Falcons in Court Society: Interspecies Interactions and the Symbolic Representation of Royalty in Europe, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

SNF-Ambizione research project at the Department for Early Modern History
Led by Dr. Nadir Weber
August 2019 to August 2022
Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation

Pierre-Denis Martin, La duchesse de Bourgogne partant pour la chasse au faucon, c. 1710. © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

The project reconstructs the social and medial roles of falcons at early modern princely courts. The life courses of raptors who were caught in Northern Europe and on Mediterranean islands in order to hunt near the residences of Vienna and Versailles give us insights into networks that linked various human and non-human beings on the continent. The hunts in front of the assembled court were meant to represent princely sovereignty, but they also reveal the limits of control and domestication. Challenging the established narrative of a steady decline of falconry during the early modern period, the project establishes the hypothesis of a second golden age in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This new golden age of falconry was largely initiated by rulers and their courts and led to an increasing professionalization of the princely falconries, vibrant textual and visual discourses, and differentiated networks for the traffic of living birds. It came to a sudden end in the years of the French Revolution. Until then, falcons and other animals were an integral part of European court society.