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The Kings and Their Hawks

The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 282
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  • Book Info
    The Kings and Their Hawks
    Book Description:

    In medieval Europe, falconry was perhaps the most popular form of hunting among the aristocracy. Owning a falcon, and the necessary falconer to go with it, was a status symbol throughout the middle ages. This book is the first broad history of English royal falconry in medieval times, a book that draws on forty years of research to provide a full description of the actual practice and conditions of the sport and of the role of falconers in the English royal household.

    Robin S. Oggins begins with a description of the birds of prey, their training, and the sport of falconry. He provides a short history of early falconry in western Europe and England, then explores in unprecedented detail royal falconry from the reign of William I to the death of Edward I in 1307. The author concludes with an overview of the place and importance of falconry in medieval life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13038-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xvi)

    This work began as a doctoral dissertation under the late James Lea Cate at the University of Chicago. About a week before my preliminary orals I met with Mr. Cate and he asked me, “Well, boy” (I was thirty), “have you picked a dissertation topic yet?” I answered, “No sir, but I’d like to do something on twelfth-or thirteenth-century England.” “Well,” he said, “about twenty years ago I started to do work on English royal falconry, but there was too much to do for an article, so I’ve been saving it as a dissertation topic for some student with an...

  6. 1 The Sources
    (pp. 1-9)

    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. A wide range of additional sources supplement English records and the literature of falconry and supply fuller information on the role the sport played in medieval life. Such auxiliary material includes literary works, works of art, and ecclesiastical records—sources too varied to be reviewed in a systematic way.

    In this chapter I shall discuss contemporary treatises on falconry and...

  7. 2 The Birds, Their Training, and the Sport of Falconry
    (pp. 10-35)

    Many kinds of birds of prey have been trained and used in sport, but relatively few of these were used by English kings. The main varieties used before 1307 were the gyrfalcon, peregrine, lanner, goshawk, and sparrow-hawk; the saker, hobby, and merlin were used far less frequently.

    The birds flown fell into two groups, falcons and hawks—a distinction fundamental among raptors. As Frederick II wrote, “Every bird utilized by the falconer in hunting should be classified as either a falcon or a hawk.”¹ The differentiation was based on three interrelated sets of factors: physical differences, particularly the length and...

  8. 3 Falconry in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 36-49)

    The history of falconry in England begins as the history of a royal sport. Anglo-Saxon kings from Ethelbald of Mercia to Edward the Confessor flew hawks and falcons. By the tenth century (if not earlier) the sport was practiced by other groups in society, and by the Norman Conquest falconry was avidly pursued by nobles and clergy as well as by kings. At the same time, however, hawking had a more plebeian and functional side: hawks were used by fowlers to catch game for the pot.

    Because falconry was a royal sport, its early history is an aspect of the...

  9. 4 English Royal Falconry, William I to Henry II
    (pp. 50-63)

    Far more material on falconry is available after the Norman Conquest than before. During the period from the accession of William I in 1066 to the death of Henry II in 1189 it is possible for the first time to discover how English kings organized their hawking—where they bought their birds and kept them and how their falconers were paid. The earliest source for such information is Domesday Book, which provides names of professional hawkers and falconers (royal and otherwise) and gives details of their holdings and some indication of their social status. It indicates that both eyries and...

  10. 5 English Royal Falconry, Richard I to Henry III
    (pp. 64-81)

    Like his father, Richard was a dedicated falconer. However, as Richard spent over nine years of his reign (1189–99) outside England,¹ there was less royal falconry activity in England during Richard’s reign than in that of Henry II, and recorded instances of Richard’s hawking activity all take place abroad.

    Several stories mention Richard in connection with falconry while he was on Crusade. In September 1190, Richard rode south from Salerno to join his fleet at Messina, spending the night of September 21–22 at Mileto in Calabria. On the next day, as he passed through a nameless small town...

  11. 6 Falconry in the Reign of Edward I
    (pp. 82-108)

    The reign of Edward I (1272–1307) was one of the greatest periods in medieval English royal falconry, as can be seen from the large amounts of money spent on the sport. Between November 20, 1284, and November 19, 1294, the Enrolled Wardrobe Accounts show that Edward spent over £660 on falconry and hunting in every year but one. A peak of £1002 10s. 1½d. was spent in 1285–86 alone: when hunting expenses are subtracted, the total spent in that year directly credited to falconry and hawking comes to £864 6s. 1d.¹ Edward’s preferences in sport can be seen...

  12. 7 Falconry in Medieval Life
    (pp. 109-138)

    While one can write a history of English royal falconry based on the public records, sources for nonroyal falconry are much more diffuse. Fortunately, broader social aspects of the sport were common to Western European countries. Consequently, examples of attitudes and artistic and literary depictions of falconers and falconry from France, Germany, Italy, and Spain can supplement evidence from England. By using such material, we can examine why people flew hawks and falcons, who flew them, and how the sport was viewed. The period covered will be roughly the eleventh to the sixteenth century.

    Falconry pervaded medieval upper-class life. One...

  13. Appendix: Royal Falconry Expenditures, 1234–1307
    (pp. 139-144)
  14. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 145-148)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 149-198)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-238)
  17. Index
    (pp. 239-251)