It was called a royal sport primarily because the Lower Class Medieval people such as peasants and serfs could not easily afford to train the birds. Falconry provided an opportunity for kings, lords and nobles to host grand hunting parties. Hawks were the most popular choice for hunting birds.
Medieval Hunting History
Medieval Hawking - Description of Medieval Hawking, or Falconry
Medieval Hawking or Falconry was the ancient sport of hunting small wild game or birds with trained birds of prey. The trained birds of prey were not restricted to falcons - hawks and occasionally eagles were also used. The hunting birds were taken when young from their nests to start their training. They were subjected to a rigorous course of training by a Falconer.
Medieval Hawking - The Falconer and the Mews
The role of the Medieval Falconer as trainers was extremely important. Hunting birds required considerable human contact and attention on a daily basis or they grew wild and therefore unreliable. The Falconer trained the hunting bird to fly, when released, at their quarry. It was essential that the hunting bird's talons were well placed in the prey before it landed. Falconry was expensive. The hunting birds required special housing, which consisted of cages known as mews. Various accessories were required to train the birds in hawking such as hoods, jesses, bells and lures. Bells were attached to the birds legs so that the trainer could keep track of its whereabouts.
Medieval Hawking - Training Hawks
How were hawks trained for hunting?
- The hawk was taken when young from its nest
- It was essential to get the hawk used to humans
- The falconer trained the hawk to perch on his fist by feeding it morsels of food from his hand
- The hawk was then encouraged to fly to the falconer's fist to take food
- The hawk was trained to fly the quarry and to return to the falconer's fist for a reward, leaving the prey untouched
Some Medieval forms of training and taming a hawk or a falcon were extremely cruel as the birds were temporarily blinded. Birds were trained by sealing their eyes with needle and thread. The end of the thread was tied over the head of the bird so that the trainer could open and close the bird's eyes. The temporary blinding made it very easy to train the hawk or falcon to hunt other birds.
Medieval Hawking - The Boke of St Albans
The 'Boke of St Albans' is an old English text, which is the earliest example of color printing in England, was printed in the town of St Albans in 1486. It's author is unknown. The The Boke of St Albans book is interesting as it details the subjects of Hunting, Heraldry and Medieval Hawking. The 'Boke of St Albans' book provides a list of the falconry Laws of Ownership. Yet another set of rules regulating the lives of Medieval people. The Laws of Ownership as detailed in the Boke of St. Albans are as follows:
- King: Gyr Falcon (male & female)
- Prince: Peregrine Falcon
- Duke: Rock Falcon (subspecies of Peregrine)
- Earl: Tiercel Peregrine Falcon (male)
- Baron: Bastarde Hawk
- Knight: Saker
- Squire: Lanner
- Lady: Female Merlin
- Yeoman: Goshawk or Hobby
- Priest: Female Sparrowhawk
- Holy water Clerk: Male Sparrowhawk
- Knaves: Kestrel
- Servants: Kestrel
- Children: Kestrel