The Prince, the Park, and the Prey: Hunting in and around Milan in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries


The Prince, the Park, and the Prey: Hunting in and around Milan in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

By Cristina Arrigoni-Martelli

Paper given at the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2012)
Session: Medieval Environments III: Exploiting and Managing Animal Resources

Cristina Arrigoni-Martelli of York University examines the efforts made by the Dukes of Milan during the later Middle Ages to take part in one of the most popular activities of medieval European aristocrats – hunting. The Visconti and Sforza rulers frequently took part in hunts, and said the exercise relaxed and refreshed them. But Arrigoni-Martelli also points out that in order to carry out these hunts, a great deal of administrative work had to be carried out.

The Duchy of Milan included a wide variety of landscapes, from mountainous terrain (where the could bear and red deer) to plains and forests. The duchy was an adminstrative patchwork of different territories, and the organization of these hunts would invariably involve lots of officials, including wardens, falconers and local officials who might be responsible for keeping dogs and raptors.

These locals also needed to know about the game animals too – where to hunt them and how much of the animal population remained, and also had to police these lands, to make sure the local population was not poaching the game for themselves. Hunting in central area of duchy was heavily regulated, as was wood cutting.

The dukes of Milan also created specialized hunting parks – fenced in areas – where it was possible to hold deer allowing the dukes and their family to hunt at will. These hunting parks were often connected to ducal palaces, such as at Pavia where a park was created around 1360. This hunting park was 7.4 km long, and contained natural and man-made waterways, fish ponds, gardens, bird pens, roads, and small buildings. Part of the park was used for farming, but northern half was strictly forested land used for hunting, usually deer. More exotic game, such as cheetahs, were also imported to these parks, and the Milanese even had a man in Venice whose role was to purchase any of these animals that arrived by ship. Hunting parks would also be used for the entertainment of dignitaries, and the kill zone could be viewable to non-hunting people, like the ladies of the court.

Arrigoni-Martelli also notes how hunting demands placed on local officials could cause resentment (but for others could be a way to ingratiate themselves with the dukes). Another problem was maintaing the game populations – especially deer – who could fall victim to disease or wolves.