Meet the Breed: The Mastiff
For a breed whose affection is measured in slobber, this gentle giant bestows massive amounts of love and loyalty.
In an account of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, in which King Henry V of England trounced the French army, an English Mastiff fought as bravely as Henry’s men. During the battle, Sir Piers Legge of Lyme Hall was mortally wounded. As he lay on the muddy battlefield between two woods in the northern French countryside, his faithful dog held off French soldiers until Sir Piers’ servants approached the scene after the battle. Only then, recognizing members of the household, did the Mastiff let anyone near her master.
The spirited fighter retired to Lyme Hall, where she became a foundation bitch of the Lyme Hall strain, which the family has bred over six centuries. The breed today has descended from the Lyme Hall strain and that of the Duke of Devonshire’s kennels.
Cynologists speculate that the breed arrived in England much earlier than the 15th century. One theory claims that seagoing Phoenicians brought the Mastiff there from the Middle East, whence it arrived with nomads from the mountains of Tibet, cradle of the Tibetan Mastiff.
AKC’s The Complete Dog Book puts the Old English Mastiff in Britain 2,000 years ago. Indeed, Julius Caesar writes of discovering the breed when his legions invaded the country in 55 and 54 B.C. The peripatetic Romans took dogs back home with them and later redistributed the breed through countries that are now France, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany. In these outposts of the Roman Empire, the Mastiff gave rise to breeds adapted to their environments, among them the Great Pyrenees, Dogue de Bordeaux, Mastin del Pirineo (Pyrenean Mastiff), Saint Bernard, Mastin Español (Spanish Mastiff), and Great Dane, or Deutsche Dogge (German Mastiff). Tales from antiquity place the Mastiff in Persia at about 550 B.C.
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