Falconry… A traditional hunting in Lorraine… A Little history

The history of Lorraine is rich; That of his hunt is just as much! We present to you today the falconry and the Goshawkery, particularly popular with the aristocracy; That distracted every Sunday dukes and nobles of the region..

In his count of the Duchy of Lorraine in 1594, Thierry Alix devotes a chapter in the census of “Aires Oyseaux Estans ez Forest Dutit County of Bitche”. If the president of the Lorraine Chamber of Auditors takes the trouble to locate fourteen raptor areas, this proves their importance. In fact, birds of prey are of interest to the authorities as well as to the peasant world. On the one hand, they compete with man: They are accused of impoverishing the hunting heritage and are committing damage in the lower courts, on the other hand, they are a popular auxiliary for hunting in the context of falconry. While in the eighteenth century, the first perception of raptors was required, before the Thirty Years ‘ War (1618-1648), hunting concerns dominated.

Autourserie and Falconry

A distinction is made based on the Raptors used. The simple hunting of the flight destined to feed the kitchen, called low flight or Autourserie, is practiced with the goshawk or the hawk. The first captures rabbits, pheasants, pigeons or partridge, while the second is reserved for smaller catches such as quail, larks or runners. On the contrary, falconry or high-flying hunting is a distinguished sport for which falcons are used.
Among the Falcons, two species appear to be particularly valued: Gyrfalcon and Lanier. The Icelandic hawk, or Gyrfalcon, is known for its strength and rapid flight. It is recommended to precipitate large birds such as herons to the ground.

Catching Raptors

Until the sixteenth century, the possession of a hawk was a seigneurial privilege. Every nobleman must have one or more raptors erected for hunting. It is strictly forbidden to unearth large or small raptors or to destroy their eggs and nests. However, this ban is not respected by peasants who seek to eliminate these raptors that threaten their poultry houses. Any violation shall be punished by a heavy fine; The areas are being monitored by the forest wardens. Heavy compensation is offered to foresters who deliver young raptors or indicate their presence to seigneurial falconers. The goshawks and the falcon are then captured and trained for hunting.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the archives of Lorraine mentioned several catches of young raptors for their training or “affaitage”. Hawks, goshawks, are sent at great expense to the ducal court for the hawking. The most important areas were in Bitche County. Thus, in 1610, four goshawks and three male tiercels (male raptors) are brought to Nancy. Other raptors are caught to be delivered to Nancy in 1614, 1628 and 1630, according to the departmental archives of Meurthe-et-Moselle.

Air combat

Among the hawkings, the Heron seems the most popular and the most spectacular. When the Heron noticed that its enemy was chasing him, he always climbed higher to exhaust the hawk trying to fly over it. If it fails to escape its assailant by this skilful maneuver, it stretches its pointed beak towards the falcon. Several hawks skewed themselves on heron’s beaks and were thus severely wounded. In a big tumult, air combat continues with a fast gliding flight to finish on the ground.
The Falcon “binds its prey”: it holds it in its claws to release it at the arrival of the hunters.
Often however, the hunt did not bring anything, after some unsuccessful attempts, the Hawk exhausted and perhaps frustrated, refused to launch again. Riders and mounts were then also exhausted by these vain pursuits.

An expensive and aristocratic distraction

Falconry is a typically aristocratic occupation. The Lords must display an ostentatious luxury in their hunting activities as in their other occupations in order to hold their rank. Hawking remains a luxury even if it is limited to hunting herons. The price of high-flying Hawks is a considerable sum unrelated to the value of the game they capture, especially since they are the victims of significant mortality despite the care provided.

The birds of prey also represent a gift of prizes exchanged by the nobles. Two inhabitants of Bitche County were charged in 1579 to bring hunting birds to count Conrad of Salm. With such gifts, friendship is maintained and the benevolence of an assured overlord. Thus, in 1577, Anthony von Tawagny, Bailiff de Bitche, asks the people of Fleckenstein: “If you want to offer me a couple of good raptors, such as one goshawk and its female, I will be very grateful. In exchange, I’ll give you a good dog. ” The bailiff obtained satisfaction and was able to go hawking.
The 17th century marked the end of falconry in Lorraine. In the aftermath of the Thirty Years ‘ War, it no longer found its lace in a disturbed political and social context, its exorbitant cost and the use of firearms accelerated its decline.
In the revolution, hawking seems to be abandoned throughout France. It will be reborn timidly only in the twentieth century under the impulse of Abel Boyer. However, it is on the slopes of the civil airports (Roissy) or military as Istres, that it finds new uses nowadays.

A collective sport

The Falcon Hunt usually begins in November-December and lasts until March-April. Only the very aristocracy hunting the heron takes place during the summer months. For the most part of the year, Falcons remain at rest, especially during the molting season. Until the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Dukes of Lorraine organized every year, in Bitche County, a falcon hunt on the border with the Alsatian lordships in order not to abandon their hunting rights in this area. Hawking is a collective sport. The Lord does not hunt alone, he is surrounded by touts and falconers. The Hawks on the fist, the horse-riding company is looking for a flat and clear ground to observe the aerial combat. With sticks, Jacks hit the bushes to dislodge the hares and the feathered game. “Spaniel dogs” find hidden game. As soon as the game appears, the Falconer raises the chaperone, a leather headdress surmounted by a grebe plume, thus designating the Falcon as its prey. The raptor is thrown towards the sky while the hunters chase him at a gallop, with his eyes fixed to the sky, not without risk of accident.
The falcon rises, flies over its prey and then the “Buffete”: it hits it and rushes it to the ground. Retriever dogs look for both birds and help the Falcon to control the game. The Falconer recalls his falcon backwith the help of a ringer and gives him a “Beccade”, a piece of meat as a reward for his achievement.

Article by Philippe Jéhin
East Hunter, number 107. July 2007

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