Thursday, 29 September 2016

Week 39: History of Cockfighting

I grew up with a chicken coop in the back yard.  That right, right there in the city of Toronto, my grandfather had a small chicken coop and about a dozen chickens.  As a child, I loved going in the coop to feed the chickens, get the fresh eggs and then delivering them to the neighbours.  The chickens got to know me and would even allow me to pat them and one would allow me to hold her.  

So I am sure you can imagine my surprise as a young sheltered adult watching the first TV mini series “Roots” and in one of the shows there was “Chicken George” played by Ben Vereen who trained the chickens to fight.  In that episode there was an English Squire that really like Chicken George and wanted to buy him and even offered freedom, but Chicken George’s owner/father would not let him go. 
Ben Vereen as "Chicken George"
The idea of cockfighting as a sport or a gambling venue was shocking and the idea that the “proper” English did it as well was a real wakeup call.  I have always wondered if it was widely accepted in England or just a back room sort of thing.

So the day that I found someone in the tree that was a cockfighter, I knew I had to research the history of cockfighting.

Cockfighting is as old as the allure of bloodsport. Roman art portrays it—a Pompeian mosaic shows two roosters squaring off. The status and prestige of cockfighting grew in England beginning in the 1500s thanks to royal patronage. Henry VIII was a “cocker.” So was James I.

I also found              
Royal Cock Pit Thomas Rowlandson 1808

 Julius Caesar led Rome into enjoying the sport of cockfighting. He was the first citizen of Rome to be an enthusiast of the sport. Caesar ultimately introduced cockfighting into England. In the 16th century, cockfighting was flourishing in England. During the time of King Henry VIII, cockfights were held at Whitehall Palace. The game became a national sport at one point, and exclusive schools were required to teach students the points of cockfighting, such as breeding, walking, and conditioning of the gamecock. At its very height of popularity, even the clergy encouraged the sport. Church yards and inside of the churches were used as an arena for cockfighting. The sport declined in England during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 17th century, when she banned cockfighting with a royal decree.

According to Wikipedia, Cockfighting was banned in England in 1835 and 1895 in Scotland.
Then I also found this..

By the sixteenth century, pit sports -- bearbaiting, bullbaiting, dogfighting, boarfighting, lionfighting, and cockfighting --were a national theater that grew to international renown into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. "Hawks, hounds and cocks were true marks of a country gentleman," said one commentator, and gambling became irrevocably tied to the sport. Shakespeare referred to the pit sports in many of his plays -- Macbeth, King Lear, several Kings Henry, and others knew well the bear garden and cockpit. Indeed, King Henry Viii’s new cockpit at the Palace at Whitehall, constructed in 1536, remained a sporting center until 1816. English kings of the seventeenth century recognized cocking as a national sport, including the appointment of a cockmaster who supervised the breeding, rearing, and training of gamecocks for the royal pit. All classes participated in the sport, but the aristocracy set much of the tone in celebrating well-bred and well-trained gamecocks. By the nineteenth century, their named birds became champions for spectators to place wagers upon.

Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra  Act 2 Scene 3

The degree to which participants idealized game-cocks seems little short of remarkable to modern observers. Flags and banners waved atop cockpits to advertise the sport. A chord of dissonance, however, did criticize the events. A serious complaint by Puritan preachers began during the reign of Elizabeth 1(1558-1603) that denounced the brutality of blood sport and urged suppression of the spectacles. By the end of the seventeenth century, secular voices joined the religious ones. As cockfighting assumed widespread popularity in the eighteenth century, England’s literary masters castigated the sport as cruelty to animals. The famous British historian Thomas Macaulay (1800-1859), taking an explicit shot at the critics, claimed that the Puritans deplored such sport "not because it gave pain to the animal but because it gave pleasure to the spectators."
The Cockfight by Remy Cogghe 1889
Sundays in the British Empire included time to gather with the crowds in boisterous celebration and gambling at the pit. In Scotland, churchyards were popular sites, and towns competed in main events against each other. The royal government sponsored special holiday exhibitions that drew thousands as the cockpit competed with horse racing and dramatic performances at the theater. These working-class holidays were, in part, a safeguard for the government against mob disorders. Upon occasion, riots did occur, and at other times the stands collapsed and killed spectators, but not in the large numbers of modern soccer tragedies. Many writers defended the popular sport while Puritan oratory continued to condemn it. By 1849 cockfights were illegal in England, but not because of any mounting tide against the sport. The increased popularity of horse racing at the track garnered support to channel gambling to a larger arena.

Sarah Palin was born in 1779 in Wybunbury to Thomas and Elizabeth Palin. She then married John Burston in Bunbury in 1797.  Sarah and John then went on to have 11 children.  Their daughter Anne Burston, born 1808, married a Robert Ashley in 1827 in Liverpool.  Anne and Robert went on to have 9 children and Robert died in Wistaston in 1891.  It was in his obituary that I found cockfighting in the family tree.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser February 16, 1891

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