The origin of the word "beagle" is uncertain. It's thought that it may have been derived from the French word begueule, meaning open throat, or from the Old English word beag, meaning small. Others think it may have come from the French word beugler, meaning to bellow, or the German word begele, meaning to scold.
The breed's history is cloudy as well because breeds as we know them today didn't really develop until the 19th century. Greek documents from 400 B.C. describe Beagle-like dogs, and the Romans may have brought small rabbit-hunting hounds with them to England and bred them with the local hounds.
William the Conqueror reportedly brought Talbot hounds (now extinct) to England during the Norman Conquest in 1066. These dogs are thought to be the ancestors of the Beagle and the Foxhound.
Beagles became popular in England very early in its history. During the reigns of Edward II (1307--1327) and Henry VII (1485--1509), extremely small beagles, called Glove Beagles, were popular. They reportedly were small enough to be held in a gloved hand. There's also mention of Singing Beagles, named for their bugling voices.
Elizabeth I (1533--1603) kept packs of Pocket Beagles that stood only 9 inches tall. These small dogs were depicted in paintings as short-legged and pointy nosed. They were used for hunting, but quickly fell out of favor because they weren't very fast.
In the 1700s, fox hunting became popular in England, and the Beagle fell out of favor as the larger Foxhound became the dog of choice. If it hadn't been for the farmers in England, Ireland, and Wales who continued to keep packs to hunt rabbit and hare, the breed might have become extinct at that time.
In the mid-1800s Reverend Phillip Honeywood established a pack of Beagles in Essex, England. These dogs are thought to be the ancestors of the modern Beagle. Rev. Honeywood bred for hunting skills, not looks. Thomas Johnson, a fellow Englishman, was responsible for breeding Beagles who were both attractive and good hunters.
At about the same time, American breeders started importing Beagles from England to improve the looks of their own dogs. Many of the English imports were bred to an average height of 15 to 17 inches at the shoulder so they could hunt fox. American breeders started breeding them to be smaller for rabbit hunting.
Of interest is the "Patch" Beagle strain developed by Willet Randall in New York around 1880. The line is primarily white with a very large tri-colored spot. They were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s because they were able to run so fast. Today, many people call lemon and white or red and white beagles "Patch" beagles.
The American Kennel Club and the first Beagle specialty club both were founded in 1884. In that same year, the AKC began registering Beagles.
In 1916, five members of the National Beagle Club purchased 508 acres in Western Loudoun County, Virginia for the purpose of holding field trials. The men who purchased it formed a corporation called Institute Corporate to purchase and own the land, then leasing it to the Institute Foundation that maintains the property for the National Beagle Club, which today is the site of many activities of the National Beagle Club.
Exert from: www.dogtime.com