One of the first medieval hunting techniques I remember Johan told me about is the use of a long rope with bells tied to it. I call it “The bell rope trick”. It is depicted in Livre de chasse, a handbook on hunting from around 1388 written by Gaston Phoebus. The rope is stretched out between two hunters who walk with it across a field to drive up small game such as hares towards the end of the field. There the hares are welcomed by other hunters with a net, spears or clubs.
To drive the game by making noise is in no way unique but I think the bells adds a bit of glamour and makes it look like a lot of fun. I have not yet managed to tie myself a proper net, but Johan did his part last month when purchasing a range of brass bells suitable for the rope. As we can’t legally kill anything, the net is not essential and we thought it worth a try – perhaps we could stir up a few hares anyway?
For this hunting expedition we were accompanied by our friend Helena. One of the advantages of reenacting the medieval hunt over other other aspects of medieval life is that women seem to have participated alongside with men. They are depicted doing the same things as men, often with their kirtles tucked up in their belt to allow for easy movement and without the linnen veil otherwise worn by most grown women during this period. These pictures below are from the same French manuscript, but there are many others and the topic of women hunting will need a post of its own in the future.
We hit the outdoor rabbit hutch field in the late evening when we expected the small game to come out and graze after a really hot day. The field of choice was located far out in the woods. We saw lots of rabbit holes in the ground nearby, so we moved against the direction of the light breeze to try to prevent the animals to get our scent to early on. But once Johan had positioned himself at the edge of the field and the bell-rope was spread out, there was no longer any need for silence. It was time for the rope to sing.
Sadly, we could not raise any hares from the field this time. But just as I had thought, the bell rope sang beautifully in the wind and against the high grass on the field. We all had a try on handling the rope and speculated afterwards by our camp fire on the reason of our failure to find any game.
It could be that the day had been unusually hot and that the hares prefer to stay in their hiding places protected from the heat. The field could have been a bad choice for a place to hunt. We have been here many times but only seen tracks of animals here, no actual creatures moving about so we know not their habits of movement around it. Or it could be that we wasn’t as quiet and careful as we should have – after all we are not as skilled as the medieval hunters would have been.
To hear the song of the bell rope for yourself, take a look at the short film Johan made about our attempt to reenact this medieval hunting technique.