTORY OF THE BLOODHOUND . .  continued:  The Sleuth Hound


JOHN BARBOUR’S THE BRUCE, a very long poem in impenetrable Medieval Scots dialect on the life of the Scottish King, is dated 1375, and contains the first instance known of the word “sleuth-hound”.  King Robert is twice tracked by a sleuth-hound; that set on him by his enemy John of Lorn keeps solely to the trail of the king, although he keeps dividing up his party to try to confuse it.  It is eventually thwarted only when the king crosses water.  The actual year in which Robert the Bruce was tracked by a sleuth-hound is 1307, and Barbour himself was probably born about 1320, nine years before King Robert’s death, so he was fairly close to the events he was describing.  Though The Bruce is a romance, full of heroic deeds, rather than a factual history, there is no reason to disbelieve the story, and certainly nothing to suggest that the sleuth-hound was an anachronism in 1307.  And if they were available they would certainly be used to pursue such a fugitive as the Bruce was from time to time in his life.  There is a similar story told of Sir William Wallace, the Scottish guerrilla fighter, who was executed in 1305, though in this case the source, a poem by Henry (“blind Harry”) the Minstrel, is much later, about 1470.  So, there is every reason to believe that the Bloodhound and the Sleuth-hound were exact contemporaries, and both begin to appear in literature about the same time.  It is perfectly possible that they were the same kind of animal, and shared the same breeding, since there was much coming and going between the two kingdoms.  Robert the Bruce’s family had property near Chelmsford, where it has been claimed he was born!  Importantly, the tradition of using Bloodhounds as man-trailers in Britain is shown as having begun at least before 1300.  [  17Footnote: 17a   ]   

The earliest description of the sleuthhound is in Hector Boethius, (or Boece, 1465-1536, Canon of Aberdeen), in The hystory and croniklis of Scotland.  (Translatit laitly in our vulgar and commoun langage be maister Johne Bellenden.) ff. ccl. Thomas Davidson: Edinburgh, [1536.]    Under the heading “Of the gret plente of haris, hartis, and vthir vvild bestialll in Scotland.  Of the meruellus nature of syndry Scottis doggis.    And of the nature of Salmond” (Book on “the cosmogrphe and discription of Albion”, Chapter XI  (Latin original pub Paris 1526).