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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 May 2007

Did Women Hunt?

One of the questions that is furiously debated on author loops and historical loops is: Did women hunt (before the common use of the leaping head, c. 1830)? I’ve always maintained that they did. Not in large numbers, and not all the time, or with every hunt, but there are certainly documented cases of women hunting during the Georgian era.

I recently got an amazing book, The History of Foxhunting by Roger Longrigg, which gives quite a bit of supporting evidence for my position:

1711 (from a period magazine): “I have very frequently the opportunity of seeing a rural Andromache, who came up to town last winter, and is one of the greatest fox-hunters in the country; she talks of hounds and horses, and makes nothing of leaping over a six-bar gate.”

1734 (from a period magazine): “Princess Amelia, out with the duke [her brother, Cumberland] and the staghounds had a fall and was dragged 200 yards, her petticoat caught on the pommel.”

1775 (from Pierce Egan): “Lady Salisbury constantly hunted the Hatfield Hounds . . . riding as hard as any sportsman in the field.” It should be noted that this was her own hunt, which certainly put up some peoples' backs (there are cartoons lampooning her as too masculine, going so far as to show her with 5-o’clock shadow!).

1787 (Rowlandson’s “The Return” from his hunt series; comment from Longrigg): “The lady being helped to the ground is most certainly a member of the pack owner’s household, since . . . only such ladies rode to hounds.”

1810 (From Nimrod’s Tours): His daughters [he being the 3rd Earl of Darlington] hunted with him, in scarlet habits; they were “too well-bred for foxhunting” too mind the smell of the broth which invaded the drawing room from the kennel.

No exact year (Lennox, Merrie England): “Lady Craven, upon Pastime, never shrank from either fence or timber.”

No exact year (early to mid 18th century): The historian of Goodwood [estate of the Duke of Richmond] states that large numbers of ladies came out with the Charlton hounds.

8 Comments:

Blogger Beth said...

Very nice, Kalen.

Does "the smell of the broth which invaded the drawing room" just mean the dogs smelled bad, or something else?

And Amelia was dragged 200 yards on the pommel? Ouch!

10:23 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I'm not quite sure what the "broth" in question is. I'm assuming it means the stench of the kennel.

Not only was Amelia dragged, but--as was so often the case--they cupped her when she got home!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Francesca said...

Many of the Regency set fiction I've read indicate women did ride to the hunt.

Women also hunted in the Middle Ages. There are many images (illumination and painting) that show women on horseback with a hawk on their wrist and the dogs coursing around them. So I can't imagine they would suddenly stop hunting if they had done it previously.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Yes, women "hunted" with hawks and such in the Medieval era, but that type of hunting is very different from "riding to hounds" in the foxhunting sense. Once you're talking about jumping over obstacles to keep up with the hunt it's a whole new beast. Sadly, but the Georgian era this type of hunting had gone out of fashion (though it was still being done).

I've read a lot of books where Regency women went foxhunting, and there are some camps out there that state that this simply "wasn't done". To which I say, Bullshit! It wasn't done by all women, but it was done by some women (though I agree with Longrigg that the ranks of women who hunted were probably limited to the households of men who owned packs themselves, or who were otherwise "hunting mad"). It certainly wasn't common for women to ride to hounds in the Georgian period, but it wasn't unheard of either.

The usual sticking point is the development of the saddle. Before the "leaping head" it was very dangerous to jump when riding sidesaddle. The "leaping head" was either invented by the French around 1790 or by the English around 1830. Regardless of which date is correct, it didn't become a common feature of the sidesaddle until the 1830s.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

About different styles of hunting -- I believe that the Georgian style of hunting, with all that jumping over things, happens because fields are becoming enclosed by walls and hedges. This is off the top of my head, though -- did I get that right, Kalen?

12:42 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I love the book, The History of Foxhunting and the evidence it provides should end the debate.

For women, foxhunting (riding astride or aside) seemed to be all about attitude (if you were rich and could, you did) at least until the Victorian era, when social standards regarding the acceptability of women and foxhunting generally got stricter (if you did hunt, the boot-hiding habit and the leaping head were mandatory and those requirements persisted through the 1930's).

But even in the Victorian era there is good documentation of women foxhunting (in corsets).

Hunting is a dirty, breathless, sweaty ride (I've ridden on a drag---where we simply chased the scent of a fox) and I can see how some ladies might not care for for the mud, the smell, and the noise even if the loved an easy hack through the park.

Some of the equestrian portraits painted by George Stubbs depict men who really did ride out to the hunt, but most of the women in the paintings had just dressed and saddled up for pre-hunt gathering and refreshment sharing.

It was fashionalbe to go to the show, but you didn't have to stay...;-)

8:13 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

(if you were rich and could, you did)

I find this to be true of almost everything, frankly.

8:48 AM  
Blogger janegeorge said...

Oooooh, I have a bad case of book-envy. I love prints of women and horses. Thanks for the blog!

6:12 PM  

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