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Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature

Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature

William Perry Marvin
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature
    Book Description:

    "A truly remarkable book... deeply erudite, building on scholarship from French, Swedish, German, and English sources, ranging from pre-Conquest and Norman times to the late middle ages. The book guides us through the changing phases of hunting laws with great precision, neatly relating them to changes in hunting ritual (and their complex expression in literary texts)... The originality, lyricism and scholarship of this book make it one of the most important contributions to medieval studies in recent years." DAVID WALLACE, Judith Roden Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania; President, New Chaucer Society. When the Normans brought the forest law to England, they ruptured centuries-old continuity in hunting culture. Never before had the right to hunt been monopolized on such a scale, nor had the arts of hunting borne such an air of strict elitism. In the hunting reserves that kings later condescended to charter to their subjects, the English cultivated a particular vocabulary and style of hunting, adding it to the canon of performative skills which contributed to chivalric identity. The reading of animal tracks had always made the function of literacy in the hunt overt; now jargon and refinements in the art of slaughter gave nuance to the hunt's social literacy and lent it to elaborate adaptation. This study contrasts ancient custom with forest law, Beowulf with Sir Gawain, and law with poetry and treatise, to examine motifs and tropes that informed legal privilege, the heroic-chivalric subject, and aesthetics of violence. WILLIAM PERRY MARVIN is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-478-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Medieval venery, strictly speaking, concerns the art of hunting as opposed to hawking. Stalking with the bow silently through the woods, a method measuring the hunter against the quarry’s superior powers of perception and instinct, had been esteemed in Europe since time immemorial; but hunting conceived as sport usually meant the chasing of quarry with hounds. To huntpar force des chiens(with strength of hounds) was to chase a single beast with a pack of hounds hunting by scent. To course game was to let slip a brace of greyhounds, who hunt by sight, and exhort them upon a...

  5. 1 Heorot and the Ethos of the Kill
    (pp. 17-45)

    Why does Hrothgar name his great dynastic hall Heorot, the “Hart”? More importantly, does this name have any bearing on the timing or nature of Grendel’s carnivorous visitations upon that place? These questions arise from the juxtaposition of these two moments inBeowulf, for Grendel is introduced immediately upon the founding and naming of Heorot (64–90a). In fact, Grendel’s appearance comes between two “founding moments,” the establishment of the Scylding hall and the songs extolling Creation that are intoned by thescopwithin it. TheBeowulf-poet hardly loses a beat by then evoking the origin of murder and monsters to...

  6. 2 Bloodsport and the Symbolic Order of the Forest
    (pp. 46-81)

    It was the French-speaking lords of the Norse raiders settled in Neustria, now dukes of Normandy, who, by bringing their hunting law to England, brought their hunt within the compass of tyranny. The Norman kings built a strategic network of motte-and-bailey castles, then of stone keeps, while at the same time they established hunting preserves over vast tracts of the English countryside. Both enterprises, fortification and hunting, were to reflect cherished interests of a foreign military élite seeking to assert control of the land. It shall be the purpose of this chapter to track newly distinctive hunting tropes as they...

  7. 3 Artes venandi of England
    (pp. 82-130)

    The hunting ceremony of the king’s court, which the Rockingham poachers mocked so as to curse the “father of the deer,” extended to the hunting of magnates and those who had benefit of laws of forest, chase, and free warren. These nobles held a monopoly on the hunting in those spaces and invested imagination and treasure in the social differentiation that such a monopoly brought them in their locale. The ancient common chase, like other durable traditions continuing since pre-Norman days, still opened the less-than-prime hunting grounds of the realm to any who had the will to make use of...

  8. 4 Blood, Law, and Venery
    (pp. 131-157)

    What is the function of slaughter inSir Gawain and the Green Knight?¹ Its detail seems thematically beside the point, a distraction from the real business of erotic seduction and chivalric moral and psychic crises. Tolkien and others have denied any relevance at all between the deer-hunting and bedroom scenes,² but the poet’s depiction of Bertilak’s quarry has long been seen to shed light on the tense interaction between Gawain and the Lady of Hautdesert, especially since Savage’s essay of 1928.³ Yet the quasi-allegorical import of deer, boar, and fox really has nothing to do with how these animals are...

  9. 5 Slaughter and Romance
    (pp. 158-173)

    Between 1387 and 1392 a local poaching war embroiled the countrymen of the West Riding of Yorkshire in a feud with officials administering the forests, chases, and parks of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle of King Richard II. Gaunt, who at the time was campaigning in Spain for a crown of his own, possessed the “finest collection of hunting preserves in England.”¹ They were administered like the royal forests, for the palatine authority of Lancastrian lands set them in a class apart. Gaunt was uncle also of Edward of Norwich, and it was for Gaunt’s grandson that Edward...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 174-175)

    There can be no hunt worthy of the name without law and custom; it is a fact apprehended as much by practical consideration as by the imagination. And there was a history to practice and imagination.

    In the heroic fantasy of a world opened to the vistas of wayfaring and exploit, the warrior’s prowess directed its energy upon the kill, the physical and symbolic conquest of aurochs, boar, and hart. The ideal of an egalitarian warriordom scorned any man’s claim to the pre-possession of game by right of privilege. The free-capture hunt presented both law and ideology in support of...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 176-189)
  12. Index
    (pp. 190-198)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)