1552: Cardinal Crescentius Visited by a Deadly Black Dog
In 1670, preacher Thomas Brooks published London's Lamentations, a brief history of the great London fire. In addition, this volume contains a history of a number of previous preachers, including one odd entry for the year 1552 that has attracted some attention. I quote from Brooks' book directly:
Cardinal Crescentius was a most desperate Persecutor of the people of God, he was the Popes Embassador to the Council of Trent, and being one night busie in writing to his Master the Pope, a huge black Dog with great flaming eyes, and long ears dangling down to the ground, appeared to him in his Chamber, and went under the Table where he sate: Upon which the Cardinal was amazed; but as as soon as he had recovered himself, he called his Servants to put out the black Dog that was come into his Chamber: but they lookt round about his Chambers, and the next Chambers, but could find no black Dog; upon which the Cardinal fell presently sick with a strong conceit, which never left him till his death, still crying out, Drive away the black Dog, drive away the black Dog, which seemed to him to be climbing up his Bed; and in that humour he dyed.
This account is often quoted as an example of one of the phantom-like Black Dogs appearing as an omen of death... but the story may not be as straightforward as assumed.
Brooks' book was essentially a study not only of the tragedy of the great London fire, but also of the religious corruptions that he felt were ultimately responsible for it by bringing down God's wrath upon London. The fate of Cardinal Crescentius above was just one entry in a long list of various historic figures whose fates demonstrated that God would reach down and punish wrongdoers in direct ways. By stating that Crescentius was visited by a Black Dog, Brooks was able to take what would be seen as a standard guy-gets-sick-and-dies-in-bed story and imply that the Black Dog visited him as a punishment for an unspecified evil. Before I can take this account as a actual paranormal event, I personally will want to see versions of the story from much closer to Crescentius' death -- Brooks account was published over a hundred years later, after all -- so I consider this matter to still be under investigation.
Whether true or not, however, this account still gives us a view of what was expected and believed about Black Dogs at the time it was written in 1670.