Chapter XIV: Of Savage Beasts And Vermin

It is none of the least blessings wherewith God hath endued this island that it is void of noisome beasts, as lions, bears, tigers, pardes, wolves, and such like, by means whereof our countrymen may travel in safety, and our herds and flocks remain for the most part abroad in the field without any herdman or keeper.

This is chiefly spoken of the south and south-west parts of the island. For, whereas we that dwell on this side of the Tweed may safely boast of our security in this behalf, yet cannot the Scots do the like in every point wherein their kingdom, sith they have grievous wolves and cruel foxes, beside some others of like disposition continually conversant among them, to the general hindrance of their husbandmen, and no small damage unto the inhabitants of those quarters. The happy and fortunate want of these beasts in England is universally ascribed to the politic government of King Edgar. 1...

Of foxes we have some, but no great store, and also badgers in our sandy and light grounds, where woods, furze, broom, and plenty of shrubs are to shroud them in when they be from their burrows, and thereunto warrens of conies at hand to feed upon at will. Otherwise in clay, which we call the cledgy mould, we seldom hear of any, because the moisture and the toughness of the soil is such as will not suffer them to draw and make their burrows deep. Certes, if I may freely say what I think, I suppose that these two kinds (I mean foxes and badgers) are rather preserved by gentlemen to hunt and have pastime withal at their own pleasures than otherwise suffered to live as not able to be destroyed because of their great numbers. For such is the scantity of them here in England, in comparison of the plenty that is to be seen in other countries, and so earnestly are the inhabitants bent to root them out, that, except it had been to bear thus with the recreations of their superiors in this behalf, it could not otherwise have been chosen but that they should have been utterly destroyed by many years agone.

I might here intreat largely of other vermin, as the polecat, the miniver, the weasel, stote, fulmart, squirrel, fitchew, and such like, which Cardan includeth under the word Mustela: also of the otter, and likewise of the beaver, whose hinder feet and tail only are supposed to be fish. Certes the tail of this beast is like unto a thin whetstone, as the body unto a monstrous rat: as the beast also itself is of such force in the teeth that it will gnaw a hole through a thick plank, or shere through a double billet in a night; it loveth also the stillest rivers, and it is given to them by nature to go by flocks unto the woods at hand, where they gather sticks wherewith to build their nests, wherein their bodies lie dry above the water, although they so provide most commonly that their tails may hang within the same. It is also reported that their said tails are delicate dish, and their stones of such medicinal force that (as Vertomannus saith) four men smelling unto them each after other did bleed at the nose through their attractive force, proceeding from a vehement savour wherewith they are endued. There is greatest plenty of them in Persia, chiefly about Balascham, from whence they and their dried cods are brought into all quarters of the world, though not without some forgery by such as provide them. And of all these here remembered, as the first sorts are plentiful in every wood and hedgerow, so these latter, especially the otter (for, to say the truth, we have not many beavers, but only in the Teisie in Wales) is not wanting or to seek in many, but most, streams and rivers of this isle; but it shall suffice in this sort to have named them, as I do finally the martern, a beast of the chase, although for number I worthily doubt whether that of our beavers or marterns may be thought to be the less.