Fox Hunting in Regency England

“One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), A Woman of No Importance, act 1.

Fox_Hunting_-_Henry_AlkenPursuing the “uneatable” was a popular sport among Regency gentlemen and the fox hunting season would have been this time of year, from after the leaves have all fallen to right before spring planting. Fox hunting has a long history in Britain, dating back to the 16th century. It became especially popular after the decrease in the deer population made hunting deer more difficult.

Hunting foxes was once considered a form of vermin control. Foxes were notorious for attacking small livestock, but by Regency times, the main purpose of the hunt was the sheer sport of it. Hounds were bred specifically for fox hunting. Gentlemen kept up to 12 hunters, horses bred for the hunt, so they could hunt six days in a row, using two horses per hunt. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington kept eight horses and hunted frequently while on the Peninsula.

Hunting was the sport of wealthy gentlemen partly because those gentlemen had the wide expanse of land that the hunting required. Others could only hope to be invited to the hunt. Unauthorized hunting anywhere was considered poaching and could incur severe penalties.
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Regency times were times of house parties during which gentlemen rode to the hounds and only a very few ladies did. Ladies were encouraged to ride out with the hunters or to watch the hunt from carriages.

Fox hunting was outlawed in Great Britain in 2005 but still exists in other countries including Australia and the USA.

I love the idea of galloping over the countryside on horseback, but to chase a fox and have it torn to bits, not so much. I understand the appeal hunting game animals, although I couldn’t do it. Could you? Do you hunt? Have you ever been fox hunting?

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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6 Responses to Fox Hunting in Regency England

  1. Elena Greene says:

    I’m with you on thinking that riding to the hounds sounds like fun but actually killing anything, not so much. I lived in the UK for 3 years and a friend used to let me ride her horse sometimes. He was a big horse with a mellow disposition but my friend warned me that if a hunt came near, he might join it, as he had been used for hunting. She told me just to stay on and trust him to jump everything and that after a few miles he would settle down and go home. It never actually happened and I’m not sure if I’m glad or sorry!

  2. Wow, Elena!

    There’s nothing like a quiet ride, so I don’t think I’d enjoy riding to hounds. The noise would drive me crazy.

    I know a number of hunters. None condone tearing a creature apart. Quick and clean is a matter of pride. I appreciate the service they provide. I couldn’t do it myself.

    • diane says:

      I agree, Laurel. Nothing wrong with hunting. In fact, in Washington, DC, there is going to be a deer hunt in Rock Creek Park, because the deer population has become too large.

  3. I have been foxhunting, Australian-style. I’m a skilled spotter.

    Back in the early days of settlement, some stupid English expats decided they’d import some of the sillier British customs, like foxhunting. So they brought foxes over for the sole purpose of hunting them.

    As most wild animals will do, they bred and escaped and proceeded to wreck havoc on the native Australian landscape. Foxes are feral vermin here. We do our best to kill them off before they destroy our native fauna.

    So, an Aussie foxhunt does not involve horses. Dressed in Drizabones and Akubras, hunters ride in the back of a ute across farmland, armed with rifles.

    Foxhunting here takes place at night. A “spotter” (ie a guy/gal with a high-powered spotlight) scans the edge of the paddock for the telltale reflection of a fox’s eyes. When they find one, they call out “Fox at [location]!” All the hunters turn, take aim, and do their best to kill the fox.

    Ah, the fun one has at Christmas on the family farm.

    • diane says:

      Heidi,
      Thanks for the description of an Australian fox hunt! It does sound very Australian (and I mean that in a good way!)

      I don’t have any problem with the killing of vermin, including foxes, not that I’d want to do it myself. In fact, we suspect a fox has killed off 90 percent of all our squirrels, here in the suburbs of Washington, DC, but that is probably a good thing. Yay, fox! Now if he would just tackle the chipmunks.

  4. I went foxhunting on several occasions when I was a young girl. I look back at it now and think “What was I thinking?” as it meant all day jumping fences, hedges, walls and anything that got in the way. At the time it was glorious. And I think we only actually caught the fox on one occasion. The local hunt in the village where we lived was more of a social event than anything else.

    I’m not a big fan of hunting, but deer hunting here serves a purpose in that the deer population is beyond abundant and the good old boys are of the mindset “You eat what you kill.” Anything else is considered wasteful. Some of the local hunters provide meat to the local shelters and soup kitchens and that is a good idea as the meat is actually quite lean and a healthy alternative to other meats.

    However, there is a large, old buck who has lived on my property for the past ten years and he is not to be hunted. I have told the hunters in the area if they shoot him on my property they will not be harvesting the rack (antlers) or any part of him. He’s earned the right to stay where he falls. It has become a joke that he knows where my property lines are. He grazes in the fields around my property, but during hunting season he makes certain he is in my old horse pasture or my woods when the shooting starts!

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