Bull baiting had been introduced to England during the Medieval period of the 1200's - nearly every town in Elizabethan England boasted a Bull and Bear baiting ring. Seen as a great sporting and gambling event it was patronised by all classes of Elizabethans including the Queen, courtiers and foreign ambassadors. Vast amounts of money were waged on the outcome of the these contests.
Elizabethan Venues for Bear & Bull Baiting
Bear baiting and Bull baiting took place in purpose built arenas. The most famous London arena, called a Bear Garden, for Bear Baiting was in Paris Garden in Southwark. The most famous London arena for Bull Baiting was called the Bull Ring Theatre. The Audience capacity for Bull and Bear Baiting was up to 1000 people. Gambling was a major feature. The arenas had protective walls around them made made of stone (flint). The seating arrangements for the spectators were tiered benches.
Elizabethan Bull Baiting
Bull baiting was a contest in which trained bulldogs attacked tethered bulls. The bull, with a rope tied round the root of his horns, would be fastened to a stake with an iron ring in it, situated in the centre of the ring. The rope was about 15 feet long, so that the animal was confined to a space of 30 feet diameter. The owners of the dogs stood round this circle, each holding their dog by its ears, and when the sport began, one of the dogs would be let loose. The bull was baited for about an hour. Bull-Baiting and Bear-Baiting was extremely similar, except that Bull-Baiting was more common in England due to the scarcity and cost of bears.
Elizabethan Bear Baiting
Bull baiting was a contest in which the bear was chained to a stake by one hind leg or by the neck and worried by dogs. The whipping of a blinded bear was another variation of bear-baiting. Queen Elizabeth attended a famous baiting which was described by an Elizabethan chronicler called Robert Laneham as follows:
"... it was a sport very pleasant to see, to see the bear, with his pink eyes, tearing after his enemies approach; the nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid his assaults: if he were bitten in one place how he would pinch in another to get free; that if he were taken once, then by what shift with biting, with clawing, with roaring, with tossing and tumbling he would work and wind himself from them; and when he was loose to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy."
Elizabethan Bear & Bull Baiting and the Elizabethan Theatre
Theatrical Performances proved to be so popular that in 1591 the growing popularity of theatres led to a law closing all theatres on Thursdays so that the bull and bear baiting industries would not be neglected.