An Overview of Medieval Cockfighting

Cockfighting has a long and storied history, with evidence of its occurrence dating back to the 6th century BC in Asia. Various cultures throughout the world have embraced this activity over the centuries, with variations in rules and regulations depending on where it was taking place.

The blood sport gained a following during the medieval ages as well. Here’s a brief look into cock fighting in the medieval ages.

Cockfighting in the Medieval Period

Cockfights began in ancient times, making it a spectator sport that has been around for thousands of years. While it is a practice that has been done for centuries, the term “cock of the game” only came up in 1607 when it was used by George Wilson. In his book, Wilson also noted that cock fighting was often used as a way to highlight the strength and power of the birds’ owners.

Cockfights as a practice spread in Europe in medieval times, particularly in England. During the reign of King Henry VIII, cockfighting events were held at Whitehall Palace. Cockfighting reached a peak in the whole country of England, where at one point it was even considered a national sport.

Cockfight events were enjoyed by all classes and further solidified their popularity due to the gambling aspect attached to them. 

Aside from England, cock fight activities were also seen in countries such as France and Italy. The medieval ages saw cockfighting become an organized activity with specific rules and regulations that were followed across different jurisdictions. Cockfighting arenas existed in many places throughout Europe, some of which even had seating areas for spectators.

The simple premise of cockfights, where two roosters would be seen fighting each other and the winner being crowned at the end of the bout, drew in audiences of all kinds. The roosters were usually bred and trained specifically for cockfighting, with some carrying spiked collars to increase the intensity of the battle.

Rules varied from region to region, but generally speaking, it was illegal to intervene in a cockfight or to encourage one rooster over the other.

Cockfighting in the medieval era also had a significant religious component, with some believing that cockfighting was a way to honor particular gods or goddesses. The chicken itself was seen as a symbol of strength and courage, the animal becoming an important part of various ceremonies during this period.

Cockfighting contests were often held on religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, and were seen as a way to bring people together in celebration.

Cockfights were first outlawed in England by Edward III, suggesting individuals take up archery instead. But the sport quickly found its way back into society. It was banned once more for Puritan reasons but the prohibition was lifted once more. This would go on until 1849 when a law preventing mistreatment against animals was passed. 

Cockfighting was eventually made illegal in most parts of Europe during the 1800s due to its perceived cruelty to animals. Despite this, it is still practiced in some regions around the world today.

The Welsh Main

In the country of Wales, cockfight activities were popular within all sections of society until the early 19th century. Men referred to as “feeders” would look after and train cocks for fighting. The birds were made to spar every day.

After sparring practice, the chickens were then fed and watered. Each feeder had their own secret feeding program as giving the cocks the correct diet was extremely important to ensure their stamina in fights.

Before each battle, cocks were fitted with sharp steel or metal spurs, and tied around their legs. The steel was sharp enough to deal death to the opposing bird with just a single strike. After getting fitted with silver spurs, the birds are then brought into the middle of a pit.

With a signal from the fight master, the battle would then begin and go on until one bird is left standing while the other bird gets killed or critically injured. 

Some men who participated would bring charms that they believed could protect and safeguard their fighting cocks. Some superstitious owners believed that chickens who had soil from under the church altar mixed in their food would be unbeatable.

Such charms were banned, however, if the pit for the fight was to take place on the hallowed ground of a churchyard.

Numerous cockfighting activities were usually held during Easter. One of the most anticipated cockfighting events was the Welsh Main, both practiced in England and Wales. Only the best cocks were allowed to compete and large amounts of money were bet on the outcome. 

By the early 19th century, public opinion on cockfighting in Wales turned around as a series of religious revivals nationwide condemned the sport as a sinful activity, stating that it “guaranteed hell for everyone involved.”

In 1849, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act made cockfighting illegal. This was done to protect the welfare of the birds as well as to stop the gathering of spectators who enjoyed gambling and drinking during fights.

Despite the animal welfare law, cock fighting activities continued to be held illegally afterward.

Cockfights in Medieval Norway

In Nordic historical literature, there is no mention of cockfighting. However, recent research articles and evidence are suggesting otherwise. A graduate student was examining bird bones from medieval Norway when he noticed that the chicken’s spurs were cut off from the tarsometatarsus.

Around 16 tarsometatarsi from chickens were found in several cities in medieval Norway, all with the bony spurs cut off.

This modification is typical of cockfighting. The bony spurs of chickens are removed and replaced with silver or metal spurs instead, attached to the stump. While there are no written history articles of cockfighting activities in medieval and post-medieval Norway, the evidence found is enough to say that it was a widespread activity.

What Color were the Roosters Used in Cockfighting in the Middle Ages?

The roosters used in cockfighting during the Middle Ages were often white, red, brown, or black. According to research, during this era, there were at least two different breeds of fighting cocks present. Domestic fowl are the overall dominant bird species, particularly in Norway. 

The breed Old English Game is one of the oldest rooster breeds around, first developed in Britain. Old English Game chickens were brought in by the Romans and were mostly bred for the use of cock fighting.

Cock Fighting in Present Times

The popularity of cockfighting has greatly declined since the medieval era. While there are countries in the present where cockfighting remains legal and is enjoyed, more regions have banned the sport, citing it as an act of cruelty against animals. 

For example, in America, cock fight events and activities related to it are outlawed. In Mexico, cock fight activities are banned in the capital but are legal in the municipality of Ixmiquilpan and throughout the country.

Other countries where cockfighting is legal include the Philippines, where a large amount of money is always involved in fights, Peru, Cuba, and Colombia, among others.

Final Note

Cockfighting has been around since ancient times. In the medieval era, chickens were more than just food, they were also a source of entertainment. Cock fights became a popular pastime in all sections of society and were a part of many different cultures. It had religious significance to some and was seen as a symbol of strength and courage. 

Cockfighting serves as an important reminder of what life was like during medieval times and is a part of the culture in many regions. Despite its decline in popularity, it is still practiced in certain places today. However, more and more countries around the world have prohibited cockfighting and made it illegal, stating that it is a form of animal cruelty.