Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hares and Rabbits in Medieval England - by Regan Walker

A warm welcome to guest Regan Walker, who posts on the 'hop'-topic of Hares and Rabbits in Medieval England. G x
Medieval rabbits

 Though both hares and rabbits existed in medieval England, the rabbit was a rare beast and much sought after for both its meat and its fur. Unlike the hare, the rabbit was not native to Britain, but was deliberately introduced from France or the western Mediterranean by the 13th century. While the hare is considered native to Britain, it is possible the Romans may have introduced it. However, there are no records of them in Britain before Norman times, the 11th century.

My new novel, Rogue Knight, is set in Yorkshire in 1069-70 when William the Conqueror came north to claim Northumbria and engaged in the debacle we know today as the “Harrying of the North” causing the deaths of as many as 100,000 people.
The Yorkshire Dales

I like to think that some people, chased from their homes by William’s army and deprived of the ability to grow food, might have survived on the brown hare, native to Yorkshire. Certainly my heroine and her family, hiding out from the Normans, dined on hare while living in the woods.

The brown hare is generally larger than a rabbit. They have long, black-tipped ears and a tall and leggy appearance. They are timid and fast runners. They prefer grassland fields and some woodland in their habitat. In the Peak District of England, you will find the smaller mountain hare.
The Brown Hare by Whitfield Benson

Unlike young rabbits, that are born blind and furless, totally dependent upon their mother, young brown hares, called leverets, are born fully formed and active, weaned in a month. Their average life expectancy is three years. Rabbits raised in captivity might live longer. In the Middle Ages, rabbit-warrens were almost the sole source of supply for rabbits and that is one reason they were so valuable and closely guarded.

Throughout the medieval era, beginning after the Norman Conquest the right to hunt and kill any beast or game was a privilege granted by the king. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in a verse written shortly after his death states, “He made great protection for the game and imposed laws for the same, that who so slew hart or hind should be made blind.” (William the Conqueror seemed to love poking out people’s eyes.) And, as for the hares, “…did he decree that they should go free.” (Meaning they could not be hunted for the Chronicle indicates “Powerful men complained of it and poor man lamented it, but so fierce was he that he cared not for the rancor of them all…”)
Brown Hare by Matt Neale
It appears that the royal forests of the kind that existed in the 12th century were, thus, a Norman creation. The Domesday Book, written in 1086 at the order of William I, indicates that the royal forest was created though a combination of eviction and the taking of woodland and uninhabited land. At the height of the royal forest practice in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, fully one-third of the land area of southern England was designated as royal forest.

Hunting in the royal forests was the privilege of the king alone. Outside of those areas, the king would sell hunting rights by means of a charter that allowed the killing of the “beasts of warren”—pheasant, partridge, hare and rabbit. Hence the right to keep and kill rabbits was the exclusive right of the owner of the “free-warren”. Grants of warren—the right to hunt hares—can be found from the reign of at least William II and perhaps William I.
Hare and Knight

Henry I, as reported in the Gesta Stephani, “claimed for himself sole hunting rights of wild beasts throughout England…” That doesn’t leave a poor man many options to feed his family, but perhaps a hare in a remote area found its way into a poor family’s stewpot.

A huge thank you to Regan for this fascinating and hare-raising post! As ever Regan lives and breathes history, and I'm grateful to her for sharing that love with us. 
So let's 'hop' to it and find out about Regan's latest release...Rogue Knight.

"Mesmerizing medieval romance! A vivid portrayal of love flourishing amidst the turbulence of the years after the Norman Conquest."
-- Kathryn Le Veque, USA Today Bestselling Author

York, England 1069… three years after the Norman Conquest

The North of England seethes with discontent under the heavy hand of William the Conqueror, who unleashes his fury on the rebels who would dare to defy him. Amid the ensuing devastation, love blooms in the heart of a gallant Norman knight for a Yorkshire widow.


Angry at the cruelty she has witnessed at the Normans’ hands, Emma of York is torn between her loyalty to her noble Danish father, a leader of the rebels, and her growing passion for an honorable French knight.

Loyal to King William, Sir Geoffroi de Tournai has no idea Emma hides a secret that could mean death for him and his fellow knights.


War erupts, tearing asunder the tentative love growing between them, leaving each the enemy of the other. Will Sir Geoffroi, convinced Emma has betrayed him, defy his king to save her?

Regan Walker on Facebook
Pinterest storyboard for the Rogue Knight (Always worth checking out!) 


  1. Hi, Grace. Thanks for having me and Rogue Knight on your blog! Since my characters often ate hare stew, this was essential research for my story and I loved doing it.

    1. My pleasure, Regan.
      I love your books and how you so vividly recreate the world the characters inhabit. Strange to think that hares are so uncommon today - I suppose that meant it wasnt possible to taste some hare way of research.
      Best wishes,
      Grace x

    2. Thank you for the kind words, Grace. I write for readers like you... Now as for hare stew... we'll have to see about that.

    3. Speaking as a vegetarian for 30 years+ - I'll let you off that bit of research :-)
      G x


Due to the amount of SPAM I have been forced to moderate comments. If you are a spammer - please go away! You comment will not be posted and you are wasting your own time.