If it’s not per­fect, heads will roll

Charles Smith-jones imag­ines a day with the Tu­dor dy­nasty’s most no­to­ri­ous monarch in his favourite hunt­ing ground

Sporting Gun - - History Shotgun History - Jan­uary 2019 www.shootin­guk.co.uk

The sun rose a long time ago and has climbed well into the sky, cov­er­ing the land­scape with un­sea­sonal warmth for late Oc­to­ber. Dressed in the fin­ery of a verderer, your heavy wools and leathers are be­com­ing un­com­fort­ably hot. Be­fore you, the great For­est of Es­sex stretches for many miles in all di­rec­tions. Here, you and your fel­low verder­ers hold the spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity for ad­min­is­ter­ing For­est Law and pro­tect­ing the royal hunt­ing pre­serves on be­half of the king. You are, at 40, con­sid­er­ably younger than King Henry VIII but al­ready an old man by the stan­dards of the 16th cen­tury when the av­er­age life ex­pectancy might be a low as 35. But your life­style is priv­i­leged and your health good.

You are wait­ing at the foot of the Great Stand­ing, a mas­sive open-sided hunt­ing plat­form built of oak beams at the com­mand of the king just last year, 1543. There are oth­ers avail­able for the monarch to use but this is his favourite lo­ca­tion. Un­der his rule the royal hunt­ing parks have flour­ished. Your son left home to work on Hyde Park, one of the new­est, when Henry took it over for his per­sonal use a few years ago.


As you wait for the ar­rival of the royal hunt­ing party you re­flect on the King. When you were first pre­sented to him he was an im­pres­sive fig­ure. Tow­er­ing over most other men at 6ft 1in — you are con­sid­ered tall among your fel­lows at 5ft 7in — he was pow­er­fully built and an ac­com­plished ath­lete in many fields at a time when sport was all about train­ing for war. He had a pas­sion for joust­ing and made light work of un­hors­ing op­po­nents with a 12ft lance while wear­ing ar­mour that could weigh as much as 120lb.

Henry’s su­perb horse­man­ship ex­tended to hunt­ing and, though he was an ex­pert archer, he al­ways pre­ferred the phys­i­cal pursuit of game. Work­ing obli­ga­tions were al­ways or­gan­ised so that he could spend long days in the sad­dle. Af­ter 5am start he might be out un­til as late as 9pm with only short breaks for re­fresh­ment in be­tween. Later, his­to­ri­ans will es­ti­mate that he spent about third of his life on horse­back.

The quarry is the red and fal­low deer, though you of­ten won­der what it would be like to have wild boar in the for­est as well. The wild swine of the for­est are nei­ther as fierce nor fast mov­ing as the true wild boar, which has long since dis­ap­peared from Eng­land, and con­sid­ered not worth hunt­ing.

It is now late morn­ing and at last you glimpse the royal hunt­ing party ap­proach­ing. The King is in a car­riage rather than mounted but his lat­est queen, Cather­ine Parr, is not with him. The pair have not been mar­ried long and she has only re­cently suc­ceeded the adul­ter­ous Cather­ine Howard, who was ex­e­cuted at the king’s com­mand last year. Palace gos­sip sug­gests

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