The Forester’s Hunting Horn

In the middle ages during the time of the forest laws and the foresters that enforced them, all officials carried a hunting horn. It was both the signal horn and equivalent of a medieval cell phone and a symbol and badge of office. So important was the carrying of the hunting horn that everyone from the king himself to the lowest huntsman and underforester might have one. For the Foresters especially it took on a new meaning as a badge of office and a symbol of authority.

The Foresters horn was important enough that it was made into badges that could be worn. Both secular forester badges and religious pilgrim badges dedicated to the St. Hubert existed. These would be worn by people that venerated the Saint as well as forest officials.

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The hunting horn is also found on grave slabs such as the Foresters grave in St. James church, Papplewick , Nottinghamshire. The grave slab contains a bow and arrow, both tools of the forester as well as a hunting horn on a baldric.

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According to author Barbara Hanawalt in her book; “Of good and ill repute: Gender and social control in Medieval England” the hunting horn was also a powerful symbol of manhood with sexual connotations. When poachers were able to get the upper hand on foresters and tie them up they would often take away their hunting horns or symbol of office symbolically removing their power. For this reason it was likely that a hunting horn was a prized and well guarded possession of any forester.

There were many specialized calls used with the hunting horn and most of them come down to us from the great hunting manuscripts. Horn calls used by foresters are not known and were probably regional with some variety.

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We also know that the hunting horn was occasionally pressed into service as a weapon although its effectiveness would be limited. Here a horn wielding man fights a falconer whose symbol of office is the white bag at his belt. We are not sure what the fight is about but one only need visit a modern bar district at closing time to witness similar displays of pointless male violence to see that little has changed in 700 years as to why people fight.

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The hunting horn was for foresters, similar to the radio and badge of a modern police officer today. Not something that a person ever wants to lose and in spite of their rather simple purpose, they are a powerful symbol, both of status and authority and in some cases masculinity. It is hoped that all SCA Foresters take care of their hunting horns, display them when on duty, and never leave them unattended for the poachers and outlaws to steal.

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