Medieval Hunting and Feasting

This weekend marks the beginning of the fall hunting season in Minnesota with the pheasant opener on Saturday, October 15th (2022).  Nathan will be heading up to the cabin to chase some of these tasty birds, so we thought it was appropriate to highlight medieval hunting weapons and the rituals of the hunt.  There are some awesome historical resources for those interested in medieval hunting, including Gaston Phoebus' "The Book of the Hunt" (1387), "The Master of Game" by Edward of Norwich (1413), and related later texts like the "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton (1653). 

Pursuing game was an important aspect of noble life and often involved significant feasting and other social events. In the Medieval period the hunt was seen as excellent training for combat and would often involve the use of hand weapons by the hunter to dispatch the quarry.  In the later Middle Ages right up through the modern period specific types of hunting swords evolved that were commonly distinguished from other period arms by the forms of decoration on the hilt which often included naturalistic elements such as acorns, vining "writhen" quillions and grips, and zoomorphic chisel work in the shape of animal heads or hooves.  


Maximillian hunting sword
A hunting sword of Emperor Maximillian I with by knives and sheath, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, mid 15th century
These hunting swords had several uses.  First, and most obviously, they were used to kill the animals that were being hunted, a category that included a wide array of beasts, some of which were large and dangerous.  In particular, boars, bears, and stags were all very dangerous when cornered and threatened, and a hunting sword offered a backup weapon after using a crossbow or spear.  Having such a sword to hand could mean the difference between a successful hunt and a maimed or dead hunter.
Hunting sword tip showing lugs
Detail of the tip of the hunting sword pictured in the title, showing the lug details.
Nathan feast at WMAW
Feasting with the Landsknechts at WMAW 2022

The second use of hunting weapons was probably as a defense against other people who one might encounter while on the hunt.  Hunting was an elite pastime, especially for those who carried specialized and highly decorative hunting weapons.  The expensive horses, hounds, clothing, and accoutrements of the medieval or Renaissance hunting would surely have been an enticing target for Highwaymen, brigands, or even other nobles who might come across such a party in the forest.  Famous medieval hunters such as Gaston Phoebus were also commonly involved in warfare with their neighbors in which the primary goal was often to capture and put to ransom any enemies you might encounter.  Being armed was therefore and important precaution when hunting.

bayeaux hunting
A hunting scene from the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry
Hunting Sword by Arms & Armor Inc.
Hunting Sword by Arms & Armor Inc.

Thirdly, hunting swords became a central part of noble hunting costume.  In effect, hunting was an elite pastime with elaborate rituals and fashions associated with the practice.  Dressing the part was an essential aspect of hunting in a manner that reinforced lordly status.  

Gaston hunting
An Illustration from the hunting book of Gaston III, Count of Foix showing elegant attire 
Medieval Feast

The emphasis on hunting fashion is quite explicit in the medieval sources that are extant.  For example, the 15th century Devonshire Hunting Tapestries held at the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as Master of the Hunt, and the Livre de la Chasse, all illustrate lavishly dressed elites participating in medieval hunts.  The weapons that were used in pursuit of game displayed the wealth and taste of the hunters just like their clothing. 

Gothic bough style hunting hanger replica
Hunting hanger done in the style of gothic bough.
Devonshire Hunting Tapestry
A scene from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries showing elaborate fashions
Of course, if your hunt is successful you have the opportunity to prepare your quarry in a medieval manner.  So, here is Nathan's favorite medieval recipe for pheasant, just in case he's successful:
"Take a ffesaunte and slay him, and serve him as thou doest a partrich in all degree. Pull him dry and kutte away his hede, and the necke by the body, and the legges by the kne, and put the kidneys in by the vent, and roast him, his sauce is sugar and mustard." paraphrased from Maggie Black's Medieval Cookbook.
If you'd like to discuss commissioning a piece please contact us via this form.  For more information on medieval hunting check out these previous blogs: The Noble Tradition of Boar Hunting, Gaston Phoebus Hunting Knife, The Hunting Spear of Duke Frederick IV.  Those looking for a deeper dive should read Howard Blackmore's 2000 Hunting Weapons: From the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.


divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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