Tag Archives: Medieval Hunting

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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Medieval Conservation

roe-deer-1482717_1920

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

After last week’s post about otter hunting, there was some discussion in the comments about hunting animals to extinction during the Middle Ages. For the most part, however, this is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The exception in medieval England was the wolf.  They were apparently very numerous during the times of the Romans and the Saxons and very dangerous. People were rewarded for killing them, partly because of the threat they posed to livestock, but also because of the value of their skins. They became increasingly rare and, depending on whom you ask, the last wolf in England was killed in the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century.

Other beasts perceived to be dangerous to animals kept to feed people, such as foxes, however, are still plentiful. English Otters, though, didn’t fare so well. During the last century they were hunted almost to extinction and the population is only starting to recover now.

Animals that medieval aristocrats liked to hunt were protected to some extent. All animals that were hunted, even foxes and otters, had a close season, although it might not have been observed meticulously. There were a variety of reasons for close seasons.

The most obvious was that a close season around the time the young were being born preserved the stock for future hunting. This was applied rigorously to deer, the most noble of the beasts hunted in England. Even during the open season, hunters were not indiscriminate. Harts and bucks had to be a certain age before they were worth hunting, thus allowing them time to breed. Medieval aristocrats saw the dangers of over-hunting and avoided them.

Another reason for a close season for ‘lesser’ animals, was that they would be hunted only during the part of the year when they were most worth catching. For some animals this would be when they were judged to be at their peak for eating; for others it would be when the skin or the fat for which they were hunted were at their best.

Aristocratic hunters also restrained themselves out of respect for the animals they hunted, although this was, again, mainly limited to deer.

Whilst aristocratic hunters could afford to think about preserving stock for the future, peasants could not. It’s extremely unlikely that they observed close seasons on anything. If you were going to break the law by poaching a deer, it wouldn’t matter whether you did it in August or January. They also didn’t possess the means to hunt on horseback, but tended to trap animals, which was an indiscriminate method of hunting.

Sources:

Medieval Hunting by Richard Almond

 

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.

Available now:

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Medieval Otter Hunters

Two_otterhounds

Modern Otter Hounds

I’m reading about hunting at the moment, because there’s not just a hunting scene in my current work in progress, but there’s also a lot of talking about hunting.

It’s very interesting to read about the noble and dangerous beasts that were hunted in the fourteenth century, but one animal I hadn’t even considered as worth being an object of the chase is the otter. After a few paragraphs of explanation in the book I was reading, however, I understood.

Otters are inedible, so they weren’t hunted for food. Although they’re difficult to hunt, they weren’t pursued because of the excitement of the chase. Kings of England, however, did have both otter huntsmen and otter hounds, but they didn’t go hunting with them. The men and the dogs were sent out to various parts of the country instead. The skins of otters were valuable enough to be used as rent in Ireland in the early fifteenth century, but that wasn’t the only reason they were hunted.

Like foxes and wolves, otters were a nuisance. They ate fish. In a society where about half the days of the year were fast days, fish were important. Otters didn’t limit themselves to eating fish in rivers, but raided the fishponds of monasteries and large manor houses. Fishponds were a way of maintaining a private supply of fish for monks and lords of the manor, and were particularly important during Lent, when every day was a fast day.

Otters were hunted with specially-trained lymers. These were dogs who were trained to follow the scent of an otter and not make a noise when the prey was discovered. Otters don’t stay in one place for long, so the huntsmen had to find its current place of residence before the hunt could begin.

Four men set off with a lymer each, two on each side of the river. Of each pair, one went upriver and one went down. The huntsmen didn’t just rely on the dogs catching the scent; they were also looking for otter prints and droppings. The medieval hunting treatises say that the otter typically went upriver to hunt and then floated back downriver while digesting its meal.

Once the dogs found the place where the otter was living, the huntsmen reported back to the rest of the men gathered for the hunt. They then took up position upriver and downriver of where the otter was. The doges were let loose into the water and the otter tried to get away from them. The waiting huntsmen stood by shallows and fords, so that they could see the otter when it reached them. Their weapons were spears, barbed tridents and two-pronged forks. The idea was to spear the otter as it swam past, pursued by the dogs. If the river was wide, a net might be spread across it and the dogs would drive the otter into it.

Sources:

The Hawk and the Hound: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins

The Master of Game by Edward of Norwich

Medieval Hunting by Richard Almond

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

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The Medieval Deerhunter

Bayeux_hawking

There was a comment from Lydia about last week’s post on huntsmen that brought me up short. She said that, in her experience in North America, venison isn’t a particularly special type of meat and she was surprised that only certain people had the right to hunt it and eat it in the Middle Ages.

In the fourteenth century it wasn’t just a question of having the right equipment and the requisite skill to hunt deer. No matter how many huntsmen, mounted or on foot, you had at your disposal, and no matter how many dogs you had, you could only hunt a hart, or deer of any kind, if you had permission from the king.

First, we’ll clear up what a hart is.  It caused a bit of confusion last week. There were three types of deer in England in the Middle Ages: red deer, fallow deer and roe deer.  As the largest, red deer were the most important ones for hunters, followed by fallow deer. Roe deer came a poor third. The hart is a red deer stag more than five years old. He was the ideal prey and was hunted on horseback with dogs. Hinds are female red deer and does are female fallow deer. They were very much lesser prey and were hunted for meat rather than sport using the bow and stable method. It was more like a cull than a hunt.

Deer were mostly hunted in forests. Shortly after he became king of England in 1066, William the Conqueror started creating royal forests where he could hunt deer. I live near one of them, the New Forest, which dates from 1079. It’s where William’s much-hated son, William II (more widely known as William Rufus) was killed in 1100, whilst hunting.

At their peak in the first half of the thirteenth century, royal forests covered more than a quarter of England. They were private hunting grounds for the king and his guests, and the people who lived within their boundaries needed permission to fell trees, clear woodland or kill any animals that could be hunted. Forests were hugely unpopular with everyone except those who had the right to hunt in them.

The laws covering the forests were set out in Forest Charters. William I decreed that poaching from a forest was a capital offence. In 1244 Henry III issued a new Forest Charter, which set out that poachers would only be fined. There were poachers from all levels of society, both secular and lay. Bishops and dukes, however, tended to be let off without the fine.

Just as he could invite guests to hunt with him in his own forests, the king could give permission for others to have their own forests (or chases) in which they could hunt deer whenever they wanted. This was an honour very rarely given. It was more usual for an aristocrat to receive permission to have a much smaller deer park. The park was an enclosed area tended by a parker. People without a chase or a park could only hunt foxes, hares, rabbits and pheasant on their own land. Occasionally a minor lord might be invited by a greater lord to hunt deer with him, but that was the only legal way in which he could do it. He might still eat venison, though. It was never sold, but given as a gift to show the generosity of the giver.

Sources:

The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

A Social History of England 1200 to 1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod

Medieval Hunting by Richard Almond

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

 

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Medieval Huntsmen

Diana chasseresse

From the perspective of the twenty-first century, it’s easy to underestimate how important hunting was for people in the Middle Ages. It wasn’t just a sport, although there was a huge element of that for the aristocracy. It was also a means of providing food for the table. If you wanted to eat venison (although only a few were permitted to do so), boars, rabbits and birds, you had to go out and hunt them. There was also the practical aspect of ridding the countryside of dangerous animals, such as wolves and bears, as well as animals that would harm domestic beasts, such as foxes.

If you were a noble, you hunted with a great deal of ritual and a large team of support staff. You needed men to train and work with the dogs. A particular style of hunting required archers and beaters. Another type required falconers. As with everything else in the Middle Ages, hunting was labour-intensive.

The favourite prey of medieval hunters was the hart. The same thing applied to hunting them as it did to eating them; only a few people could do it. As a prey, he was considered to be intelligent, wily and noble. It showed intelligence and skill on the part of the aristocratic hunter to bring one down. In reality, it showed his intelligence in choosing his master huntsman and the men beneath him.

Depending on the type of hunt, different men, dogs and horses were required. Most of the huntsmen employed by the aristocratic hunter hunted on foot. It was the job of the employees to locate and assess the prey and, if it was a noble prey, such as a hart, a boar or a deer, the nobleman would get on his horse and take part.

The huntsmen were specialised, as each type of hunt and each prey required different skills.

The fewterer was one of the men in charge of the greyhounds, the principal hunting dogs. On the hunt, a fewterer had charge of two or three greyhounds. He had to keep them under control until the hart went past, then he released the hounds to follow it.

The berners had general care of the dogs. They were responsible for the kennels and for feeding the dogs. It was their job to reward them after the kill.

As today, beaters were often used to drive the prey into the path of the aristocratic hunter. Usually they were peasants and providing such a service was often one of their feudal obligations in return for the land they farmed.

Technically, the lardener wasn’t a huntsman, as he played no part in the hunt himself. His services were indispensable, however, for he salted the deer carcase ready for transporting to the place where it would be stored, prepared and eaten.

Archers were involved in a style of hunting called bow and stable. In this instance, stable means station or stand. It was most often used when obtaining food, in the form of venison, was the main aim of the hunt. The women in the picture at the top of the post are practising a form of it. The deer were driven by horsemen towards a funnel of beaters and archers: the stable. The aim was to enable the archers to shoot as many deer as possible. Don’t be misled by the picture, though. Women did not hunt in this way. The picture shows Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, and her maidens.

Women’s involvement in most hunts was limited. They might meet the men going on a hunt for breakfast before they set off and they might catch up with them around the time of the kill, but their own hunting was done with birds. This meant that the women did not have to be involved in the kill or even see it close to.

Men also hunted with birds, which went almost everywhere with them. Hawks were expensive if they could not be caught locally, and training them was a slow and skilled process. Even after training, there was always the risk that a hawk would simply fly away when released for the hunt. As a result, good falconers were highly prized.  Falconers looked after the long-winged birds of prey, such as the peregrine falcon, while the austringer cared for the goshawks and other short-winged birds.

A necessary characteristic of all the huntsmen, regardless of their speciality, was physical bravery.  Many of the animals they chased were capable of killing them.

Sources:

The Hawk and the Hound: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins

The Master of Game by Edward of Norwich

Medieval Hunting by Richard Almond

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

 

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Filed under Medieval Food, Medieval Life