Hawks and Handsaws

[banner] goshawk and grey heron photos

15 November 2023
· A good look at a woodcut in a book on falconry ·

As I was settling into Venice in the summer of 1575, a book was published in London with a mouthful of a title to describe itself.

Turberville title page full 1575

The Booke of Faulconrie or Hauking, for the onely
delight and pleasure of all Noblemen and Gentlemen:
Collected out of the best aucthors as well Italians
as Frenchmen, and some English practices withall
concerning Faulconrie, the contents whereof
are to be seen in the next page following.
By George Turbervile Gentleman.
[Pleasure bought with pain is none.]

Bound in the same volume after Turberville’sThe name was spelled both Turbervile and Turberville. pages was a similar work on a related subject, also comprehensively titled.

Gascoigne title page full 1575

The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting.

Wherein is handled and set out the Vertues,
Nature, and Properties of fivetene sundrie
Chaces togither, with the order and maner
how to Hunte and kill every one of them.

Translated and collected for the pleasure
of all Noblemen and Gentlemen, out of the
best approved Authors, which have written
any thing concerning the same: And reduced
into such order and proper termes as are
used here, in this noble Realme of England.

The falconry book contained selections from French and Italian texts edited and adapted for English readers, while the hunting book was translated from La Venerie by Jacques du Fouilloux (1561) with some additions from the fourteenth-century Livre de chasse by Gaston Phoebus, Comte de Foix. The Noble Arte was usually attributed to Turberville since it credited no one else, but it was actually the work of another George: George Gascoigne.

I have written of my friendship with GG, mainly in the 2019 post It Was No Carnival in Flanders. I now pick up the story near that post’s end, with George back in England after two years away, the last five months spent as a prisoner of the Spanish at Haarlem.

Early November 1574

The autumn had been cool but dry, concealing the approach of winter. George was home and happy to be alive, no longer vexed by the inconveniences that drove him to soldiering in the Low Countries. My rescue mission in July, though aborted (it’s in the other post) put new vigour into our old friendship. I was back in Elizabeth’s good graces after my truancy, and George had recovered from Spanish hospitality.

A sporting trip offered us the chance to entertain each other with our late (mis)adventures. The weather was perfect for hawking at Wivenhoe, my Essex estate at the mouth of the River Colne.

South prospect Wivenhoe Hall, 1734Looking north to Wivenhoe Hall above the town,
in a drawing from 1734. I sold the place in 1584.

George had a friend also named George, a gentleman poet from an old Dorsetshire family, the Turbervilles. This George was busy writing a manual on falconry, cribbing useful bits from Italian and French sources and adding his own, to create what he hoped would become a standard reference. We invited him along.

We had a merry time flying my hawks in the salt marshes around Wivenhoe, taking small birds and a brace of hernsews in the wind that came up the estuary from the sea. Hernsew was an East Anglian name for a heron– depending on the speaker it could also sound like hernshaw, hernsaw, or even hensaw. Dorset Georgemap was utterly confounded by the local dialect. He called the herons handsaws, which amused my falconer no end. But he asked good questions, got good answers when he could understand them, and took piles of notes. He and I had Ovid in common– George published a little volume with a verse translation of The Heroides in 1567, the same year as my Metamorphoses. He promised to replace Arthur’s name on his copy of my poem.

After a week the sweet weather soured, putting an end to our idyll. We rode in the cold rain back to London, said our farewells, and went our separate ways.

1575 through 1577

I spent the rest of 1574 importuning Elizabeth for permission to return to the Continent, which she granted in January. Soon I was en route to Reims to attend the coronation of Henri III, and after Paris on to Italy. I didn’t see the falconry manual until I returned to England at Easter in 1576, luggageless and lucky to be living after I was captured by pirates during the crossing. Then at Dover there was some unpleasantness concerning my wife. I would call it an unhappy homecoming except that I didn’t go home.

George Turberville’s book was physic for my mood. He had made good use of all those notes, and it pleased me beyond measure that one of his illustrations portrayed our Wivenhoe idyll.

MMM pg81 1575 Turberville

There’s GG and I on the left, and our brace (pair) of hernsews in the air with the goshawks. GG was an excellent limner with a knack for faces, so the publisher had him draw some cartoons for the block-cutter, this one plus three in the hunting book, and both title pages.

The marshland where we flew was much flatter than this, but hills make a more picturesque picture. The presence of Her Majesty and her retinue was as invented as the hills, but the book’s title pegged its market: all Noblemen and Gentlemen. Images of the queen were sellers for those with time and money to spend on costly pursuits like falconry. Elizabeth was an avid hawker and hunter so adding her wasn’t much of a stretch.

I didn’t have a camera at Wivenhoe but I poked around online and found this photo of a goshawk with a grey heron. The grassy ground doesn’t resemble our marshes but the birds are dead ringers. Well, the heron is.

Goshawk on a grey heron it has just killedGoshawk [Accipiter gentilis]
and grey heron [Ardea cinerea]
photo by Dominik Hofer
2010, Leipzig, Saxony
(also the hawk photo in post banner)

George Gascoigne’s life to this point had been full of complications and tribulations. After his return from Haarlem he endeavoured to rebuild his reputation, presenting himself as a godly, sober gentleman whose prodigal days were behind him. It seems that this shift played a role in his decision to have The Noble Arte of Venerie published anonymously with Turberville’s falconry manual. Not only did The Noble Arte not include GG’s name as its translator, but he wrote a commendatory preface in poulter’s measure with his name on it, as if the book was someone else’s– leave it to George to be early modern and postmodern at the same time. This was followed by a sonnet with a Latin posy (motto) hinting that something was hidden. Within the book were poems written in the voices of a hunted hare and a fox named Raynard, as well as The Otter’s Oration, all pure Gascoigne. Reformed perhaps outwardly, but still playing games.

Otter from 1611 Noble Arte of Venery

While I was in Italy GG had a hand in the entertainments put on at Kenilworth by the Earl of Leicester during Elizabeth’s visit in July (1575). At New Year’s he gave the queen a manuscript copy of the tale of Hermetes the Hermyte penned in four languages and illustrated by himself. His rehab continued and he returned to the Low Countries, this time sent by the government to observe and report on events. He was in Antwerp when it was sacked by Spanish troops in November 1576.

In less than another year George was dead, not far past forty, felled by whatever wasting illness did the job. Two months earlier my childhood teacher Sir Thomas Smith had died from a cancer in his throat. The loss of both of these men so dear to me was a hard fardel to bear.

George Gascoigne chose to befriend me when I was twelve years old, and he never ceased to be that friend. Our Wivenhoe idyll was the last of the many fine times I shared with him, and his woodcut in Turberville’s book was a fine way to remember it. Later when I had the opportunity I remembered it again myself, in words.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Actus Secundus, Scena Secunda

  • Guildenstern: There are the players.
  • Hamlet: Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands, come. The appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony. Let me comply with you in the garb, lest my extent to the players (which I tell you must show fairly outward) should more appear like entertainment than yours. You are welcome, but my Uncle Father and Aunt Mother are deceived.
  • Guildenstern: In what, my dear lord?
  • Hamlet: I am but mad north north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

(First Folio) Hamlet: I am but mad North, North-west : when the Winde is Southerly, I know a Hawke from a Handsaw.


George and I return to demonstrate the re-use of woodcuts in our day. The 1575 conjoined falconry and hunting books were given a second edition in 1611. The monarchy had passed from Elizabeth Tudor to James Stuart in 1603, and so scenes imagining Elizabeth hawking or enjoying an alfresco meal were modified to imagine James instead. GG and I were also out of the picture by 1611, but no one bothered to replace us. Turberville was gone too. Tempus edax rerumOvid.

Turberville pg 81 woodcut morph QE to KJIf you look closely while the animation shows Scottish Jamie, you can see some of the seams where the block-cutter chiselled out the queen, then fitted blank wood and carved the king in her place. Woodcuts were expensive and time-consuming to produce, you didn’t toss them into the fire if they could be repaired or reworked.

Related posts

  • • The other post: It Was No Carnival in Flanders, 28 May 2019. It covers George’s capture and incarceration from May through October 1574, with a flashback to the early days of our friendship and a flash-forward to the Sack of Antwerp at the end of 1576.
  • • What is poulter’s measure? I explain in Seven Times Fourteener, 14 March 2018. The example was written by my uncle Henry Howard (Earl of Surrey), but GG made much use of the form, and it was he who came up with the eggy name. Scroll to the previous poem in that post for one by GG, though it’s not in poulter’s measure.
  • • The beginning of Hamlet’s mad line is a remembrance also, though of a much more maddening event. Mad North North West, 26 April 2017.

Sources and additional reading

  • Upper Colne Marshes surrounding Wivenhoe [magic.defra.gov.uk]
  • · MAGIC geographical map of Great Britain
  • · the area is a little more built up now than it was in 1574
  • George Gascoigne [books.google.com]
  • · Studies in Renaissance Literature, Volume 24
  • · by Gillian Austen
  • · DS Brewer, 2008, 236 pages