Russian people have loved hunting since time immemorial. It is confirmed by our songs, our stories, all our legends.
The excitement of hunting, a duel with a strong and cunning forest predator, competition with other hunters in dexterity and the number of trophies has turned hunting from craft into entertainment and art. It was in the third quarter of the 17th century when the royal court hunting turned into a permanent occupation of Russian tsars.
It was a special world with its ceremonial, aimed at demonstrating to the subjects and foreign guests the brilliance and grandeur, authority and power of the government and the state. The masters of the Stables department made the horse decoration for the royal hunting. Several masters participated in its creation: saddlers – made saddles, harness makers – made harness; blacksmiths – forged horseshoes and stirrups, silver craftsmen – made silver jewelry. Russian hunting history – Powerinhunt – hunting and fishing tour in Russia
Russian masters were known as skilled saddlers. They made saddles – archacks with low pommels and a pad, fastened to the framework, filled with swan fur. Comfortable and light, they never better suited for hunting. The saddle did not fit completely to the croup of a horse, but rested on it only with “linden” – protrudent boards, covered with stamped birch bark. Archak was covered with cherry-colored velvet, the porch and saddle skirts were strung with a silver cord. The pommels of the saddle were pasted with a “yasher” – skin of sturgeon fish or sea stingray.
The lightest bridle was used to equip a horse. The concept of a “bridle” included several items necessary to harness and control a horse. A bride itself was put on the head of the horse – head harness of iron bits and reins, the paperst – the breast harness, was fastened to the saddle in front. The neb of the horse was decorated with the reshma – a curved metal plate with chains, decorated with a chased vegetative pattern.
The image of the Russian coat of arms – a two-headed eagle under the crown was placed in the center. The masters of the stables department turned every detail of the bridle into a unique work of art. Traditions of the ceremonial hunting existed in the following centuries, but it was the 17th century when the purely Russian flavor was brought into this colorful action. The tsar hunting itself – falconry, dog and bear – differed in the variety of ceremonial and obeyed its rules and traditions.
Falconry existed in Russia as far as ancient times. But the period of its heyday was the reign of tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Romanov, the father of Peter I, who was a passionate admirer of falconry. It was a true passion, marked by a seal of permanence and even inspiration. The tsar found a heartfelt joy in hunting. By order of the tsar, more than two hundred trapping birds were brought to the capital each year: falcons, gyrfalcons, saker falcons, peregrine falcons, red-footed falcons, hawks. White gyrfalcons were at a great price. They were valued for their unusual coloring. The places of capturing gyrfalcons were under protection, and they could be caught only by professional catchers, who had permission from the sovereign.
Falconry of tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich was served by a hundred falconers, who were kept in the daytime and at night with hunting birds in the palace villages of Kolomenskoye, Sokolniki and Pokrovsky. A secret department organized the falconry for Russian tsars in the XVII century. The head of falconry – falconer – was a trusted-man of the Moscow sovereign. The admission to the tsar’s service was a great privilege, it claimed taking oath, the royal hunting ranks received food from the royal table. The most beautiful type of the falconry was claimed to be hunting with gyrfalcon.
The attacking gyrfalcon at high speed hit a prey with claws, quickly gains height and, if necessary, repeats the attack. Well-trained gyrfalcon stubbornly pursued prey at a distance of up to 6 miles and made up to 70 attacks. The trophies of gyrfalcon were geese, swans, ducks, black grouse, kites, herons, cranes, crows and even eagles. Saker and pelegrine falcons were also favorite hunting birds of the royal hunting. They were able to successfully catch not only feathered game, but also hares.
Hobby falcon and pigeon hawk were used for catching small birds, and also as “ladies” falcons at ceremonial departures. Universal hunters were hawks, capable of catching a variety of prey. At the royal court, white hawks were especially appreciated. The tsar hunted with gyrfalcons almost daily, or even twice a day: “after an early meal” or “before and after a dinner meal”, in the other words in the afternoon. The villages of Pokrovskoe, Izmailovo, Semenovskoye, Kolomenskoye, Kuntsevo, Sokolniki, Preobrazhenskoye, Rostokino were the favorite places of hunting with falcons. Falconry was attended by members of the royal family and invited foreign ambassadors.
The invitees admired the beautiful sight of bird hunting. At the signal of the tsar. Loud sounds of hunting horns and small kettledrum – “tulumbas” – scared ducks and other game from the surface of a lake. Falcons one after another soared into the sky from the hands of the falconer, protected by a glove, and stooped down, hitting the prey. Hunters enjoyed the beauty of the falcon’s flight, its height and swiftness.
The hunting birds were trained to fly to the call. If a falcon was hiding with a prey, hunters, ridding the horses, rushed to search and found it by the sound of silver bells hung on the bird’s tail. All accessories of falconry – weapons (bows and arrows), small drums and “vobila” (devices for calling hunting birds), cloth colored caftans (usually red) with gold or silver stripes, yellow morocco boots and mittens of falconers – were made in the Kremlin workshops , and the outfits of hunting birds – in the Tsaritsyno Workshop Chamber.
After the hunt, the tsar was offered the most dashing falcon. He admired and caressed it. Hunting was traditionally ended with a feast. The Tsar in his camp tent treated all participants to hunting with vodka, honey, gingerbread, Astrakhan grapes and cherry jam. Drinks were served in silver stoups, cups and goblets. During the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich, hunting gained significant political value, as it helped to establish contacts with neighboring countries.
Falcons and gyrfalcones were presented as diplomatic gifts and were social-symbolic signs. The exchange of hunting trophies between representatives of the state and political elite of Russia and other countries promoted the development of good-neighborly relations. These gifts were reminiscent of the already committed favors and benefits and expressed the hope of grantors for the same relationship in the future. The hunting traditions of Alexei Mikhailovich were continued by Russian empresses Elizabeth and Catherine II. Falconry was also a strong passion for Elizabeth. She started her own falconry in Tsarskoe Selo.
During the hunt, the Empress in a man’s dress rode on the Pulkovskaya Hill to the Petrovsky Putevoy Palace. Therefore, the road leading through the fields to this palace, until recently, retained its old name – “falconry road”. Catherine II preferred hunting with pigeon hawks that were specially trained for this source of amusement. Based upon the records in the fourrier magazines, once or twice a week she went for a walk in a carriage or a gig carriage accompanied by falconers and admired the flight of a falcon that hit a prey. Sometimes she went hunting on horseback, in a hunting caftan or uniform of one of the guards regiments.
The last hunting with hunting birds took place during the coronation ceremony of Alexander II. Then, on the occasion of a landmark event in Orenburg Province, golden eagles were brought to Moscow for baiting wolves and foxes. As for Peter I, by his own admission, he didn’t like hunting. “It’s not my fun,” he said, “without adding animals I have someone to fight with: outside the homeland – with a daring enemy, restraining my rude and restless subjects inside the county.” However, in different years he faced hunting for deer, elks, wild boars, hares.
The monarch was obliged to do this due to the court ceremonial. The reforms of Peter I changed the traditional system of the Russian life. The active perception of the Western European culture, the formation of a new political elite, the changing forms of court life, the transfer of the capital to Saint Petersburg gradually affected the forms of imperial hunting and its organization.
The imperial hunting in Russia began to develop in the common traditions of the European royal court hunting. Hunting in both capitals – Moscow and St. Petersburg – went under the jurisdiction of the new court hunting departments – the Ober-Jaegermeister department and the Court Stables Office. The first, in particular, was responsible for making weapons for the imperial hunting. Among the Russian rulers of the 18th century Peter II was the most passionate admirer of dog hunting.
The emperor who reigned in the Russian throne at the age of eleven and a half was distinguished by early physical development and a bodily fortress. Most of the time the tsar spent in his beloved village Izmailovo, near Moscow, where he hunted with dogs. The most valuable gifts for the emperor were dogs and guns. Knowing Peter II’s addiction to hunting, the Spanish ambassador at the Russian court the duke de Liria presented him a gun of the famous Spanish master Diego Iscubel.
As an expression of thanks, the emperor invited the ambassador to dinner. That was considered to be a great honor at that time, and gave him some hunting trophies – a deer and a wild boar. Peter II died in his early youth, when he was not even fifteen. He did not have time to leave a noticeable trace in the political and state history of Russia. However the formation of the imperial hunting of the 18th century, with its characteristic predominance of the dog hunting over the hunting with hunting birds, took place exactly during his short reign. Hunting was also a strong passion for empress Anna.
Having become the Russian empress, she arranged everything necessary for hunting in Tsarskoe Selo. Enclosures, riding halls, menageries for rabbits, black grouse, deer, wild boar and roe deer were arranged in the parks established near the palaces during her reign. The people of the northern nationalities took care of them, specially brought for this purpose – that were lapps and samoyeds, who knew the habits of animals well.
According to the testimony of contemporaries, the empress was characterized by a passion for shooting at the target. In all corners of the palace Anna had loaded guns near her hand. At any moment she could shoot from the windows at flying birds. A huge number of birds (nightingales, finches, buntings, bullfinches, canaries, siskins and linnets) was managed at the court for this amusement. By the order of the empress they were released, the shooting started and the rooms were filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder.
Weapons for the imperial hunting were purchased in the best centers of Western Europe. In 1736, on the personal orders of empress Anna, six French rifles were issued for her personally from Paris. Anna was passionately fond of dog hunting. In the XVIII century hunters went chasing mounted or in special carriages – the yacht-wagons. Hunters corralled wild goats, wild boars, deer, moose, hares, and the courtiers, led by the empress, fired and baited them with dogs. After the accession to the throne, empress Elizabeth elevated her favorite amusement in Tsarskoe Selo to the rank of the official state ceremony: foreign ambassadors and guests were invited to go hunting.
oung Catherine II, no less than Empress Elizabeth Petrovna was fond of hunting, having left some curious memoirs about that. During the years of her reign, the imperial hunting resembled a theatrical celebration even more than in the days of Elizabeth. Passionate hunters were also among the Russian rulers of the XIX century. Alexander II and Alexander III were admirers of the hunting for large animals, such as bears, moose, bison, Nicholas II was remembered by contemporaries as a fan of the gun hunting.
The fact that hunting was an integral part of the leisure of Emperor Alexander II is evidenced by numerous documents – note books, fourrier magazines, memoirs of the contemporaries. The emperor’s passion for this entertainment was awakened very early. The passion for hunting of the crown prince was so great that at times he gave preference to it instead of studying.
This interest of the heir naturally grew into the special hunting seasons of the emperor, which began with the coronation ceremony of Alexander II. The imperial hunting was a well thought out ritual. In addition to the usual preparations, a detailed action plan was worked out, a list of participants of the hunt was drawn up, and upon its ending – a detailed report on the results of each participant’s hunting and summary data were made. Before the start of the hunting, breakfast was usually arranged in the forest. Hunting, as a rule, ended with the gala dinner.
All bags were taken to the palace and fit in a certain order. The first row consisted of the trophies taken by the emperor, then by other participants of the hunt. By this time, lists of the large game were made, some of which were handed over to the participants of the hunt. The other – to the property of anatomical museums of the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and the universities. Like every hunter, Alexander II had his favorite methods of hunting. He loved gun hunting for deer, foxes, rabbits, grouse and woodcocks. But he was especially attracted by the hunting for large wild game, such as bears, moose, and bison.
Particularly during the reign of Alexander II the bear hunting rose to popularity at the highest court. Hunting for bear was carried out according to a certain scenario. There were special hunting grounds with hunting palaces, menageries and a whole staff of court rangers for the imperial hunting. The interest in the hunting for large animals also transferred to Alexander III. According to the memoirs of count Sergey Dmitrievich Sheremetev, a man who was knowledgeable. Close and devoted to the emperor, “the sovereign was a hunter and a good shooter in his heart”.
The favorite hunting place of Alexander III was the neighborhood of Gatchina, which was chosen as his permanent residence. Here the royal family usually accompanied by the great princes participated in cheerful picnics in the bosom of nature. Drive hunting or walks in the woods with a gun. In these places they hunted for wolves, deer, deer, foxes, hares. The most often prey among wildfowl was a pheasant, a wood grouse, less often a duck. Along with the hunting for animals, the hunting of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich in Pershino estate was very popular at the court. He created a specialized hunting farm there with an extensive staff of servants.
The hunting of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich was unique in composition, the pedigree of greyhounds and hounds. It was famous not only in Russia, but also in Europe. That was a special world, with its rules, traditions and language. A special importance was attached to the ritual during the grand-dukal hunting. The most solemn event of the hunting day was the feast after the hunt. The whole hunting team lined up in a semicircle with torches in their hands near the dead animal. When the Grand Dukes appeared, the huntsmen trumpeted into fanfares. Then the head of the hunt greeted the distinguished guests, and the huntsmen again trumpeted into fanfares. Giving peculiar honors to the bison, the deer, the elk – in order of importance of the game.
Music gave a special flavor to Russian hunting. There was a brass band affiliated with the imperial hunting. And the musicians were among the regular servants of the grand duсal hunting. Nicholas II also loved the hunting all his life. Considering it a real man’s occupation, “refreshing the soul”, and tried to use every opportunity to hunt. His father’s enthusiasm passed on to the Grand Duchesses. Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna enthusiastically reported September 21, 1912 to her aunt – Grand Duchess Ksenia Aleksandrovna about her participation in hunting.
“My dear aunt Ksenia, it was terribly fun in Belovezhye, father, Olga and I went hunting. Marie and Anastasia went only twice.” Father let me stand on his number peg two times. Golitsyn, Beloselsky and Drenteln also let me stand on their number pegs once. “It was terribly good.” Based upon the entries in the diary. Nicholas II hunted the last time in his life on March 9, 1914 near the village Ropsha. That was the end of the royal court hunting in Russia.