Although nowadays falconry is considered a sporting activity, originally it would have been entirely used as an efficient means of catching food.
There is little specific evidence of where and when falconry originated although it is said by many experts to have began in China as early as 2000 B.C. Documentary evidence shows it being practised in Central Asia around 400 B.C. but this is perhaps more likely to be an obsolete practice of catching skylarks. A bird of prey was released, the fear of which kept the larks on the ground where they felt safe. They were then trapped in nets.
The earliest documentary evidence of real falconry seems to come from Japan in A.D. 244. How and when it reached Europe is again uncertain, although one of the earliest known pieces of evidence of falconry in Europe is a falconry scene in a floor mosaic in Argos in Greece, called ‘Villa of the Falconer’. This is dated around A.D. 500. Falconry was definitely being practised in England by Saxon times.
Shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066 falconry became extremely popular in England. People from all social classes kept birds of prey, although the longwings were mainly reserved for the upper classes. Indeed a persons status was marked by the species of bird he carried.
The Boke of St. Albans, written in 1486, detailed the types of hawks along with who could own them.
King – A Gyr Falcon
Prince – A Peregrine Falcon
Yeoman – A Goshawk
Priest – A Sparrowhawk
Servant – A Kestrel
Knight – Saker Falcon
Squire – A Lanner Falcon
Lady – A Merlin