Hawking was a popular medieval sport among the European nobility. Since the hawks first had to be captured, trained rigorously and sometimes bred specifically for hunting, the sport was largely limited to the richer classes of medieval society.
In Saxon England preceding the Norman Conquest, the sport was particularly popular and by the 9th century, it was prevalent all over England. The earliest mentions of the sport in medieval Europe also come from English history. Hawks were usually used in the sport to hunt game, including birds and ground quarry.
Hawking is a sport that precedes the medieval era. It was common among the Sarmatians, Goths and then Romans before the Middle Ages. The earliest mentions of the sport in medieval Europe date back to Saxon England in the 9th century.
A 10th century poem written in the Anglo-Saxon England also mentions hawking. Most notably, the famous Bayeux Tapestry depicts scenes showing that hawks were owned by the Anglo-Saxon kings of England at the time of the Norman Conquest.
In the 13th century, the sport was known and practised among the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire. By the 14th century, it was common among the Spanish kingdoms, specifically the Kingdom of Castile. Throughout the medieval ages, different monarchs throughout the Europe commissioned a number of treatises on the subject, many of which exist to this day.
Training the Hawks
Hawks used in the sports by the nobility in medieval Europe were extensively trained by skilled trainers. To that end, these hawks were typically kept in captivity from a very young age. The training of the young hawks included feeding it from hand and teaching it to perch on the hand and get used to human contact.
As the hawk grew older, the trainer taught him to hunt quarry and leave it uneaten to return back to the trainer’s fist for reward. Some medieval trainers sewed the eyes of the hawk to enable it to hunt with the help of sounds, training it to be a more effective hunter.
Medieval Literature on Hawking
One of the most significant pieces of medieval literature on hawking is a treatise written by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Titled “The Art of Hunting with Birds”, this treatise was written by the Emperor himself in 1250 and became the most authoritative text on hawking at the time.
In the 15th century, the Boke of Saint Albans became another very prominent and informative text detailing the sport of hawking. This book is significant especially because it mentions the type of hawks that people of different rank were allowed to keep in medieval times.
Called the Laws of Ownership, this set of regulations deemed that only a King could keep a Gyr falcon, a prince could own a Peregrine falcon, a Duke could keep a Rock falcon, an earl could own a Tiercel Peregrine falcon, a baron could own a bastarde hawk, a knight could own a staker, a square could own a lanner, a lady could own a female merlin and a priest could own a female sparrowhawk.