Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pastyme With Good Companye: Hunting

I am starting a new article series on the many "pastymes" of the Tudor Court. The first is Hunting.

Hunting was viewed as "an essential mark of a gentleman and...was valued as a test of courage, strength, and agility..." (Tudor England: An Encyclopedia, 327). It became a main "pastyme" of the Tudor monarchs, especially Henry VIII. It was said that when he first came to the throne, finally out from under the strict eye of his father, Henry was "a youngling who cares for nothing but girls and hunting." He and his many courtiers would often spend a great deal of the day hunting, leaving little time to govern the country. By the 1520's, the number of courtiers hunting with the King was reduced (the keep the court functioning while the King was away). Thus, hunting with the King was an honor. Being invited or not was a tell-tale sign of one's real rank in the King's favor.

Hunting was "a royal and aristocratic sport, almost as prestigious as warfare, and required the same courage and skills as were needed in battle...The quarry, which was usually deer, was either shot with bows and arrows, tracked down by dogs, or driven into nets," then ceremoniously killed (Weir, 106). The deer or wild boar were chased by the King and his company on horseback. The King owned a staggering 200 horses for such activity.

Hunting was not all fun and pleasure. It could also be very dangerous. Once, while hunting a wild boar, Henry came face to face with death. The wild boar turned on him and he was saved only by a quick acting peasant girl who shot the beast down with her bow and arrow.

Surprisingly, hunting was not only a man's sport. Many times, the Queen would accompany the King. All three of Henry's first wives spent a great deal of time hunting with him. While I'm sure they enjoyed it, it also offered them more "alone time" with the King than they received at court. Elizabeth I also enjoyed hunting. There are a few surviving books from Elizabeth's reign about hunting, including "A Short Treatise of Hunting" and "The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting." There are also a number of sketches showing the Queen hunting and picnicking (another "pastyme" often associated with the hunt).

Though it was a sport, the meat did not go to waste. Oftentimes, the meat was given to local peasants, or placed upon the King's own table. In a letter Henry wrote to Anne Boleyn, he tells her that he is sending her a large amount of game for her table.

Hunting Sword used by Henry VIII
Bows and arrows, crossbows, and even guns were used when hunting. Another weapon yielded was the hunting dog. Henry favored greyhounds and spaniels. His two favorite dogs, Ball and Cut, were prone to getting lost. Henry often paid a handsome reward to the person who found them and brought them back to court (Weir, 33).

Though a bloody and dangerous sport, it was a favored pastyme of Kings and Queens of the Tudor age and beyond. Even today the royals still participate in this ancient "pastyme," many times in the same locations, such as Windsor Castle, as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Henry VIII: The King and His Court - Alison Weir
Tudor England: An Encyclopedia - Kinney and Swain Pin It

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