How does a scholar of sixteenth century narrative get sidetracked to the topic of hunting? We know that hunting is a recurrent topic for such early modern authors as Erasmus, Rabelais, Ronsard, and Aubigné. The Renaissance saw a flourishing commerce in new books on the hunting of birds and large animals by Jacques Auguste de Thou, Jacques du Fouilloux, Charles d’Arcussia, Jean de Franchières, and Pierre de Gommer.
Having written extensively on the extreme violence that characterized the French Wars of Religion, I was interested in whether such violence surrounding humanist writers and artists influenced their perspective on hunting. Did King Charles IX’s legendary passion for hunting and his perceived cruelty in its practice temper or change humanist perceptions of volery and venery? Were Protestants more likely than Catholics to criticize the extravagance of the hunt?
Such were my preoccupations as I set out to follow the topic of hunting in the works of Erasmus, Brant, Rabelais, Ronsard, La Ceppède, and Aubigné. At the same time it was important to trace the popularity and influence of manuals on hunting in early modern France in order to see whether major writers of the period had lost their taste for practical and learned works on hunting. While the period around the massacre of Saint-Barthélemy gave rise to a proliferation of manuals on falconry and big game hunting, both Catholic and Protestant writers began to draw a comparison between violence in the chase and violence on the field of battle. Yet the topic and metaphors drawn from volery and venery continued to abound in both narrative prose and in poetry. At a time when the image of the king was crucial to the status of France as a major power, the king’s central role in the hunt required that the chase persist on the canvas of Renaissance artists and writers. In a time of excessive cruelty toward man and beast, hunting dogs, perhaps unjustly, began to embody the vicious appetites unleashed on man and beast in the course of the Wars of Religion.