In Which A Dame Is Joined By A Gentleman

I’ve found another old falconry text via internet sources, this one a 1619 Treatise on Hawkes and Hawking by Edmund Bert, gentleman, as he insists upon on the cover page.  It begins with a letter to the Right Honourable Henry, Earl of Oxenford, Viscount Bulbecke, Lord Salford and Scales, and Lord Great-Chamberlaine  of England – our Gentleman’s patron – in which many proclamations of loyalty and love inform us that this book is actually a “testamony of my love, before I die,  which shall remain as a perpetual memorial of my ever-devoted service”.

This letter in itself is interesting since it tells us why Bert chose to write this Treatise, not only why he wrote a book at all on his deathbed but why he chose the subject of falconry.  Bert apologises to his patron no few times for the “slight” subject, and that it is “not weighty (being but a treatise of Sport)”, so one could wonder why a man in his inferior position would hazard to dedicate something he considers so meager a subject to his rather imposingly titled Right Honorourable Henry, Earl, etc., etc., in the first place.

Edmund Bert has been fighting some dehabilitating sickness for three years, as it becomes clear in later portions of the text, in which time he has been unable to keep hawks or hunt with them.  So he chooses to devote himself to this subject so he can “run back into my younger years, to summon the delights of my able youth, together with the fruits of my more experienced age.”  It’s easily imagined why he would want to recall the prime of his life when so near its end and unable to devote himself physically to it.

The book that follows tells us of Bert’s particular knowledge of falconry, and he makes a point of telling us that this is all his original work, nothing copied from previous texts (perhaps a dig at our Dame Bernes, who we believe copied several sections from older French manuscripts).  Bert makes many cofindent claims in how to train hawks, including a chapter on “how to make a hawk hood well that will not abide the sight thereof, and (how disorderly so-ever she might be) it shall be effected in forty-eight hours and less than forty bates.”

The first chapters are concerned with the ageless questions of: should you get a hawk or tiercel (female or male), and at what age should it be trapped (if falconry is practiced by taking wild birds, of course, wherein in modern British practice the same question is put to whether the captive bred birds should be parent-reared or imprints).  Bert spend a long time explaining that Haggards (birds older than a year, who have been living wild and hunting for themselves) are a bad idea, being too used to being unrestrained to submit to a falconer. Then he moves on to “Rammish” hawks, about which he says “there is small difference between the Haggard and the Rammish, only the Rammish has had less time (by preying for herself than the other) to know her own strength and worth, but in manning and making her I will set down my whole practice.”  I’m not sure if this is just the current term for a Brancher – a bird that has fledged – and closest to the modern concept of a parent-reared bird.  It would make the most sense to me, so I’ll assume so!

Lastly he talks about the Eyas hawk – what we would call an imprint – about which he prefaces his chapter: “Of the Eyas hawk, upon whom I can fasten no affection, for the multitude of her faults and follies.”  He tells us “they are so foolish in their first year they will hardly be taught to take a bough well” and “I have known some of them likewise that would sooner catch a dog in the field than a patridge” and also ” and many of them will cry as loud as you, as you will speak to them.”  All basically true, yes, but modern falconry has become just as enamoured of imprints as parent-reared birds when trained right.  Bert admits that with the right training these birds “may be ranked among the best in the highest degree” and also that they “will live longer than any of the rest, she is not apt to be sick or surfeit so soon.”

Needless to say, I’ve added Edmund Bert, gentleman, to my sources on falconry in the middle ages, even is 1619 is technically a good 200 years past the time period.  Frankly, I’m just tired of struggling through Middle English!

At some point I’ll need to stop researching and just start writing (no, the vignette I posted a bit of some weeks ago doesn’t count as the actual novel – it was written well before I started this research, and it’s horrendously incorrect in several things), but I’m still wanting to find more general sources on the time periods I hope to be working within.  At least this keeps me busy – as if my life weren’t busy enough, that is!

2 responses to “In Which A Dame Is Joined By A Gentleman

  1. I just found your post, having been reading this book and stumbling over the ‘rammish’ reference. Fascinating little book, as it gives a look into past conceptions of the sport and some of its notions. Did you ever do a book yourself?
    Victoria
    VJ Waks
    Los Angeles

  2. Thanks for commenting, Victoria. I love reading old falconry texts and seeing that actually there’s very little in modern day practice that differs from how it was done hundreds of years ago. I’ve starting writing a novel that deals with falconry in a fantasy medieval setting, but I’ve been taking a long time researching the period to make it authentic.

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