No examination of medieval hunting would be complete without a more thorough discussion of forest law.
1225 reissue of England’s 1217 Charter of the Forest
To say nothing for the corresponding legend – one that lives on to this day – that grew up surrounding it.
As mentioned in my first post about medieval hunting, forest law stipulated such matters as who was permitted to hunt what and when, what the punishment for poachers would be, and even how many talons were permitted on dogs that lived in households and villages within a royal forest.
In the medieval times, hunting with dogs was the most typical form of the sport.
It wasn’t, however, the only way to bring down prey – or even the most popular one, particularly among the noble class.
Neither were deer and boar – which were restricted to all but the king and his favourites – foxes, hares, squirrels, and other beasts of the warren the only quarry that was hunted during the Middle Ages.
They’re not who you think they are
It remains to this day the most incredible piece of medieval research I’ve turned up, even if I’ve since learned it’s not completely true.
In previously Medieval Mondays posts, I’ve written at length about medieval marriage. This in turn led me to write about medieval divorce.
Divorce (technically annulment of the marriage in its strictest sense) was a matter at the sole discretion of the Church, whose preference was almost always to keep marriages together. As such, the Church generally only granted divorces for six specific reasons.
King John hunting deer
Hunting, in the medieval times, was a way of life.
This is the case in more ways than one. On the one hand, hunting was an essential task for generating food for a noble household. According to Joseph and Frances Gies, authors of Life in a Medieval Castle,
The deer and other quarry supplied a substantial share of the meat for the castle table, and the forest supplemented game with nuts, berries, mushrooms, and other edibles. It also furnished the principal construction material and fuel for all classes. (p. 134)
Fewer elements of medieval culture capture the modern imagination like the tournament.
Pictured as it often appears in period movies and shows, the medieval tournament calls to mind any number of the following images:
- Scores of knights clad in the colours of their family crests with their horses caparisoned to match
- Ladies in flowing gowns bestowing their scarves and other such fripperies upon their favourite competitors
- Numerous contests of skill, honour, and sportsmanship, like the medieval version of the Olympic Games, of which the joust is most anticipated activity of all
And most importantly, a refined air of chivalry permeating the entire event.
Medieval piggyback wrestling
People knew how to have fun in the Middle Ages.
In truth, in any age of history, people sought to amuse themselves during whatever moments they could spare from their workdays, however brief these moments of respite might be.
The medieval times was actually rather unique in this regard. During the 13th century, people had more holidays and days off work than are granted in the modern western world.
Marriage is tough; this is the case no matter what period in history one considers.
Medieval marriages, though, as discussed in my three previous posts on this topic, were all the more difficult for the numerous challenges that arose at every stage of their formation.
Yet another difficulty of medieval marriage was hard it was to go about ending one. This was neither easily nor readily done given that, according to Eileen Power, author of Women in the Middle Ages, “Divorce in the modern sense did not exist in the Middle Ages.” (p. 33).
Medieval marriage, much like medieval society as a whole, was not an institution of equality between both partners.
For the medieval woman, marriage did dramatically increase her prestige compared to an unmarried girl, who had no real occupation or standing in her household and spent most of her time in the company of older female chaperones.
Medieval woman thus looked forward to marriage and the subsequent establishment of a home that was independent of those of their parents.
Medieval wedding ceremony (note the location and the bride’s dress)
In modern times, when a couple gets engaged to be married, they next begin planning the wedding celebration.
In the medieval times, long before the engagement, after overcoming the various challenges of finding a suitable partner discussed in last month’s post, the next step was to plan for death. In particular, that of the man.
That is to say, there would be negotiations regarding the endowments the would-be bride and groom would grant each other.
A medieval betrothal
Getting married in the medieval times was a complicated business.
On the one hand, it seemed straightforward enough – far less complicated than today:
- Almost every man and woman could reasonably expect to someday wed.
- The definition of marriage was not contested as it often is today: there was no same-sex marriage or common law marriage or the modern legal and political wrangling commonly associated with these.
- Wedding ceremonies themselves were quite simple, wholly untouched by today’s wedding industrial complex.
- Divorce was illegal, so when two people married, it was (in almost all cases) literally unto death.