In November 1575 King Henri III of France and his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, amused themselves in the streets of Paris snatching lapdogs from nuns; three years earlier during the reign of Henry’s brother and predecessor, Charles IX, the quarry had been Huguenots hunted down and killed in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, allegedly again at the instigation of Catherine. As this history of the French Renaissance court demonstrates, the elaborate pursuit of game was the consuming passion of the Valois kings.
People tend to think of the French court pre-eminently in terms of Versailles but, as Robert Knecht points out, the Valois courts of the sixteenth century were an evolving form that reached its apotheosis under the Bourbons. Politically, socially and culturally, the court was the centre of French life. At