Medieval aristocrats generally enjoyed hunting. They hunted using birds such as falcons to bring down prey as well as following the hounds to chase deer and boar. Tapestries and illustrations in medieval manuscript work testify to all of this. Also, in my own novels I include scenes with both kinds of hunt. For example, King Harold II is usually depicted on The Bayeux Tapestry with a hawk perched upon his wrist.
He collected books on falconry and I refer to his collection in The Handfasted Wife, a novel about his common law wife, Edith Swanneck, mother of his six living children. I also write about a wolf hunt in France in The Damask Rose, a novel about Eleanor of Castile and her husband, Edward I. Thomas Cromwell enjoyed the hunt too. In a letter he writes about how he is sending venison to his wife, Elizabeth. (Mistress Cromwell).
My latest novel The Stolen Crown tells the story of Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I and her struggle to wrestle her rightful crown from her cousin Stephen during what is known to History as The Anarchy. I use references to falconry based on research.
Ladies often hunted with sparrow hawks and goshawks, smaller birds of prey. These were difficult to train and, of course, they still are. The austringer was the solitary trainer of these hunting birds. He was never a popular man. In ‘H is for Hawk’ the author quotes the terrible press these trainers received throughout History.
“’ Do not house your graceless austringers in the falconers’ room,’ said the fourteenth century Norman writer, Gace de la Bigne, ‘They are cursed in scripture, for they hate company and go alone about their sport. When one sees an ill-formed man, with great big feet and long shapeless shanks, built like a trestle, hump-shouldered and skew-backed, and one wants to mock him, one says, look , what an austringer!”’ This denigration applied to the birds as well because there was never the same respect for a goshawk as there was for a peregrine. Goshawks were sometimes given insulting names such as ‘Vampire’ or ‘Jezebel’. They were murderous birds, difficult to train, sulky and bloodthirsty. Apparently if you wanted to train them all you had to do was give them the chance to kill living things. Hunting hounds and hawks all needed special attention from their carers and resided in specially built accommodation such as stables, kennels and mews.
Pets and hunting birds often appeared on seals especially those owned by women. Most female personal seals with birds depict women holding a hawking bird thus showing the connection between hunting, nobility and authority. Pets and birds might even appear on the same seal. Empress Maud’s arch enemy, Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, had a falcon on her left hand and a small dog at her feet. This represented a mix of domestic and exterior worlds.
Here are two brief extracts from The Stolen Crown featuring references to falconry.
In the first extract, Maud has just landed at Arundel Castle where her step mother, Adeliza, lives with her new husband who is a Stephen supporter. There is a frisson of danger throughout this episode although Adeliza is, at first, unaware of Maud’s true intentions. Maud hopes to raise an army in the west and fight for her crown. Arundel becomes one of the novel’s many thrilling episodes because Stephen arrives later with an army. Maud becomes an unwelcome guest.
Initially, of course, Maud is welcomed.
‘It is a lovely time of year for falconry,’ Adeliza said brightly, sounding more relaxed. She too had drunk a cup of wine. ‘The trees are golden…but we must avoid the marshes…they are treacherous.’ Smiling broadly, Adeliza rushed Maud up the tower stairway to the top which she insisted was to be Maud’s domain for her visit.
Later we are introduced to a family of mummers, Xander, Pipkin and Alice who is very important in the story. She is a musician, actress and spy for Empress Maud.
Inside the castle mews, Xander and Pipkin hurried from perch to perch, fascinated by the variety of hunting birds housed there. The little sparrow –hawks were Alice’s favourites.
At length, Sir Jacques lifted up a peregrine falcon and showed it to the eager young men. ‘This one belongs to Earl Robert. His name is Leander.’ When he removed the hawk’s hood, the creature looked so fiercely at Alice with its yellow beady eyes she shied away. Her brothers, however, were thrilled, and even more delighted when Jacques permitted them to pull on leather gloves and in turn hold the hawk on their wrists.
If you would like to read The Stolen Crown, it’s available from Amazon and bookshops. http://: https://geni.us/TSCKMD