Falconry, or hawking, was the practice of using trained birds of prey to catch other birds, for the purpose of gathering food or entertainment. Although the sport is associated with the noble classes, falconry was practiced by people from all levels of society.
The falconer’s job was to catch and train birds of prey to be handled by humans, without dulling the birds’ natural hunting instincts. The falconer made custom-fit jesses, or hoods and tethers, for each bird, and was responsible for keeping these hunting birds trained, fed and healthy.
Although falconry was practiced by members of all social classes, there were pronounced differences in the species of birds used, based upon a hawker’s ability to acquire them. The most common and least expensive bird was the kestrel, which was trained to land upon the hunter’s fist; other birds, in ascending order of value, were the sacre, goshawk, Peregrine falcon, and eagle, which were usually trained to land on wooden perches. Obviously, only the wealthiest nobles could afford eagles or multiple hawks.
Since nearly all kings took part in falconry, it was common for royal falconers to have several assistants and the ear of the king, making falconers high-ranking, influential officials.