1) A person employed to prevent poaching.
Dictionaries define the gamekeeper as a person employed on a large estate whose job it is to take care of the wild animals and prevent poaching. This definitions concentrates on the nineteenth-century meaning of the word and emphasises the professional gamekeeper’s skill in woodcraft. However, the original meaning of gamekeeper may be rather different. In a sense the office has been in existence from at least the Middle Ages, when parkers and warreners protected or kept the animals on the lord’s estate, but the word itself passed into common usage only after 1671, when the Game Act came into force and made hunting the exclusive privilege of the landed gentry. The first OED reference to gamekeeper is from that Act, but the word had apparently been used before then on the king’s estates, and Royal gamekeepers had long had the right to prevent people of ‘meane qualitie’ from taking the king’s game. These Royal gamekeepers were themselves privileged members of the upper classes. The passing of the Act was really a triumph by the country gentry, not only over the king but also over all those with non-landed wealth. From 1671, lords of manors were authorised to employ one or more gamekeepers, and these men had the right to take and seize the guns, nets and other hunting ‘engines’ of unqualified persons, however wealthy they might be. In real terms sporting privilege had been transferred from the king to the landed gentry, and so had the preservation of the game. Not surprisingly, in such a tight-knit social group, there was a tendency to appoint gamekeepers from within their own ranks. In 1733, for example, Dame Anne Kaye of Woodsome Hall appointed Sir John Lister Kaye of Denby Grange her gamekeeper
in 1738, the Rev. Mr Philip Kitchon was appointed gamekeeper to Thomas Bright and Mrs Mary Lowther, for the Mannors of Marton, Tolthorpe and Nunthorp. These were hardly gamekeepers as we now understand the word but persons of considerable social status, and their office gave them the authority to confiscate weapons and enforce the property qualifications of the Game Acts. In 1671, these were set at Ł100 a year for freeholders and Ł150 for leaseholders, amounts well above the electoral franchise. Almost certainly from a humbler background was Elias Hollingworth, gamekeeper to the Duke of Leeds. His tombstone is sited outside the south porch of Kirkburton church and it records his death in 1709 aged 36, with a moving tribute: One humble, meek and patient here doth lie Who hunting Lov’d and feared not to Dye.