The seventh of September, 2011: tossing foxes in the palaces of the mighty

The past is not a foreign country. They do do things differently there, though.

We’re back with Tim Blanning and his splendid book The Pursuit of Glory. Blanning has a mind-boggling chapter on hunting among the European aristocracies of the 18th century. The statistics of the mass animal slaughters are, as you might expect, almost unbelievable (the prince de Condé’s hunt, for instance, killed a scrupulously totted-up 924,717 “items of game” between 1748 to 1785 (but then, much more recently, our own King George V and his lovable grandson Edward VIII once bagged 3,937 pheasants in a single shoot in 1913, setting a British record)).

More extraordinary than these almighty bags is Blanning’s account of the activity depicted below.

What are these cheerful fellows up to? Why, they’re fox-tossing, of course. Fox-tossing was a popular spectator sport “in which a fox was tossed in a net or blanket held by hunt servants or gentlemen and ladies of the court until it expired”. Here’s Blanning:

The Saxons seem to have been particularly fond of this form of entertainment: in the course of 1747 Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, had 414 foxes, 281 hares, 39 badgers and 9 wildcats tossed to death.

Blanning adds that, in 1672, the Swedish envoy to Vienna found it “odd” that Emperor Leopold I should “join with the court dwarves and small boys in delivering the coup de grâce to the tossed foxes by clubbing them to death”.

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