Queen Elizabeth herself loved to hunt and this included the sport of Hawking, or Falconry which was referred to as the sport of royalty. It was called a royal sport primarily because the Lower Class Elizabethans could not easily afford to train the birds. Falconry provided an opportunity for kings and lords to host other nobles for grand hunting parties. Hawks were the most popular choice for hunting birds.
Description of Elizabethan Hawking, or Falconry
Hawking or Falconry is the ancient sport of hunting small wild game or birds with trained birds of prey. The trained birds of prey are not restricted to falcons - hawks and rarely eagles were also used. The birds were taken when young from their nests to start their training. They were subjected to a rigorous course of training by a Falconer. The Falconer was extremely important as hunting birds require considerable human contact and attention on a daily basis, or they will quickly grow 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 birds required special housing, which consisted of cages known as mews. Various accessories were required to train the birds in hawking and hunting such as hoods, jesses, bells and lures. Bells were attached to the birds legs so that the trainer could keep track of its whereabouts.
How were hawks trained for falconry?
- 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 Elizabethan forms of 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.
The Boke of St AlbansThe 'Boke of St Albans' provides a list of the falconry Laws of Ownership. Yet another set of rules regulating the lives of Elizabethans. The Laws of Ownership as detailed in the Boke of St. Albans are as follows:
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 book is interesting as it details the subjects of:
- 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