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Month: October 2016

Hunting with Birds

bonellis-eagle-stephenIn the sequel to ‘Reconquista‘ we meet a new character, a falconer.

In medieval Europe just about everyone hunted. Game was part of everyday food supplies and, in country areas, was sometimes, with fish, the main form of protein.  ‘The birds of the sky and the fishes of the deep are common property‘ was a commonly held belief, according to the 12th century John of Salisbury, though often not one shared by the landowners. Outside of the towns, all classes used birds in hunting and it was only the introduction of land enclosure ( at least in England ) and the development of accurate sporting guns which led to its decline.

We know that a hierarchy for hunting with birds existed, though it was probably the high cost of Falconerspurchase and training of the larger, rarer birds and of having the land to fly them on, which meant that these became the birds of the aristocracy. Kings and Princes were keen to protect their birds and their hunting rights.  Upon his accession to the throne of Castile and Leon in 1252, Alfonso X decreed that ‘no one may dare to remove either hawk or falcon or sparrowhawk from my kingdoms without my order‘.

History has many examples of ransoms, fines and rents being paid wholly or in part with hawks.  As late as 1764 the Dukes of Atholl were granted the feudal tenancy of the Isle of Man for a ‘rent’ of two white gyrfalcons, to be paid to WhiteGYrpaintingmonarchs upon their coronation. There is also a story that a medieval Bishop of Ely, whose hawk was stolen from the cloisters while he was preaching. He re-mounted the pulpit and swore to excommunicate the perpetrators of the theft.  The bird was returned.

Gyrfalcons ( falco rusticolus ), especially white ones, were much desired. When King Edward I of England sent a gift of four gyrfalcons to his brother-in-law, King Alfonso X in 1282, he apologised for their being grey  not white. The ‘Greenland’ white falcon was most prized, but falcons generally were considered royal birds – avis regia.

In the Rich Codex copy of the Cantigas de Santa Maria there is an illustration of Alfonso, out heron alfonsohuntinghunting with falcons (see right). Like many monarchs of his time, female as well as male, Alfonso was fond of the chase, seeing it as good physical exercise and preparation for warfare.  The connection between war and hunting has been maintained until relatively modern times – the Duke of Wellington, for example, included a pack of foxhounds in his entourage for war against Napoleon.

ImperialIberianEagleFalconry, it was claimed, by no less than the Holy Roman Emperor, ‘enables nobles and rulers disturbed and worried by the cares of state to find relief in the pleasures of the chase‘.  Mary, Queen of Scots enjoyed it and so did Catherine the Great. Incidentally, there is historical evidence of eminent women falconers, most famously in Japan, where the Masayori training method was devised by a woman falconer in the second century CE.

The eagle was, traditionally, the imperial bird, but was rarely used in medieval Europe, being very difficult to keep and train, though there are records of its use in Central Asia.  So I’m afraid I have stretched credulity a little by including a semi-tame Imperial Eagle ( aquila heliaca ) in the new book, together with a white gyrfalcon named Abyssa.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy            The Journey Continues     Plots                   Characters                      Walking the Streets

Walking the Streets

jerezsept2016 I’ve just returned from Jerez, where it was thirty-two degrees and sunny – still Summer really.  So I didn’t get to go up to the mountains as I’d hoped, it was still just too hot, I’ll have to wait for cooler times.  I was, however, able to do some other research, mainly into specific places within the old town of Jerez and into timings – which will help with my writing of the sequel to ‘Reconquista‘.

The events of the next book take place over about a fortnight, but a lot happens in that time.  Just like the first book, the tale is told from the points of view of a number of characters so I jerezsept20163need to be specific about where each of them are and when (sometimes they miss each other, or avoid each other, by seconds). So I was striding around the narrow streets within the old town to work out approximately how long it would take to get from one point to another.  The street pattern may, in places, have changed since the 13th century, but the distances remain the same.

Anyone observing me would have wondered just what this middle-aged English woman was up to, consulting her watch and making notes before starting off again. Something nefarious perhaps, like planning a quick getaway after a robbery. Maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t attract the attention of the local Guardia Civil.

As usual I spent some time at the Alcazar, which is a lovely place to sit and write, although this time I did so outside in its orange grove or Patio de los Naranjas, overlooking the Cathedral of San Salvador.

jerezsept20162I drove out of town with a friend, which enabled me to look back towards the city and see what my characters would see as they approached it.  The topography is undulating and the old city was at a high point, but the gradient isn’t uniform, so parts of the walls are on a relatively flat surface, whereas elsewhere the land falls away sharply, especially from the Alcazar and nearby.

Anyone journeying from the coast to the west would see the towers of the Alcazar first, high up on its hill, whereas anyone approaching from the east would see the city walls rising out of a plain. Whether or not these vistas will feature in the final book I don’t know, but it was important to me that I knew about them.

The book is taking shape, though I’m only just half way through the first version.  Like its predecessor it will have three sections. I’m sticking with the classic ‘story of a journey‘ structure – characters set out, they journey, they come home.

Part One is ‘In the City‘ and Part Three ‘Returning‘, but I have not decided on the title for Part Two though I’m using ‘In the Mountains‘ for now. In this volume there will also be an Epilogue, showing what happens to the characters in the future. This should ensure that I won’t be tempted to write any more about them – the next book in the series will be set approximately two hundred and thirty years after the second.

Now, however, I must properly type up all those sections which I scribbled down on bits of paper when I was away – I didn’t, on this occasion, take my lap-top, something I’m beginning to regret.

If you enjoyed reading this post you might also enjoy           Characters             Plots       The Journey Continues….          Up in the High Sierras

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