Find In Focus: Post-Medieval silver hawking vervel

This silver Post-Medieval hawking vervel was reported as Treasure in 2012 after being discovered by a metal detectorist near Sutton upon Derwent in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

YORYM-7576F7

Hawking was a favourite form of hunting for centuries in England and was at its most popular in the seventeenth century. Trained birds of prey were used to catch animals such as hares and, as these birds were prestigious and expensive, their owners fitted them with vervels. Vervels were small rings attached to the leg straps and leash of the bird. The leash, when held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. It could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch.

A peregrine falcon, a bird used for hawking, perched
on the falconer’s hand. The jesses (the leather straps attached
to the bird’s legs) are just visible. Vervels would have been
attached to these. (Chris Downes)

Vervels gave the owner’s name, residence or coat of arms, allowing lost birds to be identified and returned. Arms were especially useful, as not everyone could read. 

This example of a hawking vervel comprises a circular ring inscribed with the name *F. VAGHAN and a shield shaped plaque soldered onto the external surface. The plaque bears a crest depicting of a male head with a snake wrapped around his throat.

This crest is thought to be attributed to the Vaughn family who had branches in East Yorkshire and Herefordshire though their family seat was at Tretower near Crickhowell, Wales. The Vaughan family crest depicted the heads of three boys with snakes around their necks. This motif derived from a story concerning their ancestor Moreiddig Warwyn, who was belived to have been born with a snake around his neck.

A close up of the crest

While this object was found in East Yorkshire, the Herefordshire branch of the Vaughn family were based at Hergest Court, which was allegedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles.

An object featuring the same design was found in Baffins, Porthsmouth in 2018 (ref: HAMP-D99A92). Made of copper-alloy and decorated with enamel, this object was originally thought to be Roman though further research showed the potential connection to this vervel, suggesting a much later date. The type of object however remains a mystery.

HAMP-D99A92

Similar heraldic vervels have been reported as Treasure from around England, including DUR-775EF0 from Hutton Conyers, North Yorkshire, depicting a stylised horse’s head and an inscription naming a member of a local family, Sir William Mallory.

Examples made of silver illustrate the development of hawking as an aristocratic pastime in the seventeenth century.

Hawking vervels made of silver are prestigious objects which provide personalised evidence of wealthy families and illustrate the development of hawking as an aristocratic pastime in the seventeenth century.