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Hue and Cry

ISSUE:  Winter 1933

“Hue and Cry,” says Matthew Bacon, writing in the eighteenth century, “is the Pursuit of an Offender from Town to Town, till he be taken, which all who are present when a Felony is committed, or a dangerous Wound given, are by the Common Law, as well as by Statute, bound to raise against Offenders who escape, on Pain of Fine and Imprisonment.” “Note,” says the book called “Crompton,” however, “that a person having a parsonage is not held to follow the hue and cry, for that he should be about the visitation of the sick”!

If the villain escape, he becomes an outlaw; he is then outside the peace. It is every man’s duty, as it is his privilege, to pursue him, to track him down as a wild beast, and to slay him. The most ancient words which our ancestors use to describe the outlaw may prove to be of interest. We shall have to go back further than the Latin word utlagere, a monkish transcription into the language of the Caesars of the Saxon words ut, meaning out, and lagan, to make law. Nor will native expressions such as “a friendless man,” or “a man without peace,” serve our enquiry. He is to be slain like a wild beast, for a wild beast he is: he bears the “wolfs-head”! This, the oldest term, is also the most expressive. Even as late as the thirteenth century, when outlawry, by reason of that miraculous growth of law which marked the first two centuries of Norman rule in England, had lost its exterminating character, and become a means of compelling the contumacious to obey the judgment of the courts, the old state of things was not forgotten. Caput gerat lupinum: let him bear the wolfshead: in these words the courts then still decreed outlawry.

But what if the felon were overtaken by hue and cry? The old law was that if the offender were caught in the act, or with the evidence of his crime upon him, his life was forfeit; and when we say forfeit, we say fors fait, which is French and quite literally means “put out”; out of the peace. If a woman was forfeit, she became a “waif”; the protection of some man was withdrawn from her, and being “waived,” she likewise was without law.

Such was the fate of the hand-having thief, caught with the stolen thing in his hand; of the man bent upon arson, caught with the flaming brand from which the thatch had taken fire; of the murderer, with the bloodstained weapon still upon him. If there was certainty both as to the offender and as to the offense, we may take it that justice was indeed swift, though the name of Judge Lynch was not yet known. If the felon failed to escape, he did not survive the hue and cry. Non habet legem—he has no law—is the curt phrase of the Assize held by Henry in 1166 at Clarendon. Today, in our common speech, we still hear of an occasional “manhunt,” and we still speak of being caught “red-handed,” though time has softened the gory import of the words.

It was this same Henry, the second of that name to reign in England, who saw to it that good and swift law was to be had by all. The fame of his justice spread overseas, and was in his age so remarkable that on one occasion the King of Navarre and the King of Castile came into his English courts as litigants, and freely submitted themselves to that distant jurisdiction, in order that justice might be done between them in the matter of a difference which had arisen. This was in the twelfth century. A hundred years later the man-hunt could no longer have a fatal termination, unless arrest were resisted, when the felon could still be cut down. But if taken with the signs of his guilt upon him, his fate was sealed; no other proof was required.

The exact meaning of the words hue and cry will bear examination. Sir Edward Coke, who was Queen Elizabeth’s Solicitor, and afterwards her Attorney General, and during the early years of the first Stuart, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, was long an authority unchallenged upon the medieval law. He says that hue and cry, “called in ancient records hutesium et clamor” mean the same thing; and in support of his opinion he alludes to the French verb huer, meaning to hoot, or shout. Certainly he was a very learned man; but we are slowly finding out that he did not know everything, though he undoubtedly knew more of the common law more intimately than anyone is ever again likely to know. Nor have lexicographers succeeded in avoiding the error to which he has unwittingly led them. Here we may turn to our friend Matthew Bacon a second time. “But since it appeareth by the old Books,” says he, “that Hue and Cry was anciently both by Horn and by Voice, it may seem that these two Words were not synonymous, but that this Hutesium, or Hooting, is by the Horn, and Crying by the Voice; and with which accordeth also the French Word Huchet, which signifies the Huntsman’s Horn; so that Hue and Cry in this Sense will properly signify a Pursuit by Horn and by Voice, which kind of Pursuit of Robbers is said to be practised in Scotland.”

There is no longer any doubt as to the correctness of Matthew Bacon’s conclusion. From the Rolls of Pleas before the Justices of the Bench in the Trinity Term of the year 1214, it appears that on Saint Leonard’s day, in the thirteenth year of the reign of King John, at Tregoney, in the County of Cornwall, Henry of Pomeroy, Alan of Dunstan-ville, Ranulf of Devonsby, and Gilbert of Germainville, and certain others, took Baldwin Tyrel and put him in fetters, and confined him in the cellar of the court of Henry of Pomeroy; and thither, if we may believe Baldwin, they sent Richard, the clerk of Stokes, and John, the clerk of Henry of Pomeroy, who intimated to him that he should not come out thence, save for a ransom of fifteen marks. The record is silent as to how gently the intimation was conveyed. But Tyrel must have been a stout fellow, for he would not yield to their demands, whereupon Ranulf and Gilbert drew him forth from the cellar in fetters to the street of Tregoney, and this at midnight, and then they “horned the hue.” Et tunc hutes cornaverunt, is the inelegant Latin of the roll.

We have no reason to pursue further the adventures of Baldwin Tyrel at the hands of Henry of Pomeroy and his friends, nor the writs, essoins, and proceedings duly recorded on parchment in his and their behalf. It is enough that the skins have survived to this day, and that we may admire in passing a growing sophistication, which allowed the hue to be horned for purposes quite alien to the first intention; and we may suspect that Baldwin Tyrel would have sympathized with the saying of Jack Holland, that it was never merry world in England since gentlemen came up; but the point is that the hue was horned. We may therefore safely side with Matthew Bacon in the belief that “this Hutesium, or Hooting, is by the Horn.”

Of this ancient horning of the hue there was in the time of King James the First of England, and of Scotland the Sixth, a charming survival; for in his day when it became necessary to proceed to outlawry in the courts of Scotland, it was still the custom for trumpeters to be called in, who, as soon as outlawry was pronounced, blew a blast upon their trumpets.


But what if we enquire of the nature of the cry?

The Channel Islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and Herm, are all that is left to the English Crown of the vast domain that once stretched from Calais to the Pyrenees; by their possession the Crown may still be said to be seized of the Norman Duchy. There its old Custom still survives.

Only a few years ago a tram line was to be built in the Island of Jersey; and so, on a misty morning, a surveying party came to leave the highway, and to enter upon the stubbly field of a Norman peasant who happened to know his rights, and had little love for the marvels of the age. Removing his hat, he fell on one knee, and called out in a loud voice: “Haro, haro, haro; a moi mon Prince!” The surveying party bowed respectfully, and promptly retraced its steps to the highroad. The justice of Rollo, the first of the Norman Dukes, had been invoked, and not in vain. The actors in this ancient rite then humbly repaired to the next session of the Duke’s court, that the duty of each in the premises might be there confirmed by the justice of George the Fifth of Windsor. This is a simpler procedure than any that we have been able to preserve, and the custom is as ancient as the Duchy.

The legend as to these matters is this. The first Duke, the great Rollo, ruled Normandy with a rod of iron, so that his people had peace. He stopped one day near the village of Roumare, at an oak by the side of the lake, on which he hung his golden bracelets, where they ever remained, none daring to remove them. And so in later years his good Norman people, when oppressed, came to call upon his name.

There is allusion made to the legend by the troubadour Guiart, who sang his song in the twelfth century, and of a Norman raid toward Chartres, and the cry Ha Rous, Ha Rous. Our troubadour may be blamed for the derivation of haro from Ha Rous, an error in etymology which persisted during six centuries. Had he had any means of knowing its consequences he would doubtless have refrained from making his pun, though it was in the fashion of his time. But Guiart was a troubadour, not a prophet. It was not until the bright light of the learning of Dietz and of Brunner was thrown the other day on the ways of the Franks, and of their many cousins, that it came to be recognized that the Norman cry of haro was derived from the Old High German word hara, which means “here” or “hither.” It was then seen that Friar Hicron, who in the days of Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, decided that it was high time that the world had a Latin-French dictionary from his hand, knew very well what he was about when he wrote: Clamat—Hareit; Clamamus—Haremus. What else, indeed, but “hither” would men cry, when, armed with the short spear, they went on foot into the thicket in pursuit of the boar, and came suddenly upon the beast about to charge?

The cry of haro in the custom of Normandy is but a limited form of the cry common to all the lands settled by Germanic stock upon the downfall of the Roman Empire. The cry in Normandy was haro; in Scotland it was liar-rock; in the chronicles of that Kingdom we may read that “thair was no thing but harrock, how and cry.” In England the cry was harrow, or harau, and sometimes, doubtless owing to the Norman influence, haro. When Chaucer writes, the words of the Miller’s wife are: “Or I wol cry: harrow and alas!” From the Townley Mysteries we have: “Oute, haro, oute, oute, harkyn to this home!” So from the Vision of Piers Plowman: “There was harrow and help!” Among the Flemings it was haroep or harop. It is everywhere found in France. In the Champagne it was hare; and it was there until very recently the habit at the county fair for sergeants to call the hare as a sign that the market was closed and over. So in Flanders the cry on such occasion was ara. In the local speech of Languedoc it still survives as hari, and in that of the Vendee as haras. In the Palatinate it is borne in the refrain of an old song: “Haro sur le vieillardl”

In Old French the variants found are all but endless. Of these mention should be made of at least one, for which purpose we may quote certain words written in 1382, because a young girl ran out of a house raising the cry: “Une fillette, appellee Jeannette, volt issir hors la maison, criant le Hay.” It is a far cry to Jeanette’s heyday, but today, wherever French or English is spoken, we have but little choice, when we wish to attract the attention of someone at a distance, but to follow her example, and to cry “Hay!”

If we have any interest in these matters we should not neglect the chronicles of that jovial monk, Messire Froissart, who lived and wrote during the wars that saw the end of Sir John Falstaff, and who was the guest one rainy winter of Gaston of Foix, called Phoebus. Says Froissart: “Six score men at arms gathered themselves together, and rode into the city of Aries, and surprised it. Then the haro began to rise, and the neighbouring towns to ring their bells, and to march toward Aries and Pont Avenin, for the haro came from there.” Here we have hue and cry upon a grand scale. Again he says: “Then, when the news of it and the haro came to Landrecies, the said Lord of Potrelles armed himself, and made his company arm, and they went off horsed to run down their prey.” So also: “They were spoiling for a fight, but nothing came of it all, for the haro had been raised by varlets, who had agreed upon it together.” A lively institution it was in France in the days of Sir Walter Manny and the Black Prince.

Hutesium et clamor are the Latin words chosen by the earliest writers on the laws of England to describe the hue and cry; by Glanvill, who as Sheriff of Yorkshire defeated the invading Scots at Alnwick in 1174, and six years thereafter became Chief Justiciar of England; and who, upon Henry’s death, accompanied King Richard on his crusade, and died of a sickness at Acre, in the autumn of 1190. Such also are the Latin words chosen by Henry of Bratton, of Devonshire, sometime a Justice of the King’s Court, and thereafter Rector of Bideford, Archdeacon of Barnstaple, and finally Chancellor of Exeter; a gentle judge and a most learned gentleman. He left us the book which is called “Bracton,” and which is both the most ambitious and most successful attempt to set down a comprehensive statement of law during all the long years between Justinian’s day and the days of Elizabeth of England.

There is, however, a book called “Britton,” the authorship of which is more obscure, although its authority has remained unchallenged since the time of the first Edward, when it was written. It is one of the very earliest discourses on the common law to be written in French by an English lawyer. Thus its author had to choose words other than those which found favor in the eyes of the Latinists, his predecessors; and these are the words he chose in order to describe the raising of the hue and cry: lever le meyne de come et de boache: to start the hunt by horn and by mouth.


Hunt and horn speak to us of the days of the Franks, in what we are pleased to call the dark ages, though doubtless fourteen hundred years ago the sky was as blue and life as sweet as in this our later day. The known history of the Franks begins when the Salic branch of the race, which had wandered westwards to the region of Tournai in Flanders, raised Clovis upon his shield, and so chose him for their king. Clovis founded an empire. Three centuries later, under Charlemagne, this stretched to the banks of the river Ebro in Spain, and to those of the Elbe in Germany, to the river Theiss in what today is still Hungary, and in Italy to the southern slopes of the Tuscan hills. The Franks, that ruddy race, made great war, good law, and a bad business of statecraft. But it is to them, and it would seem to them alone, that we owe the great tradition of the hunt, and a conception of life which places the pursuit and the taking of wild game among the occupations reserved to the privileged, and insists that it shall conform to standards of conduct making it a fitting pastime for men of quality. It is from Frankish custom that Red William, with true Norman acquisitiveness, took his love of the chase; to it England owes not only the New Forest, but its great hunting tradition as well.

There are who in France have ridden out to a meet of stag-hounds, on the feast of Saint Hubert, when the soft November air draws in from the western sea. They have had the pleasure of seeing a well mounted and well appointed hunt, and of attending mass, and the blessing of the hounds, all under the greenwood tree, to the sacral music of the unstopped French horns, that immemorial plaint of the cor de chasse, which time out of mind has been reserved to the occasion. They should be grateful to the Frankish custom, as well as to those who have cherished the tradition. For Saint Hubert is the patron saint of all good huntsmen in the country where French is spoken, and of their hunt and hounds; which came about in this wise.

He lived shortly before the time of Charlemagne, and being of a generous and confident spirit, his concern for the salvation of his soul was as small as his ardor and delight in the chase were great; whereby with his hounds he came to be on a Good Friday afternoon in eager pursuit of a white stag, which was soon brought to bay. To our hunter, as he came upon the scene, and in mercy for his love of the noblest of all pursuits, there was revealed between the branching antlers of his stag a Cross of blazing Glory. His conversion followed.

The charming tale is beautifully done in the white stone of Touraine over the doorway of the Saint’s chapel at the castle of Amboise, where, in the spring, the silvery Loire winds under grey skies through the young green of that gentlest of countrysides. It has been said that the legend derives from the apocryphal Acts of Saint Eustace. We know, however, that in the year 722 Hubert became the first of the long line of the Prince Bishops of Liege, when he removed there from Maestricht. He evangelized the remote fastnesses of the Ardennes, and died on the thirtieth day of May in the year 729. A hundred years later his body was removed to the Benedictine abbey at Audain, which, in time, came to bear the name of the Saint. It was devastated by the Huguenots, after more than seven centuries of peace in the forest. This forest of Saint Hubert is today among the most extensive in Belgium, and those chancing to pass that way may still see, some five miles and a furlong on the road to La Roche, the farm known as La Converserie, built on the spot where the white stag was brought to bay. It is with no little justification that huntsmen may believe that their zeal in their somewhat recondite concerns will be met with kindly understanding on the part of their Patron.

It is a Frankish conceit that the prowess of the hero may be judged by the quality of his horn, and the quality of his horn by the distance it can be heard. Roland is the great hero of their day; his song is their great epic. Great was the power of his horn, and its voice long, so that its answer could be heard full thirty leagues:

Halt sunt li pui et la voix en est mult lunge Grantz liwes XXX l’oirent-il respundre.

Across the Channel in a ruder but no less magnificent tongue we find, if we turn to the romances of the middle ages:

Hunterez with hyse hornes hasted hem affer

With such a krakkende kry as klyffes hadden bursten.

From Saxon times in England we have a law, said to have been made by Withred, King of Kent, in the year 696, that if a stranger go out of the highroad, and neither shout nor blow a horn, he shall be taken for a thief. It is eloquent of the days of private warfare. Nor is it hard to bring to mind six Saxon churls, working the glebe of a long hillside in the Kentish weald, and mindful of nought but the straining of their oxen against the pull of the plough, dropping all and losing a day’s work in wild flight at the quick glint of the morning sun upon the steel of some horseman’s hauberk, lurking amongst the hedgerows on the brow of the hill. He who came across country sounding his horn from afar could be bent upon no mischief, and must needs come in peace.


The horn from which the cracking cry issued might be of several kinds. There was the bull’s horn, or bugle, blown by men from the beginning, wherever sustenance was drawn from kindly kine. It was used extensively throughout the middle ages as an instrument for signalling by land and sea, by night watchmen in towns, and by foresters in the wood. An ancient horn is still blown in England on the south coast by those who are still called “huers,” when the pilchards are first sighted, and the fishing boats put out to sea.

People were wont to go to some pains in the matter of horns. The accounts and inventories of the Counts of Burgundy contain the entries of the purchase at Bruges by Philip the Bold in 1375 of sixty-three horns out of England. There were also horns of metal, of brass and of copper, and “horns of elfland faintly blowing.” The customs which dignified the hunt were those of a people whose poets lent enchantment to the horn.

Indeed, it is in the Song of Roland that this enchantment reaches its highest pitch; nor could anything exceed in sombre beauty the call from Roncevaux. It is not Durandal, the sword, but his horn, that the dying paladin holds on high among the pagan dead in the Vale of Thorns.

If you wish to see that horn you may journey to Castle Frohnsdorf, in Austria, where the oliphant, or ivory horn, of Roland, Markgrave of Brittany, is reverently preserved. In the more than thousand years which have passed, the metal binding of the bell has disappeared; the mouthpiece likewise is missing. In all other respects, however, the oliphant is intact. Freiherr von Wildenhag has traced the tradition attaching to this horn, and finds its authenticity to be unquestioned ; he tells us that between the years 814 and 840, in the time of Louis the Pious, the son of Charlemagne, this very horn of ivory was already known as that which had been borne by Roland. To enquire whether this ancient oliphant is that which was wound at Roncesvalles may be said to partake of the quality of an indiscretion.

At Aix, however, the visitor may admire another oliphant and be told that it was presented to Charlemagne by Ha-run-al-Rashid, Lord of Bagdad. It is said that an elephant accompanied the gift. There certainly was a picture of such a beast, done in embroidery, upon the shroud of Charlemagne, and one may well wonder how it came there. The horn of Saint Hubert was preserved at his abbey at Audain.

Some years ago it was my good fortune to stand on the battlements of the castle at Amboise, and in the twilight of a gentle summer’s day, to hear the French hunting horn wound in a hamlet far up the valley of the Loire. The call was passed in the still air four times from village to village within my hearing before it broke from a farmhouse directly across the silver river. The next village below then took it up, and finally the mellow note died out in the distance down the valley to the west. I turned to the kindly custodian, who had indulged my admiration of turret and finial in the slanting light of that sleepy afternoon far beyond the usual hour granted the visitor, and enquired of him what he might be able to tell me of a thing so extraordinary. He said it was a custom, and an amusement; that it was often done. He himself had never heard the call started, nor heard it end; but it was said to arise at some place far beyond Chateau Chinon, in the Nievre, and to go down to the sea, where there were ships. We talked of other things, and a short half hour later the same haunting call came travelling back, up-valley this time. I counted eight horns wound within my hearing. The custodian then went in to his supper, and left me under the soft stars of Touraine to dream of ancient things, of hue and cry, and of a man-hunt along the river in the bleak days of Fulk Nerra, that black Count of Anjou and lord of all those fair lands, who was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Richard the Lionheart, King of England, who fought Saladin and who lies in the abbey church at Fontev-rault in the valley of the Loire.


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