Volery and Venery in the French Wars of Religion

by Deborah N. Losse (Author)
©2018 Monographs X, 132 Pages


Volery and Venery in the French Wars of Religion is the first book-length study to provide an analysis of literary and cultural texts through the lens of people’s perspectives on hunting in the context of the French Wars of Religion. Court poets such as Jodelle and Ronsard highlight the central role of the king in the hunt. The study examines cynegetic scenes and attitudes toward hunting in the works of Sebastian Brant, Erasmus, Rabelais, Jodelle, Ronsard, Ceppède, Montaigne, and Aubigné. An effort is made to relate the artistic representation of the hunt to the details of the hunt presented in the hunting manuals of Du Fouilloux, De Thou, Franchières, and Arcussia, among others. At a time when the monarchy needed to reflect stability and continuity, the figure of the king dominates cynegetic exercise.
Losse argues that hunting remained a major preoccupation in France in spite of the disruptions and violence caused by the Wars of Religion. The analysis examines some basic questions about hunting in early modern France. How did religious affiliation affect attitudes toward hunting? Did the violence of the Wars of Religion change how people viewed cruelty to animals? Falconry and large game hunting offer a perspective from which to view the cultural and political life leading up to and through the Wars of Religion.
Historians of the hunt, students of early modern Europe, and graduate students in cultural studies or anthropology will find the work to provide a unique perspective on political and social institutions. Museums of hunting will find this book vital to their mission of instructing modern audiences on the centrality of hunting to aristocratic life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. “Devant le Roy”: Burnishing the Monarch’s Image Through the Hunt
  • Chapter 2. Foolish Quarry: Erasmus and Brant
  • Chapter 3. Precocious Hunting: Gargantua, Frère Jean, and Cooperative Living
  • Chapter 4. “C’était un Meleagre au mestier de chasser”: Pierre de Ronsard, Estienne Jodelle, and the Princely Image
  • Chapter 5. The Flight of the Stag: Jean de La Ceppède’s Théorèmes
  • Chapter 6. Writing about the Chase: Chasing Writing in Montaigne’s Essais
  • Chapter 7. Undisciplined Hawks: Aubigné’s Tragiques
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

← vi | vii →


Two at first seemingly unrelated events led me to undertake to write a book on falconry and large game hunting in sixteenth-century France. First, I was given the opportunity to write a book review of Ingrid A. R. De Smet’s monumental translation of Jacques Auguste de Thou’s Hieracosophion (1582–1584), preceded by her detailed and scholarly treatment of significant works on falconry as well as of its practice among the various social institutions in France.1 Second, I came under the spell of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk when it appeared in 2014.2 The fact that a social phenomenon such as falconry could sustain the interest of not just those engaged in sport but of biologists and devoted scientists from the Middle Ages to the present caused me to examine practices and attitudes towards all forms of hunting in one of the most violent periods of French history.

My recent work on the violence of the French Wars of Religion gave me pause in considering what influence if any the social chaos provoked by the long years of civic unrest had on how people viewed hunting. We know from Montaigne’s essay “De la cruauté” (Les Essais II, 11, 421–35) that he maintained an ambivalent attitude toward hunting. He talks about the unpleasant spectacle of seeing the stag throw itself on our mercy and yet he, as a member of the noblesse de robe, finds himself in the position of hosting France’s princes for hunts.3 If this particular robin felt conflicted on the subject of the violent ← vii | viii → ritual of hunting, then certainly he was not alone among his compatriots, Catholic and Protestant, living through and trying their best to survive the bloody civil strife.

And so a third event led me to begin exploring the topic of venery and volery during the French Wars of Religion. Philippe Desan and Jean Balsamo asked me to write a chapter for a special issue of Montaigne Studies: Montaigne and the Art of Writing.4 I am grateful to Philippe Desan, editor of Montaigne Studies, for giving me permission to include portions of that article in greatly extended and revised form in this study. From this initial work, I realized that volery and venery provided a focus with which to view not only the events of the Wars of Religion but also the literature of that period. The hunt permeates the prose and poetry of the early modern period in France. It was a fertile period for the publication of treatises on both volery and venery, and yet there was a growing awareness of the cost and exclusive nature of the hunting ritual, from which the lower social classes were excluded and yet might have to incur unwanted expenses from the damages done by horses, dogs, nobles, trampling their fields.

No scholarly project is accomplished without the support and counsel of colleagues. I would like to thank Bernd Renner of Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center for his insights, in particular on the work of Sebastian Brant. In editing the initial work that I had done on Montaigne and the chase, Philippe Desan of the University of Chicago and Jean Balsamo of the Université de Reims offered their suggestions. I would also like to thank the personnel at the École Nationale Vétérinaire Maison-Alfort for permission to use the illustration from La Vénerie de Du Fouilloux and the Bibliothèque nationale de France for permission to include the illustration from Brant’s La Nef des folz du monde. Finally, it has been a pleasure to work with the editorial team at Peter Lang:

John Losse has been patient and intuitive in guiding me through unresolved computer issues with patience and understanding. Such help and kindness has been critical throughout my career.


1. De Smet, Ingrid A.R, La Fauconnerie à la renaissance. Le Hieracosophion (1582–1584) de Jacques Auguste de Thou. Bibliotheca Cynegetica 7 (Geneva: Droz, 2013). See also Deborah N. Losse, Review of Jacques-Auguste de Thou, La Fauconnerie à la renaissance: ← viii | ix → Le Hieracosophion (1582–1584) de Jacques Auguste de Thou, ed. Ingrid A. R. De Smet, Renaissance Quarterly 67, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 1011–13.

2. Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk (New York: Grove Press, 2014). A naturalist and philosopher of science and affiliated research scholar at Cambridge University, Macdonald spent a year training a goshawk as a way of coming to terms with her father’s recent death. As a child her father had taken her hawking, and she developed a love of falconry.

3. Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais, ed. Pierre Villey (Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 1965). See “De la cruauté,” II, 11, 432–33.

4. Deborah N. Losse, “Writing about the Chase: Chasing Writing in Montaigne’s Essais,” Montaigne Studies 27, no. 1–2 (2015): 59–71. Chapter 6 of the present study is a much extended version of this article. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →


In her best-selling memoir H is for Hawk, when describing the painstaking time she spent training a goshawk in grieving for her father, Helen Macdonald speaks of the pull towards falconry she felt as a child. She was drawn by the terms of falconry, terms that in the Middle Ages and early modern period “attested to your place in society.” For the child Helen Macdonald, they were “magic terms, arcane and lost. I wanted to master this world that no one knew, to be an expert in its perfect, secret language.”1

In the Middle Ages and later, this language meant different things to different people. To the falconers it was an initiation into a society that flourished only when raptor and falconer performed a ritual discipline based on trust, affection, and precision.2 Baudouin Van Den Abeele quotes the most noted of Medieval writers on falconry, Frederic II of Hohenstaufen, as stating that it is not by strength but by the impact of the human mind/spirit that falcons let themselves be captured and trained.3 For the best falconers, the vocation provided a path for advancement at court. For the poet, it was a language that carried nuance, image, and sentiment that paralleled the language of love. As the present study will show in the chapter on Ronsard, not all poets were sufficiently versed in falconry to convincingly contextualize the arcane terminology. ← 1 | 2 →

Robin S. Oggins points out that falconry was classed as one type of hunting, praised or condemned according to the social and religious perspective of the viewer.4 Falconry and hawking refer to two distinct forms of volery. Richard Grassby reminds us that falcons take advantage of their long wings to attack from the air at high speed.5 Hounds may flush birds from hiding with the falcons attacking them from above, or they take advantage of their speed to attack “heron, crane, larks” (Grassby, 37). Hawks or accipiters have shorter wings, are “thrown directly at ground quarry from the fist, and can take both fur (hares and rabbits) and feather (pheasants and partridges)” (Grassby, 37–38).


X, 132
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 132 pp.

Biographical notes

Deborah N. Losse (Author)

Deborah N. Losse is currently Professor Emerita of French at Arizona State University. She served as Chair of the then Department of Languages and Literatures at the School of International Letters and Cultures, as President of the Academic Senate, as well as Associate Dean of the Graduate College and Dean of Humanities at Arizona State University before her retirement. She is the author of numerous articles on French Renaissance Literature in Modern Language Notes, Romanic Review, Neophilologus, Medievalia et Humanistica, Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Montaigne, Montaigne Studies, Allegorica, Symposium, and Poetics Today. Her previous books include Rhetoric at Play: Rabelais and Satirical Eulogy (1980); Sampling the Book: Renaissance Prologues and the French Conteurs (1994); Montaigne and Brief Narrative Form: Shaping the Essay (2013); and Syphilis: Medicine, Metaphor, and Religious Conflict (2015). She has contributed chapters to the following volumes: Approaches to Teaching the Heptaméron, ed. Colette H. Winn; Approaches to Teaching the Works of François Rabelais, eds. Todd W. Reeser and Floyd Gray; Renaissance Women Writers: French Texts/American Contexts, eds. Anne R. Larsen and Colette H. Winn; Narrative Worlds: Essays in the Early Nouvelle in 15th and 16th Century France, eds. David LaGuardia and Gary Ferguson; and La Satire dans tous ses états, ed. Bernd Renner.


Title: Volery and Venery in the French Wars of Religion
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144 pages