Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Hunting Hounds of Queen Elizabeth I

In 1576, George Turbervile published the Booke of Hunting, being in large part a translation of the work of Jaques du Fouilloux, La Venerie, published in 1562. Turbervile was a poet and fellow of New College, Oxford, where he studied law. He traveled widely, going to Moscow to the court of Ivan the Terrible in 1568.

In translating du Fouilloux, Turbervile copied most of the woodcuts from the Frenchman’s book, though minor changes can be detected even in those plates copied closely. One significant difference between the two authors, which can be seen in the subjects of their respective graphics, was that du Fouilloux published during the reign of Charles IX, though he was perhaps writing during the reign of Henry II (died 1559) and the short reign of Francis II (1559-60), while Turbervile published when Queen Elizabeth was 43 years old.

Turbervile often refers to the presence of the Prince or chiefe, whose position in the hunt involves receiving certain honors and explanations from the huntsman, but the woodcut plates show this position filled by a young woman, and a plate titled, “The report of a Huntesman upon the fight of an Hart,” is followed by a poem beginning, “Before the Queene, I come report to make….”

It might seem that a great deal of animal cruelty was involved in the hunt, but if I had to choose I’d rather have been a deer in Queen Elizabeth’s forests than a calf in a modern feedlot. In a very significant way, however, one’s modern sensibilities must be suspended. Presenting deer turds on leaves to a queen is not something that we now could imagine as anything but an offense, but the responsibility of doing so was a great honor to the huntsman of five hundred years ago, and would have been well appreciated by the monarch.


Fouilloux depicts a kennel that is similar to that described nearly two centuries earlier by Phoebus, with two stories and a large yard. This is shown in the second plate. A fountain is near the kennel, from which a spout fills a trough, which in turns empties into a stream. A feeding trough stands in the middle of the yard. A dog uses a post covered with rope and perhaps canvas to scratch, and it appears to invite the dog to urinate. The kennel is described as follows by Turbervile (using the original spelling, though not the long "s", sometimes called the German s):

“A kennel ought to be placed in some orientall [eastern] parte of a house, where there may be a large courte wel playned, being fourscore paces square … but the greater and larger that it is, the better it will be for the Houndes, because they shall have the greater pleasure to play themselves, and to skimmer, through the middest of it, were meete and good to have a little chanell of good fountayne water, neare unto the which you shall lay a great trought of stone to receyve the course of the sayde water, the whiche trough shalbe a foote and a halfe high, to the end the houndes may drinke therat the more easily, and that trought muste be pearced at the one ende, to let out the water, and to make it cleane when you would. In the highest place of the Courte it shalbe good to buylde the kennel or lodging for the Houndes, in the whiche you must have two chambers, whereof the one shalbe larger than the other, and the same should be a chimney, great and large, to make a fire when neede shall require. The gates and windows of the chamber, must be set and situate agaynst the rising of the Sunne and the South: the chamber should be raysed three foote higher than the levell of the ground, and in the floore you shoulde make two gutters and holes to the ende the filthinesse and uryne of the Houndes may thereby avoyde, the walles ought to be well whited, and the plankes well mortified and ioyned, and so shall spyders, flease, punayses and such like, the lesse breede and remaine therein. You must always leave them some little dore or wicket to go out into the courte when they would skimmer or ease themselves, then must you have in the chamber little bedsteads which shalbe raysed a good foote from the ground, and therwithal let every bedstead have under it a roller to remove it where you will when you would make the place cleane: and againe that when they come from the chace, and that it were needefull to warme them, you may rolle them as neare ye fire as you will; also those bedsteads must be covered wt hurdels or plankes pearced, to the end yt when the hounds do pisse, the urine may drayne to the ground.”

Certain substances were not to be used in drinking and feeding vessels:

“You must take heede that you give them no drinke in a vessell of copper or brasse, for those two kindes of metals are venomous of their nature, and cause the water which commeth in them to turne and to stinke, which woulde greatly anoy the houndes.”

Bread, a principal portion of the dogs’ diet was to be broken so that the dogs can eat, even “of evill appetite.” As noted in the picture, Turbervile also recommended that the feeding baskets “should not be emptie at any time.”

Although English kennels may have been as elaborate, the first plate in Turbervile’s book may show a typical country kennel of the sort he was more accustomed to see. The kennel is only one floor, with a row of doors that may indicate separated spaces for the dogs, or may merely suggest that the structure was easily aerated by having multiple openings in the warmer months, while the dogs would be housed somewhere else, perhaps with families, in the winter.

Care of Puppies

Fouilloux and Turbervile describe caring for mothers and their puppies. When dogs are born in winter, particular care is required, which involves keeping the puppies in a barrel:

"Fyrst if they be whelped in Wynter, you shall take a Barrell or a Pype well dryed, and kocke out the heade at the one ende thereof, afterwardes put strawe therein, and set it by a place where there is ordinarily a good fyre, then turne the open ende towardes the fyre, to the ende the whelpes may have the ayre thereof, and you shall feede the damme with good pottage or broth made with Beefe or Mutton... and when you perceive that they beginne to goe, you shall have a net made of strong thread, laced with a thong, and fastned about the Tun or Pype... so that you may kepe them from going out, and that other dogs do not byte them, or that they be troden upon or marred with mens feete."

Apparently the original crate was a barrel with netting over the open end. In depicting this care, Fouilloux places the barrel outside, as does Turbervile in copying him, where no fire is present. Various potions for bathing and anointing the puppies are described, often including spices and nuts.


Hounds were coupled in training, and it was seen as best to couple “yong houndes” with “olde bitches, to teache them to followe.”

The dogs were to be taken through “greene Corne fields and through the medowes,” where they were to learn the huntsman’s voice, and to accustom them to sheep and other domestic animals. If “any dogge that is so il taught as he would runne at a sheepe or any such tame beast, you must couple him with a ramme or a stoute Sheep, and with your wande you muste all to pay him and beate him a good while, crying and threatening to the ende that another time he may know the rate of suche as use it.”

Thus, beating was part of training. The use of a bracing was, however, apparently designed to let the older dog keep the younger one out of trouble. To get rid of “lice fleas, and other vermine and filthie things, and for remedie thereof you must washe them once a weeke in a bath made of hearbes.” Something of a recipe for the bath water is then provided, which includes marjoram, sage, rosemary, and salt.

Dogs were to be trained to swim, since in the hunt they would have to cross rivers and pools. They were often taught to hunt the hare before beginning on deer. Hunting deer began at 17 or 18 months.

The Huntsman’s Skill

The huntsman, in addition to knowing the use of the hounds, had to become familiar with the animals hunted, which involved the ability to read their tracks. An interesting graphic in Fouilloux, picked up by Turbervile, shows the huntsman looking at two tracks but imagining the leg of the hart he will be pursuing. The huntsman also had to know the droppings of the deer, and to be able to tell the size of the animal, when the droppings had been left, what they said about the size of the deer and the direction in which it was moving. There was a specific term for the droppings of deer-like animals, variously spelled, but the Oxford English Dictionary prefers fumet or fumishing, attributing the earliest usage to the papers of Henry VIII, “the scent and femyseshyng of such deir.” Turbervile generally spells the word fewmet. A sampling of such wisdom will no doubt be sufficient:

“You muste understand that there is difference betweene the fewmet of the morning and that of the evenyng, bycause the fewmishings which an Harte maketh when he goeth to relief at night, are better disgested and moyster, than those which he maketh in the morning, bycause the Harte hath taken his rest all the day, and hath had time and ease to make perfect disgestion and fewmet, whereas contrarily it is seene in the fewmishyng which is made in the morning, bycause of the exercise without rest whiche he made in the night to go seeke his feede.”

Both Fouilloux and Turbervile provide sketches of fewmets, the better to educate a junior huntsman, who may one day have to present them to the Prince or chiefe (Fouilloux speaks of the king or lord: "presente ont leurs fumées au Roy, ou au Seigneur a qui ilz seront, les une après les autres, en racómptant chaseun de ce qu’il aura veu”). Turbervile copies Fouilloux's drawing almost exactly, but curiously arranges the turds top to bottom unlike Fouilloux's left to right presentation. (No doubt this reflects a fissure in the Jungian archetype of bathroom practices between the English and the French. Because the French helped us Americans obtain our freedom from the English, I have preferred the Frenchman's presentation. It also looked better in the layout. Besides, how often do you get a highbrow reason to show shit?)

The Formalities of the Chase

A large company would go on a hunt with a monarch or lord, with varying ranks reflected in the clothing of those allowed or required to attend. There were generally around ten stages to a chase, labeled as follows:

1. Unharbouring of the Game. This involved starting the deer running, generally begun by the huntsman sending out a “harbourer” to mark the locations where the deer and returning with some fewmets.
2. The Gathering. The harbourer returned to the waiting party and made his report. This was often done during a meal, and the harbourer would present the fewmets to the lord of the hunt or the most honored individual present. The hunters and the dogs gather in a field
3. Posting Relays. The pack did not all run together, but were stationed in small groups along the route the deer was expected to take. In a large hunt, such as a queen would go on, there would be six to 12 hounds at each relay, with at least three relays along the route.
4. Departure and Laying on the Pack. At this stage the company mounted horses. A scenting hound would be tethered to a tree where he could be brought should the pack go off the scent. Writers of the time disagree as to whether older or younger hounds should be released first, or whether there should be older dogs among the younger to keep them from going in wrong directions.
5. The Change. Pursuing the scent of a different animal than the one being sought was called a Change. It was believed that an intelligent deer could retrace his steps to throw the dogs off the scent and could perhaps cross the path of another deer which the hounds would then follow.
6. The Recheat. This was the procedure, sometimes conducted by taking the dogs on ever-widening circles, to get the hounds back on the correct scent.
7. The Game Exhausted. Various changes in the track and appearance of the game would indicate it had become exhausted, with its toes coming closer together, running into open spaces, and the hair bristling.
8. The Bay. The animal would stop running, but was still dangerous and could kill dogs coming near it or even attack a horse. The dogs should surround the stag and bay.
9. The Death. The huntsman finished the animal by piercing its neck with a knife or sword. The bowmen may have already shot arrows into the animal, but these generally would not kill it.
10. The Quarry. The hunting books describe the breaking of the deer. The forefoot of the game was presented to the most eminent person present.

Turbervile refers to the fewmets in the second stage as involving the droppings being presented on leaves. The harbourer or huntsman kneels in making the presentation, and likely explains as much as can be said regarding the animal that made them, an ability that would be tested when the animal was ultimately captured. Turbervile summarizes the presentation to the queen in a poem:

“Before the Queene, I come report to make
Then husht and peace, for noble Trystrams sake,
From out my horne, my fewmets fyrst I drawe,
And them present, on leaves, by hunters lawe;
And thus I say: my liege, behold and see
An Hart of Tenne, I hope he harbord bee.
Fir if you marke his fewmets every poynt,
You shall them finde, long, round, and well annoynt,
Knottie and great, withouten prickes or cares,
The moystnesse shewes, what venysone he beares.”

The most honored personage had the authority to choose between the possible prey based on the presentation:

"Afterwardes when all the huntsmen be come together, they shall make their sundry reports, and present their fewmyshings unto the Prince or master of game in the field, one after another, every man rehearsing what he hath seene. And when the Prince or other chiefe hath hard them and seene their fewmishings, he or she may then chose which of the Hartes he will hunt, and which he or she thinkes most likely to make him or hir best sport."

After the animal had been killed, one aspect of the Quarry stage was the presentation of the foot to the most eminent person present. Turbervile also describes the first cut as being reserved for this person, and shows the queen being presented with the knife:

“The deare being layd upon his backe, the Prince, chiefe, or such as they shall appoint, comes to it: and the chiefe huntsman (kneeling, if it be to a Prince) doth holde the Deare by the forefoote, whiles the Prince or chief, cut a flyt drawn alongst the brisket of the deare, somewhat lower than the brisket towards the belly. This is done to see the goodnesse of the flesh, and how thicke it is.”

Notice that no two of the queen's costumes are the same. This might support an argument that the cartoons were drawn from life (but I leave such questions to art historians).

Other Game

In addition to deer, Fouilloux and Turberville describe hunting of reindeer, wild goats, boar (which are carefully distinguished from domestic hogs), hare, cony (a type of rabbit), fox, badger (hunted with terriers), otter, wolf (including a discussion of werewolves, which eat man flesh), and bear. Towards the end of his book, Turbervile gives a unique account of coursing with greyhounds, a practice not held in as high an estimation in France as in England, and describes how wagers may be made in competitions.

Thanks to Richard Hawkins and Brian Duggan for sources, thoughts, and corrections.

Additional Sources: M. Thiebaux, The Medieval Chase (1967). Speculum, 42(2), 260-274; Queen Elizabeth I had a hunting lodge that is preserved by the City of London. For brief mention of the forest laws, which would have applied to the Queen's forests, see my piece on Robin Hood.

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