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14th century ferrets

Posted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:02 pm
by itchit
im rather new to the re-enacting scene and i am just trying to look into any and all information on ferrets in the 14th century.

i have tried looking on the net and so far all i have found out is they were brought over to england by the romans and they were used to get rabbits out of warrens (shown by a supposed 14th century tapestry)

so please any thing to help out just to build up some knowledge for myself

cheers
itchit

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:58 am
by Langley
remember Rabbits are not a native species. They were introducted by the Normans and kept in enclosed warrens. There was the trade of warrener who looked after these and used ferrets to get the bunnies out of their holes when rabbit stew was on the menu. Rabbits are actually a surprisingly late excapee into the English countryside and in the mediaeval period were almost exclusively farmed property. Anyone other than the warrener hunting them was actually poaching...

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 8:13 am
by Brother Ranulf
I concur with Langley on this. The Romans brought a number of species to Britain, including (apparently) a small Spanish species of rabbit in small numbers (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/4439339.stm), but it appears to have died out very quickly due to the adverse climate. Pole-cats and various relatives may have appeared at the same time, but these would have been mainly used as a source of furs.

The re-introduction of European rabbits by the Normans is likely to have been early in the 13th century, or very late in the 12th, with strict management of the warrens and robust laws to protect them. There are a number of 14th century images of polecats or weasel-like animals being used to drive the rabbits from their warrens but this should be seen as the prerogative of the aristocratic owners of the rabbits, not the work of opportune poachers or hungry peasants.

Again in the medieval period, furs would have been a major reason for the breeding and hunting of pole-cats, weasels and related species - it would be very difficult to point to an image in a tapestry or manuscript and state for definite that it shows a ferret rather than one of its cousins. Bestiary pictures are more likely to show weasels or polecats and these are mentioned in surviving legal documents referring to hunting rights for townspeople and burgesses.

The weasel was also referred to as the "long mouse" from the 12th century onwards.

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 3:02 pm
by Captain Reech
The ownership of nets and dogs (I also believe Ferrets or other trained members of the weasel family) by commoners and minor clergy was made illegal in the late 14th Century and there are a number of examples of manorial courts actually searching premises for these items. Rabbit farming (especially in East Anglia) was a serious and lucrative business at this time and warrens were often guarded by watchtowers or fortified buildings. The Warrener often lived within the confines of the warren. There are remaining accounts showing that considerable sums were spent on these houses (Something like £20) and there is a surviving example in East Anglia which is a two storey building with flint walls around 3 feet thick which is a pretty impressive structure for the time.

The right of 'Free Warren' (The right to hunt small game) was a jealously guarded privilege, usually only granted to gentry or nobility. This would cover small wild game (hares, pigeons etc) as opposed to reared animals like rabbits, so there doesn't look like much that could be legitimately taken by a hungry peasant!

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 12:09 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
A look at the Sumptuary Laws will back up what Reech has said, rabbits were big business.

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:53 pm
by Fox
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:A look at the Sumptuary Laws will back up what Reech has said, rabbits were big business.
I'm not sure they do.

Prior to the sumptuary laws going into satute in 1337, London has it's own equivelent which states "no common woman should go to market or leave the house with a hood furred with anything other than lambskin or rabbit".
Indication of it as the lowest of furs, right back into the begining of the 14thC.

The Sumptuary Laws of 1363, the lowest rank of person allowed to wear fur are Yeomen and their families.
It restricts them to no fur except lamb, rabbit, cat or fox. So again shows them to be the lowest type of furs.

Looking at meat prices, banquet menus and so on, rabbit is very much one of the cheapest, lowest prized meats.
And it certainly wasn't considered "proper" hunting.

But, as the Captain says, there is plenty of evidence for large, commercial style farming of rabbits, and enough investment in those enterprises to show that it was obviously very profitable on that scale.

Interestingly Ian Mortimer says (in the The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England) that: "Hares are available to trappers, as are coneys (rabbits), these having bred rapidly in the wild since their introduction to England in the twelfth century. Even though these count as game - and are often caught unlawfully - a manorial court will normally impose only a small fine for poaching them."

[with apologies to all the people who have already read all that information when I posted it earlier this year.]

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 4:17 pm
by Captain Reech
Professor Mark Bailey of the UEA has written a good article on rabbits in Medieval East Anglia (I forget the title but if you google rabbits and Mark Bailey I'm sure you'll find it!) and there's a lot of good reference material in his book 'A Marginal Economy? East Anglian Breckland in the Later Middle Ages ' which is fascinating reading (well I thought it was anyway!)

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 12:32 am
by Fox
To underline what's been said earlier, in Richard II's 1390 Statute of the Realm:
May it please you to ordain in this present parliament, that any kind of artificer or labourer, or any other person who lacks lands and tenements to the value of 40s a year, or any priest or clerk if he has not preferment worth £10, shall not keep any greyhound, or other dogs, if they are not fastened up or leashed, or have had their claws cut, on pain of imprisonment for one year. And that every justice of the peace shall have power to enquire and punish every contravention.
But, interestingly, it goes on to prohibit other commoners methods of hunting include "hounds, ferrets, hays, nets, hair-pipes, cords and all other devices to take or destroy beasts of the forest, hares or rabbits or other sport of gentlefolk".

Regardless, legal or otherwise, it seems that ferrets and nets is the most common method for catching rabbits.
The Master of Game (the oldest English hunting book) says "thi hunte hem with ferrettis and with long smale haies"

Gaston Phoebus' Livre de Chasse (~1388) goes further describing ferreting in some detail, specifically saying that the ferrets are muzzled to stop them eating a rabbit and then falling asleep.

Mark Bailey, in his study of East Anglian Breckland [thank you, Captain], does say that polecats are occasionally used; but ferrets seem to have been most common, and there are even records for ferret breeders in that region.

Finally I just wanted to add this rather lovely little illustration from Queen Mary Psalter of two women hunting rabbits with a net and a ferret.
Image

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 1:06 pm
by Cathy the slayer
I did hear that ferret's were frequently kept to clear vermin from grain stores & on boat's & ship's to catch rat's & mice & that ferret boxes & harness were found on the Mary Rose, whether this is true or not I have no idea, would be interesting to find out more.

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 2:23 pm
by Merlon.
Cathy the slayer wrote: ...that ferret boxes & harness were found on the Mary Rose, whether this is true or not I have no idea, would be interesting to find out more.
No Ferret material found on the Mary Rose. You can check the finds database if you want
http://www.maryrose.org/database/mary_rose_archive.html

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 4:20 pm
by Langley
To go reight back to the beginning of the thread. No reason why Itchit should not portray a warrener and thus be legal ans save the group the need for a trial and suitable punishment every event. Actually,wait, no, that might be even more fun.... Seriously, our daughter took that approach when she was looking for an interesting trade to play with. Much better than the soap making episode. It was so smelly she had to keep moving away from the rest of the camp and ended up as a distant smokey blurr on the horizon.

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:26 pm
by Chris T
There have been fairly common finds of tight groups of small, ovoid pierced lead weights. These look like they ought to be fishing net weights, and they may be, but since they are common on inland sites they may also have been for netting small animals. Certainly, if poaching was concerned, a weighted net is quicker, quieter and leaves less evidence than a staked down one: the noted tight groupings suggest that they were contained in a bag or similar, again a possible suggestion of something hidden.

I know none of this is absolute proof of anything, but interesting never the less.

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Mon May 16, 2011 9:17 pm
by lidimy
Hmm....

again going back to UEA, my lecturer suggested that only by the late 16th century would a guest at a feast feel a bit hard done by if he were presented with rabbit at the table...


also London was many times over wealthier and larger than other cities in England, with more access presumably to luxury imported furs - I wonder whether this would be reflected in the laws relating to clothing too?

Jean Birrell has written extensively on peasant poachers, though I think more on deer than rabbits :/ would second anything by Mark Bailey though, or Rob Liddiard on anything gamey!

also, on a point of marginl pedantry:
But, interestingly, it goes on to prohibit other commoners methods of hunting include "hounds, ferrets, hays, nets, hair-pipes, cords and all other devices to take or destroy beasts of the forest, hares or rabbits or other sport of gentlefolk".

Regardless, legal or otherwise, it seems that ferrets and nets is the most common method for catching rabbits.
The Master of Game (the oldest English hunting book) says "thi hunte hem with ferrettis and with long smale haies"
hounds, ferrets, hays, nets etc are not 'commoners'' methods of hunting at all (though if your reference is explicit in calling them 'commoner' methods I would love to have a look :D )- the prejudice against bow & stable/coursed hunts is French (the source of The Master of Game is French, calling it 'the first English hunting book' is a bit misleading - it's actually a translation rather than an original work and therefore reflects |French cultural understanding of the hunt) where hunting par force de chien was still facilitated in large tracts of forest. In England, the park was the prerogative of the nobility and supported different, but not lesser/humbler forms of hunting - and due to their enclosed nature could also support warrens, stew ponds etc (though IIRC within their own enclosed area - earthwork remains in Thetford Forest from a warren are still very visible).

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Mon May 16, 2011 9:20 pm
by lidimy
I wish I could recall better the precise details of the reference but I believe it was in the 15thC that two noblemen, representing the king in the marches, chose to go hunting in the park (or possibly chase?) next o the castle - they were reported to have returned without even a rabbit to show for their efforts and were humiliated by the fruitless expedition. I wish I could remember names and dates for this!!!

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:50 pm
by Colin Middleton
Sorry for resurecting an old thread, but I was flicking throuh the latest PostScript magazine and spotted a book of great relevance to this topic:

Rabbits, Warrens & Archaeology by Tom Williamson. They're selling it at £6.99 (pluss P&P) (http://www.psbooks.co.uk/BookDetailsByS ... 23Nav84942).

There are loads of other history books on there too, but this one seemed relevant to a query that comes up often.

Best wishes

Re: 14th century ferrets

Posted: Tue May 01, 2012 9:55 am
by latheaxe
There are some good depictions on ferrets on this FB page...https://www.facebook.com/groups/226643017437107/