Medieval Hunting: A Huntsman's Home
Richard Almond describes how some rare wall paintings help shed light on medieval hunting.
Hunting was an almost universal activity in the later Middle Ages. It provided food and raw materials for the common people and, for the ruling class, food, sport, exercise and a positive outlet for aggressive tendencies. Social status prescribed who hunted which quarry and the methods employed. However, forest court records show clearly that all classes illicitly hunted the three native species of deer. Hunting on horseback with hounds, shooting driven game from stands and hawking were what medieval gentlemen (and ladies) were expected to do, both in their public and private roles. These leisure activities were marks of a ‘gentle’ or noble birth and education. The Institucion of a Gentleman, an anonymous tract of 1568, makes this point:
There is a saying among hunters that he cannot be a gentlemen which loveth not hawking and hunting, which I have heard old woodmen [yeomen foresters] well allow as an approved sentence among them. The like saying is that he cannot be a gentleman which loveth not a dog.
In 1653 Izaak Walton included a commendation of hunting in The Compleat Angler: ‘Hunting is a game for princes and noble persons; it hath been highly prized in all ages.’ Demonstrating the continuity of aristocratic mores, Walton then cites the medieval conventions of the chase:
Hunting trains up the younger nobility to the use of manly exercises in their riper age. What more manly exercise than hunting the Wild Boar, the Stag, the Buck, the Fox, or the Hare? How doth it preserve health, and increase strength and activity!