Five things to know about hunting in the Regency era
Shooting, hunting and fishing regularly drew gentlemen from town to the country in Jane Austen’s day. Here are five things to know about those pursuits in the Regency era:
If you wanted to go hunting with dogs or guns, here’s hoping you had money. Generally, hunting was limited to the landed gentry who owned property worth more than 100 pounds a year or leased land worth more than 150 pounds a year.
By 1801, more than 8 million people in England lived on 32 million acres, according to the census. But 80 to 90 percent of that land belonged to aristocracy or landed gentry.
So to hunt, you had to either own the land, or be invited to hunt on the land by the owner. Poachers beware: You could expect severe punishment if caught — including sometimes deportation or, gulp, hanging. In 1831, Britain’s hunting laws were loosened so that anyone with a permit could hunt game birds, rabbits and hares.
Pheasant shooting began about Oct. 1 (British laws state hunting cannot begin on Sundays). Fox-hunting began around the same time, usually by November, depending on the weather. Most hunting was a way to control animal populations, and most hunts resulted in food (except for fox-hunting) for the owner and for neighbors. So hunting — and sharing the catch — was a good way to forge ties in the community.
Two of Jane’s brothers hunted. James hunted foxes in Hampshire, and Henry did his shooting at Godmersham. There are some conflicting reports about Edward: According to niece Caroline Austen, Edward never really cared about hunting or shooting. Jane, however, once wrote that Edward is “out every morning either shooting or with the harriers.”
Sources: “Jane Austen’s England,” Roy & Lesley Adkins; “Jane Austen’s Country Life,” Deirdre Le Faye; “A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England,” Sue Wilkes; Jane Austen Centre