A Kestrel For A Knave

The second of our new series of children's “Activity Adventures” took place at S.O.S. today.

This adventure was entitled “TALONS & DRAGONS” and its purpose was to teach children all about FALCONRY in an historical context.

We started the day by looking at “Knights in Armour”, talking about Medieval England and what people used to do for entertainment in a world before television. We discussed Jousting Tournaments, the Age of Chivalry and who the Crusaders were; and about how, without the influence of the returning Crusaders, the art of FALCONRY might not have become so popular in the middles ages and extended right through to present times. 

For supporting evidence, we then took a look at some ancient historical texts to find out more about how falconry evolved in the social context, principally by investigating the ‘Boke of St.Albans’ (‘boke’ being the old English word for book) which was written in 1486 AD; and a Harleian manuscript about heraldry, from which the author Barry Hines took the following lines for his novel, “A Kestrel for a Knave”.

An Eagle for an Emperor,
A Gyrfalcon for a King,
A Peregrine for a Prince,
A Saker for a Knight,
A Merlin for a Lady,
A Goshawk for a Yeoman,
A Sparrowhawk for a Priest,
A Musket for a Holy water Clerk,
A Kestrel for Knave.

The group investigated some of these species mentioned above with aid of the information boards which decorate the walls of our education room at SOS. Then, with the help of LOCK our Lanneret, we showed our guests how the practice of training falcons, how much of the equipment used for falconry and how the wearing of hoods by falcons (from where, incidentally, we get the word hoodwinked!) have essentially remained unchanged since their inception in Mediaeval times hundreds of years ago.

We then discussed how virtually everyone within Mediaeval society had access to Falconry in some form or another and therefore would have been familiar with TALONS - not only on birds of prey but also all manner of creatures (real, mythical or imagined) who might have possessed them! This took us on to the importance and significance of dragons in Mediaeval culture - dragons possessing the fiercest talons of all. An example of this importance might be Saint George, the patron Saint of England - where would he be without his DRAGON?

We looked at Heraldry and the importance of wearing a Coat of Arms to identify knights in battle, and the meaning and significance of all the heraldic elements contained within a Knights shield. Then we had lots of fun designing our own shields, the results of which can be seen in the picture below!

We ended the day by watching a flying demonstration in which the children got to see for themselves the levels of skill and training required to fly a falcon successfully at the lure - a truly magnificent and ancient tradition - and finished with a fantastic game of HERON HAWKING (not literally - the Herons in this case were children) on the flying field . Once caught, the ‘herons’ had to wear a leg-band as was the custom in Medieval England - a custom which has developed into the modern practice of bird-ringing.

This Activity Adventure is one of a series that will be running through to September at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary. Each has been specifically devised to appeal to youngsters aged 6-12 and admission to each is completely free, the only pre-requisite being that all participants must book their places in advance. If you would like more information please click here , email us at info@owl-help.org.uk or telephone us on 01449 711425 for details