Shooting, hunting and fishing regularly drew gentlemen from town to the country in Jane Austen’s day. Here are five things to know about those pursuits in the Regency era:
- If you wanted to go hunting with dogs or guns, here’s hoping you had money. Generally, hunting was limited to the landed gentry who owned property worth more than 100 pounds a year or leased land worth more than 150 pounds a year.
- By 1801, more than 8 million people in England lived on 32 million acres, according to the census. But 80 to 90 percent of that land belonged to aristocracy or landed gentry.
- So to hunt, you had to either own the land, or be invited to hunt on the land by the owner. Poachers beware: You could expect severe punishment if caught — including sometimes deportation or, gulp, hanging. In 1831, Britain’s hunting laws were loosened so that anyone with a permit could hunt game birds, rabbits and hares.
- Pheasant shooting began about Oct. 1 (British laws state hunting cannot begin on Sundays). Fox-hunting began around the same time, usually by November, depending on the weather. Most hunting was a way to control animal populations, and most hunts resulted in food (except for fox-hunting) for the owner and for neighbors. So hunting — and sharing the catch — was a good way to forge ties in the community.
- Two of Jane’s brothers hunted. James hunted foxes in Hampshire, and Henry did his shooting at Godmersham. There are some conflicting reports about Edward: According to niece Caroline Austen, Edward never really cared about hunting or shooting. Jane, however, once wrote that Edward is “out every morning either shooting or with the harriers.”
Sources: “Jane Austen’s England,” Roy & Lesley Adkins; “Jane Austen’s Country Life,” Deirdre Le Faye; “A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England,” Sue Wilkes; Jane Austen Centre