Origin of the title "Master" [of Fox Hounds] ?

Just to be clear right off the bat, I am not asking for opinions on whether or not it is appropriate to use the title Master in today’s day and age. It is what we call them in this sport.

Instead, I am wondering if anyone knows where it comes from. Is it like a Master Plumber or Master Electrician–a title indicating mastery of a trade (in this case, handling and hunting hounds)?Perhaps from the method of addressing young men as Master So-and-So? Or as acknowledgement of the person in charge (ex: Master of the House/ Head Master)? Or…from somewhere else all together?

I have always assumed it was the “person in charge” of the hounds/hunt.

ETA OED says “one who owns, or has control of, a pack of hounds”. First citation 1781.


The person who owns, cares for, and controls an animal. Also the Master to hunt servants; huntsman, kennelman, whipper-in etc.

Check out this medieval manuscript first published in English in the early 1400’s; http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/43452

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Thank you both!

It shows up even earlier in the 15th century in relationship to ‘master of hounds’, there still spelled in the early form ‘maister’. In Middle English it seems to appear first in the meaning of a man skilled in his craft or in having control over the teaching of academics. But, the idea of control over a place or ownership/control of animals comes right along with that. Originally it comes from the Latin: ‘magister’ which has all of those meanings as well. So showing up in both forms makes sense, as the Latin transferred itself into the English.

I’d note, being a master craftsman or a ‘master of hounds’ was not just a judgement of skill. It carried real legal weight, you couldn’t just call yourself a master carpenter for example. You had to pass a fairly rigorous apprenticeship under a master first. We still see faint echoes of this in things like the plumbing trade, where ‘journeyman’ still means something. Or as you note in the electrical trade! Hunting was a serious thing in the Medieval period and a Master of Hounds, would have had a huge amount of authority not just over the hounds but over the area that was reserved for hunting.

In the medieval period, a ‘master’ is fundamentally different from a ‘lord’. The master’s rights of control are legally based in the same way as the sheriff’s rights are based; the lord’s rights are based on their family/feudal relationship to the king, or other nobles. It gets very complicated! But, this legal basis rather than blood/divine basis reflects back to the idea that the master’s authority is skill based. A master has demonstrated and proved his ability and skill at his craft and therefore has the right to either teach it or to control how other people practice it.


Thank you @B and B, that was super informative.

see also here


In the nautical/naval world a ship’s captain is its master. There are also quartermasters.

The term dates back to the era of guilds and journeymen, apprentice and master craftsmen.

Not necessarily. The OED has many definitions.
All refer to a male person who has authority over someone/thing.
Vessel,dog, horse,household,apprentice,journeyman,pupils,knowledge,business,painting,college,ceremony,foxhounds, beagles,servants and on and on.