Magazine article The Spectator

The Name of the Game

Magazine article The Spectator

The Name of the Game

Article excerpt

BLOOD SPORT HUNTING IN BRITAIN SINCE 1066 by Emma Griffin Yale, £19.99, pp. 283, ISBN 9780300116281 £15.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Between 1997 and the passing of the Hunting with Dogs Act in 2004, parliament spent 700 hours debating hunting. Over 250,000 people took part in the Countryside March through London in 1998. Why such an apparently marginal issue, involving a tiny minority of rural troglodytes, should have mattered so much in the modern age of New Labour is a question well worth asking.

Emma Griffin is an admirably evenhanded historian with very long sight. By casting back to 1066 her study gives a fresh perspective, and she achieves the difficult feat of saying something new about hunting. Her argument goes like this. From the time of the Normans all the ingredients of hunting were in place. There were riders and dogs and they chased a solitary prey -- in the Middle Ages, this was deer. The Normans called this par force hunting, and it was distinguished from the other form of hunting, practised by the Anglo-Saxons, which was known as drive hunting, when animals were driven into an enclosed space and killed with a sword or spear or arrow. Drive hunting allowed much more slaughter, and Queen Elizabeth I was partial to the sport, standing in a bower and shooting deer with a bow and arrow, but after her it died out until it was revived by shooters in the 18th century.

Par force hunting was far less efficient -- the ratio of energy expended by the hunters to the energy used by the quarry was absurdly high. It was better sport because of the thrill of the chase, but it was divisive right from the start. Who owns the wild animals which are hunted has always been hotly disputed. The Norman kings were passionate hunters, and they nationalised vast tracts of land as royal forests and claimed that all the deer living there belonged to the king. Unsurprisingly, this was very unpopular. At the time of the Barons' Revolt one of the barons' chief demands was for the privilege of the forest. But once the barons had grabbed the right to hunt, they passed game laws restricting hunting to the few and protecting deer from the peasants.

By the end of the 17th century the population of deer was just about extinct, poached out during the civil war. Hunters turned to smaller animals -- foxes, pheasants and partridges. Improvements in guns allowed shooters to develop new forms of drive hunting to kill flying birds. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.