Hawking and hunting were the principal peacetime pursuits of most kings and their nobles, both before and after the Conquest; falconers, foresters and huntsmen were therefore an essential part of their entourages and households. The Bayeux Tapestry has vivid illustrations of Harold accompanied by his hawks and dogs on his fateful journey to Normandy, and Ordericus Vitalis has an equally evocative portrait of the Norman earl of Chester, whose 'hunting was a daily devastation of his lands, for he thought more highly of fowlers and huntsmen than husbandmen or monks' (Ecclesiastical History, edited by Marjorie Chibnall, vol. 2, pages 262-63).
Hawks and falconers are recorded in dozens of entries in Domesday Book. Their importance to the king is underlined by the fact that the provision of hawks (and dogs) was often a requirement laid upon the county (WIL B2; WOR C2; NTH B36; LEC C4; WAR B4). Hawks were expensive, often costing £10, a small fortune. To judge from one entry (WOR C2), Norwegian hawks were the most prized.
Most of the recorded falconers were small fry, responsible for local hunting facilities; but a few held estates of moderate value.
For further information, see H.C. Darby, Domesday England (1977); and Frank Barlow, William Rufus (new edition, 2000).
See also New Forest.