There is proof humans have been hunting for at least the last two million years. In the 18th century France Louis XV was so fond of hunting that he stopped on the way home from his coronation to chase stags in the Villars-Cotterets forest. Most of famous royal palaces all began as royal hunting grounds and subsequently evolved into something else, some parks became elaborate gardens while others turned into royal residences or public places. Yet the remains and stories of flamboyant royal hunts are still alive. Let’s travel back in time and explore some of them.
Twenty-five minutes from Central London, on the banks of the snaking River Thames, lie the grounds of Windsor Castle. An opulent residence of the British Royal Family, Windsor’s origins go back almost a thousand years.
Windsor Castle was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror as it offered a good defensive point over the River Thames. A vast area of Windsor Forest to the south of the castle was reserved by the King for personal hunting and to supply the castle with wood, deer, boar and fish.
This long history and development through centuries of changing society have created a unique and wonderful place; sweeping deer lawns meet ancient woodlands and wildlife of all kinds still abounds. A great place to walk, it is even more wonderful to ride through it just as the monarchs of old did.
Windsor Great Park is a Royal Park of 2.020 hectares, including a deer park, to the south of the town of Windsor on the border of Berkshire and Surrey in England. It is adjacent to the private 265 hectares Home Park, which is nearer the castle. The Park was, for many centuries, the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle and dates primarily from the mid-13th century. Historically the park covered an area many times the current size known as Windsor Forest, Windsor Royal Park, or its current name.
The young Dauphin – the future king of France Louis XIII – came to Versailles for his first hunting trip on 24 August 1607. He discovered a forest and meadows with plenty of game, which also pleased his father, Henry IV. Crowned king in 1610, he next visited in 1621, and his liking for the location only grew stronger. Ideally situated between his principal residence at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Paris, it was surrounded by woods that were noisy with pheasants, boars and stags.
In late 1623 the king decided to build a small hunting lodge where he could stay the night, which he first used in June 1624. It was a small country residence and, according to the Marechal de Bassompierre, “a mere gentleman would not have been overly proud of the construction.” Louis XIII decided to rebuild it in 1631. Construction continued until 1634 and laid the basis of the Palace we know today. The king also bought part of the fiefdom of Versailles in 1623.
Louis XIV expanded the chateau into a palace in several phases from 1661 to 1715. The residence gradually went from being a hunting lodge to a residence for leisure that saw grand parties and entertainment held in the gardens. From 1682 it became the main residence of the French Court and government.
On a hilltop in Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) north of Danish capital Copenhagen, lies Christian VI’s Baroque masterpiece, the Hermitage Royal Hunting Lodge. The Hermitage, which was completed in 1736, was a place that the king would use as a place of respite after a strenuous hunt, and where he would entertain distinguished guests to a well-appointed lunch in a private and congenial setting.
The king’s hunt lunches at the Hermitage were unique because the king was able to wine and dine his visitors without being disturbed by prying servants. At a signal, a fully laid table replete with wine, game and delicatessen would emerge from the floor into the dining hall. The Hermitage had a table that was able to move up and down through the building like a lift. The Royal Family still uses the hunting lodge for their hunt lunches, but the elevating dining table is no longer there.
Dramatic hunts on sweaty horses and delightful banquets in the countryside. The Hermitage tells the exciting story of the royal hunts in Dyrehaven. The royal hunting lodge was built far from the court in Copenhagen as a leisure palace where the king could host private hunting lunches. At The Hermitage you can easily imagine the sweaty horses and barking dogs of the time, as they chased the deer in the beautiful surrounding landscape. The entire area has therefore been made a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
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