Domestic Bestiary: A Medieval Guide to Buying A Pet

So you’ve finally given in to little Isabel’s constant whining and Tristan’s threats of setting the manor on fire and you’re getting a pet. But which one? With a large selection to chose from, how does a Lord or Lady decide just which pet is appropriate for their little darlings?

To help you make this important decision, we’ve compiled a short list of the more popular pets, along with the pros and cons of ownership.

Cats

Everyone’s favourite and a good starter animal for any family, noble or not.

Pros:
– they are entertaining – they will chase balls, bits of string, and their own tails (adorable!)
– they will help to keep your rodent population down – cats love to chase mice, in fact the good Lord Himself put these creatures on earth to do just that

Cons:
– they will most certainly get into your stuff

bad-cat-3

Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)

– cats are a little too ambitious and they may try to take the crown, forcing us to become their slaves and serve them spiced mice all day

royal-cat-2-300x271

Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v

Dogs

Some say a truer friend cannot be found; such is our fondness for dogs.

Pros:

– loyal
– loving
– good at hunting
– love music (although their choice of instrument may be questionable)

dogpipesbookofhourswaltersms

Book of Hours, Walters Manuscript

Cons:

– can be messy
– time must be devoted to training a dog
– they hog the bed

doghoggingbed

Wikimedia Commons

Monkeys

Such mischievous little creatures, almost like the serfs who live in the village! Only cleaner!

Pros:

– intelligent
– funny
– will help keep the snail population under control

monkeyvsnail-sloan-ms-bl

Sloan Manuscript, British Library – London, England

Cons:

– can be messy
– you MAY wake to find your pet monkey and your best hog both missing

 

monkeyonpigstowemsbl

Stowe Manuscript, British Library – London, England

– they love to drink – it is recommended you keep your ale under lock and key

monkeysdrinkingbodleanms

Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai, 1338-1344. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 94v

Unicorns

The most magical of beasts but surprisingly suitable for a young family.

Pros:

– you can stable them with your horses
– they are quite the status symbol – make your neighbours jealous!
– they are delicious!!

unicorncookedgeoffreyfulecookbookbl

Geoffrey Fule Cookbook, British Library – London, England

Cons:

– the horn may skewer members of your family, resulting in visits to the local barber-surgeon
– they are picky eaters (fine oats dipped in sugared cinnamon and hay mixed with the golden locks of a virgin)
– they are a little TOO friendly with young women – unwanted attention can be avoided by marrying your daughters off early

unicornmaidenflemishbkofhrs

Flemish Book of Hours

Rats

The rascals of the rodent world, rats are intelligent and inquisitive.

Pros:

– easy to care for – a cage, some of grandfather’s beard hair and you’re all set
– they’re easy to feed – they eat just about anything

Cons:

– they are known to steal boats and go for joy rides – it’s said they often row by the king’s palace and hurl insults at the garderobe window

boatratspontificalofguillaumedurandavignon

Pontifical of Guillaume Durand – Avignon

– they cause plague (but who can hold that against them when they wiggle their whiskers!)

blackdeath

Wikimedia Commons

Rabbits

Rabbits are fun to raise and fun to watch for everyone in the family.

Pros:

– fluffy and just SO cute
– entertaining – they can be taught to play a wide range of instruments

musicianrabbitmacclesfieldpsaltercambridge

Macclesfield Psalter – Cambridge, England

– they taste great in a stew
– two words: fur hood

Cons:
– they may murder you – for no other reason than their lettuce was five minutes late last Thursday

rabbitkillsmithfielddecretals

Smithfield Decretals, British Library – London, England

– they will almost certainly use you for target practice

rabbitarrowsmithfielddecretals

Smithfield Decretals, British Library – London, England

Bees

The noblest of God’s creatures, the bee feeds us, heals us, and nurtures us.

Pros:

– honey – to eat, to use on wounds, to sweeten
– bees are a perfect example of what good morals, clean living, and hard work and dedication can achieve – the perfect visual example when lecturing your children and much more effective than a bible page

Cons:

– they are a bit more high maintenance than dogs, cats, or unicorns
– they sting
– itinerant scholars squatting on your land, trying to lecture the bees, can be a big problem. You’ll need to chase them off your land before they leave their used parchments and broken quills scattered around your apiary

virgil-observing-bees-oeuvres-avec-les-commentaires-de-servius-paris-15th-c

Virgil Observing the Bees, Paris

We certainly hope this list proved helpful and informative, and that it set you on your way to picking your perfect pet!

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