History before the First World WarThe Pugnaces Britanniae (Latin) was the name given by the Romans to the original English Mastiff.
The origin of the term "Mastiff" is not clear. Many claim that it evolved from the Anglo-Saxon word "masty", meaning "powerful". Other sources, like the Oxford English dictionary, say the word originated from the Old French word mastin (Modern French mâtin), the word being itself derived from Vulgar Latin *ma(n)suetinus "tame", see Classical Latin mansuetus with same meaning.
In 1570, Conrad Heresbach referred to "the Mastie that keepeth the house". The Mastiff is descended from the ancient dogs brought to Britain by ancient traders and is recognized as the oldest British breed. It has been speculated that the Mastiff might have been brought to Britain by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BC. It was used in the blood sports of bear-baiting, bull-baiting, dog fighting, and lion-baiting. Dogs known as Bandogs, who were tied (bound) close to houses, were of Mastiff type. They were described by John Caius in 1570 as vast, huge, stubborn, ugly, and eager, of a heavy and burdensome body. Throughout its history, the Mastiff has contributed to the development of a number of dog breeds.
Lukey's GovernorWhen in 1415 Sir Peers Legh was wounded in the Battle of Agincourt, his Mastiff stood over and protected him for many hours through the battle. The Mastiff was later returned to Legh's home and was the foundation of the Lyme Hall Mastiffs. Five centuries later this pedigree figured prominently in founding the modern breed. Other aristocratic seats where Mastiffs are known to have been kept are Elvaston Castle (Charles Stanhope, 4th Earl of Harrington and his ancestors) and Chatsworth House. The owner of the Chatsworth Mastiffs (which were said to be of Alpine stock) was William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, known to his family as Canis. Mastiffs were also kept at Hadzor Hall, owned by members of the Galton family, famous for industrialists and scientists, including Charles Darwin.
Some evidence exists that the Mastiff first came to America on the Mayflower, but the breed's documented entry to America did not occur until the late 19th century.
In 1835, the Parliament of the United Kingdom implemented an Act called the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, which prohibited the baiting of animals. This may have led to decline in Mastiffs used for this purpose, but Mastiffs continued to be used as guards for country estates and town businesses. Organised breeding began in the 19th century, when J.W.(John Wigglesworth)Thompson sought out a bitch, Dorah, from John Crabtree, the head gamekeeper of Kirklees Hall, whose dogs were often in the name of his employer, Sir George Armitage. Dorah was descended in part from animals owned by Thompson's grandfather, Commissioner Thompson, at the beginning of the century, as well as a Mastiff of the Bold Hall line, recorded from 1705, one purchased from canal boat men and another caught by Crabtree in a fox trap. J. W. Thompson's first stud dog Hector came from crossing a bitch, Juno, bought from animal dealer Bill George, to a dog, Tiger, owned by a Captain Fenton.
Two MastiffsNeither of these had any pedigree, as was normal for the period. Between 1830 and 1850 he bred the descendants of these dogs and some others to produce a line with the short, broad head and massive build he favoured. In 1835,
T.V.H.Lukey started his operations by breeding an Alpine Mastiff bitch of the Chatsworth line, Old Bob-Tailed Countess (bought from dog dealer Bill White), to Pluto, a large black Mastiff of unknown origin belonging to the Marquis of Hertford. The result was a bitch called Yarrow, who was mated to Couchez, another Alpine Mastiff belonging (at the time) to White and later mated to a brindle dog also in White's possession. Lukey produced animals that were taller but less massive than Thompson's. After 1850, Thompson and Lukey collaborated, and the modern Mastiff was created, though animals without pedigree or of dubious pedigree continued to be bred from into the 20th century.
Another important contribution to the breed was made by a dog called Lion, owned by Captain Garnier. He bought two Mastiffs from the previously mentioned dealer Bill George. The bitch, Eve, bought by George at Leadenhall Market, was old enough to be gray-muzzled, but of good type; the dog, Adam, was of reputed Lyme Hall origin, but bought at Tattersalls and suspected by Garnier of containing a "dash of Boarhound", an ancestral form of Great Dane. Garnier took them to the United States with him and brought back their puppy, Lion. He was bred to Lukey's Countess to produce Governor, the source of all existing Mastiff lines. (Lion was also mated to Lufra, aScottish Deerhound, and their puppy Marquis appears in the pedigrees of both Deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds.)
The controversial Ch. Crown Prince, pictured in old age.In the 1880s soundness was sacrificed for type (widely attributed to the short-headed but straight-stifled Ch. Crown Prince), and subsequently, the Mastiff lost popularity but gained a consistency of type. In the USA particularly, Mastiffs declined steadily through the 1890s and the early 20th century. From 1906 to 1918, only 24 Mastiffs were registered in the United States, none American bred after 1910. By the time the First World War ended, other than for a few imports, the breed was extinct outside of Great Britain.
History after the First World WarIn 1918, a dog called Beowulf, bred in Canada from British imports Priam of Wingfied and Parkgate Duchess, was registered by the AKC, starting a slow re-establishment of the breed in North America. Priam and Duchess, along with fellow imports Ch Weland, Thor of the Isles, Caractacus of Hellingly and Brutus of Saxondale, ultimately contributed a total of only two descendants who would produce further offspring, Buster of Saxondale and Buddy. There were, however, a number of other imports in the period between the wars and in the early days of the Second World War, and those whose descendants survive were 12 in number, meaning the North American contribution to the gene pool after 1945 consists of 14 Mastiffs. In the British Isles, virtually all breeding stopped due to the rationing of meat. After the war, such puppies as were produced mostly succumbed to canine distemper, for which no vaccine was developed until 1950. Only a single bitch puppy produced by the elderly stock that survived the war reached maturity, Nydia of Frithend, and her sire had to be declared a Mastiff by the Kennel Club, as his parentage was unknown, and he was thought by some to be a Bullmastiff. After the war, animals from North America, prominently from Canada, were imported. Therefore all Mastiffs in the late 1950s were descended from Nydia and the 14 Mastiffs previously mentioned. It has been alleged that the Mastiff was bred with other more numerous giant breeds such as Bullmastiffs and St. Bernards, as these were considered close relatives to the Mastiff. In 1959, a Dogue de Bordeaux, Fidelle de Fenelon, was imported from France to the USA, registered as a Mastiff, and entered the gene pool. Since that time, the breed has gradually been restored in Britain, has reached 28th most popular breed in the USA, and is now found worldwide.
MiscellaneousExtract from Abraham Fleming's translation of John Caius's description, dated 1570, of the "Mastiue or Bandogge".
"This kinde of Dogge called a Mastyue or Bandogge is vaste, huge, stubborne, ougly, and eager, of a heuy and burthenous body, and therefore but of litle swiftnesse, terrible, and frightfull to beholde, and more fearce and fell then any Arcadian curre (notwithstãding they are sayd to hane their generation of the violent Lyon.) They are called Villatici, because they are appoynted to watche and keepe farme places and coũtry cotages sequestred from commõ recourse, and not abutting vpon other houses by reason of distaunce, when there is any feare conceaued of theefes, robbers, spoylers, and night wanderers. They are seruiceable against the Foxe and the Badger, to drive wilde and tame swyne out of Medowes, pastures, glebelandes (church lands) and places planted with fruite, to bayte and take the bull by the eare, when occasion so requireth. One dogge or two at the vttermost, sufficient for that purpose be the bull neuer so monsterous, neuer so fearce, neuer so furious, neuer so stearne, neuer so vntameable. For it is a kinde of dogge capeable of courage, violent and valiaunt, striking could feare into the harts of men, but standing in feare of no man, in so much that no weapons will make him shrincke, nor abridge his boldnes. Our Englishe men (to th’ intent that theyr dogges might be the more fell and fearce) assist nature with arte, vse, and custome, for they teach theyr dogges to baite the Beare, to baite the Bull and other such like cruell and bloudy beastes (appointing an ouerseer of the game) without any collar to defend theyr throtes, and oftentimes they traine them vp in fighting and wrestling with a man hauing for the safegarde of his lyfe, eyther a Pikestaffe, a clubbe, or a sworde and by vsing them to such exercises as these, theyr dogges become more sturdy and strong. The force which is in them surmounteth all beleefe, the fast holde which they take with their teeth exceedeth all credit, three of them against a Beare, fowre against a Lyon are sufficient, both to try masteryes with them and vtterly to ouermatch them."Extract from Barnaby Googe's translation of Conrad Heresbach's description dated 1631 of the Bandog for the house:
"First, the Mastie that keepeth the house. For this purpose you must provide you such a one as hath a large and mightie body, a great shrill voyce, that both with his barking he may discover, and with his sight dismaye the theefe, yea, being not seene, with the horror of his voice put him to flight. His stature must be neither long nor short, but well set ; his head, great ; his eyes, sharp and fiery, either browne or grey ; his lippes, blackish, neither turning up nor hanging too much down ; his mouth black and wide ; his neather jaw, fat, and coming out of it on either side a fang appearing more outward than his other teeth ; his upper teeth even with his neather, not hanging too much over, sharpe, and hidden with his lippes ; his countenance, like a lion ; his brest, great and shag hayrd ; his shoulders, broad ; his legges, bigge ; his tayle, short ; his feet, very great. His disposition must neither be too gentle nor too curst, that he neither faune upon a theefe nor flee upon his friends; very waking; no gadder abroad, nor lavish of his mouth, barking without cause; neither maketh it any matter though he be not swifte, for he is but to fight at home, and to give warning of the enemie."Sydenham Edwards (1800), wrote in the Cynographia Britannica, London: C. Whittingham:
"What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sinking before him. His courage does not exceed its temper and generosity and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race. His docility is perfect; the teasing of the smaller kinds will hardly provoke him to resent, and I have seen him down with his paw the Terrier or cur that has bit him, without offering further injury. In a family he will permit the children to play with him and will suffer all their little pranks without offence. The blind ferocity of the bulldog will often wound the hand of the master who assists him to combat, but the Mastiff distinguishes perfectly, enters the field with temper, and engages the attack as if confident of success: if he overpowers, or is beaten, his master may take him immediately in his arms and fear nothing. This ancient and faithful domestic, the pride of our island, uniting the useful, the brave and the docile, though sought by foreign nations and perpetuated on the continent, is nearly extinct where he was probably an aborigine, or is bastardized by numberless crosses, everyone of which degenerate from the invaluable character of the parent, who was deemed worthy to enter the Roman amphitheatre and in the presence of the masters of the world, encounter the pard and assail even the lord of the savage tribes, whose courage was sublimed by torrid suns, and found none gallant enough to oppose him on thedeserts of Zaara or the plains of Numidia."Westgort Anticipation