The History of Hunting in Europe: From Grand Hunts to Fox-Hunting
The text takes us on a journey through the history of hunting in Europe, starting with grand hunts held by European nobility in the eighteenth century to the widespread fox-hunting that had taken the entire kingdom by the end of the century. We learn about the decline of stag-hunting, the rise of fox-hunting and how the increase in the popularity of fox-hunting led to selective breeding of hounds specifically for hunting the fox.
Table of Contents
- The Rise of Hunting in Europe
- Stag Hunting
- Fox-hunting Takes Centre Stage
- Selective Breeding of Hounds
- Horse Racing and Hunting
Q: When did hunting become popular among European nobility?
A: Hunting became popular among European nobility in the eighteenth century.
Q: Can you tell us about Duke Karl Eugen of Wurttemberg’s birthday celebration?
A: Duke Karl Eugen of Wurttemberg celebrated his birthday with a two-week gala hunt in which 5,000 animals were driven into a lake and killed.
Q: Who criticised hunting in Europe?
A: Frederick the Great of Prussia criticised hunting in Europe.
Q: Did every monarch in England love hunting?
A: Yes, every monarch in England including Queen Anne and George II were known for their love of hunting.
Q: What contributed to the decline in the deer population in England?
A: Deforestation brought on by naval expansion contributed to the decline in the deer population.
Q: When did fox-hunting become the hunters’ main prey in England?
A: Fox-hunting became the hunters’ main prey in England by the middle of the eighteenth century.
Q: Who turned his hunt into the most celebrated in England?
A: Hugo Meynell turned his hunt into the most celebrated in England.
Q: What promoted social integration in England during hunting season?
A: Hunting was also held, not without reason, to promote social integration.
Q: Who spread hunting to every corner of the kingdom in England?
A: The gentry and their tenant-farmers spread hunting to every corner of the kingdom in England.
The Rise of Hunting in Europe
In the eighteenth century, hunting became a popular pastime among the European nobility. Grand hunts were held, where hundreds of boats and peasants assisted in the capture of animals. For instance, the Elector of Palatine held a grand hunt in 1770, where over 100 deer were captured. Similar events were held in other parts of Europe, such as Duke Karl Eugen of Wurttemberg’s two-week gala hunt in which 5,000 animals were driven into a lake and killed. However, with the rise in popularity of hunting came criticism from some quarters. For instance, Frederick the Great of Prussia wrote against the “lethal skill” that did “nothing for the mind.” Maria Theresa of Austria ordered a cull of deer and boar in royal reserves to protect crops, while her successor Joseph II abolished his entire hunting establishment.
Stag-hunting during the reigns of the first two Georges in England involved the royal family, the nobility and extended to city merchants, professional men, and even clergy who accompanied the hunting party. After each hunt, their Majesties and the nobility dined in public, allowing all-comers to witness the event. However, with agricultural expansion claiming forests for arable and pastoral farming, stag-hunting had become mainly a royal activity. Deforestation brought on by naval expansion also contributed to the decline in the deer population.
Fox-hunting Takes Centre Stage
By the middle of the eighteenth century, fox-hunting had become the hunters’ main prey, mainly because it was classified as vermin and could be killed by anyone with impunity. The increase in the popularity of fox-hunting led to selective breeding of hounds specifically designed for hunting the fox. Hugo Meynell turned his hunt into the most celebrated in England, and the agricultural developments that had changed half of Leicestershire from arable into pastoral by the time he started his hunt greatly assisted him.
Selective Breeding of Hounds
Faster hounds required faster horses, and selective breeding produced the English thoroughbred, the perfect hunting instrument. By the 1780s, neighboring hunts had made Leicestershire in general and the town of Melton Mowbray, in particular, the centre of English hunting. Although aristocrats were the ones who set the pace in English hunting, the gentry and their tenant-farmers spread it to every corner of the kingdom.
Horse Racing and Hunting
Horse racing and hunting were closely connected, with racing having spread throughout the length and breadth of England. Classic races were established to give racing a national and public profile. Hunting was popular among the urban population and brought together people from all classes, from the Peer to the Peasant. Hunting was also held to promote social integration, although only the wealthy could afford to hunt with the Quorn or Cottesmore.
In conclusion, hunting played a crucial role in European nobility life in the eighteenth century, with grand hunts held in various parts of Europe. However, some monarchs and leaders of some countries started expressing criticism of the lethal skill. With agricultural and naval expansion, stag hunting’s popularity started declining, and fox hunting became the hunters’ main prey. Racing and horse breeding also played crucial roles in the development of hunting, which by the end of the eighteenth century had become widespread in England, bringing together people from all classes.