game laws

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game laws. From the later 14th cent. the right to hunt game, and particularly the edible game of deer, pheasants, rabbits, and partridges, was legally restricted to those members of the social order with an income of £40 a year or more. The legal position was reformed and strengthened in 1671 in an effort to try to prevent anyone from hunting hares, partridges, and moor fowl, unless they had freeholds of at least £100 a year, or long leaseholds valued at £150. Wild duck, deer, and rabbits were not included in the legislation because they had a higher legal status as private property and their seizure could therefore be regarded as common theft. Sons and heirs of esquires and others ‘of higher degree’ were permitted by the 1671 Act to participate, while all lords of manors ‘not under the degree of an esquire’ were authorized to appoint gamekeepers with the right to seize guns and goods. The 1671 legislation also excluded non-landed wealth from the ranks of sportsmen, and turned the hunting of game into the exclusive pastime of a social minority. Not surprisingly the laws also produced considerable friction in the countryside during the 18th cent. Efforts to repeal the laws began in the 1770s, but came to a successful conclusion only in 1831. However, poaching remained an offence, and as a result an undeclared state of war persisted in the countryside through the 19th cent., although the position was modified by the Ground Game Act of 1881.

John Beckett