The History Of Falconry
Falconry is a sport that involves the use of trained birds of prey to hunt game for humans. Although falconry is also known as hawking, in modern falconry buzzards are most commonly used.
It is believed that falconry was well established in the Middle and Far East by 2000 BC despite the earliest evidence only coming from the era around the reign of Sargon II (722-705 BC).
The Romans probably learnt falconry from the Greeks although the practice does not appear to have been widespread and there are references to Caesar using falcons to kill carrier pigeons. Falconry was probably introduced to Europe in about 400 AD when the Huns and Alans invaded from the East.
More recently falconry has become more popular particularly as a sport of kings. It was reputedly the favourite sport of every King of England from Alfred the Great to George III except for James I who spent much of his time training cormorants and ospreys to catch fish.
A lot has been written about King John’s passion for crane hawking and he often brought hunting parties to the Test Valley to fly falcons at herons. The herons were ringed before they were re-released and information about their numbers and locations are documented in the Domesday Book.
In the Middle Ages it was not just the rich who hunted with hawks. Labourers used hawks to hunt for food, often illegally and King John who wanted to improve the rewards of his own personal hunting banned people taking all feathered game from the Royal Forests which at the time covered vast areas of the British countryside.
The law provided that a hundred paupers should be fed with the proceeds of each Royal hunt but despite this if it had been enforced effectively it would still have caused much suffering and hardship.
During the Middle Ages a social custom evolved in falconry known today as the Laws of Ownership. Birds of prey were allocated a rank and a man could not hawk with a bird that had a higher rank than him. The hierarchy seems to have evolved around the cost of the bird and it is not known how strictly it was adhered to. The original list was documented in the 15th Century ‘Boke of St Albans’ on hawking, hunting and cote-armour as follows:
Emperor – The Eagle, Vulture, and Merloun
King – The Ger Falcon and the Tercel of the Ger Falcon
Prince: The Falcon Gentle and the Tercel Gentle
Duke: The Falcon of the Loch
Earl: The Falcon Peregrine
Baron: The Bustard
Knight: The Sacre and the Sacret
Esquire: The Lanere and the Laneret
Lady: The Marlyon
Young Man: The Hobby
Yeoman: The Goshawk
Poor Man: The Tercell
Priest: The Sparrowhawk
Holy Water Clerk: The Musket
Knave or Servant: The Kestrel
Today anyone can practice falconry in the UK and no license is required although only captive-bred birds can be used. Despite pressure to have falconry banned it has been allowed to carry on albeit with a number of conditions attached to it. Birds must be ringed and government registered. Wild birds must not be used for falconry and all birds are DNA tested to certify their origins.
If you would like to learn more about the ancient art of falconry then you may be interested in a birds of prey gift experience where you can try out owl flying, eagle handling and hawking.