Hunting for large game was an integral part of a medieval gentleman's martial lifestyle. Unlike the largely solitary practice of deer or elk hunting today, the medieval hunt was an intensely social affair with dozens of huntsmen, hound-keepers, trackers, cooks, porters, and a veritable bevy of domesticated animals including several types of dog, horses, and falcons or hawks.
Carrying off a successful hunt was considered indispensable training for war as it required the efficient management of a substantial force of men and beasts, as well as personal bravery. Indeed, hunting could be quite a dangerous affair that honed the skills of the knightly class. One of the best, and certainly most beautiful medieval sources we have on hunting is Gaston Phoebus late 14th century Livre de Chasse, which he wrote to preserve knowledge of noble hunting after the ravages of the plague, the period illustrations below are from that work. Phoebus was the Count of Frois, and a compatriot of Edward, The Black Prince, and like his friend, was deeply influenced by the Arthurian romances and the chivalric virtues laid out therein, prowess and courage being chief among them. He saw both of these virtues as being cultivated through a lifestyle that included hunting as a noble endeavor requiring strength, intelligence, leadership, and personal bravery.
Hunting Arms of the Medieval Period
Although the boar spear is probably the most famous medieval hunting implement, it was only one piece of the arsenal utilized in pursuing these dangerous animals. The below spear is our replica of the hunting spear of Friedrich IV, Duke of Austria (1382-1489). Duke Friedrich was of the same class as Phoebus and engaged in similar hunting activities. The spear is lugged, which was common for fighting spears of the period as it enabled the user to parry with the wings. It is also thought that these lugs helped to prevent a speared boar from running up the shaft and goring the hunter. This type of spear could have been used on foot or mounted, and knights of the 14th century would have been comfortable using it either way.
The Arms and Armor Friedrich IV Spear
Hunters using crossbows, and laying a net to entangle quarry.
Hunting swords were also frequently used for boar and stag hunting. These usually featured a point that widened significantly in the last quarter of the blade, a feature that could inflict a massive wound, hastening death through blood loss. This was an important feature as a wounded boar might still have plenty of strength to seriously injure or kill a hunter before succumbing to its wounds. The below sword also features a cross pin directly behind the flared section of the point, again, likely to prevent the animal from running up the blade.
We also make a 14th century hunting knife based on those illustrated in Phoebus' text. We call it the Gaston Phoebus Hunting Knife. Although it could be used to dispatch an injured animal, this knife is really optimized for butchering the kill. The rake of the blade along with its clipped point make it very useful for skinning thick-skinned animals like boars.
Custom Gaston Phoebus style knife with worked scabbard
In the second upcoming post on boar hunting I will relate some stories about contemporary boar hunting with dogs and a knife, and what lessons this sport can teach us about medieval martial practice.