Transitional Hunting Landscapes: Deer Hunting and Foxhunting in Northamptonshire, 1600-1850
thesisposted on 26.03.2012, 10:56 by Amanda Jayne de Belin
Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries the sport of hunting was transformed. The principal prey changed from deer to fox, and the methods of pursuit were revolutionized. The traditional explanation of the hunting transition has aligned it with change in the landscape. Disappearing woodland and increased enclosure led to decline of the deer population. Attention turned to the fox out of necessity. This thesis questions the traditional explanation. It centres on Northamptonshire because the county contained the archetypal landscapes of both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ forms of hunting. Although often thought of as a county of classic midland open-field systems and parliamentary enclosure, Northamptonshire also contained three royal forests. Where the royal forests had once been the prime hunting grounds, by the nineteenth century this mantle was worn by the grassland of the ‘shires’. The elite hunted the fox in Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. To hunt anywhere else was to hunt in the ‘provinces’. In Jacobean England, the major pleasure to be gained from the pursuit of the deer was observing the skill of the hounds. The major pleasure to be gained from ‘modern’ fox hunting was the thrill of a fast gallop across country. If seventeenth century hunting was about the hound, then nineteenth-century hunting was about the horse. The thesis contends that the partially wooded landscape that typified royal forest largely survived across the period 1600-1850, but it was not the landscape for a horseback pursuit at breakneck speed. The defining feature of the shires landscape was mile after mile of grass to gallop across. The earlier landscape survived, but was no longer what was required. This thesis suggests that the many changes that hunting underwent in this period were directly related to the transformation of the hunting horse. The nearthoroughbred horse became the mount of choice for those who hunted in the shires. The fast horse, the fast hound, and the fast prey came together with the availability of extensive rolling pasture. It was, quite literally, the thrill of the chase that led to the hunting transition.