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Bear-Baiting

BEAR-BAITING and BULL-BAITING, sports formerly very popular in England but now suppressed on account of their cruelty. They took place in arenas built in the form of theatres which were the common resort even of cultivated people. In the bear-gardens, which are known to have existed since the time of Henry II., the bear was chained to a stake by one hind leg or by the neck and worried by dogs. Erasmus, writing (about 1500) from the house of Sir Thomas More, spoke of "many herds of bears maintained in the country for the purpose of baiting." Sunday was the favourite day for these sports. Hentzner, writing in 1598, describes the bear-garden at Bankside as "another place, built in the form of a theatre, which serves for the baiting of Bulls and Bears. They are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs, but not without great risk to the dogs from the horns of the one and the teeth of the other, and it sometimes happens they are killed upon the spot; fresh ones are immediately supplied in the places of those that are wounded or tired." He also describes the whipping of a blinded bear, a favourite variation of bear-baiting. For a famous baiting which took place before Queen Elizabeth in 1575 thirteen bears were provided. Of it Robert Laneham (fl. 1575) wrote, "it was a sport very pleasant to see, to see the bear, with his pink eyes, tearing after his enemies' approach; the nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid his assaults: if he were bitten in one place how he would pinch in another to get free; that if he were taken once, then by what shift with biting, with clawing, with roaring, with tossing and tumbling he would work and wind himself from them; and when he was loose to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy." The famous "Paris Garden" in Southwark was the chief bear-garden in London. A Spanish nobleman of the time, who was taken to see a pony baited that had an ape tied to its back, expressed himself to the effect that "to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable." Butler describes a bear-baiting at length in the first canto of his Hudibras.

The Puritans endeavoured to put an end to animal-baiting, although Macaulay sarcastically suggested that this was "not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators." The efforts of the Puritans seem, however, to have had little effect, for we find the sport flourishing at the Restoration; but the conscience of cultivated people seems to have been touched, for Evelyn wrote in his Diary, under the date of June 16th, 1670: "I went with some friends to the bear-garden, where was cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bear and bull baiting, it being a famous day for all these butcherly sports, or rather barbarous cruelties. The bulls did exceedingly well, but the Irish wolf-dog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeed, who beat a cruel mastiff. One of the bulls tossed a dog full into a lady's lap, as she sat in one of the boxes at a considerable height from the arena. Two poor dogs were killed, and so all ended with the ape on horseback, and I most heartily weary of the rude and dirty pastime, which I had not seen, I think, in twenty years before." Steele also attacked these cruel sports in the Tatler. Nevertheless, when the tsar Nicholas I. visited England as cesarevich, he was taken to see a prize-fight and a bull-baiting. In this latter form of the sport the bull's nose was usually blown full of pepper to render him the more furious. The bull was often allowed a hole in the ground, into which to thrust his nose and lips, his most vulnerable parts. Sometimes the bull was tethered, and dogs, trained for the purpose, set upon him one by one, a successful attack resulting in the dog fastening his teeth firmly in the bull's snout. This was called "pinning the bull." A sport called bull-running was popular in several towns of England, particularly at Tutbury and Stamford. Its establishment at Tutbury was due to John of Gaunt, to whose minstrels, on the occasion of their annual festival on August 16th the prior of Tutbury, for his tenure, delivered a bull, which had his horns sawn off, his ears and tail cut off, his nostrils filled with pepper and his whole body smeared with soap. The minstrels gave chase to the bull, which became the property of any minstrel of the county of Stafford who succeeded in holding him long enough to cut off a lock of his hair. Otherwise he was returned to the prior. At the dissolution of the monasteries this tenure devolved upon the dukes of Devonshire, who suppressed it in 1788. At Stamford the running took place annually on November 13th, the bull being provided by the butchers of the town, the townspeople taking part in the chase, which was carried on until both people and beast were exhausted, and ended in the killing of the bull. Certain rules were strictly observed, such as the prohibition of carrying sticks or staves that were shod with iron. The Stamford bull-running survived well into the 19th century. Bear-baiting and bull-baiting were prohibited by act of parliament in 1835.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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