HOLIDAYS & FEAST DAYS
an extremely popular pursuit amongst noble women who could afford
the cost and upkeep of birds and the staff to care for them. Many
popular icons of medieval art show a lady with a bird of prey
on her wrist, even when not participating in active sport. These
images are more likely to represent symbols and signs associated
with medieval art rather than actual sport.
are other images in medieval art which show a more active participation
in hawking as a passtime for rich, medieval women. Falconry was
not a sport for the income-challenged.
The image detail at the top of the page is from the German manuscript
Manesse Codex, dated between 1300-1320, and it shows a women
on horseback riding with her bird on her wrist. Her glove is easy
to see and it would have protected her hand from the sharp talons
of her bird.
The image at right shows a woman with her bird of prey and hawking
glove. It comes from the Holkham Bible of 1325-1335. She
too, wears a protective glove and the bird's bell is painted bright
images, such as the image from the English illuminated manuscript,
the Taymouth Hours, dated between 1325 and 1340, show a
slightly less genteel and more actively energetic image of a woman
with her bird and it's intended prey.
Here too, the little hawking bell can be seen attached to the
leg of the bird. It is unusual to note that in this particular
image, the lady appears not to be wearing a glove, both unusual
for a lady outdoors and especially engaged in this kind of activity.
Hawking was a passtime which came with its own specialised dress
accessories. The lady and lord who hawked both wore a sturdy leather
clove, often easily seen with a wider cuff and usually white.
A hawking pouch would have been employed, but we do not see pictures
of these. There are extent pouches, but it is unable to be determined
who owned them. I imagine there would have been no difference
between one used by a woman or a man, as it is a fairly utilitarian
Jesse bells were attached to the legs of hawking birds and a leather
hood was used when the birds were not actively in use, the style
of which is the same as hawkers use today.
Types of birds used for hawking include many different types of
raptors- falcons, peregrins, etc and of these, according to the
14th century falconing manual, the Boke of St Albans, the
one considered most suitable for a lady to own and use would be
a female Merlin.
The Boke of St Albans is an English manuscript whose
author is not known. It dates to 1486 and was printed in the town
of St Albans. The book provides a list of the falconry Laws of
Ownership which determine who can own what kind of bird. Whether
this was adhered to with any kind of obedience or whether, like
the clothing sumptuary laws, it was roundly ignored can only be
The birds are listed in order of importance of the social rank
of the owner:
- King- Gyr Falcon, either
male or female
- Prince- Peregrine Falcon
- Duke- Rock Falcon, belonging
to the Peregrin falcon family
- Earl- Tiercel Peregrine
- Baron- Bastarde Hawk
- Knight- Saker
- Squire- Lanner
- Lady- Merlin, female only
- Yeoman- Goshawk or Hobby
- Priest- Sparrowhawk, female
- Holy water Clerk- Sparrowhawk,
- Knaves- Kestrel
- Servants- Kestrel
- Children- Kestrel
The most surprising of these
is that servants are listed as being potential bird-owners. Perhaps
these refer to the bird handlers themselves who operated the falconing
mews and cared for the birds of their lords and ladies, not regular
Below is a detail from the
early 14th century Romance of Alexander showing two women
riding astride while out with their birds.