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Falconry in medieval England

Primary sources for the history of medieval English falconry fall into two main categories: literature devoted to falconry and governmental records.  Falconry literature provides information on the birds used and their training, while governmental records supply material on actual practice.  The history of falconry in England begins as the history of a royal sport. The first documented English falconer was the Saxon king of Kent, Ethelbert II. It was the most popular sport in England for more than four centuries. Falcons were so highly valued that they were worth more than their weight in gold. So important were falcons in England that they came up with the first laws aimed at protecting birds of prey. Perhaps we have not yet seen more stringent laws have ever passed to protect a wild bird or animal. Many kinds of birds of prey have been trained and used in sport but fewer types reached the English.  As you might imagine, very few people were skilled enough for the training of birds to hunt and these individuals were called falconers. The position of falconer was usually handed down from father to son. To start, young birds were often taken from their nests to get them accustomed to humans early on. Trainers were responsible for raising the young birds and for training them to hunt on command. This sort of training was very rigorous and the practice of falconry was expensive because the birds needed to be housed in special cages, called mews, as well as a variety of other equipment which was required for their training and care. The trainer was also a key member of the hunt, made plans with the lord, such as which birds to fly at which prey. He also rode to war with the lord, bringing the birds along to hunt for food The birds flown fell into two groups, falcons and hawks. Falcons are a bit smaller and substantially faster for the most part another of the characteristics of a true falcon is to prey on birds in the open air.. They were more valued and even as hawks became more affordable to the upper and middle classes. Falcons remained the bird of nobles and extremely wealthy.  The average citizen kept more common birds like sparrowhawks and goshawks. To keep a falcon that was above one’s station was a felony, with punishment as harsh as the cutting off the hands of offenders.  As time wore on the original purpose of falconry, using birds to capture quarry, was slowly replaced among the nobility by firearms but they did play a substantial role in medieval history.

OGGINS, R. (2004). The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England. Yale University Press. Retrieved from


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