Hunting was a social as well as physical outlet for royalty and nobility under the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Poaching was considered a serious offense against the king and was punishable by fees, imprisonment, or, in a few cases, death.
Henry VIII was an avid hunter; the lands freed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries made the creation of large parks for hunting possible.
Queen Elizabeth also enjoyed participating in bow and stable hunting (where deer are driven en masse in front of the hunters), while King James I and VI relished hunting par force.
At King James’ instigation, Parliament increased the regulations on which types of people could legally participate in the hunt (with the privilege tied to social class) with a series of laws between 1603 and 1610.
At the same time the movement between social strata was becoming more possible, because of increased economic opportunities for those outside the aristocracy and an increased availability titles for sale by the King. Therefore, more people met the legal requirements to be eligible to participate in the hunt.
As the higher social echelons became permeable, hunting remained the recreation of choice for the nobility, turning the sport into a skill necessary for the nouveaux riche of the times. Hunting took on a social function similar to golf today.
Business people know games of golf with colleagues turn into important settings for making social and business connections. Golf is a sport that takes place in specified large spaces (golf courses, country clubs); it has its own jargon (birdies, bogeys, par); it requires specialized (usually expensive) equipment and often enablers (golf clubs, golf carts, caddies). Thus, the setting, requirements for participation, and the time to practice the challenging nature of the sport, give it exclusivity.
Hunting in early modern England served the same purpose. Hunting took place in hunting parks owned by members of the aristocracy; it had specialized terms calling for packs of dogs and horses, and the huntsmen necessary to care for them.
Thus, economic and social shifts created a new class of those who were upwardly mobile, with money, admitted to higher ranks, but who did not have the social advantages of being raised with the elite.
As such, they would not have participated in the hunt in their youth, or be familiar with the nuances of the sport. They were in danger of appearing ignorant, ill-bred and ill-mannered.
An example of those who were in this situation can be seen in Act 4, Scene 2, of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labors Lost (1598), where Holofernes, Sir Nathaniel and Dull dispute the correct term for the deer that the Princess has just slain. Holofernes calls it a deer, and Nathaniel corrects him:
NATHANIEL. Truly, Master Holofernes, the epithets are sweetly varied, like a scholar at the least: but, sir, I assure ye it was a buck of the first head.
HOLOFERNES. Sir Nathaniel, haud credo.
DULL. 'Twas not a old grey doe; 'twas a pricket. (4.2.1-20)
Dull mishears “haud credo” (“I do not think so”) as “old grey doe”; since he is a constable his mistake is easier to overlook than that of Nathaniel or Holofernes, who, as a scholar and a knight/curate working in the surroundings of court, ought to have a grasp of hunting terminology.
Confusion over hunting terminology shows how the lack of knowledge exposed parvenus to social risks.
Yes, there were early modern English hunting manuals which functioned as courtesy literature for those newly admitted to the higher levels of society. Most notably George Gascoigne and Gervase Markham explained the techniques employed in early modern hunting.
It's interesting to note that neither Gascoigne nor Markham gained favorable positions at court as a result of their efforts.
Much more on hunting and society and these manuals at
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.