The Hound and The Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins – A Review

Hound and Hawk

Published: 1988
Pages: 306

I have three or four books on medieval hunting and, after reading The Hound and the Hawk, I know that I won’t have to buy another one. It goes into such detail, that I could probably go out and hunt something in the medieval style myself.

Cummins uses primary sources from across Europe, mostly from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although a few are from the early Rennaissance.

As its title suggests, the book is divided into two. The first part covers hunting with hounds and the second hunting with hawks.  The first section tackles the huntsman’s prey in order of nobility, starting with the stag and ending with the badger. Cummins also looks at the symbolism of hunting in a chapter on the unicorn.

Two chapters look at the duties and lives of the huntsmen before the book moves on to the hawks. It covers their breeding grounds, their capture, their training, their feeding, their prey and their illnesses. There’s also a chapter about what they symbolise in literature.

It’s for this latter section that I bought the book. Hunting was something that everyone did in the Middle Ages and I want my novels to reflect that fact. My heroes might be able to hunt stags, though, but my heroines can’t. If I want the two of them to spend time together on a hunt, they have to be using hawks. I’ve learned more from this book than I can use in my novels, but that’s a good thing.

Despite its length and its detail, it’s an easy book to read. Cummins knows what he’s talking about and he communicates it well. He even made me laugh, which wasn’t something I expected from a book about hunting. The laughter was often at the expense of the best-known hunter of the Middle Ages, the Frenchman Gaston Phoebus, who thought some English hunting practices were less than ideal.

If you only read one book about medieval hunting, this is the one you should read.


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Book Review, Medieval Hunting, Medieval Life

24 responses to “The Hound and The Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins – A Review

  1. I would have given no thought to the facts you mention about who was allowed to hunt what. This book sounds like a good resource for anyone writing about this period.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Nice one, I think I might look this book up. I love this kind of detail and hunting can really frame a plot. Dorothy Dunnett in her House Of Niccolo series uses it (and sports as well)….ibex hunting in the Tyrol sticks in my mind!…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Cool review, if I need to go hunting I’ll be sure to get a copy. I would like to do the hawk thing.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Sounds great. Have you read “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald? I haven’t, but I heard her interviewed on the radio here not long after it was published. I made a mental note to buy it as a present for a bird-mad brother, but to read it myself before I gave it to him. Which, obviously, I haven’t done yet. I was impressed by her historical “feel” , and also by her comments on T.H. White. I loved his “Once and Future King” series, but wasn’t too impressed by his method of hawk training, as set out in another of his books.
    On a couple of occasions when I’ve been in the UK I’ve chatted to falconers, but the only birds of prey I’ve ever had on my arm were owls! Friendly, but not glamorous.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I haven’t read “H is for Hawk”. I’ve read varying reviews, though. I might see if I can get it from the library.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes – the reviews have been mixed. Some adulatory, some discontented, and at least one that was downright disparaging – claiming the book’s more about her than it’s about falconry. Even so, after hearing her interviewed I’m keen to read it.
        And – out of your period I know – part of the appeal for me is that while the puritans were often lukewarm on hunting because they suspected it was more about killing for pleasure than food, they seem to have been more tolerant of hawking. Presumably because killing is just what hawks do. I get that.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I didn’t know that about the puritans. They were partially right, I think. There were some hunts that were more for pleasure where deer were concerned and others that were definitely about getting meat on the table. Different methods were used when it was important to kill deer to order. That was one of the things that Gaston Phoebus didn’t like about the English. They were willing to hunt deer in a way that didn’t require much skill, just to make sure that there was plenty of venison when the king wanted it.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Lovely review, April. Definitely has me considering adding hunting scenes to my novels, too!

    Liked by 3 people

    • They’re very useful for getting the hero and heroine out of doors together. There are opportunities for more private conversations and the hero can admire the heroine’s skill with a hawk. In one of my novels the heroine is abducted while out hunting, allowing the hero to rescue her.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Edward, Duke of York (who palled around with Henry V), was extremely fond of hunting, and wrote a book based largely on “The Book of Venery” (possibly misspelled) , a treatise by a Frenchman whose name I cannot recall.

    Georgette Heyer mentioned this in her unfinished historical novel “My Lord John”. This spans the childhood – young adult years of John of Lancaster, third son of Henry IV, who was created First Duke of Bedford. Bedford’s widow was the mother of Elizabeth Wydeville (Woodville), who mothered Elizabeth, Queen of Henry VII.

    I wonder if the Duke of York’s book ever made it to modern print?

    Would love to know if anyone took up the pen to finish “My Lord John”.
    Heyer died before it could be completed. Her husband’s epilogue stated that Heyer actually preferred writing medieval historical novels, but demand for Regency romances were her bread-and-butter, and she just ran out of time.

    So glad, April, that you are free to write of whatever appeals to you! Sure appeals to many of us! ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Duke of York’s book is based on Gaston Phoebus’ treatise and a modern version sits on my bookshelf. It’s called ‘The Master of Game’.

      Georgette Heyer would find herself in the same position today. Regency sells, medieval doesn’t, at least, not as much.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh April, your needlework is lovely! I do hope you share with us more examples. Such patience! Such tiny stitches! Signs of being meticulous in more than just writing!

    I love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great review! I haven’t done any research on medieval hunting yet, but when I do, I’ll definitely give this book a read.

    Liked by 2 people

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