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Why did Tudors kill so much wildlife?

A painting depicting Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Hunting

© William Powell Frith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    • Being around in Tudor times wasn't much fun if you were the wife of King Henry VIII - 2 of his 6 wives were executed. Being one of his subjects wasn't always easy either - about 72,000 people were killed during his reign.

      Today though, we want to focus on the animals... it was tough for them too.

      a painted portrait of a man with a wide brimmed hat and beard
        


      A history book* has been published, revealing all sorts of amazing facts about the plight of wildlife in Tudor times.

      Millions of animals were hunted down and killed while the Tudors ruled England, all because of a law passed by Henry in 1532 and then added to by Elizabeth I in 1566.

      The law ruled that every man, woman and child in the country had to kill as many animals as possible on a list of so-called vermin. Each creature had a 'bounty' on their head.

      This meant that each time someone killed one of them they were paid. Some of the birds were worth a penny each, while foxes were worth twelve pence!

      Other creatures on the wanted list included: hedgehogs, badgers, kites, ravens, polecats, shags, kingfishers, woodpeckers, choughs and pine martens.

      Shows a close-up photo of a fox looking directly at the camera.© Joel Terrell
      Showing a hedgehog being held in two open hands. The hedgehog is lying on its back and its paws are curled just under its dark nose. Soft fur surrounds the hedgehog's face and ears but then the rest is all prickles!© Thomas Burgey.
      One of the reasons hedgehogs were hunted down was because it was thought that they used to suck the milk from cows at night!

      Half a million hedgehogs were killed in the 17th and early 18th century.

      A hedgehog was worth more than a wild cat, stoat or weasel. You'd get 4 pennies if you killed one.

      Not bad considering that a farm worker would earn the same money for a whole day's work!

      Shows a photo of a raven.© © Rob Bradshaw.
      Why kill so many animals? Because they were blamed for stealing food and spreading disease. Harvests had been bad, so no-one had much food to eat. Also, with a growing population, sickness spread easily.

      Thank goodness the law was finally abolished in the mid-18th century. Everyone realised that some animals, including hedgehogs, were becoming extinct.

      *The book is called 'Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife' and is written by Roger Lovegrove.
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