Friday, January 6, 2017

Women in Falconry in the Medieval Age

I've always loved medieval illuminated manuscripts—particularly those depicting field sports, such as falconry, hence my lifelong fascination with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and his beautiful 13-century tome, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (On the Art of Hunting with Birds). But another of my favorites is The Taymouth Hours—an illuminated book of hours created in England ca. 1325-40. What makes this manuscript truly unique is that it contains an entire section depicting young, upper-class women engaged in hunting sports. Besides falconry, some show women hunting with a sling, a bow and arrow, and coursing dogs at a variety of game, or using ferrets to flush rabbits from a hole. There's even one in which three women are field-dressing a stag. 

What's great is that not a single man is present in any of these illustrations. These women are self-sufficient and clearly don't need any help. None of them is wearing a wimple or a veil, so they are probably unmarried. 

I wish I knew more of the story behind these illustrations. I've never seen any others quite like them, focused entirely on women engaged in activities that were far more associated with men in that time period. Even in the falconry scenes, the women in The Taymouth Hours are not flying Merlins (the "Lady's Hawk") at Skylarks. They're flying what I assume are Goshawks at mallards and hares. (Although the wings are rather long and pointed for a Goshawk, the very long tail, the gray barring underneath, and the fact that the hawk is being flown at close range from the fist at large ducks and hares makes Goshawk seem most likely to me.)

Here are several more illustrations from the book, below:

A hawk sits on a screen perch as a hare looks on. 

A falconer slips her hawk at a Mallard she flushed from a pond or river.

Making in to the hawk on a duck kill. 

Hunting with a sling.

Coursing for hare.


  1. I simply love this. Have you looked up Saints Tibba and Ebba? Ancient wild hunting women. They have a small shrine in England.,_Kyneswide_and_Tibba

    1. Thanks, Karen. I've heard about Saint Tibba, but I didn't realize she has a shrine. I'll look for it the next time I'm in England.

  2. In the hierarchical medieval society, the Lanner falcon was a prerogative
    of the esquires practicing falconry, after the Saker which could be used by
    knights and before the Merlin (F. colombarius) used by ladies. These Ladies Hawks used frequently Lanner falcon males, referred to as Lanneret, and described by François Rabelais (1494-1553) as "Les
    dames montées sur belles hacquenées portaitent chascune ou un épervier, ou un lanneret, ou un émérillon". The Lanner is easy to tame and from the medieval German point of view, this makes it the best choice for hesitant ladies and poets, or the sorts of people whom seem to inexorably lose fine and noble falcons as well beloved partners alike In France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, poets compared the hesitant behaviour of lovers to the Lanner that generally avoids
    attempting to capture very large prey such as cranes and herons.

  3. I simply love this. Congrats!

    Alessandra Oliveto

    1. So interesting Tim! Thank you! And interested to see Alessandra on here as 5 minutes ago I read her article in the International Journal of Falconry. Great article :-)

    2. So interesting Tim! Thank you! And interested to see Alessandra on here as 5 minutes ago I read her article in the International Journal of Falconry. Great article :-)

    3. Thanks, Rebecca. I'm glad you liked it.