His methods were basically much the same as those used when falconry started some four thousand years ago. For in spite of all our modern inventions it has changed comparatively little over the centuries.
When or where the first hawk was trained will never be known, but presents of falcons were made to the princes of the H’ia dynasty in China in 2000 B.C. There is a bas relief of a falconer in the ruined city of Khorsabad dated about 1700 B.C. ; presumably falconry spread westwards through India, Arabia and Persia. Indeed a somewhat violent Persian king is said to have become ‘a better and a wiser sovereign’ by training and observing the good qualities of a falcon.
I learnt from link that the falcons must never be kept in cages or they would break their flight feathers and so become useless for flying. Instead they must be kept tied by a leash, each to its own perch, set in the lawn on fine days or under shelter when the weather is bad.
Short strips of leather called jesses were attached, one to each leg, and these were connected to the leash by a swivel in order to prevent them twisting. On each leg they wore a small brass bell, obtained either from Holland or India. The sound of these bells carried a long way and helped one to find a hawk that was out of sight in cover.
Falcons were hooded when travelling or when another was being flown, in order to curb their restive nature. The hood also helped in training them, stopping them from becoming frightened at strange sights. Hence the word ‘hoodwinked’, for the falcon is fooled into thinking it is night and so keeps quiet.
The hawks, on the other hand, were rarely hooded, for their entirely different temperament did not require it. Though nervous and moody at times, they soon got used to the rattle and bustle of everyday life and became very tame. They were sprinters, rarely flying more than two or three hundred yards at a time, their short wings enabling them to follow closely every twist and turn of their prey, even in the thick woodland where the long winged falcons would have been quite useless.
Their dash and grab methods were very exciting to watch, but they lacked the dramatic dive from a height of the falcons, which had first to climb above their quarry and beat it in the air before they could put in those breath talon stoops hat have so delighted t and thrilled mankind. It is this high flying and spectacular stooping but a sport. p that made falconry not only a means of providing food for the larder, but a sport.
Although we could exercise the falcons in Montreal Park just across the road from Unk’s house, we had to take them to more open country than the wooded area that surrounded us locally in order to fly them successfully at wild quarry : rooks, crows and the like.
We would load up the ancient Austin, the falcons sitting on a specially contrived perch in the dicky, and go along the Pilgrim’s Way or down to the marshes around the Hundred of Hoo or the Isle of Grain. Sometimes on to Sheppey, where we would have a drink at lunch time at the World’s End pub. It certainly seemed like the world’s end then, for it stood on the bank of the Swale at the far end of the island, with nothing but flat marshland stretching for some miles all around it. Sheep and cattle and the occasional farm hand were about the only living things there apart from the wild birds.
On our way to these places we would stop at Ightham or Cobham and buy our lunch :anew loaf, cheese and butter, and a cucumber. This Unk would eat as one does a banana, after first giving me a share.
If we had four or five flights at rooks we were well satisfied, and I soon learnt that the object of the sport was to see the falcons fly; for, compared with shooting, they kill very little and the day’s pleasure is not measured by the size of the bag.
There is more enjoyment from it too, because you see birds and animals that the noise of a gun would have scared off long before.
In 1994, when the Pageant of Enpire was produced at Wembley Stadium, my uncle, dressed in the costume of Henry VIII’s time, gave a display of falconry in the arena. He used both peregrines and merlins, flying them loose and stooping them to the lure in front of huge audiences; and, although there were one or two occasions when as he thought he might lose one, they all behaved properly and flew though the thousands of onlookers did not exist. When this was first proposed one of the greatest authorities on falconry considered it would be impossible to expect the falcons to do more than fly a few yards.