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. Dozens are recorded in Domesday Book. 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).
The importance of his hawks and hounds to the king is strikingly conveyed by one Domesday entry which records:
At his death, a thane or a king's household man-at-arms sent to the king as death-duty all his arms and horse, one with a saddle, another without a saddle; but if he had dogs or hawks, they were presented to the king, to be accepted if he wished (BRK B10).
The upkeep of the king's kennels was a significant charge on several counties, costing £23 in two cases and £42 in a third. These payments all occur in circuit 4 and probably represent the whims of the commissioners there. In Bedfordshire, several royal manors paid 'dog dues'; and in Gloucestershire three others each contributed 3,000 loaves for the dogs.
Many of the huntsmen recorded in Domesday Book were small fry, responsible for local hunting facilities; but a few were significant landholders. There was a concentration of huntsmen in the royal heartlands of Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire, both before and after 1066. Several held small tenancies-in-chief of the kind which would later be held as sergeantry tenures, which makes it likely that such tenures existed before the Conquest. The most affluent of the huntsmen were to be found in these counties, a couple of them - Croc and Waleran - numbered among the few hundred wealthiest men in the kingdom.
For further information, see H.C. Darby, Domesday England (1977); R.R. Darlington, 'Introduction to the Wiltshire Domesday', Victoria History of the county of Wiltshire, vol. 2, edited by R.B. Pugh and E. Crittall (1955), pages 42-177; Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (1995); and Frank Barlow, William Rufus (new edition, 2000).
See also New Forest.