Fox Tossing was one of the most popular and competitive blood sports during the 17th and 18th centuries in certain parts of Europe, mostly practiced by members of the upper classes. The sport was held on a closed patch of land where people threw live foxes and other animals up high using slings, with a person on each end to fling the fox upwards. The team with the highest throw would win.
The sport usually took place in an arena where they set up a circular canvas screen. Two participants would stand 20 feet away from each other while holding the ends of a cord sling.
A caged animal, like the fox, would then be released, resulting to it running around the arena and across the sling. The moment it steps on the sling, the players would pull extremely hard on the ends, hurling the animal up high into the air.
A number of slings would sometimes be laid parallel so the creatures would have to run towards the gauntlet of the other players in the arena.
The highest recorded height was 7.5 meters.
Augustus II the Strong, the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, held a tossing contest in Dresden. They used 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wildcats and each one were tossed and killed. The king participated and claimed to show off his strength by holding the end of his sling using one finger with the strongest man in his court holding the other end.
Esaias Pufendorf, a Swedish herald, wrote in his diary what he witnessed in Vienna in March 1672. He said that he was surprised about seeing the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I joining the court dwarfs and boys in torturing the animals. He also said that it was astonishing to see a ruling emperor make friends with “small boys and fools which was to my eyes a little alien from the imperial gravity.”
During masquerades, they would all be wearing costumes where the players and their tossed animals were decorated. Men wore Roman warriors, centaurs or jesters costumes while ladies wore goddess, nymphs or muses costumes. The tossed animals would be decorated in cardboard, colorful fabrics and glitters, sometimes even decorated with drawings of known people. After the end of every game, guests would head off to a torch-lit march or go indoors for a grand dinner.
In 1919, a book said that wildcats were a particular nuisance. “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.”
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