Sport: Fox Tossing | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Sport: Fox Tossing

June 17, 2010

Sport: Fox Tossing

South German School, A Fox-Tossing Match With Elegant Company Spectating. 18th Century, oil on canvas. Christie's, London. Old Master Pictures.  October 29, 1999. [auction catalog].
One sport that really took off among many European courts was Fox-tossing.  Yes...fox-tossing.  As the name implies, the sport is simple, yet challenging and to some- extremely fun.

To begin, you need a number of foxes. They would be caught and kept in small boxes.  Then in a field, an area would be enclosed with thick canvas.  This was a sport that court ladies took a large part in, (yes ladies could play!) and it requires teams of two.  Sometimes two ladies would team up and sometimes couples would be a team. Teams that were made up of couples had the tendency to be very competitive with their husband and wife rivals.

Detail from A Fox-Tossing Match With Elegant Company Spectating
Each team was assigned a place within the canvas enclosure to stand, and they would hold between them a long 'sling' or piece of canvas (much longer than wide).  The end of this sling had wooden handles for each team member to hold.  The center of the sling rest on the ground between them.  Once all teams were lined up with their slings, the boxes of foxes would be opened.


The panicked creatures would spring from their dark box, into the sun and surrounded by the noisy onlookers.  They ran between the team mates leaping over the canvas slings which lay on the ground.  This was a sport of skill and coordination.   At just the right moment, as a fox leaped over the canvas sling, both team members needed to give a great tug on their end, tightening the sling between them, and if done properly catching the fox at the right moment so it was propelled upwards into the air.


Adolf Van Der Laan (1684/90-1742/55), Fox tossing: Elegante Dwarfs Playing in a Garden on the Occasion.  18th century, ink (grey), grey wash, pen, pencil/paper. Christie's, Amsterdam. Old Master Drawings. November 10, 1999. p. 58 [auction catalog].

With enough practice you could toss a fox quite high, a team of men could get a fox up to twenty five feet in the air.  (over 7.6 meters!)

The ground was coated with a soft sand or sawdust material to give the fox a more cushioned  landing, and ensure the game last longer than one toss per fox.  Once the fox landed, it would either start to run again or be stunned momentarily.  The foxes that were stunned were slaughtered on the spot.  Once all the animals were slaughtered, the game was over.  Points went to couples who had successful tosses.


"'At the Saxon court, which was then the most pleasure-loving in Germany, Elector Frederick Augustus....was the first to introduce this amusement. This monarch, while mentally one of the most vacillating of rulers, was physically one of the strongest men of any age...It was he...who introduced heavier animals, such as two-year-old wild boars and even wolves. At a famous fox-tossing in Dresden there were tossed 687 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers, 21 wild cats, and at the end 34 young wild boars and 3 wolves were turned into the enclosure "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 company". That injuries on such occasions were not infrequent need hardly be mentioned, and more than one young tosser was marked for life by the claws of a wild cat or the tusks of a young boar."¹ 
The sport later morphed, and ladies and gentlemen dressed up in masquerade like clothing to participate.  Even the foxes were dressed in costume, with tinsel and fabric.  Some were disguised as unpopular persons of the time.  After these elaborate games (or would you say shows?) the members of the court would have a masquerade ball or extravagant play.  Quite the sporting experience.

¹Christie's, London. Old Master Pictures.  October 29, 1999. [auction catalog].

10 comments

  1. This is totally new information for me. Thank you, but, oh, poor, poor foxes.

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  2. Wow, I just cross-checked that in a German dictionary of the time (to see if we had that same sport) and found it in "Zedler's Conversationslexikon" under the name of "Fuchs-Prellen".

    There it says ladies and gentlemen dressed in green clothing with gold and silver trimming, and in the end, after the foxes were dead, the boars would be let out, because "they would make such an indescribable racket under the ladies panniers". O.o

    Thank goodness even living history has boundaries. ;-)

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  3. @Weinglasarien could you imagine standing in your full skirts, with boars running about? I am sure many a lady swooned at the sight!

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  4. I know what we're doing at your next barbecue!

    What a sight that must have been, and yet it seems like such a over the top court game, I can't be too surprised. Poor little foxes...although, last month when one woke me up in the middle of the night with its screeching lady noises, I could have tossed a fox pretty high.

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  5. Oh and boars are scary! Watching Old Yeller in my childhood taught me that!

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  6. This seems so strange, and indeed an over the top ''game''!

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  7. And talking about sports...
    Did anybody watched the game today: France VS Mexico??
    Sorry Napoleon but we beat you again !!

    Just like General Zaragoza said:
    The national "team" (army) has been covered with glory. THe French "team" (troops) showed courage in the battle and their "coach" (leader)clumsiness...

    Mexico 2- France 0
    WE did it!!
    Thank you Lord for this Victory :D

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  8. Marchioness de VogueJune 20, 2010 at 1:24 AM

    the disgusting thing humans do for entertainment. It sounds so romantic to see a drawing, just imagine actually witnessing tiny foxes get thrown up in the year to land on broken legs and whatnot. thank God this is history.

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  9. After reading this, I think the guillotine was too humane for royals and aristos. Barbaric!

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