The Deerhounds of Windsor Great Park

Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot, Lory by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1838.
(Royal Collection Trust)

In his 1825 novel, The Talisman, Sir Walter Scott famously refers to the Scottish Deerhound as “a most perfect creature of heaven.”  A truly noble and majestic breed, the purebred Scottish or “Scotch” Deerhound was a rarity outside of Scotland throughout much of the 19th century.  Those that did reside in England lived under the auspices of Queen Victoria.  Early in her reign, she had a favorite Scottish Deerhound named Hector (seen in the above portrait by Landseer).  By the 1870s, there were several Scottish Deerhounds at Windsor Great Park.  And by the end of the century, the Scottish Deerhound Club was established under the queen’s patronage.   

According to an article in an 1870 edition of The Graphic, the Deerhounds at Windsor Great Park were “the only true Deerhounds in England.”  They were employed at Windsor for catching fawns and for assisting in the capture of  red deer that would be sent on to Swinley Paddock for stag hunting.  On occasion, they were even used to “secure the wounded deer that had got away.”  As the article reports:

“Like all pure-bred dogs they are obedient to the voice of the keeper, and do their work in an intelligent and orderly way, as befits dogs of genteel education, and they take to their business naturally like hereditary legislators.”

Not all of the Deerhounds at Windsor Great Park were natural born hunters.  According to the article, deer hunting was done by “sight and not scent” and, in some young dogs, the instinct was slow to develop.  One particular Scottish Deerhound at Windsor, who went on to become “a first-rate dog,” refused to follow his “natural vocation” until he was two years old.

Bran, Illustration from Scotch Deerhounds and their Masters, 1894.

Hoping to improve the breed, Mr. Cole, the head deer and gamekeeper at Windsor Great Park, frequently crossed the Scottish Deerhounds in residence with other breeds of dogs.  As the article in The Graphic reports:

“A very useful cross is obtained with a good big greyhound, but after the first cross the quality deteriorates.  Useful crosses are also obtained with the Talbot, or so-called bloodhound, the mastiff, Cuba mastiff, bulldog, foxhound, and the colley [sic].” 

A decade later, an even better cross was to be achieved.  In 1880, the Russian Czar made a gift to Queen Victoria of two “magnificent Russian wolfhounds.”  In his 1894 book Scotch Deerhounds and their Masters, author George Cupples writes:

“…after which — by Mr. Cole at Windsor Great Park, and by the head forester at Balmoral — the said ‘breeding expedient’ was begun and continued, with a decisive success that has been often manifested since then in the deer-stalking feats which dogs of this strain have performed under H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh, when engaged in Highland forest-sport.”

The Graphic, April 2, 1870.

The above illustration depicts the Scottish Deerhounds who lived at Windsor Great Park in 1870.  The Graphic lists their names as follows:

“The large hound in the foreground to the right, is Caird, the sitting hound facing him is Mark, the other hounds at the back, beginning at the right hand, are Strath, Hag, Swankey, and Keildar.  Of these Caird, Hag, and Keildar, are winners of prizes at various shows.”

Despite its increase in popularity, the Scottish Deerhound was never as common in Victorian England as other hunting breeds, such as the Foxhound or the Greyhound.  Throughout the century, it remained an elegant, noble creature, more likely to be possessed by royalty or those in the upper echelons of society than by the average huntsman.

Lufra, Illustration from Scotch Deerhounds and their Masters, 1894.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History.  If you would like to learn more about Scottish Deerhounds or would like to adopt a Scottish Deerhound of your own, the following links may be useful as resources:

Scottish Deerhound Club of America (United States)

The Deerhound Club (United Kingdom)

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources

Cupples, George.  Scotch Deerhounds and their Masters.  Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1894.

Dalziel, Hugh.  British Dogs.  Vol. I.  London: L. Upcott Gill, 1888.

“Deerhounds.”  The Graphic.  April 2, 1870.

Scott, Sir Walter.  The Novels and Poems of Sir Walter Scott.  Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1894.

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Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago

As always, very interesting

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

Thanks, Sarah!

nmayer2015
nmayer2015
5 years ago

Some where there is an account that speaks of how owning a deerhound was illegal except for a few favored souls. I know one author had part of her plot involve the ownership of the deerhounds but the article I read spoke of the legal prohibitions . That law might have originated in the middle ages but even under the game laws those who weren’t qualified to shot couldn’t keep certain dogs.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  nmayer2015

You’re right, Nancy. There was a time in history that only the nobility could own certain types of wolfhounds and deerhounds – though I can’t quote the legal aspect off the top of my head.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

… and I only know the Medieval aspect when, like sumptuary law, it was dependent on social rank, and to be honest I know more about which hawk could be owned by which degree of person.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

Amazing to think how many animals were strictly for the nobility and those of high rank.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

And at the other end of usefulness, miniature beagles, which were not intended for hunting but as lapdogs, trained however to ride on the saddle of a lady out hunting. the must-have accessory of the 16th century. I suppose King Charles Spaniels came about in much the same way….

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

Very interesting, Sarah. I hadn’t heard of beagles being used that way. But then, I confess, I don’t know much about the history of beagles!

Angelyn
Angelyn
5 years ago

I wonder if Bran was a result of crossbreeding with the Tsar’s gift of wolfhounds. Fascinating!

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Angelyn

He’s certainly wiry enough!

nmayer2015
nmayer2015
5 years ago

One of the books mentioned in the bibliography said that no one under the rank of earl could have a Scottish deerhound.
I mentioned that and the game laws in response to the comment that there never were very many Scottish deerhounds around until Victoria’s day when she made them popular. An unqualified man could be fined for having a sporting dog.

Sammie g leary
Sammie g leary
3 years ago

My Great Grandmother Amy Horsfall was in Queen Victoria’s court and raised Scottish Deerhounds. Is she the Breeder of Hector the Queens Favorite dog. I ask as I would like to eventually purchase a pup from my Greatgrandmothers line. Thank you for your time.

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