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The word 'hart' is an old alternative word for "stag" (from Old English heorot, "deer" – compare with modern Dutch hert, also "deer").

Specifically, the word 'hart' was used of a red deer stag more than five years old. In medieval hunting terms, a stag in its first year was called a ‘calf’, in its second a ‘brocket’, in its third a ‘spayed’, in its fourth a ‘staggerd’, and in its fifth a ‘stag’, or a 'great stag'. To be a 'hart' was its fully mature state. A lord would want to hunt not just any deer, but a mature stag in good condition, partly for the extra meat and fat it would carry, but also for prestige. Hence a hart could be designated 'a hart of grease', (a fat stag), 'a hart of ten', (a stag with ten branches on its antlers) or 'a royal hart' (one which had been hunted by a a royal person). A stag which was old enough to be hunted was called a 'warrantable' stag.

The hart was a 'beast of venery' representing the most prestigious form of hunting, as distinct from lesser 'beasts of the chase', and ‘beasts of warren’, the last of which were considered virtually as being vermin. The membership of these different classes varies somewhat, according to which period, and which writer, is being considered, but the red deer is always in the first class, the fox hardly being regarded at all. Like the (fallow deer) buck and the wild boar, the hart was normally sought out or 'harboured' by a 'limer' or bloodhound hunting on a leash. which would track it from its droppings or footprints to where it was browsing. The huntsman would then report back to his lord and the hunting party would come bringing a pack of raches. These scent hounds would 'unharbour' the hart and chase it on its hot scent until it was brought to bay.

The word 'hart' is not now widely used, but Shakespeare makes several references (for example in Twelfth Night), punning on the sound-alike "hart" and "heart". "The White Hart", a personal emblem of Richard II, and "The Red Hart" remain common English pub names. The county Hertfordshiremarker (along with Hertfordmarker, its county town, and Hartfordmarker, its twin town in Connecticutmarker) is thought to be named after a place where deer forded a watercourse. There is also the district of Hartmarker in Hampshire. Whinfell Forestmarker once contained a landmark tree called Harthorn.


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