Medieval Falconry


Medieval Falconry

Welcome to my Medieval Falconry Page, Here you will find great information on the history of falconry as well as etiquette of middle ages falconry and the origins of Falconry UK.

History Of Falconry – Origins

The Art Of Falconry has been around for a very long time. Although the page is called Medieval falconry, the sport has been around a lot longer than that. In fact Falconry is said to be the oldest recorded sport along with other types of hunting.

What I think we all have to come to realise is that although falconry is now generally considered a sporting activity (at least in Europe and USA) it wasn’t always this way. The first falconers were innovative hunters and thinkers. When they were out hunting they must have seen the wild raptors hunting alongside them.

Some people think that humans then learnt to follow the raptors and wait for them to make a kill and rob them of it. From here to fully fledged falconry it is just a few logical steps. So far from being a sport, for many primitive falconers. Hunting with a trained bird of prey was quite simply a way of life.

Medieval Falconry - History Of Falconry - Records

Records of Falconry (taking prey with a trained raptor) have been found from as early as 2000BC. It is generally accepted that the origins of falconry began in China and Mongolia and then came to Europe later on.

In the records of the Spanish Conquistadors, evidence was found to suggest that the Aztecs used trained hawks and falcons although weather this was for hunting no one knows. Aristotle also mentioned falconry twice between 384 and 322 BC. Falconry UK and the rest of Europe began in around 400 AD and quickly became extremely popular.

At the time, falconry was less of a sport and more of a necessity than it is nowadays. The art of falconry was taken very seriously as birds of prey were one of the most sophisticated and highly sought after means of hunting for food.

The techniques of falconry have stayed the same since the very early years. Medieval Falconry was much the same in practise as it is now and if you look at the picture from the 1240s you may well see that the perches, leashes, swivels and jesses are almost identical to the ones we use today.

The materials are the only things that have slightly changed as now more synthetic materials are used especially for the leash where leather can be a bit liable to wear and tear.

Medieval Falconry - History Of Falconry- Famous Historical Falconers

One of the most prominent early falconers was Frederick the second who incidentally had a rather impressive title. The Holy Emperor of Rome, King Of Jerusalem, King Of Germany, King Of Burgundy and King Of Sicily! Reigned from 1220-1250 and was an absolute falconry fanatic.

He also wrote his own book on the art of falconry called “De Arte Venandi cum avibus” and was a real pioneer for the sport at the time and was an influence on middle ages falconry.

From then on, falconry went from strength to strength and middle ages falconry and Medieval Falconry was an extremely popular sport.

Falconry UK was really up and coming at this point, in fact almost all the royalty and upper class citizens practised it in the spare time alongside other forms of hunting. Henry the 8th was an avid falconer and it is said that his falconry mews were larger than his stables.

Mary Queen Of Scots had a passion for falconry as well and she delighted in flying merlins. These are charming little falcons much underrated in modern day falconry. Another prolific falconer was the playwright William Shakespeare who managed to fit falconry into his plays on many an occasion. Just a few of the good quotes are;

  • “My Falcon now is sharp and passing empty. And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure.”
  • “On Tuesday Last A Falcon, now tow’ring in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed”
  • “The Holy Eagle Stoop’d as to foot us, his ascension is more sweet than our bless’d fields: his royal hird Prunes the immortal wing and cloys his beak as when his god is pleas’d”
  • This following scene is wonderful and it is taken from Henry the 5th Act 2. The King, Queen, Gloster, Cardinal and Suffolk have gone out for a days hawking.
  • Queen: Believe me, Lords, for flying at the brook. I saw not better sport these seven years’ day, yet by your leave the wind was very high; And Ten to One Old Joan had not gone out.”
  • King But What a Point my lord your Falcon made, and what a pitch she flew above the rest! To see how God in all his creatures works, Yea, Man and birds are faiu of climbing high.”
  • Suffolk No Marvel an it lilke your Majesty, My Lords protector’s hawks do tower so well, they know their master loves to be aloft and bear his thoughts above his falcons pitch.”
  • Gloster My Lord ‘tis but a base ignoble mind That mounts no higher than a bird can soar.”
  • Cardinal I thought as much he’d be above the clouds.”
These are a very few of my favourites that I found but there are an incredible amount of references to middle ages falconry, medieval falconry, more modern falconry and birds of prey in Shakespeare’s work.

Medieval Falconry - Middle Ages Falconry And Rules

Medieval Falconry and Middle ages falconry was still not exactly the same as how we see it today. At the time it was still an integral tool of providing food for the table and birds of prey were incredibly expensive.

Raptors were often given as extravagant gifts between dignitaries and royalty and there are many records of exactly this happening. Both King John and Edward the 2nd reputedly received valuable gifts from the King of Norway in the form of a Cast of Gyrfalcons.

In the Third Century, a peace treaty was settled with an offer of 100 horses, 100 foreign captives and 100 hawks. In 1764 the Dukes of Atholl were granted tenancy of the Isle of Man for a rent of two White Gyrfalcons for the coronation of each succeeding monarch.

Here is a video which talks about importance of birds of prey in middle ages falconry and medieval falconry.

In the fifteenth century a list was published on the ranks of the time and the corresponding bird with which each rank could hunt. Certain of the spellings are a little confusing and some of it clearly soes not make sense to us at all but the list was as follows...

Middle Ages Falconry – ranks list

  • Knave or Servant - kestrel
  • Holy Water Clerk - The Musket (male sparrowhawk )
  • Priest - The Sparrowhawk
  • Poor Man - Jercel (could this be tiercel? If so wow)
  • Yeoman - The Goshawk (lucky Yeoman)
  • Young man - The Hobby (better to be a Yeoman in my opinion)
  • Lady - The Marlyon (ahem...erm..merlin?)
  • Esquire - Lannere and the lanneret (lanner falcon – pretty good but still the yeoman has it in the bag for hunting success)
  • Knight - The Sacre and Sacret (ok...Yeoman still going strong..)
  • Baron - The Bustard (buzzard!...oh dear what did the baron do so wrong?)
  • Earl - The Peregrine Falcon (good on the Earl! Definitely on a par with the Yeoman)
  • Duke - The Falcon of the Loch (not a clue...if anyone knows please do tell)
  • Prince - The Falcon Gentle and the Tercel Gentle ( not sure about that one)
  • King - The Ger falcon and the Tercel of the Ger Falcon (Yes finally! The magnificent gyr)
  • Emperor - The Eagles, the Vultures, and the Merloun. (Apart from the Golden Eagle, thats a bit unlucky for the Emperor!)

This list, I must say I find rather funny, for a start, surely A King or an Emperor (being a king or an emperor) could fly absolutely anything they wanted. If they wanted to fly a kestrel then surely they were aloud..also it seems rather unfair. The Goshawk , although not my favourite bird of prey by a long way is definitely one of the best birds stats wise. They are incredibly fast and fantastic natural hunters. They were referred to as the cooks bird because of they’re amazing ability to provide for the table.

So the Yeoman was feasting on Gos kills, meanwhile the Baron 5 ranks higher was gallantly trying desperately to persuade his lazy buzzard to get off its branch and hunt some snails!..I do find this quite amusing have you noticed?

The Emperor was also rather hard done by..The King gets the Gyr, which is great for him but leaves the Emperor with Eagles (slow), vultures (scavengers) and Merlins, which are flown by the Lady 7 ranks below and are two small to catch anything except for skylarks (although please don’t get me wrong, i love merlins.)

Anyway, the list provides a good laugh and it is extremely interesting to delve into the Medieval Falconry 15th century mind (a confused place it must have been.) On a more serious note, punishment for stealing or losing a bird of value was taken extremely seriously. When Edward the 3rd was on the throne, theft of a trained raptor was punishable by death.

Henry the 7th also said that anyone found taking an eyass hawk from a nest on another mans property was to be imprisoned for a year and a day. Medieval Falconry and Burgundinian law stated that if a bird was stolen, the thief would then be subjected to having six ounces of flesh torn from his body by the bird he stole! As you can see falconry in those days was taken very seriously indeed.

In more modern times, falconry has taken a more sporting turn. In 1853 falconry UK was really going well as the Old Hawking club was formed, this was the last club to have professional employed falconers as its members and the British Falconers club was then formed in 1927 by ex members of the now dissolved Old hawking club.

Nowadays, unfortunately falconry UK is less of a fairytale affair and falconry is under attack because of irresponsible raptor keepers and certain falconers that have forgotten what it is really about. Head counts are often more important than the birds welfare and I hope that the more responsible falconers out there can turn this around in years to come to preserve the future of falconry.

If you would like to submit your own content please write something below and I will upload it for you, otherwise please feel free to browse the rest of the site :) I hope you have enjoyed my medieval Falconry and middle ages and History of Falconry page.