Two of the most important and popular sports of the middle ages were hunting and falconry. Not only were these activities enjoyed in sport but they were also the means by which the medieval household obtained a majority of its food.
Falconry and hunting in the middle ages were enjoyed by the lords and nobles of the time. In much the same way that jousting tournaments provided knights with an opportunity to practice their skills for warfare, hunting gave the English nobility the chance to hone their tracking and weapons skills which would be used in warfare. Much of medieval life was ruled by customs and traditions and hunting was no exceptions - strict laws governed the practice of hunting in the middle ages and severe punishments were given out for breaking these laws.
Hunting in the Middle Ages
During medieval times, hunting was as much a privilege as a necessity. The monarchs generally owned the forests and restricted the hunting within them to allow access to only the monarchs themselves and their servants. Peasants, on the other hand, were limited to the common lands for hunting and, if they should happen to break the laws of hunting, they were penalized severely. Death was not an uncommon punishment for those found hunting in the royal forests without the express permission of the monarch.
There were several different types of hunting that were common during the middle ages. At Force hunting was a group activity - a group of young men was split into teams and they would then track and chase down prey (often wild boar) and compete for the kill. Bow and Stable hunting involved the use of the bow as the weapon of choice and was conducted on horseback. Both of these types of hunting usually included the use of hunting dogs that assisted in the tracking of prey and would often drive the prey into enclosed areas so the huntsman could come in for the kill.
Falconry in the Middle Ages
Falconry, or hawking, was another form of hunting that was often referred to as the sport of royalty because peasants and members of the lower classes could not often afford to train and keep birds. Falcons, hawks, and eagles were trained to hunt small game or other birds and these skills were frequently displayed during grand hunting parties held by kings, lords, and nobles. Only certain people were skilled in the ways of training birds to hunt and these individuals were called falconers - they were responsible for raising the young birds and for training them to hunt on command. Young birds were often taken from their nests and raised by falconers who trained them to become used to human contact, to perch on the falconer's hand, and to hunt prey then return to the falconer. This training was very rigorous and the practice of falconry was expensive because the birds had to be housed in special cages called mews and a variety of other equipment was required for their training and care.
Falconry and hunting in the middle ages were as much a means of entertainment as a means of procuring food. While peasants and members of the lower class may have engaged in hunting to be able to feed their families, members of royalty often held large hunting parties to amuse their guests and to show off their own skills.
"Medieval Hawking," Medieval Life and Times, http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-life/medieval-hawking.htm
"Medieval Hunting History," Medieval Life and Times, http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-life/medieval-hunting-history.htm
Falcon photo by Free Digital Photos user Africa
Deer photo by Adam Hickmott/Free Digital Photos.net
Hooded Falcon photo by Flickr user Hans S