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Medieval Pets

Medieval Pets

Kathleen Walker-Meikle
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Pets
    Book Description:

    Animals in the middle ages have often been discussed - but usually only as a source of food, as beasts of burden, or as aids for hunters. This book takes a completely different angle, showing that they were also beloved domestic companions to their human owners, whether they were dogs, cats, monkeys, squirrels, and parrots. It offers a full survey of pets and pet-keeping: from how they were acquired, kept, fed, exercised, and displayed, to the problems they could cause. It also examines the representation of pets and their owners in art and literature; the many charming illustrations offer further evidence for the bonds between humans and their pets, then as now. A wide range of sources, including chronicles, letters, sermons and poems, are used in what is both an authoritative and entertaining account. Dr Kathleen Walker-Meikle is a Wellcome Trust Fellow at the University of York, working on animals and medieval medicine.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-040-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-x)
  6. 1 The Medieval Pet
    (pp. 1-23)

    Pets are animals kept by humans for companionship. An animal only becomes a pet because its human owner chooses to keep it as one. There are no pets in nature. A ‘pet’ is thus an artificial, man-made category.

    Although I use the English word ‘pet’ throughout this book, there was no comparable term in the medieval period. In most sources, both in Latin and the vernacular, the pet is identified by a term defining its exact species, such as dog (canis) or cat (muriceps). The English term ‘pet’ in the sense of a companion animal did not come into use...

  7. 2 Getting (and Losing) a Pet
    (pp. 24-38)

    A medieval pet might be acquired by receiving it as a gift, by purchasing it, or breeding it. There were also less conventional methods, including theft. A court case in 1294 in Chalgrave, England, details how one ‘William Yngeleys complains against John Saly and Christina his sister because they detain a certain cat to William’s damage, which damage he would not have willingly born for 6d’.¹ In a thirteenth-century exemplum the Bishop of Paris is forced to arbitrate between two clerics, who both claim a dog as their own, with the first accusing the second of stealing it. The first...

  8. 3 Pet Welfare
    (pp. 39-54)

    After obtaining a pet, the new owner had to feed and take care of the animal. Francesco Petrarch (1304–74) was the prototype of a pet-keeping scholar, and his letters provide an overview of the nature of pet ownership. He had several dogs. The first mention of a dog appears in a letter of 1338 to Giocomo Colonna. At that time Petrarch was living in Vaucluse, and he defends his reasons for living in so isolated in a spot, affirming that he had no companions apart from his faithful dog and servants.¹

    A few years later his patron, Cardinal Giovanni...

  9. 4 Living with Pets
    (pp. 55-74)

    Medieval pets had as their true milieu enclosed domestic space. They differed from other animals on which care was lavished, whether fine horses, hunting hounds and hawks, all of which required special attention from trained carers and resided in purpose-built accommodation – stables, kennels and mews. Pets, on the other hand, were free to accompany their owners in all aspects of their life, playing with them or with other pets.

    Pets abounded in both public and private interior spaces, from courtyards and halls to private chambers, where their presence was taken for granted. In the early fifteenth-century Bedford Hours an...

  10. 5 Pets in Iconography
    (pp. 75-89)

    References to depictions of pets in iconographic sources have abounded throughout this book, but in this chapter I shall focus on certain common motifs in a few genres.¹ A large proportion of these portray pets with women; although there are many depictions of secular men with animals which could be pets, it is harder to interpret them, as the animals might have a dual function – dogs could be hunting hounds, for example. The pet, rather than just being a symbol of faithfulness, is an identity marker of noble women in general. The virtue of fidelity, especially involving death or...

  11. 6 Pets in Literature
    (pp. 90-107)

    Literary sources have been used throughout this book to illustrate everything from pet names to descriptions of their sleeping quarters. This chapter will examined some particular genres of literature in which pets appear with great frequency.

    In romance literature the presence of the pet is closely connected to love and emotional attachment. Pets, nearly always small dogs, can play various roles, usually one of aiding and abetting the lovers.

    A common role in this tradition is the pet as representative of the absent lover; in his absence, the pet takes his part as a companion and comfort to the lady....

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 108-110)

    This book has shown the complexities which lay behind pet keeping in the medieval period (and to an extent, the early modern period), and has brought to life the experiences of owners and their pets. Here I shall summarize the main themes from the previous chapters.

    Pet keeping is a component in the wider scheme of human–animal relationships. In a culture of anthropocentrism, mankind had dominion over all the beasts. Pets, though, were treated kindly, and led a spoiled, privileged life, completely dependent on the whim of their owner, who had elevated the animal to the category of companion....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 111-156)
  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-174)
  16. Index
    (pp. 175-181)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 182-183)