References to bloodhounds first appear in English writing in the early to mid 14th century, in contexts that suggest the breed was well established by then. It is often claimed that its ancestors were brought over from Normandy by William the Conqueror, but there is no actual evidence for this. That the Normans brought hounds from Europe during the post-Conquest period is virtually certain, but whether they included the Bloodhound itself, rather than merely its ancestors, is a matter of dispute that probably cannot be resolved on the basis of surviving evidence.
In Medieval hunting the typical use of the Bloodhound was as a ‘limer’, or ‘lyam-hound’, that is a dog handled on a leash or ‘lyam’, to find the hart or boar before it was hunted by the pack hounds (raches). It was prized for its ability to hunt the cold scent of an individual animal, and, though it did not usually take part in the kill, it was given a special reward from the carcass. It also seems that from the earliest times the Bloodhound was used to track people. There are stories written in Medieval Scotland of Robert the Bruce (in 1307), and William Wallace (1270–1305) being followed by 'sleuth hounds’. Whether true or not, these stories show that the sleuth hound was already known as a man-trailer, and it later becomes clear that the sleuth hound and the Bloodhound were the same animal. In the 16th century, John Caius, in the most important single source in the history of the Bloodhound, describes its hanging ears and lips, its use in game parks to follow the scent of blood, which gives it its name, its ability to track thieves and poachers by their foot scent, how it casts if it has lost the scent when thieves cross water, and its use on the Scottish borders to track cross-border raiders, known as Border Reivers.
With the rise of fox-hunting, the decline of deer-hunting, and the extinction of the wild boar, as well as a more settled state of society, the use of the Bloodhound diminished. It was kept by the aristocratic owners of a few deer-parks and by a few enthusiasts, with some variation in type, until its popularity began to increase again with the rise of dog-showing in the 19th Century. Numbers, however, have remained low in Britain. Very few survived the Second World War, but the gene-pool has gradually been replenished with imports from America. Nevertheless, because of UK quarantine restrictions, importing was expensive and difficult, throughout the 20th century, and in the post-war period exports to the USA, and to Europe where the population had also been affected by the war, considerably exceeded imports.
During the later 19th century numbers of Bloodhounds were imported from Britain by French enthusiasts, who regretted the extinction of the ancient St Hubert. They wished to re-establish it, using the Bloodhound, which, despite its developments in Britain, they regarded as the St Hubert preserved unchanged. Many of the finest specimens were bought and exhibited and bred in France as Chiens de S. Hubert, especially by Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who himself bred over 300. Whatever few original St Huberts remained either died out or were absorbed into the new population. As a result, the Bloodhound became known on parts of the Continent as the Chien de Saint-Hubert. In the mid 20th century the Brussels-based FCI accepted the claim of Belgium to be the country of origin. There are now annual celebrations in the town of Saint-Hubert, in which handlers in period dress parade their hounds. In Britain the bloodhound has continued to be seen as a native breed, with European St Huberts being accepted by the UK KC as bloodhounds.
When the first Bloodhounds were exported to the USA is not known. Bloodhounds were used to track runaway slaves before the American Civil War, but it has been questioned whether the dogs used were genuine Bloodhounds. However, in the later part of the 19th century, and in the next, more pure Bloodhounds were introduced from Britain, and bred in America, especially after 1888, when the English breeder, Edwin Brough, brought three of his hounds to exhibit at the Westminster KC show in New York City. He went into partnership with Mr J L Winchell, who with other Americans, imported more stock from Britain. Bloodhounds in America have been more widely used in tracking lost people and criminals - often with brilliant success - than in Britain, and the history of the Bloodhound in America is full of the man-trailing exploits of outstanding Bloodhounds and their expert handlers, the most famous hound being Nick Carter. Law enforcement agencies have been much involved in the use of Bloodhounds, and there is a National Police Bloodhound Association, originating in 1962. In Britain there have been instances from time to time of the successful use of the Bloodhound to track criminals or missing people. However man-trailing is enjoyed as a sport by British Bloodhound owners, through national working trials, and this enthusiasm has spread to Europe. In addition, while the pure Bloodhound is used to hunt singly, bloodhound packs use bloodhounds crossed with foxhounds to hunt the human scent.