Wolves in Medieval England: Guest Post by Regan Walker

On this week’s edition of Animals in Literature and History, I bring you bestselling author Regan Walker with a guest post on Wolves in Medieval England!

Wolf after sheep, Bestiario Medieval.

Wolf after sheep, Bestiario Medieval.

Their prevalence

Wolves were prevalent in England during the medieval era.  One of the earliest references to them is contained in a 6th century genealogy of the East Anglican founder of a dynasty called Wuffa, whose tribe was known as the Wuffings, or “wolf people”.  They were believed to have originated in Scandinavia.

Bones of wolves have been found in many excavations in England.  They show the wolves then were comparable in size to European wolves today.

Anglo-Saxon charters mention such things as “wolf pits.”  Wolves were known to have been in Berkshire, Derbyshire, Devonshire, Glamorganshire, Gloucestershire, Kent, Essex, Sussex, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Somersetshire.  They also made their homes in the great forests of Riddlesdale in Northumberland, Blackburnshire and Bowland in Lancashire, Richmond in Yorkshire, Sherwood in Nottinghamshire and many others, some of which no longer exist.

The town of Woolpit in Suffolk, recorded in the Domesday Book as “Wolfpeta”, was named “Wlpit” in the 10th century and later changed to Wlfpeta, in Old English, wulf-pytt, means “pit for trapping wolves.”

Wolves from Oppian of Apamea Cynegetica, 10th Century.

Wolves from Oppian of Apamea Cynegetica, 10th Century.

During King Athelstan’s reign in the 10th century, wolves were so prevalent in Yorkshire a retreat was built by one Acehorn at Flixton so that travelers might seek refuge in the event of a wolf attack.

The Hunting of Wolves

With wolves a big problem, it is not surprising that the hunting of them became a necessary sport.  And perhaps that is why wolfhounds were so prized.  (In 1210, an Irish hound, as they were then known, was presented as a gift from Prince John to Llewellyn, Prince of Wales.)  In my novel, Rogue Knight, set in 1069-70 in York, the heroine was given her wolfhound “Magnus” by her father, the former Sheriff of Lincolnshire.  During the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, wolfhounds were in great demand as royal gifts.

Wolfhounds hunting wolves.

Wolfhounds hunting wolves.

As early as the 9th century, and probably long before, hunting constituted an essential part of the education of young noblemen.  Asser states that Alfred the Great, before he was twelve years old, “was a most expert and active hunter, and excelled in all the branches of that most noble art”—including the hunting of wolves.

In 938, when Athelstan was victorious over Constantine, the King of Wales, he imposed upon him a yearly tribute of gold, silver, and cattle, to which was added “hawks, and sharp-scented dogs, fit for hunting of wild beasts.”  His successor, Edgar, remitted the pecuniary payment on condition of receiving annually the skins of three hundred wolves.

In the Forest Laws of Canute, promulgated in 1016, the wolf is thus expressly mentioned:

As for foxes and wolves, they are neither reckoned as beasts of the forest or of venery, and therefore whoever kills any of them is out of all danger of forfeiture, or making any recompense or amends for the same.

The various Norman kings (reigning from 1066 – 1152) employed servants as wolf hunters and many held lands granted on the condition they fulfilled this duty.

During the reign of Henry I (1100 -1135), among other forest laws was one that provided for compensation to be made for any injury occasioned during a wolf hunt.

In the reign of Henry III (1216 – 1272), wolves were sufficiently numerous in some parts of the country to induce the king to make grants of land to various individuals upon the express condition of their taking measures to destroy them wherever they could be found.

While the hunting of wolves continued, it was Edward I (1272 -1307) who ordered the wholesale extermination of wolves in Britain.  He personally employed one Peter Corbet, with instructions to “take and destroy all the wolves he could find” in the counties of “Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire.”

An odd reference appears about 1394-1396, when the monks of Whitby paid 10 shillings and 9 pence for the “tawing of 14 wolf skins” (I assume “tawing” means tanning).  So, possibly wolves survived in the wilder parts of north-east Yorkshire until late in the 14th century but no other evidence is noted.  By the time of Henry VI (1485-1509), they had disappeared in England

The last remaining stronghold for wolves was in Ireland until the late 17th century.  But by the 1760s, the wolf was extinct in the British Isles.


Woolpit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolpit

Wolfpeta in the Domesday Book: http://ow.ly/TJSrH

Disappearance of Wolves: http://www.wolfsongalaska.org/chorus/node/230

British Animals Extinct Within Historic Times by James Edmund Harting

Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, Book I, by Joseph Strutt

Rogue Knight by Regan Walker

York, England 1069… three years after the Norman Conquest

The North of England seethes with discontent under the heavy hand of William the Conqueror, who unleashes his fury on the rebels who would dare to defy him. Amid the ensuing devastation, love blooms in the heart of a gallant Norman knight for a Yorkshire widow.

Praise for Rogue Knight

“Mesmerizing medieval romance! … A vivid portrayal of love flourishing amidst the turbulence of the years after the Norman Conquest.”   Kathryn Le Veque, USA Today Bestselling author

“Rogue Knight is yet another brilliant novel from Regan Walker. She is a master of her craft. Her novels instantly draw you in, keep you reading and leave you with a smile on your face.”           Good Friends, Good Books

“Fast paced, action packed, thrill ride of emotions from angst to passion to healing and love. A true storyteller! Another hit!!”      My Book Addiction

“… a flawlessly crafted novel…”     We Who Write

“… a riveting fast-paced page turner!”  Tartan Book Reviews

About the Author

Regan Walker is an award winning, bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romance novels.  She has been a featured author on USA TODAY’s HEA blog three times and twice nominated for the prestigious RONE award (her novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize won the RONE for Best Historical Novel in the medieval category in 2015).

Regan writes historically authentic novels, weaving into her stories real history and real historic figures.  She wants her readers to experience history, adventure and love.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, who she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Rogue Knight on Amazon 

Regan Walker’s website

Regan Walker Facebook

Thus concludes another Friday feature on Animals in Literature and History.  If you would like to learn more about the plight of wolves today or if you would like to donate your time or money to a wolf sanctuary, the following links may be useful as resources:

Wolf Haven International (United States)

The U.K. Wolf Conservation Trust (United Kingdom)

© 2015 Mimi Matthews

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18 thoughts on “Wolves in Medieval England: Guest Post by Regan Walker

  1. jdh2690 says:

    A part of me agrees with the previous comment, that it is difficult to understand the reintroduction of wolves into civilized country. Even the national parks that are set aside for vacationing and sport would soon be too dangerous for visitors if wolves were allowed to repopulate these sacred places. But the other part of me is sad that humans cannot live with wild animals unless they are in zoos, which I cannot abide. What a conundrum. Thanks for this interesting post, Regan! jdh2690@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Regan Walker says:

      So glad you like the cover, Angelyn. Your question sounds like a great research topic. Of course the plague might leave pickings for any wolves still around.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Regan Walker says:

      Angelyn, after I posted my first reply to you, I remembered that in Rogue Knight, when William the Conqueror devastated Northumbria in the winter of 1069-70, leaving 100,000 to starve, the dead were left to lie in the fields and woods. I recall thinking the wolves would be having a feast. It’s in my Author’s Note, I believe.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Angelyn says:

        Now you’ve really got me going–your post and your comments! I’m thinking of the newly arrived Normans’ perspective on the English wolf population (along with many other things, no doubt) –too bad there’s none of them around to ask.


    • Regan Walker says:

      Angelyn, the Normans carried long swords. They could handle wolves. It was the common people living in unwalled villages that would have been vulnerable.

      Liked by 1 person

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