Hugo Meynell – the original foxhunter?
Or is this another false claim?
There is a history of the Quorn Hunt on its website:
This refers quite openly to the need to provide places for foxes to breed, and, subsequently, hunted:
The hunt needed places where a fox might lie and be easily found. The solution was sought and found in the making of new coverts, not less than two and no more than twenty acres in extent.
Meynell is often referred to sentimentally as the “father of foxhunting”. He is said to have scientifically bred a new type of foxhound which had stamina and could keep up a run much longer than the fox, and had a better sense of smell. Foxhunting entered a “golden age” when hunts could start later, where the railways gave much greater accessibility and facilitated the transport of hunters and of horses, and where the hunting field was “a most agreeable coffee house ….. not to be found in any other part of the globe but in England’s true land of liberty……” (Hawkes)
There is an effusive biographical sketch of Meynell in The Noble Science, a few general ideas on fox hunting, by Frederick Radcliffe, 1911.
“The great Mr Meynell was designated by his admiring friends as “The king of sportsmen”, the “hunting Jupiter.” He had earned those titles by the success of his practice……. his conduct, from the commencement to the close of his career……[was]characterised by the deportment which distinguishes a thorough-bred English gentleman…..” The Noble Science p. 318
However, the cult of his wonderfully polished gentleman has been comprehensively challenged by recent research, which discusses the medieval fox hunt, and credits Charles Apperley, or “Nimrod” with lionising Meynell and largely inventing Meynell’s supposed revolutionary contribution to the hunt. See:
The origins of English fox hunting and the myth of Hugo Meynell and the Quorn, by Iris M Middleton, Sport in History, 25(1), pp1-16
Apperley, 1777-1843, was a journalist who wrote to increase the circulation of The Sporting Magazine, and, as such, was unlikely to wish to antagonise the wealthy hunters who provided so much copy. Several of his publications are conserved in Internet Archive:
Apperley cannot be considered as an authoritative writer on the “noble sport”; his references to Meynell are usually utterly sycophantic:
“That Mr Meynell studied fox hunting as a science we believe no one will deny; and that his master mind was quite equal to the task he imposed upon himself, is also admitted fact; for he was a man of more than ordinary acuteness, coupled with a close and accurate observation of everything that passed under his eye; and all this with the benefit of an education perfected beyond the usual extent of that bestowed upon, or perhaps submitted to, young gentlemen of large fortune in his day, having studied nearly three years with a private tutor before he came of age. That he shone before all others who had preceded him, in the breeding and management of hounds, is a fact universally admitted…….”p390
From The horse and the hound, Nimrod, 1842
Unfortunately, no evidence is given to support this eulogy.
A similarly obsequious view of Meynell is given in The Meynellian Science or fox hunting upon system, by John Hawkes, 1767-1834, and published in 1848. It was privately reprinted in 1926. This tells us that he was an utterly marvellous chap, but contains no scientific data or methodology as to how he bred such fine hounds, in the most wonderful pastime known to man.
It is difficult, therefore, to escape the conclusion that Meynell’s reputation is a good example of the “invention of tradition”, to legitimise certain institutions and practices, and to perpetuate privilege. The hunting fraternity does not want people to know that their “sport” is a medieval barbarity.
After Meynell’s death in 1808, Quorn Hall, and the mastership of the hunt, were inherited by his son, also called Hugo. Hugo Junior died from a fall, during a fox hunt, in 1810. The Quorn now describes itself as in “rude health”, if “a tad more egalitarian”.
The article from Sports History can be obtained from the British Library, or through any public library, by inter library loan. They may make a small charge for this.