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Welcome to Episode 156 of That Shakespeare Life, the show that takes you behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare.

In Elizabethan England, the Queen is immortalized in woodcuts that show her fondness for the sport of hawking. By the time James I comes to the throne in 1603, hawking is surpassed by a form of hunting called par force where animals like dogs and horses are used to round up prey. While the practical aspect of hunting animals for meat was utilized in these hunting expeditions, arguably the primary function of going hunting was to establish yourself as a member of a higher order of social status and to network with powerful political connections that might advance your station. In her paper, He Cannot Be a Gentleman Which Loveth Not Hawking and Hunting, our guest, Karen Kaiser Lee writes about the popularity of hunting par force under James I and explores the specific hunting treatises that were written during his reign to both define the methods of hunting as well as regulate the kinds of people who would be permitted to participate in this exclusive sport. Karen joins us today to take us inside the world of early modern hunting to look at who was allowed to hunt, what they used for this purpose, and how it helped usher in a new era in English history where a person could move upward in society if they were disciplined enough at a new, and important, skill.



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Karen Kaiser Lee is an Assistant Professor and the director of the writing program at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois, where she teaches writing courses such as Study of Rhetoric and Writing in Digital Environments. She began her study of renaissance hunting texts as part of her involvement in the Society for Creative Anachronism; her interest was piqued when the organization began incorporating dog coursing as an activity.

Graduate study in rhetoric allowed her to study these historic texts in depth; her master’s thesis describes how renaissance hunting manuals doubled as instructions to help the nouveau riche of the period enter the upper echelons of society. Her other research projects have included how English travel narratives describe women of other cultures. Karen has presented her research at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Explore more about Karen’s work here.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Karen Kaiser Lee about :

  • Knowledge of hunting and correct hunting terms shows up in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost when Holofernes corrects Nathaniel on his identification of a deer. Karen, what does this scene tell us about the importance of being skilled in hunting for someone that wanted to advance their social status?

  • After someone met the necessary requirements socially, where did someone who wanted to hunt par force go to participate in this sport, were there specialized locations set aside for hunting? 

  • Karen writes that in a play contemporary to Shakespeare, The Roaring Girl, by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekkers staged around 1607, live water spaniels are called for by the stage directions and that the use of water spaniels, specifically, was due to regulations from the hunting treatises of the time period. Karen, were dogs also subject to a social order and ranking of best dogs for hunting?

… and more!

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    Hold, Warwick, seek thee out some other chase,

    For I myself must hunt this deer to death.

    Richard Plantagenet

    Henry VI part II (V.2)

    Hunting For Elizabeth was Mainly for Show

    witch feeding familiars 1604

    Queen Elizabeth Engaged in Hawking | An original miscellany of literary, antiquarian, and topographical information, embellished with one hundred adn fifty woodcuts | Author E. W. Brayley | 1834 | Subjects: England – Antiquities England – Architechure England | Publisher: London, Chidley | Contributing Library: Robarts – University of Toronto | Digitizing Sponsor: MSN | Public Domain | Image Source

    Elizabeth I enjoyed hunting and there are many woodcuts showing the queen,in all her regalia, hunting with falcons, hawks, as well as participating in what was a grand event called a Royal Hunt. 

    As Karen Kaiser Lee explains, 

    [The hunt was ] definitely entertainment, [getting] food was [a] bonus…She enjoyed hunting, she did a type of hunting called bow and stable. She was on a platform, they would drive the game in front of her and she would casually shoot at the deer, with musicians playing, courtiers waiting on her, etc. So different from hunting we think of today. Definitely the entire production was for entertainment.

    A huntsman presenting Elizabeth I with the heart of a deer he has caught for her. Image from Turbervile’s Booke of Hunting, 1576 by George Tubervile. Available on Google Books Here.

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    The king he is hunting the deer


    Love’s Labour’s Lost (IV.3)

    Hunting for James I was mainly Par Force

    william strachey mermaid tavern group

    Hart-hunting with Greyhounds and Raches | from Le Livre de chasse de Gaston Phébus (“The Hunting Book of Gaston Phebus”) | The hunters are using par force style hunting in this picture | 15th Century | Illuminated Manuscripts | Publice Domain | Image Source

    Par force style hunting was much more aggressive, and much more about hunting the animal you were chasing, than had been customary under Elizabeth I’s version of a royal hunt. The Grand Royal Hunt for James I was every bit as focused on networking with the right people as it was for Elizabeth I, but for James, there was a particular focus on getting together your hunting dogs and chasing after the prey, flushing him from the woods, and capturing the beast to demonstrate your skill. Karen shares that James’ proclivity for the sport was so enthusiastic, his council worried it bordered on the obsessive:

    Hyper masculine form of hunting. No waiting for someone to drive it in front of him. Aggressive, driving the game, and hunted so much his advisors were concerned.

    Par force hunting in North Zealand, Denmark | 1750 | Water Colour by Johan Jacob Bruun | Public Domain | Image Source

    Under James I, there was a dichotomy created when James on the one hand started handing out knighthoods like medals at a 6-year old soccer match in the US. Everyone could be a knight as long as you had a minimal income level met and you showed up on the right day to receive the knighthoods as they were being given out. Theoretically, becoming a knight (even under these new, much freer, conditions) you ought to have access to events like the Grand Royal Hunt. However, James made a distinction for hunting that only the incredibly elite of society ought to be permitted to play. Rolling back many of the now eliminated sumptuary laws that had been so restrictive under Elizabeth I, James I introduced an entirely new set of status-based laws about the sport of hunting. Karen Kaiser Lee explains,

    Hunting laws are like sumptuary laws. Under Elizabeth it was so dangerous to violate sumptuary laws, Parliament decided to get rid of them and James brought them back with these hunting laws. At the same time, he’s giving out carpet knight titles. Dolling them out, selling them, and theoretically entitles the people to hunt given their title, but James specifically limits hunting to the uber elite. Doesn’t want clowns having access to his sport. 

    1. Elizabeth I’s Hunting Lodge | CCBY2.0 | Image Source

    2. Medieval Hounds | Public Domain | Image Source

    3. A Painting of the Goddess Diana Deer Hunting | Artist Peter Paul Rubens (1636-1639) | Public Domain | Image Source

    4. Forest Landscape with Deer Hunting | Public Domain | Image Source

    5. Deer Hunting | Public Domain | Image Source

    6. Gribskov Map Detail | CCBY4.0 | Image Source

    7. Kong Christian VII during a Par Force Hunt in North Zealand, Denmark | 18th Century | Public Domain | Image Source

    8. La Livre de Chaise | 1389 | Gaston Phoebus | Medivial Hart Hunt | Public Domain | Image Source

    9. Hart Hunting | 15th Century | from Le Livre de Chasse de Gaston Phébus | Public Domain | Image Source

    10. Diagram of Deer Scat | 1576 

    11. Brief History of Wood-Engraving Wynkyn de Worde Fishing | 1496 | Public Domain | Image Source

    12. Book of St Albans | Circa 1488 | Public Domain | Image Source

    13. The Booke of Hunting | 1576 | “Force” hunting deer |Tubervile’s Book 

    14. Elizabeth Hunting Deer | From the Booke of Hunting | 1576 | Tubervile’s Book

    15. Kinds of Hunting Dogs | 1576 | Tubervile’s Book

    16. The Booke of Hunting | 1576 | Tubervile’s Book

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    ‘Tis well, sir, that you hunted for yourself;

    ‘Tis thought your deer does hold you at a bay.


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    Southampton portrait wriothesley

    Feeding station in Kægersborg Dyrehave north of Copenhagen, Denark | September 28th, 2011 | Feeding Station in the Royal Deer Park | Attracting the deer to the location where they were intended to be hunted was part of maintaining the private hunting lodges where par force hunting took place | Author Lars Plougmann | Creative Commons 2.0 | Image Source

    Hunting Events Were Held at Private Parks

    As you may have seen on shows like Downton Abbey, where a nobleman owns a great estate, one of the defining attributes of a truly established property of the elite was to include a hunting park. Having a hunting park on one’s estate was about more than just having enough space to hunt, but included the development and maintenance of a sufficient stock of animals in that area such that visiting dignitaries could stop at your estate and be assured of hunting success when hunting on your property. A modern example of this historical practice shows up in the film, Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy invites Elizabeth Bennet’s cousins to fish in the lake on his property. This invitation was reserved only for honored guests, and regular hunting was necessary to keep the animal population in check. Similar conditions existed in Shakespeare’s England where private estate owners would invite dignitaries to hunt while staying on the estate.

    Karen explains, 

    Yes, there were hunting parks owned by the aristocracy. Being able to own enough land to have a stocked hunting park on your property was very important to host nobility, grand par force hunts. It wasn’t a park in the public sense, it was an owned, private park. Hunting is like golf today. When people play golf, they have tobe in a  club, have a membership, or be invited by a member, specialized terms, tools, etc.

    Deer on a hunting landscape in Denmark | Image taken by Bastian | Used under CCBY2.0 License | Image Source

    Using this episode for a lesson in your class?

    This episode has a complete lesson pack! Lesson packs include a basic history guide plus 5 worksheets that coordinate with the podcast episode to create a complete lesson so it is easy to incorporate today’s episode into your classroom.

    See where the huntsmen stand.

    Now, brother of Gloucester, Lord Hastings, and the rest,

    Stand you thus close, to steal the bishop’s deer?

    King Edward IV

    Henry VI Part III (V.5)

    Comedy of Errors Lithograph

    Picture from Livre de La Chasse by Gaston Phoebus | A Medieval Manuscript with Famous Illustrations | Public Domain | Image Source

    Hunting was a Means for Social Advancement

    During Shakespeare’s lifetime, society saw what Karen calls “permeability,” in social structure, meaning it became possible for individuals to defy the station into which they were born, and through knowledge of specialized skills, like hunting par force, to advance their social status and move into the upper echelons of society. To make this easier to do, specific manuals were written to welcome newcomers to the upper echelons and educate them on the ways of the new social status. These manuals were called treatises, and there were several written on hunting. Karen shares some of the most popular manuals: 

    La Livre de Chaise, 1389, Gaston Phoebus, called himself Phoebus, naming himself after Apollo. [He was a] well known hunter, [and his book is a] thorough book, [covering all strati] of hunting including the lower classes, showing hunting with nets (which nobility never do). This book survived as a copy. Edward of York wrote his translation of this book and called his translation “The Master of Game” Edward does eliminate some prey that is not common in England, like reindeer, and he adds a few chapters specific to hunting. This book was known and circulated and copied. After that, there was something called the Book of St. Albans. Published late 1400s.

    Image from the Book of St. Albans | Printed Illustrated Book, soon after 1486 | Unknown Illustrator – Cambridge University Library, Inc.3.J.4.1[3636] Inc.3.J.4.1[3636], fol. 65v, colour printing, after 1486. (c. 1388-) | Book of hawking, hunting, and blasing of arms (Book of St. Albans) | with obscene pencil drawing in margin of St. Albans: Schoolmaster Printer | [not before 1486] | Public Domain | Image Source

    Gribskov – Map Detail | CCBY4.0 | Image Source

    Use our collection of activity kits to can cook, play, and create your way through the life of William Shakespeare with recipes, games, and crafts straight from Shakespeare's lifetime (and mentioned in his plays!) It's the most fun way to explore history.

    Books & Resources Karen Kaiser Lee Recommends

    Online Version of Gaston Phoebus’ Manuscript is Here –

    A copy of The Noble Art of Venery.

    Gaston Phoebus’ Livre de Chasse, excerpt here:

    The image with the deer poop on the breakfast table:

    Tubervile’s Book of Hunting, 1576 (readable on Google Books here:)

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