Medieval Pets – Review

Medieval Pets

Kathleen Walker-Meikle

It can sometimes be hard to find information on pets in the medieval world. Larsdatter has various links and sources on her webpage Larsdatter sitemap

but like most of her pages it’s mostly the manuscript images of the various animals that she describes.
Walker-Meikle talks a bit more about the literature references but the most valuable part is the inferences that she makes and the detailed descriptions of how pets such as small dogs, pampered cats and trained squirrels (I love that. Trained squirrels!) were kept.

There’s a couple of illustrations but not a great deal, Larsdatter would be better for any interested in manuscript images. The text can be a bit dry in places but is very informative. The bibliography and notes are extensive, everything is carefully referenced.

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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.

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