THE stacks of the National Sporting Library continue to yield colorful tales from the hunt field. Today we have anecdotes from two familiar hunting characters known for their color: Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale who was known as “the Yellow Earl,” and the red fox, also known as Reynard.
The Yellow Earl
Hugh Lowther unexpectedly inherited his title as Earl of Lonsdale, and all the riches and lands that came with it, after his older brother St. George died in 1882. At age 25, he had free rein to indulge his love of horses and hunting, and he did, in very fine style, as recounted in Douglas Sutherland’s hugely entertaining biography, The Yellow Earl:
“His hunters had to submit to … rigorous standards: not less than 16 hands, 6 feet round at the girth, and 8 3/4 inches of bone.
“Soon the lavish stabling behind Carlton House Terrace was filled to overflowing and additional accommodation had to be rented in the vast Police stables at Scotland Yard. Barleythorpe, the luxurious twenty-bedroomed hunting-box which Hugh had inherited in Rutland, vied with Squire Abingdon’s stables both in the numbers and the quality of horses he kept there. It was not long, however, before he discovered new and even more extravagant ways of impressing himself on a startled Society. In the days when the fashion for liveried servants and dandified dressing had largely fallen out of vogue, Hugh Lonsdale set a standard of colorful perfection with his turn-outs, which, almost overnight, became one of the sights in London. All the Lonsdale servants were dressed in canary-yellow jackets with dark-blue facings, white beaver hats and white buckskin breeches. …
“His six-inch cigars were specially made to his order, and christened by a gratified toacconist ‘Lonsdales.’ The cigar became almost as much his trademark as the perfect white gardenias which he wore in his buttonhole, and which were sent to him daily regardless of cost wherever he might be.”
The Yellow Earl’s carriages also were a bright yellow. His personal life was equally flashy. Lonsdale had affairs with the actress Lily Langtry and the married stage actress Violet Cameron; the latter situation was deemed scandalous enough that Queen Victoria made it known that Lord Lonsdale should leave England. He went to Canada and embarked on “a 3,000-mile trek across the frozen wastes.” He initially took four springer spaniels and his valet with him, but, fortunately for the spaniels and the servant, Lonsdale sent them back home again when he realized how daunting the Canadian tundra is.
Showy though he was, Lonsdale was an excellent horseman and an expert hound man who held Masterships at the Quorn, Cottesmore, and Woodland Pytchley.
Of his riding:
“Once when he was out hunting with the Quorn he was taking a line of country he had not followed for some time,” reports Sutherland. “Putting his horse at a post-and-rail fence with a shallow ditch at the other side, he was not aware until he was too far committed that another fence, topped with a strand of wire, had been erected a yard on the far side of the dutch. Collecting his horse he cleared the entire obstacle. When it was measured afterwards, the length of the jump was found to be 32 feet.”
Lord Lonsdale had a lot to say about hounds, too, and he was not afraid to advise huntsmen. In 1908, he wrote to the Cottesmore huntsman, Gillson, after the man had been there a year, offering him some tips on relating to the hounds:
“… I should like to see you a little more demonstrative and to converse to your hounds on the way to covert. Noe that you are a professional receiving a salary for hunting them, but that you are glad and pleased and delighted to see them, talking to them as you go to the meet, and showing each one that you take a personal interest in him or her. Speak to them, whistle to them, and let them understand every word and sign. If you are at exercise canter along and stop short, giving some sign by mouth or whistle, and make friends of them and get off and pat them when they are doing what you want–more can be done this way than in any other, and if you do it continually no whips are needed–pointers, sheep-dogs, retrievers–all animals–are the same–they are all amenable to sound, providing that it is always the same sound or signal. …
“You must talk to your hounds with your mouth inclined towards them, not the back of your head, for your speed through the air reduces the sound by half, so please remember my wish when casting: always wait before cantering away, until your hounds realize that you are about to be off; convey some private signal that they will understand.”
The Red Fox
Much has been written about the wiles of the red fox, and the 19th century sporting writer “Cecil” has some of the best accounts I’ve heard. Two favorites:
“His lordship was informed that that a fox had been seen constantly in a field of turnips on Hatch Warren Farm, and was induced to go in search of him; the hounds had spread all over the field without touching upon him. Not being accustomed to find foxes in such situations, very probably they did not draw well. As the land seemed alive with partridges, it did not appear likely that the fox was there; and Lord Gifford was in the act of taking his horn out of the case to call the hounds away, when the fox jumped up within fifty yards of the spot; a singular instance of concord between the fox and the feathered tribe. …
“I have often known known hounds to run their fox to a certain point with a good scent, and lose him instantaneously, as if he had vanished into ethereal space. On those occasions, it is evident they must have gained some unaccountable place of safety, to which the hounds had not the power of scenting them. I remember hearing of an event which occurred with the justly celebrated Mr. Meynell’s hounds, which shows the great patience, perseverance, talent, and keen-sightedness for which he was so eminently distinguished, and also what extraordinary places foxes will sometimes seek for refuge.
“They were drawing a gorse covert, when a single hound, that could be relied upon, spoke. ‘That will do,’ exclaimed Mr. Meynell; but the hounds could make nothing of it. They were drawn round again to the place where the single hound had spoken; but they could not roust him out. Still persevering, I believe upwards of two hours, the field became impatient, and the greater portion went home. At length, holding a consultation with Raven, his huntsman, he inquired the exact spot where the hound spoke, which was close to a bush that he pointed to.
“‘Then get off and examine it,’ said Mr. Meynell. It was a low bush or stump of a tree which leaned over the gorse, and in which was an old magpie’s nest, where the fox had rolled himself up and was peeping over the side of the nest at the proceedings below.”