Just one more installment after this one today and my series on Georgian and Regency Era estate servants will be done! I completed the “inside staff” portion of my series, and last month traveled outside to cover the men and women who maintained the gardens and landscaped parks. If you missed the previous installments or need a refresher, the links for each are listed below.
The earliest gamekeepers, as far back as Saxon times, were by Royal appointment and employed primarily to protect the deer and wild boar from poachers. They acted as a police force of the forest, allowing the monarch and his friends to hunt the quarry safely and with plenty to shoot. While the gamekeepers of yore did not possess our modern attitudes of extreme conservation, their main job was to preserve and protect the wildlife roaming the master’s estate lands. This relatively simple scope evolved and expanded until today being a gamekeeper is a profession with its own associations, guilds, and unions, as well as colleges for education and licensure.
By the Regency, the immense country estates owned by the gentry and aristocracy required a head gamekeeper and teams of assistant gamekeepers to survive financially, and to provide the lifestyle socially essential. The gamekeepers ensured enough game for hunting and fish for angling — two important amusements for gentlemen (and some ladies) — and for the culinary extravaganzas that were a focus of fine dining. These vital employees were aware of the natural habitats of the estate’s wildlife. They recorded game statistics, controlled predators (human and animal), prevented poaching, preserved the woodlands and moors and waterways for the various animals, and monitored the health and breeding patterns.
As with other servants, there was a gamekeeper hierarchy with the Head Gamekeeper responsible for a staff compliment that could easily number fifteen or more. He may have one or two direct assistants — under-keepers — with other gamekeepers assigned to areas of specificity. Trappers, warreners (keepers of the rabbit warrens), aviary and dovecote keepers, and dog breeders/kennel keepers are a few such specialties. There were other men who tended to particular livestock: sheep, pigs, hens, cattle, and so on. Perhaps it goes without saying, but these men attended to the slaughtering as well.
The head gamekeeper was in charge of arranging hunts according to the current laws and did a fair amount of the hunting himself. Ranked high in the service to their master, a head gamekeeper enjoyed the perks of a separate cottage dwelling, a personal groom to care for his horse(s), a maid or two to perform domestic duties in his cottage, and a decent salary.
Laws Regarding Hunting Game
Game laws were first enacted in 1671 and were primarily put into place to keep the poorer people from shooting or snaring all edible wildlife. Deer, hares, rabbits, pheasants, and partridges were all mentioned in the first bill. These laws, however, were not as concerned with the prey as they were about who could be the predator. Restrictions were also placed on who could hunt and who could own hunting dogs. Some sources maintain that illegal hunting season laws weren’t strictly imposed until the 1830s. This is unclear as it was James I (1566-1625) who initially named times during which it was illegal to kill certain classes of game, and there are books, such as The Shooter’s Guide of 1816, which mention illegal shooting and trapping periods.
The laws varied widely and were constantly changing. In general, it was illegal to sell or buy game unless through a person legally qualified to kill it. Some laws set qualifications so high that men could not hunt on their own land! To be eligible to obtain a shooting license a man had to have property worth more than £100 a year, or be the eldest son of a man of higher degree, and pay for a certificate to hunt game. Owners of forests, parks, or those called lord of the manor were exempt from that requirement on his own property, but did have to pay the tax collector a fee for the game obtained. These taxes could be quite expensive.
Men who were exempt were allowed to name one gamekeeper to act as his deputy in killing game. A gamekeeper’s certificate cost 25 shillings.
The list of birds considered game changed from time to time, but typically included the following: pheasants, heath birds, black game, bustards, woodcock, red game or grouse, partridges, quail, snipes, wild ducks, teal, and widgeons. Rabbits and hares were protected by game laws, as were deer. Foxes, on the other hand, were considered vermin and not protected.
Dogs Essential for Hunters
A fascinating extra tidbit is that gamekeepers were directly responsible for the creation of many breeds of dogs. Breeding and care of the dogs used to aid in the hunt and to guard the estate were a major portion of the gamekeepers’ duties. The following list of dog breeds are those most commonly seen during the Regency.
Collie — The word collie stems from the Anglo-Saxon word black in Anglo-Saxon, indicating the original herd dogs were darker than the modern sable and white Collie. Intelligent, friendly, and agile, the Collie was rare outside of Scotland until around 1800 when it began to be used to herd sheep and cattle in England.
Dalmatian — A distinctively spotted dog, Dalmatians are alert, strong, muscular, and active, thus capable of great endurance combined with a fair amount of speed. A dalmatian’s love for accompanying horses on the road is an inbred instinct developed over hundreds of years and they have always been associated with coaching. Their size, stamina, and guard dog abilities made them popular with the English aristocracy as a companion to horse-drawn carriages. The Dalmatian’s guard dog propensities allowed the owners to leave their coach without worrying about possessions and it was often said that a coach was better left in the care of the dogs than the coachman!
Great Dane — The earliest Dane-like dogs were bred from the Irish wolfhound and old English mastiff, and called “Boar Hounds” for the prey they hunted. They were physically strong, brave, powerful hunters, quick and deadly, and very aggressive. Much different from the typical Great Dane’s temperament today, the gentleness bred into them in more recent decades.
Naturalist historian Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon gave the breed the name it came to be known by. In the early 1700s, while traveling in Denmark, Comte Buffon saw the lighter variety of the Boar Hound, which shared many similarities with the Greyhound. Buffon remarked that the Danish climate had caused the Greyhound to become “le Grand Danois.” Thereafter, the dogs became known as the Great Danish Dog or Danish Mastiffs, and the name stuck despite Denmark having nothing whatsoever to do with the development of the breed. In fact, German nobles, who imported English Boar Hounds for centuries, deserve the greater credit for breeding the elegant hunters popular in England.
English Foxhound — This medium-sized breed of swift hound was perfected in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. The English foxhound, whose origins go back to French hounds of the 14th century, was first used in packs to hunt foxes. This favorite sport of the aristocracy and gentry encouraged the careful breeding of the foxhound. The Dukes of Beaufort and Rutland, and Earls Fitzwilliam and Yarborough, established and scientifically bred the original foxhound packs. Foxhound pedigrees were being recorded by 1787, and they were a favorite subject of famed animal painter George Stubbs.
Greyhound — The Greyhound is one of the oldest dog breeds to survive to modern times, dating as far back as 2,000 BC in Egypt where greyhound-like dogs were carved and painted on the walls of a tomb. The greyhound has always been associated with royalty and nobility, and often times ownership was restricted to the ruling classes. Greyhounds have been used to hunt all kinds of game, and the sport of “coursing” — slipping two hounds in an open field to chase a flushed rabbit — has existed in England for over three centuries.
English Mastiff — The English Mastiff descended from large mastiff-type dogs brought to Britain by the Phoenician traders as far back as the 6th century B.C. These dogs were crossed with local fighting dogs, and their offspring were used to hunt wolves and as combatants in various blood sports, including fighting the lion and the bear.
Bullmastiff — English gamekeepers of the early 19th century crossed mastiffs and bulldogs until attaining the perfect combination of a dog with tremendous physical strength, endurance, intelligence, and guarding instinct. The bullmastiff was bred expressly to catch poachers by knocking him down and holding fast, because they did not want the poacher mauled but rather to be hanged as a public example.
Newfoundland — The breed originated in Newfoundland where a large working dog that swam well in even cold waters was needed to pull fishnets and heavy equipment. A gigantic dog weighing between 130-150 pounds, a Newfoundland has webbed feet and a long, thick, oily, waterproof double coat which protects him from the chill of icy waters. The dog was first brought to English public attention in 1790 in A General History of Quadrupeds, an artistic work by Sir Thomas Bewick.
English Pointer — The distinguishing characteristics of the English Pointer are its strong hunting instincts, and effortless, hard-driving movement. The Pointer’s history can be traced in writing and works of art back to the middle of the 17th century. The English Pointer resulted from crosses between Spanish pointers and most probably Foxhounds and Bloodhounds for scenting, Greyhounds for speed, and Bull Terriers for tenacity. Even before the advent of shooting with guns, the English Pointer was used to point game, which the hunters then netted or chased with coursing hounds. The English Pointer is widely regarded as one of the finest upland bird dogs in the world.
Curly Coated Retriever — Curlies originated in England and are considered to be one of the oldest retriever breeds. They were prized by both gamekeepers and poachers for their hunting skills, intelligence, strength, and perseverance in the field. Curlies were used to fetch game or fowl, and their friendly disposition also made them wonderful pets.
Terrier — Terrier is a term used to designate dogs originally bred to start small game and vermin from their burrows or, in the case of several breeds in this group, to go to earth and kill their prey. Terrier comes from the Latin word terra meaning earth. The following are some terrier breeds: Airedale Terrier, Bedlington Terrier, Border Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Fox Terrier Irish Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Skye Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier.
Spaniel — Hunting spaniels flush game from the hiding places, and after the hunter shoots retrieve the fallen quarry. They cover less ground than the larger pointers and setters, allowing hunters to follow on foot, and they can get into bramble patches and thick brush to do their job. Three breeds of popular hunting spaniels were the Cocker, Springer, and Sussex.
That’s all for today!
I shall return next month for the final installment in my Regency Servants series.
For the present, share your thoughts and questions with me NOW!