DURING the Middle Ages, the sport of baiting was extremely popular in England and was patronised by all classes of people, from the very rich to the poor, and great amounts of money changed hands in wagers on the outcome of these contests. Almost every town and village in the country had its bull ring. Bulls, bears, horses, and other animals were trained for baiting.

The baiting of animals may be traced to an early period in English history. It was also a favourite form of amusement among the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, as well as the people of other ancient nations.
In bullbaiting the object the dog was required to perform was "pinning and holding", i.e. "to seize the bull by the nose and then not to leave go the hold."  As the bull's nose was his most tender part, he was rendered helpless when seized by it. He had a collar about his neck that was fastened to a hook; that in turn was attached to a stake so the animal might turn around. 
Bull-baiting, Henry Alken, 1820

The dog was trained to "play low", keeping his own head close to the ground, or, if a larger specimen of the breed, would creep on his belly to avoid being above the bull's horns when the bulls attempted to use them to throw the dog into the air.
Most of the dogs were so tenacious that they would hold on to the bitter end and be tossed off eventually rather than let go as the bulls swung them around violently in the air. A great many dogs were killed, more had their limbs broken and some held so fast that by the bull swinging them, their teeth were often broken out. Often the men were tossed as well as the dogs.
Bull baiting took place in rope enclosures inside circular buildings, reminiscent of the old Roman amphitheatres.  These were in turn surrounded by kennels built on scaffolding, safely away from the public.

The following description given by the French Advocate Mission, who lived in England, during the reign of William III, is taken from Chamber's Book of Days:
Bull-baiting, Henry Alken, 1823

"After a coming Bull-baiting had been advertised, the bull, decorated with flowers or coloured ribbons would be paraded round the streets of the town, and the dog which pulled off the favours in the subsequent baiting would be especially cheered by the spectators. The parade ended, the bull, with a rope tied round the root of his horns, would be fastened to a stake with an iron ring in it, situated in the centre of the ring."

As mentioned previously, the first bull runnings in England were supposed to have been at Stamford in the year 1209, in the reign of King John, and at Tutbury in 1374. There are, however, grounds for the belief that bull-baiting began much earlier, and that it was probably first indulged in by butchers who employed their dogs to chase, catch, and throw the bulls, and to bait them so as to render the flesh tender. Moreover, Claudian's writings suggest that the practice of baiting bulls was a form of diversion in his time.

"William, Earl of Warren, Lord of the town, standing upon the walls of the castle saw two bulls fighting for a cow in the castle meadow, until all the butchers' dogs pursued one of the bulls (maddened with noise and multitude) clean through the town. This sight so pleased the Earl, that he gave the castle meadow where the bulls' duel began for a common to the butchers of the town after the first grass was mowed, on condition that they should find a mad bull the day six weeks before Christmas Day, for the continuance of the sport forever."
This may or may not have been the origin of the old English sport of bull baiting. At any rate, wherever it began, it became more popular with the passing years. Its popularity created a demand for dogs qualified for the sport. These dogs were selected and bred for courage, power, and ferocity. From the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, bull-baiting was a national sport in England.

It was during the continuing years of these sporting events that the dog owners began to recognize the necessity of altering the dogs' size and structure to better survice in the rings. The large mastiff-like dogs were seen as being too heavily built and too slow and cumbersome in the ring.  Through judicious outcrosses the Bulldog gradually evolved. The dog began to change shape with the bulk of his weight near the head so that when the bull shook him there was less chance of the dog's back being broken. However, a scientifically selective breeding program certainly did not exist during the Middle Ages and it is evident that dog owners were following a program of breeding based on the individual specimen, which had to have a fierce, vicious and tenacious personality, rather than on the basis of pedigree bloodlines, as illustrated by the following anecdotes.

Among a number of informative stories about Bulldogs is one concerning a bait at Bristol in March 1822. An old and crippled bitch had been standing calmly at the side of a butcher watching the flight of the numerous dogs through the air as the bull cleverly and effectively disposed of his adversaries. At the command of the butcher, the bitch slowly hobbled into the ring. She was covered with scars, blind in one eye, and altogether deprived of the use of one of her hind legs. Unlike many good dogs, she did not run directly up to the bull's front, but sneaked cautiously around him, with her remaining eye vigilantly bent upon the bull's every motion, apparently watching for an opportunity to bolt in and grab the bull. This was rather un-Bulldog-like behaviour, but considering the infirmity of the old bitch and the little chance of success she would have had if she had gone in like a strong, fleet, and unmaimed dog, it may have been in some measure excusable. She had pinned this same formidable bull about a dozen times, and she and the bull had slept many a night in the same stall.

In the stable the two were as amicable as doves, but on the turf the situation was different. The bull's fiery and bloodshot eyes were fixed upon her the moment she made her appearance. He seemed to be perfectly aware of her capabilities and steadily kept his front toward her, turning as she turned and, disregarding all other objects, keeping his keen eyes fixed on her alone. Another dog unexpectedly burst into the ring while the two thus steadily eyed each other, but the bull sent him curvetting and gambolling over the heads of the spectators, without deigning to honour him with so much as a momentary glance.
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It was some time before the bitch had an opportunity to get in close to the bull. At length she suddenly darted forward with a velocity of which she seemed incapable, and at one bound reached the bull's nose. Despite repeated attempts, she was unable to hold fast. Although her sturdy old friend tossed her off several times, disaster only tended to prove her invincible courage and she repeatedly went in to the old bull; at one time she managed to evade his horns so cleverly and grapple with him so stoutly, that it seemed she would eventually pin him. But he trod her off by main force, and running over her maimed body, left her to be picked up by her fond old master. read more

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