It was customary
for gentlemen of all classes, whether sportsmen or not, to possess
birds of some kind, "to keep up their rank", as the
saying then was. Only the richest nobles, however, were expected
to keep a regular falconry, that is, a collection of birds suited
for taking all kinds of game, such as the hare, the kite, the
heron, &c., as each sport not only required special birds,
but a particular and distinctive retinue and establishment.
cost of falcons, which was often very great (for they were brought
from the most distant countries, such as Sweden, Iceland, Turkey,
and Morocco), their rearing and training involved considerable
in making the falcon obey the whistle, the voice, and the signs
of the falconer was the highest aim of the art, and it was only
by the exercise of much patience that the desired result was obtained.
All birds of prey, when used for sport, received the generic name
of falcon; and amongst them were to be found the gerfalcon, the
saker-hawk, the lanner, the merlin, and the sparrow-hawk. The male
birds were smaller than the females, and were called tiercelet -
this name, however, more particularly applied to the gosshawk or
the largest kind of male hawk, whereas the males of the above mentioned
were called laneret, sacret, émouchet.
Generally the male birds were used for partridges and quail, and
the female birds for the hare, the heron, and crane. Oiseaux
de poing, or hand-birds, was the name given to the gosshawk,
common hawk, the gerfalcon, and the merlin, because they returned
to the hand of their master after having pursued game. The lanner,
sparrow-hawk, and saker-hawk were called oiseaux de leure,
from the fact that it was always necessary to entice them back again.
The lure was
an imitation of a bird, made of red cloth, that it might be more
easily seen from a distance. It was stuffed so that the falcon could
settle easily on it, and furnished with the wings of a partridge,
duck, or heron, according to circumstances. The falconer swung his
mock bird like a sling, and whistled as he did so, and the falcon,
accustomed to find a piece of flesh attached to the lure, flew down
in order to obtain it, and was thus secured.
of birds divided them into two kinds, namely, the niais or
simple bird, which had been taken from the nest, and the wild bird
(hagard) captured when full-grown. The education of the former
was naturally very much the easier, but they succeeded in taming
both classes, and even the most rebellious were at last subdued
by depriving them of sleep, by keeping away the light from them,
by coaxing them with the voice, by patting them, by giving them
choice food, &c.
Regardless of his original habits, the bird was first accustomed
to have no fear of men, horses, and dogs. He was afterwards fastened
to a string by one leg, and, being allowed to fly a short distance,
was recalled to the lure, where he always found a dainty bit of
food. After he had been thus exercised for several months, a wounded
partridge was let loose that he might catch it near the falconer,
who immediately took it from him before he could tear it to pieces.
When he appeared sufficiently tame, a quail or partridge, previously
stripped of a few feathers so as to prevent it flying properly,
was put in his way as before. If he was wanted for hunting bares,
a stuffed hare was dragged before him, inside of which was a live
chicken, whose head and liver was his reward if he did his work
well. Then they tried him with a hare whose fore-leg was broken
in order to ensure his being quickly caught. For the kite, they
placed two hawks together on the same perch, so as to accustom them
peaceably to live and hunt together, for if they fought with one
another, as strange birds were apt to do, instead of attacking the
kite, the sport would of course have failed. At first a hen of the
colour of a kite was given them to fight with. When they had mastered
this, a real kite was used, which was tied to a string and his claws
and beak were filed so as to prevent him from wounding the young
untrained falcons. The moment they had secured their prey, they
were called off it and given chickens' flesh to eat on the lure.
The same system was adopted for hunting the heron or crane.
It will be
seen that, in order to train birds, it was necessary for a large
number of the various kinds of game to be kept on the premises,
and for each branch of sport a regular establishment was required.
In falconry, as in venery, great care was taken to secure that a
bird should continue at one object of prey until he had secured
it, that is to say, it was most essential to teach it not to leave
the game he was after in order to pursue another which might come
in his way.
a falconry, therefore, not only was a very large poultry-yard required,
but also a considerable staff of huntsmen, falconers, and whips,
besides a number of horses and dogs of all sorts, which were either
used for starting the game for the hawks, or for running it down
when it was forced to ground by the birds.
falcon was a bird of great value, and was the finest present, that
could be made to a lady, to a nobleman, or to the King himself,
by any one who had received a favour. For instance, the King of
France received six birds from the Abbot of St. Hubert as a token
of gratitude for the protection granted by him to the abbey. The
King of Denmark sent him several as a gracious offering in the month
of April; the Grand Master of Malta in the month of May. At court,
in those days, the reception of falcons either in public or in private
was a great business, and the first trial of any new birds formed
a topic of conversation among the courtiers for some time after.
The arrival at court of a hawk-dealer from some distant country
was also great event. It is said that Louis XI. gave orders that
watch should be kept night and day to seize any falcons consigned
to the Duke of Brittany from Turkey. The plan succeeded, and the
birds thus stolen were brought to the King, who exclaimed, "By
our holy Lady of Cléry ! what will the Duke Francis and his
Bretons do ? They will be very angry at the good trick I have played
vied with each other in extravagance as regards falconry; but this
was nothing in comparison to the magnificence displayed in oriental
establishments. The Count de Nevers, son of Philip the Bold, Duke
of Burgundy, having been made prisoner at the battle of Nicopolis,
was presented to the Sultan Bajazet, who showed him his hunting
establishment consisting of seven thousand falconers and as many
huntsmen. The Duke of Burgundy, on hearing this, sent twelve white
hawks, which were very scarce birds, as a present to Bajazet. The
Sultan was so pleased with them that he sent him back his son in
du Roy Modus” gives the most minute and curious details on the noble
science of hawking. For instance, it tells us that the nobility
of the falcon was held in such respect that their utensils, trappings,
or feeding dishes were never used for other birds. The glove on
which they were accustomed to alight was frequently elaborately
embroidered in gold, and was never used except for birds of their
own species. In the private establishments the leather hoods, which
were put on their heads to prevent them seeing, were embroidered
with gold and pearls and surmounted with the feathers of birds of
paradise. Each bird wore on his legs two little bells with his owner's
crest upon them; the noise made by these was very distinct, and
could be heard even when the bird was too high in the air to be
seen, for they were not made to sound in unison; they generally
came from Italy, Milan especially being celebrated for their manufacture.
Straps were also fastened to the falcon's legs, by means of which
he was attached to the perch; at the end of this strap was a brass
or gold ring with the owner's name engraved upon it. In the royal
establishments each ring bore on one side, "I belong to the
king," and on the other the name of the Grand Falconer. This
was a necessary precaution, for the birds frequently strayed, and,
if captured, they could thus be recognised and returned. The ownership
of a falcon was considered sacred, and, by an ancient barbaric law,
the stealer of a falcon was condemned to a very curious punishment.
The unfortunate thief was obliged to allow the falcon to eat six
ounces of the flesh of his breast, unless he could pay a heavy fine
to the owner and another to the king.
A man thoroughly
acquainted with the mode of training hawks was in high esteem everywhere.
If he was a freeman, the nobles outbid each other as to who should
secure his services; if he was a serf, his master kept him as a
rare treasure, only parted with him as a most magnificent present,
or sold him for a considerable sum. Like the clever huntsman, a
good falconer was bound to be a man of varied information on natural
history, the veterinary art, and the chase; but the profession generally
ran in families, and the son added his own experience to the lessons
of his father. There were also special schools of venery and falconry,
the most renowned being of course in the royal household.
The office of Grand Falconer of France, the origin of which dates
from 1250, was one of the highest in the kingdom. The Maréchal
de Fleuranges says, in his curious " Memoirs " - "
The Grand Falconer, whose salary is four thousand florins"
(the golden florin was worth then twelve or fifteen francs, and
this amount must represent upwards of eighty thousand francs of
present currency), "has fifty gentlemen under him, the salary
of each being from five to six thousand livres. He has also fifty
assistant falconers at two hundred livres each, all chosen by himself.
His establishment consists of three hundred birds; he has the right
to hunt wherever he pleases in the kingdom; he levies a tax on all
bird-dealers, who are forbidden, under penalty of the confiscation
of their stock, from selling a single bird in any town or at court
without his sanction." The Grand Falconer was chief at all
the hunts or hawking meetings; in public ceremonies he always appeared
with the bird on his wrist, as an emblem of his rank; and the King,
whilst hawking, could not let loose his bird until after the Grand
Falconer had slipped his.
like venery, had a distinctive and professional vocabulary, which
it was necessary for every one who joined in hawking to understand,
unless he wished to be looked upon as an ignorant yeoman. "
Flying the hawk is a royal pastime," says the Jesuit Claude
Binet, " and it is to talk royally to talk of the flight of
birds. Every one speaks of it, but few speak well. Many speak so
ignorantly as to excite pity among their hearers. Sometimes one
says the hand of the bird instead of saying the talon,
sometimes the talon instead of the claw, sometimes
the claw instead of the nail," &c.
century was the great epoch of falconry. There were then so many
nobles who hawked, that in the rooms of inns there were perches
made under the large mantel-pieces on which to place the birds while
the sportsmen were at dinner. Histories of the period are full of
characteristic anecdotes, which prove the enthusiasm which was created
by hawking in those who devoted themselves to it.
kings were as keen as others for this kind of sport. As early as
the tenth century the Emperor Henry I. had acquired the soubriquet
of " the Bird-catcher," from the fact of his giving much
more attention to his birds than to his subjects. His example was
followed by one of his successors, the Emperor Henry VI., who was
reckoned the first falconer of his time. When his father, the Emperor
Frederick Barbarossa (Red-beard), died in the Holy Land, in 1189,
the Archdukes, Electors of the Empire, went out to meet the prince
so as to proclaim him Emperor of Germany. They found him, surrounded
by dogs, horses, and birds, ready to go hunting. "The day is
fine," he said; "allow us to put off serious affairs until