The Alaunt: Hunting Dog of the Middle Ages

Alaunts at the kill of a wild boar from The Grimami Breviary 1490

In the Middle Ages the warrior-class when not engaged in war spent a great deal of their time and resources hunting.

The hunting dog used to seize a running beast was the alaunt. The alaunt, originally a herd and war dog of the Alani warriors of central Asia was cross bred with sight and and scent hounds in the west to produce the alaunt gentil and the bulldog alaunt. The alaunt gentil resembled a greyhound but were heavier and their their heads were broader and shorter.  In his Book of the Hunt, Alfonso of Castile (1311 – 1350) describes the alaunt’s head as being broader than that of the greyhound and more like the conger eel’s head. The bulldog alaunt was heavier again and and looked more like a mastif.

The other important aspect of the alaunt was its temperament. The quarry pursued by hunters of the middle ages and later was large and dangerous. Wild boar, bear and wolf were particularly fierce and the alaunt needed to be fearless and aggressive when it came to the kill. Some of the modern day bull terrier breeds look like smaller versions of the bulldog alaunt and they certainly manifest a fearlessness that is unfortunately exploited by some unscrupulous people.

In the Middle Ages the dog handlers, were very important members of the aristocratic household staff. They were called fewterers.

We can get a good idea of what the alaunt looked like from paintings of the period. There are also modern versions of the alaunt being bred.


Modern Alaunt Gentil

American Alaunt Mastif


Love’s Loss

Woman Crying by Fernando Botaro


Mrs Kelly in her morning flannel

Ducks out into icy air to grab the milk

Then slams the door of her cosy detached

Double glazed, heavy curtained, neat house

With heat saving sash.

The Kettle burbles on the spotless alabaster top

She starts another day like all her days

Receding into a pale imprint

Soon forgotten, of no consequence

No moment, no import, nothing

To record except a line of dazzling clothes

A clean worktop, a shining floor,

Gleaming brass on her proud hall door.

Once, she planned to be a scientist

Her dad, he said, she’s good enough,

But somehow, between this and that

She ended up with three children

A man, a dog and an elegant cat.

It does niggle her now and then

Like this cold morning between nine and ten

Instead of cups and dirty spoons

She might be in her lab till noon.

Discovering cures and finding ways

To counter time and assuage it’s ravages.

Alas she’s traded charts and hieroglyphs

For soap and bills and shopping lists.


In the long nectar-sweet grass

She relinquised all, gave everyting

To the swooning sky and her lover.

Take me she whispered

Take me, you are all I desire

I am yours she gasped, spreading

Soft thighs to quench the fire

I am yours he sighed.

And the whirling  syrup sun

Seared the moment forever

In her mind, forever rememberd

As now when it’s pale morning

Light inclines through her crystal

Windows, recalling the throb

And hectic heat of loves brave time.


And later, married, when the first

Passion was forgot, she wondered if ever

The blood would tumble in

Torrents till she could not think

Till she surrendered to the swarming fever

Once more, just once more

To feel young, to feel irrisistible.

Then he devoured her with his hot look,

The stranger

Which she pretended not to see

But sustained the love thread

With a timely glance that lingered longer

Than casual interest.

The frequent chance encounters till

It was easy to believe that destiny

Could not, would not, allow them to deceive

Their true hearts.

They flew into the love frenzy

Ravished each other ‘til

The crude odour and sweat of reality

Smashed the fantasy and they saw

The lie and shamefaced pretended

It was too fierce a fire

To last and she was once more

Mrs Kelly wondering in her shiny

Kitchen what it all meant,

Was passion now forever spent.


But no, the ache continued, the void

That yawned blackly when her guard was down

“She is good enough, a clever child” her teacher said

“She has choices, anything she wants”

Her mother gloated, her father read

The syllabus for medicine and higher maths,

Science, engineering, not art, no jobs in that.

“The world is her oyster” her uncle said

“We should all be proud, she has brains alright

Runs in the family, she’ll astound us yet”

Stupid man, he thought he was the family sage

Thought wisdom guaranteed with age.

But still, yes still, she had hoped despite

The shallow words, the prophesy was right

And even now at forty eight

After love’s dissappointment

Is it too late?


Children, home, these are wondrous works

The holy priest was suave and spoke

In pious tones.

Think of Martha’s work at home

But what about me, me she cried

God sees all, your reward is great

Humility is the way, serenely he replied.

The cross is heavy but must be borne

Seek Jesus, he’ll show the way, the light

Pray, repent, renounce the sinful flesh

Learn purity from the Virgin blest.

And for a while the balm of prayer

Eased the pain and quelled the fear.

Novenas, masses, benedictions

Scapulars and holy water

Incense, rosaries and deprofundis

She gave everything once more

To a new lover, Jesus, her chaste paramour.

But like before the passion waned

Until the empty rattle of her beads

No more anaestetised the pain.


She lies, love-spent, upon her back

Her once young lover, old and slack

Toiling to reclaim the past

And force a sultry climax ‘til at last

She moans, not in joy, but tired relief

Her body once again her own

To nurse the ancient grief.

Does he not remember

The honey days

When words made them weak

With longing

Does he not remember the love look

That made them breathless

And the singing

Deep inside,

That sundered heart and body

Till joyously she opened wide

To the hot spew of life.

Mrs Kelly in her morning flannels

Sighs and pours another cup of tea

God, if there is a God she thinks

Is this the way that life should be?