The Idiom of the Hunt: Noble Hunting as Social Gesture in Late-Medieval England

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, lecture hall L10, Zoom link:

Topic of the dissertation

The Idiom of the Hunt: Noble Hunting as Social Gesture in Late-Medieval England

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts Andrew Pattison

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Research unit for languages and literature

Subject of study

English / History


Professor Ad Putter, University of Bristol


Professor Pentti Haddington, University of Oulu

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The Idiom of the Hunt: Noble Hunting as Social Gesture in Late-Medieval England

Throughout history, hunting has been an important and universal feature of human societies. From its roots in protecting society and providing sustenance, hunting developed in many contexts into an important social and cultural practice, as well as a critical point of interaction between the human and the natural world – one where notions of religion are involved. The themes of ritual sacrifice, animism and a spiritual nature more widely are closely linked to human understandings of hunting, and vice versa, throughout human history religion and hunting have been connected themes.

Consequently, this has made hunting a popular topic of research. The notion that human societies can be understood through their hunting practices has led researchers to examine hunting rituals, and in particular, how the rituals of the hunt more broadly can evidence a society’s understanding of its social structure and shared culture.

As its central point of departure, the present dissertation understands hunting as a meaningful human practice where social, cultural and religious understandings are negotiated and played out. Using performativity theory, ritual studies and theoretical work from critical animal studies, the dissertation explores the hunting practices of the English nobility in the late-medieval era, showing how the particular idiom of the hunt embraced by the nobility is designed to communicate a message of noble dominance in society, culture and religion affairs.

The dissertation engages with late-medieval literary texts that discuss noble hunting directly, such as hunting manuals, but also makes use of texts that mention hunting otherwise, such as Middle English works of poetry. Central findings of the dissertation indicate that idiom of the noble hunt in late-medieval England critically engages with both contemporary and inherited ritual and religious frames. That is, the noble hunt was influenced not only by an older inherited tradition of ritual sacrifice but also by the contemporaneous rituals of the Catholic church (notably, the Eucharistic mass).

Another central finding of the dissertation indicates that, far from being unchanging and static, the rituals of the noble hunt were highly dynamic and open to change. Contemporary concerns about the role of noble hunting – and challenges to noble preeminence in society – helped shape and re-make the idiom of the noble hunt. The dissertation also argues that the noble hunt, as a practice aimed at communicating desired messages to an audience, is best understood as a gesture. Notably, as a gesture, the noble hunt was open to a variety of interpretations, ranging from total acceptance, to outright rejection.

Thus, the dissertation proposes a more nuanced interpretation of the noble hunt – one that eschews simplistic interpretations of ritual efficacy, sees a phenomenon malleable and essentially in flux, and one that takes a broader view of how rituals acquire and maintain meaning in human societies.
Last updated: 1.3.2023