For the purposes of the historical novel upon which I am at present working, I have recently been looking into the complicated business of medieval hunting. By which I mean the sort of hunting indulged in by royalty and the aristocracy. The poor man sneaking off with some midwinter game has been left well alone – and I hope he enjoyed every nourishing mouthful of his illicit stew!
I know nothing about modern day hunting, wherever in the world it takes place, nor do I wish to, but things were very different during medieval times. Then, hunting was much admired, and deemed to make men good and noble. I think my 21st-century attitude would soon lead to me being pursued to a very sticky end in the heart of some royal forest or other! That unlikely scenario aside, those long-gone huntsmen knew all the vast numbers of intricate rules and very precise words that can be quite mystifying to us today. Especially given the happy-go-lucky medieval spelling!
The hounds are still today described variously as lymers/limers, raches (running hounds), greyhounds, alaunts (large haunts), spaniels, mastiffs (called curs), terriers (small curs). And these are only some.
Lymers (scent hounds) appear to have played a very significant role, and I always thought (from the frequency with which they are mentioned) that they were numerous. But, in The Hound and the Hawk, by John Cummins, it is recorded that “…Richard III’s Master of the Hart-hounds received a feeding allowance for forty dogs and three lymers…” The king himself only had only three lymers with his hart-hounds? These must have been very valuable hounds indeed.
Cummins goes on “…The lymer (French limier, German leit-hund, Spanish can de traella) had a special role in detecting the whereabouts of the hart on the morning of the hunt, when the huntsman in charge of the lymer went out with it on a leash in order to report back to the assembly. It was vital to locate the hart as precisely as possible without disturbing it; the essential qualities of a lymer, therefore, were strong scenting abilities and silence. It was often housed apart from the other hounds, sometimes in the huntsman’s own accommodation….”
Valuable and pampered. I wonder if Richard knew these three lymers? He must have done. And their names, I imagine.
Cummins again: “…Under Richard III, the Master of the Hart-hounds was allowed 3s 3d a day ‘for the mete of forty dogs and twelve greyhounds, and threepence for three lymers’…” So, in England at least (it may have been different on the continent) lymers were a separate and larger breed of hound.
Looking at illustrations, it often seems that medieval lymers were an early type of bloodhound, and that as the years passed into the Renaissance period, they were more definitely bloodhounds as we know them today.
If you wish to know all the minutiae of high-class medieval hunting, then Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, wrote an excellent book that he presented to Henry V, when Prince of Wales. The book is called The Master of Game, and can be read in its entirety here. And if you want to see all the different types of dogs and hounds, then go to this article, which is packed full of colourful illustrations.