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.
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.