Throughout the Dark Ages, that followed the fall of Rome, the scribes wrote: "that large packs of huge war dogs were used by the warring city states and wandering tribes of Europe."
It is believed, that they were referring to the Mastiff Type dogs of Rome ...noble animals that a thousand years later, their descendants would be used by practically every modern army of the world.
The Dark Ages ended slowly, the wars went on, as the Age of Enlightenment began and brought forth more wars! If there was one thing that our ancestors had took to over the ages...it was how to wage war, quite unlike the animals he employed.
The animals themselves, if left to their own devices, were and are to clever to fight in a war ...man's best friend needed man for that.
Even today with all of our "new" technological devices for our military working dogs, it still surprises me and it may even surprise you, to find just how many of them were first used by our Battle Dogs, of over a thousand years ago.
Today, service dogs are just starting to wear bullet proof body armor, while working in the field; but it was during the Middle Ages, that war dogs were often armored just as completely as the chargers (horses) of their knights. Suits of canine armor plate, chain and canvas, were worn in battle and for the chase, when such savage beasts as the wild boar were the quarry.
Courtesy The Higgins Armory
And probably no greater tribute ever was paid the dog than the custom of the knights in ordering that when their effigy was carved for their tomb, that the image of their favorite hound be sculptured, crouched at their feet.
Battles between the war dogs of opposing armies took place on several occasions, once during the Swiss Burgundian war of 1476, and another during the Battle of Merten ...the Swiss dogs destroyed the canines of Burgundy.
And in 1518, good King Henry VIII of England, presented 400 battle mastiffs, with iron collars, to Charles V of Spain, then at war with France. The Spanish mastiffs were set on the French dogs at the Siege of Valencia, and drove them from the field, with their tails between their legs. The English dogs performed such splendid service in both reconnaissance and trailing, that they were commended by Charles and held up as an example to his troops.
And speaking of trailing, Bloodhounds, whom are well known for their tracking, were first imported into England just about the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and quite possibly by William the Conqueror, who was also regarded as a great huntsman.
William the Conqueror of Normandy used such hounds back home in France to support his troops, as well as to run down opponents of the family regime. When William took forces to England in 1066, and earned the sobriquet of Conqueror, his St. Hubert Hounds guarded and defended his army's camps and followed remaining dissenters to the end of any trail.
Edward I, "Longshanks," used Bloodhounds on his borders with Scotland, to track down the notorious "moss troopers;" their raids across the border became so outrageous, that the government ordered a chain of warning beacons to be established, and tracking dogs kept in the various districts to assist the Crown forces.
On occasion, Longshanks' bloodhounds quarry was of noble birth. Robert the Bruce escaped them only by wading down stream to lose his scent; and much later, they ran down the luckless Duke of Monmouth, after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.
In 1599 Queen Elizabeth dispatched her court's favorite, the Earl of Essex, as "Lord Deputy of Ireland," with an army of 22,000 men, including a large force of Bloodhounds to put down the Irish chieftain rebellion. Dogs had long been used against individual Irish, Scot, and Welsh dissenters by her sheriffs and their deputies, but the Essex force of 800 hounds and their handlers may have been the first use of official war dogs at home.
Essex expedition was a failure, and his dogs saw little action. in disgrace, he was ordered back to England, and executed, so much for being a favorite.
And in 1813, King Philip of Spain ordered that the war dogs hanging about the city of Mont Phlippe and the port of Etoile, who were abandoned by the defeated Austrians, should be fed and employed as sentinels and scouts for his own army.
Two hundred years earlier, the Spaniards were seeking gold and bringing christianity to the New World, employed hundreds of fierce savage dogs against the native Indians of Mexico and Peru, who resisted conversion.
Drummer and Irish Wolfhound From The Irish Guards, 1910
The introduction of firearms did not banish war dogs from the battlefields. The Turks chased off Austrian sentries with packs of savage dogs in their campaign of 1770. However, it was no longer feasible to set loose packs of war dogs at an enemy, who would just kill them with a volley of musketry before they even got within close quarters.
European wars were changing, and so was the use of dogs!
From about the middle of the seventeenth century, there could be distinguished dogs at war: favorite hounds, their masters took with them on active service; and dogs of war: regimental dogs, who followed the drum and took a full share in duties as sentinels and guard dogs.
Thus at Waterloo, Dash, a English dog of war, a handsome setter brought from his home by Lieutenant William Hay, of the 12th Light Dragoons, was killed when the regiment charged to rescue survivors of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade.
And "After the Battle of Marengo," wrote Napoleon in his memoirs, "I walked over the battlefield and saw among the slain, a poodle killed bestowing a last lick upon his dead friend's face. Never had anything on any of my battlefields caused me a like emotion."
Prince Rupert and Boy at Marston Moor
Napoleon's great victory over the Austrians was fought on June 14, 1800. Over a century earlier, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, while commanding his uncle's army, had his war dog poodle, named Boy, killed at the Battle of Marston Moor, in 1644, by English roundheads.
Perhaps, the most famous of all the poodles, that went to war, was France's Moustache ...he saved the colors of Austerlitz, but was killed at the storming of Badajoz. He was buried with full military honors on the field of honor, where he fell, a plain stone with the simple inscription, "Ce git le brave Moustache," was placed over his grave. However, the Spaniards later broke the stone, and the poor dog's bones were burnt by order of the Inquistion.
The numerous tales recorded of dogs at war and dogs of war could fill volumes, we have only cited afew. King Charles of Spain's mastiffs; Elizabeth's hounds; Boy the poodle, who was killed at Marston Moor; Dash the setter, at Waterloo, while a little fox terrier, owned by an officer in the British 17th Lancers escaped from his batman, with whom he had been left, and rushed off after his master, when the Light Brigade charged at Balaclava. He ran into the bellowing mouths of the Russian guns and all the way back, by some miracle they both escaped unharmed.
Giants all, if not in size, then surely in spirit.