Medieval Spell Logo
Medieval Travel Guide

Medieval Hunting History

Medieval hunting, cultivated especially in the days of chivalry, was much more than a form of entertainment, it was considered an art and a science. According to Elzéar Blaze, a writer and a  captain in Napoleon’s army, Medieval hunting included three categories. First, venery, defined as “the science of snaring, taking, or killing a particular animal from amongst a herd.”
Second, hawking, the art of hunting with the falcon, and that of training birds of pray to hunt feathered game. The third was fowling, which initially started out of the necessity to protect the crops against the birds.

Noble of Provence-15th Century
Noble of Provence-15th Century

The first historical information on venery is to be found in the records of the 7th century. Under the reign of Charlemagne, hunting was still done at random, attacking the first animal the hunting party met. It is under the sons of Charlemagne that the venery was introduced and carried to great perfection. At the end of the 13th century, its principal precepts are enounced in an anonymous poem called “Le Dict de la Chace du Cerf.” In 1328 another anonymous work, “Livre du Roy Modus,” listed the rules for hunting all furred animals, from the stag to the hare.

The early authors on Medieval hunting were mostly French, and by organizing it into a system and a code of rules, they established terms which became used everywhere, like hunting with hounds, known by its French name “chase”.

Among them, Gaston Phoebus wrote one of the best works on Medieval hunting. History is mentioning him as one of the bravest knights of the time, who, after fighting, enjoyed hunting the most. His “Book of the Hunt”, written in 1387, and dedicated to Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy,  describes the use of arrows having sharp iron points, intended to enter deep into the flesh of bears, wild boars and stags, while for hunting hare, the arrows had a massive end of lead, designed to stun the animal without piercing his body.

The Medieval hunters placed themselves under the patronage of St. Hubert, Bishop of Liège in the 8th Century, an enthusiast hunter himself. The legend says that he devoted to the religious life after his encounter with a stag, bearing between his horns a luminous image of Jesus on the Cross.

The Medieval hunting history is recording some illustrious monarchs being enthusiastic about the sport. Louis IX, King of France, was as fond of hunting as of war, and during his first crusade he took part in lion hunting. He is the King who granted the bourgeoisie the right to enjoy the sport, under the condition that they should always give a haunch of any animal killed to the lord of the domain. Louis XI. was also a passionate hunter, but under his reign, the higher classes were forbidden to hunt under penalty of hanging. Castles, even cottages, were inspected, and any hunting utensils were immediately destroyed. While this regulation was in full force, one of the best ways of pleasing Louis XI. was to offer him presents related to hunting, like hounds or falcons! No wonder the nobles hated him.

After his death, Charles VIII., who had the same passion as his father, restored the nobles' right to hunt. The sport became again their main occupation when not waging war. New methods, the invention or the import of new utensils greatly changed the traditional ways of Medieval hunting. History records are mentioning the import of traps, and hunting weapons. Animals were also imported, among them the panther, and the leopard, used for hunting furred game.

Regarding the ecclesiastic order, Pope Clement V had formally forbidden the monks to hunt, but there were few to comply, arguing that they did not violate the laws of the Church. The papal edict allowed the monks and priests to hunt under certain circumstances, and only where the number of rabbits or beasts of prey increased so much as to damage crops.

The second form of Medieval hunting, hawking or falconry, became the delight of the nobles. It was so much appreciated that a nobleman or his lady never appeared in public without a hawk on the wrist as a mark of dignity. It was also a mark of the rank, not everyone could afford the high cost of falcons, which were mostly imported from Sweden or Iceland. Even bishops and abbots entered the churches with their hunting birds, which they placed on the steps of the altar itself during the service.

Hunting the hare
Hunting the Hare-The Arrow Had A Massive End Of Lead

The falcon was considered a noble bird by the laws of falconry, as were all birds of prey which could be trained for hunting. The lure used in training the falcon was an imitation of a bird, made of red cloth, so it could be more easily seen from a distance. It was stuffed so that the falcon could stay easily on it, and furnished with the wings of a partridge, or duck. The falconer swung his mock bird like a sling and whistled as he did so, and the falcon, accustomed to find a piece of flesh attached to the lure, flew down in order to obtain it. The falcon was first accustomed to have fear of men, horses, and dogs. He was afterwards fastened to a string by one leg, and, being allowed to fly a short distance, was recalled to the lure, where he always found food.

In order to train the falcons, a large number of the various kinds of game had to be kept on the premises, and a considerable staff of huntsmen, falconers, horses and dogs were required, thus making hawking very costly. In falconry, as in venery, great care was taken to make sure that the falcon will focus on the prey and not leave the game he was after in order to pursue another which might come in his way.

The "Livre du Roy Modus" gives details on the science of hawking. It tells that the falcons were held in such respect that their utensils, trappings, or feeding-dishes were never used for other birds. The glove on which they were accustomed to stay was frequently embroidered in gold, and was never used except for birds of their own species. The leather hoods, which were put on their heads to prevent them from seeing, were embroidered with gold and pearls and surmounted with the feathers of birds of paradise. Each bird wore on his legs two little bells with his owner's crest upon them; the noise made by these was very distinct, and could be heard even when the bird was high in the air. The bells generally came from Milan , Italy.

A good falconer was a man with knowledge on natural history, veterinary art, and the chase. The profession generally ran in families, and there were also special schools of venery and falconry.

The office of Grand Falconer of France, the origin of which dates from 1250, was one of the highest in the kingdom, and had fifty gentlemen under him. His establishment consisted of three hundred birds, and he had the right to hunt wherever he pleased. He collected a tax on all bird-dealers, who were forbidden, under penalty of the confiscation of their stock, from selling a single bird in any town or at court without his approval. Even the King, when hawking, could not let loose his bird until after the Grand Falconer had slipped his.

Falconry, after having been in much esteem for centuries, disappeared completely under Louis the Great, who only liked stag-hunting.

Hunting the Deer
Hunting the Deer
The last category of Medieval hunting, bird-fowling, was considered the pastime of the poor, because, as the anonymous author of the "Livre du Roy Modus" noted in the 14th century, “they can neither keep hounds nor falcons to hunt or to fly”, and they “did not take much pleasure in it, particularly as it serves at the same time as a mean of subsistence to many of them." In the book there are descriptions of utensils and methods used to catch the birds. The method of catching the pheasant was using a mirror which balanced a coop, and took advantage of the fact that the bird cannot stand the company of another. When looking in the mirror, the pheasant was thinking is seeing another one, attacked the mirror, and brought down the coop.

Bird-fowling was also meant to catch singing or fancy birds to be kept as pets. The trade in such birds was very important in Paris, and the bird-catchers formed a numerous corporation having its statutes and privileges.

Regulations were established in order to govern this branch of Medieval hunting. To catch birds on the King's domains, permission from the King himself was required. Bird-fowling was forbidden between 15th of March to the 15th of August, in order to protect the nests.

 Medieval Gothic
 Medieval Gothic  Cathedrals
 Medieval Castles
 Medieval House
 Medieval Architecture-
 Interior View

 Medieval Code of  Chivalry
 Knights In Middle Ages
 Medieval Knights- Jousting
 Medieval Armor
 Medieval Swords
 Medieval Helmets
 Medieval Tournaments
 Medieval Shields- Designs
 Medieval Life Overview
 Medieval Castle Life
 Roles Of Women In The  Middle Ages
 Medieval Fashion
 Medieval Food
 Medieval Cooking
 Medieval Drinks
 Medieval Feast
 Medieval Entertainment
 Medieval Games
 Medieval Guilds
 Medieval Merchants
 Medieval Punishment
 Medieval Medicine
 Medieval Warfare- Weapons
 Medieval Archers
 Medieval Siege
 Medieval Siege Weapons
 About us
 Privacy policy
 Medieval Painters
 Gothic Art
 Gothic Sculpture
 Gothic Painting
 Medieval Decor
 Gothic Furniture
 Medieval Towns
 Italian Cities
 The Hanseatic League
 Medieval Church
 The Great Schism
 Saint Benedict
 Medieval Monasteries
 Medieval Monks
 Monastic Orders
 Cluny Abbey
 Teutonic Knights
 -Teutonic Knights History
 Knights Hospitaller
 -Knights Hospitaller   History
 -Knights Of Rhodes
 Knights Templar