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November 26, 2007

A competent and interesting guide to the history of hunting: Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066 - Emma Griffin

Posted by Jeremy Black

Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066
by Emma Griffin
Pp. xii + 283 pp. Yale University Press, 2007
Hardback, 19.99

A competent and interesting book, this study, by a history lecturer in the University of East Anglia offers a rapid canter through the subject. As such it is unclear what the purpose of the book is. To cover the subject in the scholarly fashion that used to be expected from Yale University Press would require a longer work. In particular, the coverage of the pre-Tudor section in sixty pages is questionable.

Dr Griffin only really gets into her stride as the period moves later, and it would have been preferable to have shaped the work accordingly. Her reflections on the eighteenth century are particularly instructive. She suggests that the pace of change then was unprecedented due to the role of the gun, with modern forms of hare coursing and shooting emerging, and a declining need to read the landscape in a detailed fashion.

Adaptation is a key theme. For example, by importing and breeding foxes, and through negotiation with landowners, foxhunting adapted to nineteenth-century society, becoming an organised and sustainable field sport with national appeal. The shadow of legislation, however, came to play a greater role, not simply legislation against hunting, but also the revision of game laws that left too much control to the landowners. The latter was the politics of the countryside, the former of the towns. Reformers came to press for an extension from moves against cruelty toward captive animals, such as bull-baiting, to the coverage of wild animals such as foxes.

In the interwar period the division became more bitter, and Griffin offers an effective coverage of the changing post-war situation, with social changes interacting with the rise of the politics of complaint. This is a skilful discussion in which politics plays a role and legislative and legal battles are carefully probed.

By the mid-1990s, some opponents of hunting were using bombs, but the opponents who counted were in the Labour Party and, once they had won, the practice of centuries was banned. Each of the sections of this book would repay far greater attention and, hopefully, Dr Griffin will provide that in future work. In the meanwhile, this is a reasonable guide.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author - amongst much else - of The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007) and A Short History of Britain (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).

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