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One of the commonest excuses hunts come up with for continuing to engage in this unpopular and cruel activity, is “tradition”. Catherine Deering explores the history of hunting and explains why it has ALWAYS been barbaric.

The hunted animal
Man particularly prized the fox for hunting, as the animal is strong and athletic, and will run and run. Hunters like to brag about the traditions of hunting growing up around the time of Sir Hugo Meynell, in the late 18th century, but, in fact, fox hunting is a medieval barbarity, like the burning of heretics or the disembowelling of criminals on a gibbet. There is a fox hunt in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance:

“Then it was a pure joy to listen to the hounds, when all the gathered mute got view of him. The cry they set at his head on the sight was as if all the resounding cliffs had clattered down in a heap. Here he was halloed loudly when the hunters met him, loudly cried upon with noisy calls; there he was threatened and often called thief, and ever the ticklers were at his tail, so that he could not tarry. Oft was he run at when he raked out, and of the reeled in again, so wily was Raynard……..” (7)
A study of the very early references to hunting can be found in a fascinating article by I Middleton in Sport History (8)

Hugo Meynell of the Quorn Hunt was said to have bred very fast hounds, in Leicestershire, and that these speedier hounds meant that the hunt could sally forth at mid-morning, rather than at dawn. Meynell is romantically referred to as the “father” of hunting. Hunting became popular as the economy improved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as people had more time and money, and newspapers began to be published and circulated. In these the exploits of the hunters could be explained and celebrated. The hunts attracted their own form of “mumbo jumbo”, which demarcated hunters from others and reinforced their elite nature, the exclusivity and importance of their pursuit; they adopted strict forms of dress and address.
A sentimental story is told of a Mr Pink, or Pinke, a tailor of London, who created stylish scarlet coats. Costume and ritual are important signifiers in groups of their elect and special nature. This affirmation of identity through clothing and ceremony is still common, from morris dancers to delegates at a Star Trek convention. Another example would be the Klu Klux Klan.
Historically, too, certain acts of Parliament have been crucial in upholding the hunting and killing of the fox. The Preservation of Grain Act was passed in 1532 by Henry VIII and strengthened by Elizabeth I in 1566. This Act demanded that every man, woman and child should kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of ‘vermin’. This Act’s purpose was to conserve grain stores and prevent the spread of disease in a time of expanding population and bad harvests; like the badger cull today, killing “vermin” became a profitable business for some, as the head of a badger or fox was worth ten pence. The Act had to be repealed in the mid 18th century, amid fears that it would cause many extinctions.

Between 1815 and 1914, a trade in foxes from France was developed, as there were too few indigenous animals for the hunt. Most of the trade was through Leadenhall Market. Also to improve fox numbers, coverts and small coppices were planted, where foxes could lie up and breed. In the late 19th century, women became more involved in equestrian pursuits, and this subtly affected wider gender roles. The feminine tradition of riding “side saddle” declined. The novelist Anthony Trollope noticed an increase in ladies participating in fox hunts, and he noticed that the strength, skill and empathy required to control and guide a strong, swift horse, led to women becoming more confident and independent in other social spheres.

Gamekeepers trapped, snared and shot an unknown number of foxes to preserve grouse numbers for shooting, and still do, although two world wars disrupted this activity to some extent. Animal lovers had to fight a long time to give some sort of legal protection to the fox. In 2002 the Protection of Wild Animals Act was passed in Scotland, to fierce opposition, and in 2004, the Hunting Act in England, outlawing the activity. The hunters argued the economic importance of hunting, and the cohesive role it was alleged to play in binding rural communities together, despite that fact that many rural dwellers are passionately opposed to hunting. They assert that “tradition” justifies cruelty. They also regularly propose the spurious argument that “townies” do not understand the countryside, and they regularly flout the law.

The hunted animal Man particularly prized the fox for hunting, as the animal is strong and athletic, and will run and run. Hunters like to brag about the traditions of hunting growing up around the time of Sir Hugo Meynell, in the late 18th century, but, in fact, fox hunting is a medieval barbarity, like the burning of heretics or the disembowelling of criminals on a gibbet. There is a fox hunt in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance: “Then it was a pure joy to listen to the hounds, when all the gathered mute got view of him. The cry they set at his head on the sight was as if all the resounding cliffs had clattered down in a heap. Here he was halloed loudly when the hunters met him, loudly cried upon with noisy calls; there he was threatened and often called thief, and ever the ticklers were at his tail, so that he could not tarry. Oft was he run at when he raked out, and of the reeled in again, so wily was Raynard……..” (7) A study of the very early references to hunting can be found in a fascinating article by I Middleton in Sport History (8) Hugo Meynell of the Quorn Hunt was said to have bred very fast hounds, in Leicestershire, and that these speedier hounds meant that the hunt could sally forth at mid-morning, rather than at dawn. Meynell is romantically referred to as the “father” of hunting. Hunting became popular as the economy improved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as people had more time and money, and newspapers began to be published and circulated. In these the exploits of the hunters could be explained and celebrated. The hunts attracted their own form of “mumbo jumbo”, which demarcated hunters from others and reinforced their elite nature, the exclusivity and importance of their pursuit; they adopted strict forms of dress and address.

A sentimental story is told of a Mr Pink, or Pinke, a tailor of London, who created stylish scarlet coats. Costume and ritual are important signifiers in groups of their elect and special nature. This affirmation of identity through clothing and ceremony is still common, from morris dancers to delegates at a Star Trek convention. Another example would be the Klu Klux Klan. Historically, too, certain acts of Parliament have been crucial in upholding the hunting and killing of the fox. The Preservation of Grain Act was passed in 1532 by Henry VIII and strengthened by Elizabeth I in 1566. This Act demanded that every man, woman and child should kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of ‘vermin’. This Act’s purpose was to conserve grain stores and prevent the spread of disease in a time of expanding population and bad harvests; like the badger cull today, killing “vermin” became a profitable business for some, as the head of a badger or fox was worth ten pence. The Act had to be repealed in the mid 18th century, amid fears that it would cause many extinctions.

Between 1815 and 1914, a trade in foxes from France was developed, as there were too few indigenous animals for the hunt. Most of the trade was through Leadenhall Market. Also to improve fox numbers, coverts and small coppices were planted, where foxes could lie up and breed. In the late 19th century, women became more involved in equestrian pursuits, and this subtly affected wider gender roles. The feminine tradition of riding “side saddle” declined. The novelist Anthony Trollope noticed an increase in ladies participating in fox hunts, and he noticed that the strength, skill and empathy required to control and guide a strong, swift horse, led to women becoming more confident and independent in other social spheres. Gamekeepers trapped, snared and shot an unknown number of foxes to preserve grouse numbers for shooting, and still do, although two world wars disrupted this activity to some extent.

Animal lovers had to fight a long time to give some sort of legal protection to the fox. In 2002 the Protection of Wild Animals Act was passed in Scotland, to fierce opposition, and in 2004, the Hunting Act in England, outlawing the activity. The hunters argued the economic importance of hunting, and the cohesive role it was alleged to play in binding rural communities together, despite that fact that many rural dwellers are passionately opposed to hunting. They assert that “tradition” justifies cruelty. They also regularly propose the spurious argument that “townies” do not understand the countryside, and they regularly flout the law.

There is a fascinating article on the sexual aspects of hunting to be found at: VIOLENT LOVE: HUNTING, HETEROSEXUALITY, AND ‘TH EROTICS OF MEN’S PREDATION This is US based research. Another useful read is: What Is Sport: A Controversial Essay About Why Humans Play Sports, by Rob Alpha ,Bookbaby, 2015. This examines the neurophysiological link between sex and a man’s desire to hunt. More information can be found in “Abnormal psychology” by J M Hooley et al, Pearson, 2016. The fox is Britain’s largest mammalian predator, the wolves and bears being extinct. It is continually persecuted. It is continually prized. For human behaviour to be changed, it must first be understood. There is much very valuable research on cruelty to animals, but understanding why people hunt for sport and pleasure would require psychological analysis of a large cohort of hunters, all of whom were telling the truth, against a broad range of evaluative criteria. This is probably impossible to achieve. Animal lovers assert the right of the animal to simply be; to serve no human purpose, but to have their own life. They assert also that animals should not be regarded solely in the framework of whether or not they are useful to man. This argument will probably continue for a long time, and it may never be known precisely why people hunt for pleasure, given the complexity of the subject. But it may be that a fox hunter has something deep in his or her psyche which is so troubling to them, so painful, so terrifying to confront, so abominable, that they seek to sublimate it in the total subjugation and destruction of a helpless and terrified creature. It may be, out in those beautiful fields, hills and coverts, in galloping after his need for power and control, the fox hunter is, fundamentally, hunting himself.
This is US based research.

Another useful read is: What Is Sport: A Controversial Essay About Why Humans Play Sports, by Rob Alpha ,Bookbaby,2015.

This examines the neurophysiological link between sex and a man’s desire to hunt. More information can be found in “Abnormal psychology” by J M Hooley et al, Pearson, 2016.

The fox is Britain’s largest mammalian predator, the wolves and bears being extinct. It is continually persecuted. It is continually prized. For human behaviour to be changed, it must first be understood. There is much very valuable research on cruelty to animals, but understanding why people hunt for sport and pleasure would require psychological analysis of a large cohort of hunters, all of whom were telling the truth, against a broad range of evaluative criteria. This is probably impossible to achieve.

Animal lovers assert the right of the animal to simply be; to serve no human purpose, but to have their own life. They assert also that animals should not be regarded solely in the framework of whether or not they are useful to man. This argument will probably continue for a long time, and it may never be known precisely why people hunt for pleasure, given the complexity of the subject. But it may be that a fox hunter has something deep in his or her psyche which is so troubling to them, so painful, so terrifying to confront, so abominable, that they seek to sublimate it in the total subjugation and destruction of a helpless and terrified creature. It may be, out in those beautiful fields, hills and coverts, in galloping after his need for power and control, the fox hunter is, fundamentally, hunting himself.