To be honest there is not much evidence as to exactly when and where man first trained a bird of prey, however falconry was already well established in the Middle East by approximately 2000 BC. People believe that it was only the royals and riches that were allowed to partake in the art of falconry, however this is not true. Labourers also relied on falconry for what they could return to the table, often illegally. King John, to improve the rewards of his own personal hunting, prohibited the taking of all feathered game in the Royal Forests, which then covered vast areas of the British countryside. Despite his subsequent order that a hundred paupers should be fed with the proceeds of each hunt, the law would have caused an inestimable amount of suffering and hardship if it had actually been enforced effectively. During the Middle Ages, there evolved in falconry the social custom which we today refer to as the Laws of Ownership, by which birds of prey were allocated to a rank and a man could not hawk with a bird which had been allocated to a higher rank than himself. This hierarchy seems to have evolved mainly around the cost of the bird and in some cases the power of the bird.
In the Middle Ages Royal Falconers and the methods in falconry whilst hunting were held in high esteem. As the more efficient and novel methods of killing animals for both sport and table were introduced and farmlands became fenced in to improve agriculture falconry, unfortunately, gradually lost its popularity. By the end of the 18th Century it had already become something of a rarity to see a trained falcon at work in the British countryside. Various hawking clubs were formed to rally members keen to continue their sport, but by the mid-19th Century subscription costs had risen so high that falconry became accessible only to the wealthy classes. Nowadays, however, hawking and falconry clubs exist to help amateur falconers pursue their sport in whatever capacity their time and income permits and the elitist picture is changing. Falconry, however, as a field sport, albeit the most natural of ones, is under constant pressure from an anti-hunting lobby and therefore its continuance will always remain at risk. And now in the 21st Century, with the rising threat of Fox Hunters using birds of prey in hunting and with the risk of the Avian Flu, our sport is at risk once again.
A typical line up on the hierarchy in the Middle Ages is shown in the table below:
|King||Eagles, Vultures, Gyr Falcon|
|Prince||Juvinile Gyr Falcon|
|Duke||Peregrine Falcon (F)|
|Earl||Peregrine Falcon (M)|
|Knight||Saker Falcon (F/M)|
|Esquire||Lanner Falcon (F/M)|
|Yoeman (cook)||Goshawk (F)|