Master of Game was written sometime between 1402 and 1413, possibly while Edward was for a time in prison. We know the dates because he became the second Duke of York upon the death of his father in 1402. He became Master of Game to Henry IV in 1406. His book is dedicated to the king's eldest son, Prince Henry, who became Henry V in 1413. It was read only in manuscript until it was printed in 1904 with a remarkable introduction by Theodore Roosevelt. To the author of the original French work, and Edward, its translator, Roosevelt paid this tribute:
Both were mighty men with their hands, terrible in battle, of imposing presence and turbulent spirit. Both were the patrons of art and letters, and both were cultivated in the learning of the day. For each of them the chase stood as a hardy and vigorous pastime of the kind which makes a people great.... Game abounded, and not only the chase but the killing of the quarry was a matter of intense excitement and an exacting test of personal prowess, for the boar, or the bear, or hart at bay was slain at close quarters with a spear or long knife.
Shakespeare has a somewhat different story to tell of the Duke of York in his Richard II, and the records of history, including Edward's confession in his will, tell us he was a great rogue who lived one of the most turbulent lives in English history. There is no space to tell it here. But consider his book as the model of Berners' Treatise.
The structure of Master of Game is: 1) praise of hunting as the "most disportful of all games,"—it is better than hawking; 2) moralizing on the character of the hunter; 3) instruction in the sport, the animals and the technique of the hunter. The language and themes, too, are like those in the Treatise. Idleness is bad; hunters are not idle. Hunters are the most joyous of men. Their sport is good for the health of man and of his soul.
A few passages from the prologue of Master of Game will suggest its style and spirit:
When a man is idle and reckless without work, and be not occupied in doing some thing, he abides in his bed or in his chamber, a thing which draweth men to imaginations of fleshly lust and pleasure....
Now shall I prove how hunters live in this world more joyfully than any other men. For when the hunter riseth in the morning, and he sees a sweet and fair morn and clear weather and bright, and he heareth the song of the small birds, the which sing so sweetly with great melody and full of love, each in his own language in the best wise that he can according that he learneth of his own kind. And when the sun is arisen, he shall see fresh dew upon small twigs and grasses, and the sun by his virtue shall make them shine. And that is great joy and liking to the hunter's heart.
And since hunters eat little and sweat always, they should live long and in health. Men desire in this world to live long in health and in joy, and after death the health of the soul. And hunters have all these things.... For as saith in his book Phoebus the Earl of Foix that noble hunter, he saw never a good man that had not pleasure in some of these things, were he ever so great and rich. For if he had need to go to war he would not know what war is, for he would not be accustomed to travail, and so another man would have to do that which he should.
Now Juliana was at the court of Henry IV at the same time as Edward, in the period when he hunted and wrote this book. She was born, we suppose, in 1385, daughter of Sir James Berners and Anne Berew. Her father was executed in 1388 for conspiracy against Richard II, son of the Black Prince and grandson of Edward III. A few years later her mother married Sir Roger Clarendon, bastard son of the Black Prince and so half brother of the king who executed her father. In 1399, Henry IV deposed his cousin Richard II and seized the throne. Three years later Henry IV executed Juliana's stepfather, Sir Roger, as a possible pretender to the throne. Since her natural father had lost his head for Henry IV and her stepfather's head had been removed by Henry IV, it could be presumed that the headless family was in favor at court. Edward, Duke of York, cousin of Henry IV and an archconspirator against both kings, managed to keep his head and almost wore the crown on it; he had a blood claim to the throne and at one time his cousin Richard II considered abdicating in his favor. As it was, he held some of the highest offices in England. Where did Juliana learn to hunt and fish but from him, the Master of Game? For reasons unknown she did not marry. Was it for lack of a dowry? Or the exigencies of the court? Edward died in battle at Agincourt in the year 1415, at the age of 42, the hero of old England's most glorious victory.
In the same year, Juliana, at the age of 30, entered the convent, ten years late by the conventions of the time. About five years later, she wrote her Treatise on fishing, and in it acknowledged the Duke of York, late Master of Game. She wrote austerely of the solace of fishing.