The History of Human-Animal Interaction - Blood Sports

baiting popular puritans events

As the Middle Ages drew to a close, sports in which animals were pitted against each other became very popular in England. These "blood sports" included bull- and bear-baiting with dogs, cockfighting, and dog fighting.

Baiting began as more of a practical matter than a sport. Medieval people believed that an animal that was whipped immediately prior to slaughter would provide more tender meat. Whippings administered by butchers eventually evolved into events where teams of dogs were allowed to set upon bulls and bite and tear at their flesh. Such baitings soon became popular entertainment and were expanded to include other animals, such as bears. Baiting events were generally held in a ring or arena or in a field near a town's shops.

Baiting was popular with the Tudor family, who ruled England from 1485 to 1603. The monarchs of this time were also fond of hunting and sports and popularized horse and greyhound racing among the upper classes. King Henry VIII (1491–1547) and Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) were legendary for their appreciation of baiting events. In 1585 the British House of Commons tried to ban bear-baiting on Sundays but was overruled by Queen Elizabeth I. Gradually blood sports became associated with the lower classes and were mostly held on holidays and during church festivals.

Most church authorities considered animal blood sports to be harmless pastimes, but this was not true of the Puritans. The Puritans were a Christian group that wanted to change the Church of England. They took power over the British Parliament in the mid-1600s and outlawed baiting and other blood sports for a short time. One Puritan wrote, "What Christian heart can take pleasure to see one poor beast rend, tear, and kill another?" When the Puritans were thrown out of power, blood sports returned and became even more popular.

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