Falconry, or “hawking,” a method of hunting game wildly popular during the Middle Ages, probably originated about 4000 years ago, possibly in Persia. My single brush with the sport occurred in Riverside, CA. I took two sessions of what was supposed to be classes in the rudiments of animal training, and perhaps they were. I only know that in my experience, we mostly cleaned up animal poop. But I loved it anyway. I was around elephants, primates, big cats and exotic birds. In theory, our instructor, the head master, was a film animal trainer, known for having developed a unique, gentle way of getting the best from his animals. They must have missed him greatly when he was convicted of animal abuse!
Anyway, the high point of my animal “training,” (in-between poop runs), was the day we each took a turn donning a thick elk hide glove for an opportunity to have a Peregrine Falcon land on our arm. In my case, the dang glove ended somewhere near my shoulder, but nothing mattered the moment that very solid and primal bird landed and dug her talons into the leather, which I now was grateful covered most of my arm. And yes, I could feel the talons through the elk hide.
The raptor’s power was magical. Awe short-circuited my brain as I imagined this beautiful and deadly assassin taking out a duck mid-air with one slicing move.
Medieval falconry, or hawking, terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but rather erroneously, was more than just a sport. Much more, for a while. Certainly, it was an effective method of hunting and one that was highly regulated by class. But the sport reached the level of a fad, a craze, an obsession, sought after by rich and poor alike. Nuns, yes, nuns walked around with hawking birds on their arms. Given what these birds of prey eat, can you imagine how much Febreeze the nuns’ habits required?
In the trilogy I’m writing about Queen Margaret of Scotland, falconry is highlighted several times. One example I give of an avid falconer is Edward the Confessor, who is King of England when young Margaret and her family arrive from Hungary. He was known to go daily from Mass to the mews to pick up his hooded bird. As always, it’s good to be king.
A number of birds can be utilized for hunting, and each one has its unique skill set. Let me just say that the Peregrine Falcon flies very high in the sky, exceeding speeds of 200 miles per hour. She can dive during flight at 186 miles per hour. The Peregrine is not only the fastest bird on the planet, but the fastest animal. The Peregrine kills on impact with clenched talons.
Now when you read about Edward the Confessor hunting in “As the Deer Yearns: Queen Margaret of Scotland, Book One” (coming soon), you’ll be better able to picture what it was like! You’re welcome.