Warwickshire United Kingdom: Cockfighting Connection with Royal King Cockfighters – Henry VIII, George III, Edward VII


Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King of Ireland and claimant to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including the Lordship of Ireland, later the Kingdom of Ireland, from 1485 until 1603. Its first monarch was Henry Tudor, a descendant through his mother of a legitimized branch of the English royal House of Lancaster. The Tudor family rose to power in the wake of the Wars of the Roses, which left the House of Lancaster, to which the Tudors were aligned, extirpated.

Henry built the first standard cockpit.

We have known from the previous article that Wales is big in cockfighting. Henry also fathered an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, who was raised by his mother’s husband in Warwickshire.

Warwickshire (i/ˈwɒrɨkʃər/ or /ˈwɒrɨkʃɪər/) is a landlocked non-metropolitan county in the West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, although the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Commonly used abbreviations for the county are Warks or Warwicks.

Another Wales-Warwickshire connection is this story on Richard Basset; where George III (formerly Prince of Wales) and Edward VII (formerly Prince of Wales) were mentioned as cockfighters.

Edward VII is only about 8 years of age when cockfighting was banned. Thus, Edward VII is living as an outlaw cockfighter.

George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 1738 – 29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg (“Hanover”) in the Holy Roman Empire until his promotion to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two Hanoverian predecessors he was born in Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

The House of Hanover (the Hanoverians) is a deposed German royal dynasty which has ruled the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (German: Braunschweig-Lüneburg), the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It succeeded the House of Stuart as monarchs of Great Britain and Ireland in 1714 and held that office until the death of Victoria in 1901. They are sometimes referred to as the House of Brunswick and Lüneburg, Hanover line. The House of Hanover is a younger branch of the House of Welf, which in turn is the senior branch of the House of Este.

Edward VII (Albert Edward; 9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910. He was the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was renamed the House of Windsor by his son, George V.

The House of Windsor is the current royal house of the Commonwealth realms. It was founded by King George V by royal proclamation on the 17 July 1917, when he changed the name of his family from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the English Windsor, due to the anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom during World War I. Currently, the most prominent member of the House of Windsor is Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms.

– Gameness til the End

Richard Bassett – christened 23 Sep 1838 in Polesworth, died 1906, married the daughter of a Tamworth laborer.

My great grandfather was Richard Basset (1838-1906) and they were married on the 29th May 1863 at Tamworth. He had many occupations in his time including gardener at Bolehall in 1863, gas works stoker at Fazeley, gas works stoker at Tamworth, shop keeper at 6 Colehill St. Tamworth, and famer at Birchmoor.

Richard and Mary had 16 children between 1863 and 1882, my grandfather George Charles Basset (1882-1957) being the youngest born 4th Janaury 1882 at the Game Cock Inn, Birchmoor, Polesworth, where his father had become landlord in 1875. Along with William Gilliver they continued a life long indulgence in the cock fighting world. The Gilliver family were world famous, William’s ancestor, also William, trained and supplied fighting cocks to George III, and in the 1880’s William and Richard met Edward Prince of Wales at Newmarket as he was also into cock fighting or so the family story goes.

When my brother and sister and I were young we would sit around, with our mouths wide open, listening to grandad telling us many stories about his dad and how he went to cock fights all over England with the Gilliver clan and others. He told us of the fights that they used to hold in the attic of the Gamecock Inn, and of the police raids on the pub and the escape route they had through the adjoining attics, out of a window in the apex and down a ladder to run like hell across the fields. This window can still be seen to this day. Cock fighting was outlawed in 1849.

It may be plain to you that Richard did not take to working for a living as grandad said they used to win very large sums of money. His life was not all money and roses. Richard and Mary buried 8 of their children, one at Tamworth, one at Fazeley, the rest are at Polesworth and four were born dead.

To go back to the cock fighting it is an irony that Richard died by accidentally falling down and fracturing the base of the skull on the 29th January 1906. A coroner’s inquest was held on the 3rd of January 1906 and I am in the process of trying to obtain the coroner’s report from Warwick Records Office. Perhaps the details from this will be worthy of another installment!

Pete Bassett.

Holywell Cockpit and Bowling Green

Holywell Cockpit stood on the corner of Holywell Street and St Cross Road, and was already in existence by 1675, when it is shown in a Loggan print. It had a circular structure, and its remains were discovered in 1992–3 during the excavations for a new dining hall at Holywell Manor.

The big cock-fighting events at the pit took place during the Oxford Races at Port Meadow. Between 1759 and 1788, the fights (which were announced in Jackson’s Oxford Journal) were generally between Oxford and Watlington, but in August 1790 the cocks started to represent their county, and the fight was between Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

Cock-fighting in Holywell continued into the nineteenth century. Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 27 June 1801 advertised a “main” (a match between fighting cocks) between cockerels and and “stags” (turkey-cocks of two years and upwards) to be held at Holywell during the Oxford Races at Port Meadow:


During the above Races a MAIN of COCKS will be fought at the Cockpit, Holywell, Oxford, between the Gentlemen of Oxfordshire and the Gentlemen of Warwickshire. — Each Party to shew Twenty-one Cocks and Thirty-one Stags, and to fight for Ten Guineas each Battle; and Two Hundred the Odd.

Feeders, WALTERS for Oxfordshire, GLADISH for Warwickshire

A similar advertisement was placed on 23 July 1803, but this time the opposing county was Middlesex, and the prizes were lower: five guineas a battle, and “one hundred the main”. Prices were back as they were, however, at the cockfight against Berkshire during the races of 1807.

In the spring of 1809, 1814, and 1815 there was an annual subscription match of cocking, then in the summer of 1815 the Gentlemen of Oxfordshire took on the Gentlemen of Gloucestershire during the Races (Oxfordshire won by one battle).

There is no mention in the newspaper of cockfighting after 1815, and the sport was banned outright in England and Wales under the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835.

Malchair painted a view of the Holywell cockpit, and there is a minature image of it on the Longmate map of Oxford of 1773. For more information, see Percy Manning, “Sport & pastime in Stuart Oxford”, in H. E. Salter, Surveys and Tokens, pp. 101–2.

The pub called the Cockpit

There was also a pub called the Cockpit, described as being the home of Stephen Eaton and “near Holywell Church” when an auction held there was advertised in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 17 February 1810. As Eaton was described as the owner of the cockpit in 1778, it seems likely that the pub and the pit were closely connected.

Inquests were held at the Cockpit pub in June 1825 and October 1847.

By 1851 the Cockpit Inn was run by Thomas Davis, sausage maker & publican, maker of the “original Oxford Sausage”. At the time of the 1851 census he lived there with his wife Mary (39) and his children Mary (15), Fanny (13), Thomas (5), Emily (3), and Charles (8 months). Five years later, however, the pub itself had closed, as the following notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 11 October 1856 indicates:

T. DAVIS, BRAWN AND SAUSAGE MAKER, (Late of the Cock Pit, Holywell,)

BEGS leave to return his thanks for past patronage, and respectfully to acquaint the public that he still carries on the above business on the premises erected for that purpose, adjoining the Old Cock Pit.

SAUSAGES sent hot to any part of the town, and may also be had at Mr. Creed’s, Holywell-street, and at Mrs. Slatter’s, Boar-street.

The Bowling Green

The Longmate map of 1773 shows the Bowling Green wedged between the back gardens of the houses at the north-east end of Holywell and the footway running westwards to the Parks, which was along the line of the present Jowett Walk. (Nearby Magdalen College had its own bowling green behind the New Buildings.)

James Woodforde records in his diary for 26 June 1761 that he was “At Bowles in Holiwell Green” with seven college friends; and again on 3 and 11 July that year he was “At Bowles in Holiwell lower Green”.

The 1772 Survey of Oxford lists Dr Vansittart (who also had a house with a frontage of over 12 yards in St Cross Road) as holding the bowling green, which had a frontage of exactly 53 yards. This is presumably Robert Vansittart (1728–1789), Regius Professor of Civil Law and member of the Hellfire Club.

The site of the bowling green was incorporated into the garden of 1 Holywell Street by 1876.

The Trial of Two Centuries

Two animal v. animal sports are examined during the trial. They are: Cock Fighting and Bull Baiting. Links to these sports will appear in the navigational drop-down box above.

Cock Fighting

Right: Samuel Howitt Cock Pit Royal 1796

[The Prosecution calls the noted scholar Ian Worcester to the stand.]

The Prosecution: Is cockfighting popular?

Worcester: It is much more popular among the people than healthy games.

Prosecution: What are “healthy games?”

Worcester: Non-violent games such as leap frog.

Prosecution: Do many people attend?

Worcester: Thousands.

Prosecution: Though you are a scholar; do you go often?

Worcester: Only for research purposes of course; to study men.

Prosecution: Describe the atmosphere?

Worcester: The ring appears to be like an amphitheater. Many people sit on the benches that surround a platform center.

Prosecution: How does the fight start?

Worcester: The men bring out the cocks hidden in sacks and wait until the bets are placed. Then, they put spurs on the cocks so they can battle.

Prosecution: What does the fight do to the birds?

Worcester: They attack each other by hacking with those spurs. This results in tremendous amounts of blood to shoot out of their combs. … Their crops and abdomens become ripped open by the force of spurs entering through their skin.

Prosecution: How does it end?

Worcester: Usually, when one is dead.

Prosecution: No further questions.

[The Defense Cross-examines Worcester.]

Defense: What does the cock commonly do after winning a battle?

Worcester: The victor jumps on the other and crows.

Defense: Doesn’t that show the mentality of the cock regardless of whether it is put in an arena?

Prosecution: Objection, your honor, his is leading the witness.

Judge: Sustained.

Defense: You said that the fight usually ends in death. What can also happen to end the fight?

Worcester: If both cocks are too tired to continue and stop attacking then they are taken out of the ring.

Defense: No further questions.

[The Prosecution calls Professor Robert Turner to the stand.]

Prosecution: Could you please describe the different types of cock-fights?

Turner: The most common is the battle between two. … Though extremely is the Welsh main competition. In this battle to the death, up to thirty-two cocks are brought into the ring and after this battle; one cock leaves victorious. … Some fights might occur over the duration of two to three days. Usually, counties, such as for example, Warwickshire and Worcestershire would forge a contest against each other. People from London and all over go to these matches.

Prosecution: How many cocks die at the event you just described?

Turner: About forty a day.

Prosecution: Where do you think the pleasure comes from?

Turner: It draws upon man’s most animalistic qualities. Man is fascinated with the death of others and celebrating in the fight of animals can usually remove some guilts of their’s. They think that it is only a type of bird dying and do not consider its feelings and emotions.

[The Defense Cross-examines Turner.]

Defense: You describe counties coming together for big matches, yes?

Turner: Yes.

Defense: Could that promote unity among a county?

Turner: Yes, I suppose.

Defense: So, you could suppose that cock-fighting brings people together?

Prosecution: Objection, your honor, he’s leading the witness.

Judge: Overruled, I think this could be important.

Turner: Yes, it could.

Defense: No further question.

Cock Fighting

{William Hogarth, The Cockpit (1759)}

[The Prosecution calls Henry Brand to the stand.]

Prosecution: Describe cockfighting?

Brand: Heathenish mode of diversion from the first, and at this day ((out)) certainly to be confined to barbarous nations.

Defense: Objection, your honor, this man is supposing that the country of England is a barbarous nation. The implication suggests that the King of England is barbarous and I do not feel that a man can legally make such a claim.

Judge: Sustained, and I ask that this witness leave the courtroom before I have him for contempt.

[Quite a stir ensues as Mr. Brand leaves the courtroom.]

Cock Fighting

Younger Marshall Game Cocks 1831

[The Defense calls Thomas Stone to the stand.]

Defense: Is cock fighting a fair sport?

Stone: Yes, it the competition of two of the same type of animal. In hunting the animals has little chance against the man. In this case, it is fair.

Defense: Do cocks naturally fight?

Stone: Yes, they are known to be territorial.

Defense: How long is it before one cock naturally kills the other?

Stone: About one minute.

Defense: How long to cock matches in arena’s take before one claims victory?

Stone: At least five minutes, maybe even hours.

Defense: In this case, does cock-fighting elongate the cock’s life?

Stone: Yes.

Defense: Is cock-fighting important for Englishmen?

Stone: Yes, it.

Defense: Could you please explain how?

Stone: It keeps alive the fighting spirit of the Englishman. The cock is a great example of pride and gallantry.

[Prosecution Cross-examines Stone.]

Prosecution: You claim that it is cocks’ nature to fight. Is it true that they are trained to be better fighters?

Stone: Yes.

poultry gamefowl chicken gamecock

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