Fox Tossing: Weirdest Blood Sport Ever?

On July 4, 2015 by Tim Newman

Fox Tossing - Early 18th Century

Fox tossing. It sounds funny to read aloud, it looks funny written down, but unfortunately it’s not quite as nice as it first appears.

Fox tossing (Fuchsprellen in German) was a bona fide pastime in parts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Technically a blood sport it was dangerous for the fox, the participants and anyone who happened to be stood in the vicinity.

The sport took place in a courtyard or such like and involved pairs of contestants; Each member of the pair stood around 20 feet apart and held the end of a long, thin bit of fabric.

Then the “fun” began. The foxes were released into the auditorium and began to wander about. When the unsuspecting fox meandered onto your bit of cloth you pulled the ends tight and catapulted it into the air. Whoever got the fox the highest, won. Sometimes heights of up to 7.5 metres (24 ft) would be achieved.

When I first read about it I thought it sounded like a pretty good wheeze. But actually that’s pretty dark. The fox often wouldn’t survive the fall, and if it did it would be mighty miffed about the affront and pretty likely to bite the players (quite rightly). If the poor critter did survive it would be beaten to death.

It wasn’t just lowly uneducated peasants that enjoyed this pastime either. It was popular all round.

Fox Tossing - Augustus II The Strong

The incredibly named Augustus II the Strong (above), the King of Poland, held an infamous tossing contest in Dresden where 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats were tossed and killed. Just so you know, Augusts II the Strong was, as his name suggests, very strong. According to legend (which is an excellent source of facts) he could break horseshoes with his bare hands.

Mr Strong wasn’t the only high brow fox tosser. The Swedish envoy Esaias Pufendorf, noted with surprise, that the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was getting involved in the action in Vienna, 1672. It wasn’t just that he was present that surprised him, it was that he was mucking in with the “children and dwarves”, clubbing injured animals to death:

…small boys and fools as comrades, [which] was to my eyes a little alien from the imperial gravity.

This is Emperor Leopold I in costume as Acis in La Galatea. He doesn’t look the bludgeoning type does he?:

Fox Tossing - Leopold I in costume as Acis in La Galatea

Although foxes were most commonly involved, on occasion other beasts would be utilised, as with Leopold I’s match described above. Apparently wolves were sometimes used, which sounds like a terrible idea. And wildcats were apparently the most difficult species to toss. 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.

A contest in 1648 involved 34 boar…

…to the great delectation of the cavaliers, but to the terror of the noble ladies, among whose hoop-skirts the wild boars committed great havoc, to the endless mirth of the assembled illustrious company.

The sport, of course, died out. And I think that’s for the best.





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