Meet the Expert: Emma Raphael
Meet Emma Raphael, an Historic Falconer who can often be found at our sites putting on flying displays from across the ages with her husband, Mike, and their fine collection of birds of prey.
My husband Mike Raphael and I specialise in the historic recreation of English hawking and falconry. Mike first became a falconer 41 years ago. His father and grandfather were champion pigeon racers but he was more interested in being outdoors than stuck in a pigeon loft, so he started out as a private falconer and went on to manage two falconry centres. I started work as a trainee falconer in 1996. After a year I was promoted and worked as falconry supervisor to the manager, who was Mike. That’s how we met.
We launched our business in the summer of 1998. At that time there were only pantomime falconers. A ‘medieval’ falconer back then was typically a modern falconer wearing bad fancy dress, with no knowledge of history. We decided to focus on the historical aspects of falconry to become the UK’s first and only professional historical falconry interpreters and demonstrators.
There have been several key moments in the history of falconry, notably the Norman era when the practice of royal falconry was organised to a degree that had not been previously seen. This set the foundation for the ‘golden age’ during the medieval period, when the practice of falconry filtered down to lower orders of society. The art faced its biggest challenge after the introduction of gunpowder, when firearms threatened falconry’s survival, as hawks and falcons were predominantly used to catch other birds for sport or eating. In the late Georgian period a concerted effort was made to revive English falconry and that continued into the Victorian age, when it was re-established as a noble country sport.
In total we cover 12 different periods of falconry history, ranging from the late Roman era to the 21st century. Each period contains different characters and adventures, different social or cultural beliefs and different techniques and innovations. Our favourite period to perform is Victorian, as it was such a rich and exciting period, full of eccentric characters and expanding science.
We have a large team of birds that feature throughout the year. I have a particular love of small hawks, as is traditional for a lady falconer, so the merlin is probably my favourite to fly because she is fast, exciting and tests my skill. Mike is particularly fond of his eagle Imperius even though she is a handful! Working with any eagle requires trust and familiarity but when you become accepted it feels like a real privilege.
Our demonstrations are highly educational so our audiences learn surprising facts, such as how bird thieves were punished, which kings hunted with hawks, which hawk caught Sunday lunch, why owls are connected with witches, which bird was used as a military weapon and why some birds were worshipped as gods. People walk away understanding how and why our ancestors used birds of prey and the expertise required to do so.