Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fox Tossing

Fox tossing would take place in an arena, usually either created by setting up a circle of canvas screens in the open or by using the courtyard of a castle or palace. Two people would stand six to seven and a half metres (20 to 25 feet) apart, holding the ends of a webbed or cord sling which was laid flat on the ground. An animal such as a fox would then be released from a cage or trap and driven through the arena, across the sling. As it crossed the sling the tossers pulled hard on the ends, throwing the animal high into the air. The highest throw would win the contest; expert tossers could achieve throws of as high as 7.5 m (24 ft). On occasion, several slings were laid in parallel, so that the animal would have to run the gauntlet of several teams of tossers.

The result was often fatal for the tossed animal. Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony, held a famous tossing contest in Dresden at which 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats were tossed and killed. Augustus himself participated, reportedly demonstrating his strength by holding the end of his sling by just one finger, with two of the strongest men in his court on the other end. Other rulers also participated in the sport. The Swedish envoy Esaias Pufendorf, witnessing a fox-tossing contest held in Vienna in March 1672, noted in his diary his surprise at seeing the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I enthusiastically joining the court dwarfs and boys in clubbing to death the injured animals.

The tossing of foxes and other animals was not without risk to the participants, as it was not uncommon for the terrified animals to turn on the tossers. Wildcats were particularly troublesome; as one writer remarked, they "do not give a pleasing kind of sport, for if they cannot bury their claws and teeth in the faces or legs of the tossers, they cling to the tossing-slings for dear life, and it is next to impossible to give one of these animals a skilful toss".