Friday, July 6, 2012

History Bull Baiting in European

In ancient Rome, bullbaiting dogs performed in the arenas, fighting lions, bears, elephants and hence the name bulls. These dogs mostly came from Great Britain, at that time occupied by the Romans. The Roman conquerors were introduced to these dogs that seemed to be even braver than their own dogs at home, the Molossians. Roman documents enthusiastically report on these English fighting dogs, capable of breaking the neck of a full-grown bull. In 1578, the Flemish painter Jan van der Straet (1523-1605), better known under the fashionable name of Giovanni Stradanus, depicted armed men sitting on horseback, trying to overwhelm bulls with their lances. Seven fighting dogs can be seen on the engraving as well; one of them has already forced the bull to his knees. It’s quite a bloodthirsty scene that shows bullbaiting dogs were not unknown in the Low Countries during the 16th century.


There are records of bullbaiting dogs in ancient England. As early as during the reign of King John (1199-1216) a writer reported a fight for a cow between two bulls. The fight took place in the neighbourhood of Stamford Castle; William, Earl of Warren, gave the eyewitness account. He wrote, “Suddenly some big and small butchers’ dogs joined the bulls in the fight en one of the bulls was pursued throughout the city”. Obviously, the Earl was enchanted by the chase, because he organized an annual bull-chasing and bullbaiting event six weeks before Christmas. The local butchers provided the bull. Why? Well, in exchange, the butchers’ cows were allowed to graze on the meadows around the castle belonging to the Earl. By the Middle Ages, dogs were being used to provoke cattle. One reason was to provide a kind of public amusement, the other reason - seen through our eyes - is absolutely ridiculous. It was believed that beef tasted better and was more tender if the cattle have been provoked shortly before being slaughtered. With this in mind, butchers kept big dogs “butcher’s dogs”.


The English painter Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1821) engraved several prints depicting this kind of ‘sport’. Usually the bull was tied with a rope or chain; sometimes he was mutilated to make the dogs as bloodthirsty as possible. Even the well-known English painter Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) could not resist drawing scenes with bulls and bullbaiting dogs. A drawing from 1821 shows a bull fight with as many as six dogs; one has been tossed on the bull’s horns and flies through the air. During such fights, the bull was often grabbed by his sore nose; victory was complete when the giant of a bull was knocked down.


Back to the European Continent. Hans von Flemming gave us a detailed report of bullbaiting and bullbaiting dogs in his book Der volkommene Teutsche J√§ger (The Complete German Sportsmen), published in 1719. About the Bollbeiszer (bullbaiting dog) Von Flemming wrote: “They are medium sized dogs but heavy in bone. Their chest is wide, the head is short and broad and has a short, sloping nose. They have erect pointed ears and a double bite. That’s way they can hold on so strongly. Their movement is ponderous, but they are strong, heavy and well-fleshed. Apart from the big ‘Danziger Bollbeisser’ (bullbaiting dog from Danzig), another type exists in Brabant (a province in the Low Countries). They are also medium sized but most of the time a little smaller than the Danziger. Their limbs are the same and they also are heavily built. 

These dogs are called ‘Brabanter Bullebijters’ (bullbaiting dogs from Brabant). In case of lack of bears these dogs are trained to chase and attack bulls and bullocks, however these sport is more suitable for butchers than for hunters.” Obviously Hans von Flemming had visited the Low Countries, because he continues: “In Brabant I have seen a bull chased by dogs. He was fettered on a long chain while attacked by this type of dogs. They grasped him on the nose and throat, while he was running around in circles. These dogs are also used as watch dogs and bandogs. The very fact looking so ugly makes them appropriate watch dogs. Usually they have a short nose with a black mask and the lower jaw pulls forward. Usually the colour is yellow or brindle. They look vicious and seem to be malicious.” A drawing in Von Flemming’s book is captioned ‘Niederl√§ndischer Bollbeisser’ (Dutch bullbaiting dog). In dog literature, ‘bearbaiting dog’ and ‘bullbaiting dog’ were used interchangeably. The explanation is simple: the bullbaiting dog was also used for hunting bears and wild boars.

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