Medieval Arts: Falconry

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This came from a post that Douglas Trapp posted on my facebook group, Medieval Facts. Douglas is the Master Falconer at Medieval Times Dallas Castle, and an ex-coworker of mine.

“Medieval Facts include Falconry, and as a falconry historian of sorts I thought I might share some of what I know about falconry and how it played into the Medieval reality.

Norsemen Falcononers

Falconry in Europe was introduced through trade with the Norsemen and Persians (Nowadays Iran), although falconry began in Mongolia with trained Bergut Eagles more than 4,000 years ago. From the 11th to 15th centuries falconry developed from a reserved “NOBLE” activity in Europe to one of which became so common that you could not walk down a street without witnessing a person with a hawk or falcon on the glove.

Those not involved as “falconers” would spend a lot of time and effort as bell makers, hood makers, and even falcon/hawk trappers/distributors. It was very common for Royalty to invite guests from other lands to simply witness the skills of their most prized falcons/hawks. In fact, rather than allow their guests to witness the skills of their Knights, it was more common to have huge gatherings where the guests would watch the Kingdoms’ most prized birds pursue Herons and Cranes as entertainment.

Master Falconer

In well established Kingdoms, the MASTER FALCONER was considered the highest of royal status, above everyone other than the Royal Court itself. He was given a large parcel of land, all the mews (housing areas for falcons) desired, all of the assistants needed, and all of the import taxes when birds were acquired. He was a special confidant with all Royalty, mainly the King, and knew secrets no one else had access to. In all of this, he was required to maintain and care for over 100 falcons and hawks employed by the Kingdom. Additionally, he was a liaison between Kingdoms … escorted by the Knights of the Realm to offer the best of his birds as peace offerings … worth, in those days, more than gold. The Master Falconer was the only member of the “Royal Family” allowed to dine with the King, nightly.

Restrictions on Falconry

Falconry became a common activity in Europe from about the 13th to 15th centuries, but restrictions were applied. In most Kingdoms, the Gyrfalcon and Golden Eagle were reserved for the King. Certain raptorial species were allowed to be flown by certain commoners, such as the Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, and Common Buzzard (a soaring hawk species, not a vulture). A Knight of the Realm would fly the Goshawk. A Prince would fly a Peregrine falcon. A Princess would fly a Merlin. A Queen would not likely fly any raptor, but would hold one on the gauntlet when necessary for portraits. The Master Falconer, of course, could fly any bird desired.

Fall of Falconry

After the invention of the Shotgun, falconry began to dissolve in the Royal aspect of things, yet did not die-out completely. Today, in retrospect, falconry is a growing activity throughout the world. In North America there are over 5,000 licensed falconers, and only Hawaii (of all of the 50 States) in the U.S. has made it illegal. Some countries made it illegal until recently, and North American Falconers are now beginning to communicate with those falconers, so it continues to grow.
Regulations, no matter where you reside, dictate whether or not you can become a falconer today. In most cases, all you need is the ability to care for a captive raptor, be willing to hunt with the bird in the field, be willing to pay whatever it takes to maintain that bird, and be willing to follow the regulations set forth by your local authorities.”