Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

p-thts-animls-msg - 9/8/13


Period thoughts about animals. Period treatment of animals.


NOTE: See also the files: pets-msg, livestock-msg, ferrets-msg, horses-msg, cats-msg, dogs-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 08:21:04 CST

From: "Katy Corey" <k_corey at WJHS.NWSC.K12.AR.US>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Chickens & eggs & thoughts on period practices


> Many medieval pastimes were brutal to animals - they thought a lot of really

> nasty things were funny.  This is an area in which we are very different -

> like our hygiene.  This is another area in which authenticity does not

> appeal to me.


   I remember reading that Leonardo da Vinci was considered strange

as a young man because he hated the common entertainment of

throwing cats onto sharpened stakes to watch them struggle. The same

source - probably a National Geographic book on the Italian

Renaissance - said that he would buy caged birds in the marketplace

just to set them free.                                    





Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 10:14:23 -0400 (EDT)

From: Rooscc at aol.com

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Chicken & eggs


While there were many cruel practices in the Middle Ages

(cock fighting and dog fighting still exist today), there

was also an understanding of humane treatment of farm

animals. (Not as pets, but as a kind regard for the animals'

well being.) Walter of Henley (13th century handbook for

running manors) gives several examples: providing

scratching posts, allowing ample "play" time outside

the stall in winter, etc. He also advises the lord to watch

how the animals behave around their keepers--if they

seem fearful or avoid the person then they are likely

being mistreated. This contrasts favorably I think

with the attitudes in modern large commercial production.





Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 19:58:47 -0400 (EDT)

From: Rooscc at aol.com

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Walter of Henley


>He also advises the lord to watch

>how the animals behave around their keepers--if they

>seem fearful or avoid the person then they are likely

>being mistreated.


This was in regard to sheep and oxen.


Overall the advice given in 13th-century manuals would

be considered micro-managing today. The lord should expect

a calf for every cow and at least a lamb for every ewe

(twinning was common). If this is not the case, the lord

should ask why: was a bull or ram not available and why not?

Every animal should be accounted for--if it died, he should

have the skin or fleece and a full account of what happened.


The business consideration is uppermost and yet there

is a sympathetic undertone in regard to the animals. I don't

own a copy of this work so I can't quote it for you.

Some of the same sentiments reoccur in Tusser in the

mid-sixteenth. They respect their beasts but don't make

pets of them.





From: "Trevor Barker" <barkert at delete.logica.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Stefan's Florilegium

Date: 30 Mar 1998 12:03:36 GMT

Organization: Logica UK Limited


Stefan li Rous <stefan at texas.net> wrote

> [snip]

> Hmm. Does anyone have in referances to what medieval people thought

> of lemmings? Were lemmings used for skins? Do they figure in any

> medieval literature?


I don't know about lemmings.


Geraldus Cambrensis (c1200) mentions Welsh beavers.


Apparently, beavers were hunted for their testicles.  So, if a beaver was

persued and couldn't escape, it would bite off its bollocks (good English

word, that) thus rendering itself worthless to the hunters.  Beavers that

had already emasculated themselves during a previous hunt would seek out

high ground, then present their rear quarters to show they weren't worth



(Although Gerald doesn't mention it, I suppose female beavers could do the

same thing, if the hunters couldn't tell a male from a female.)


It's no wonder that beavers went extinct in Wales during the Middle Ages ;-)





Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 06:07:32 -0600

From: Robert Downie <rdownie at mb.sympatico.ca>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Re: Cruel food

To: Susan Browning <daubrecicourt at earthlink.net>,       Cooks within the SCA

        <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


Susan Browning wrote:

> Can't quote you the source, but I have seen a recipe on how to cook a

> chicken/goose? alive, and start to eat it while it is still living.

> Eleanor


Thesewere convieniently located on the Gode Cookery website:



A Goose roasted alive - from Magia Naturalis:

A Goose roasted alive. A little before our times, a Goose was wont to be

brought to the table of the King of Arragon, that was roasted alive, as I have

heard by old men of credit. And when I went to try it, my company were so

hasty, that we ate him up before he was quite roasted. He was alive, and the

upper part of him, on the outside, was excellent well roasted. The rule to do

it is thus. Take a Duck, or a Goose, or some such lusty creature, but the Goose

is best for this purpose. Pull all the Feathers from  his body, leaving his

head and his neck. Then make a fire round about him, not too narrow, lest the

smoke choke him, or the fire should roast him too soon. Not too wide, lest he

escape unroasted. Inside set everywhere little pots full of water, and put Salt

and Meum to them. Let the Goose be smeared all over with Suet, and well Larded,

that he may be the better meat, and roast the better. Put the fire about, but

make not too much haste. When he begins to roast, he will walk about, and

cannot get forth, for the fire stops him. When he is weary, he quenches his

thirst by drinking the water, by cooling his heart, and the rest of his

internal parts. The force of the Medicament loosens and cleans his belly, so

that he grows empty. And when he is very hot, it roasts his inner parts.

Continually moisten his head and heart with a Sponge. But when you see him run

mad up and down, and to stumble (his heart then wants moisture), wherefore you

take him away, and set him on the table to your guests, who will cry as you

pull off his parts. And you shall eat him up before he is dead.


Porta, Giambattista della. Magia Naturalis.

<http://members.tscnet.com/pages/omard1/jportac14.html>; (June 9, 2001)


To make a Chicken be Served Roasted - from The Vivendier:


To make a Chicken be Served Roasted. Get a chicken or any other bird you want,

and pluck it alive cleanly in hot water. Then get the yolks of 2 or 3 eggs;

they should be beaten with powdered saffron and wheat flour, and distempered

with fat broth or with the grease that drips under a roast into the dripping

pan. By means of a feather glaze and paint your pullet carefully with this

mixture so that its colour looks like roast meat. With this done, and when it

is about to be served to the table, put the chicken's head under its wing, and

turn it in your hands, rotating it until it is fast asleep. Then set it down on

your platter with the other roast meat. When it is about to be carved it will

wake up and make off down the table upsetting jugs, goblets and whatnot.


Scully, Terence. The Vivendier. Devon: Prospect Books, 1997.



From: Hugh & Belinda Niewoehner <burgborrendohl at valornet.com>

Date: April 16, 2010 11:40:07 AM CDT

To: "Kingdom of Ansteorra - SCA, Inc." <ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: [Ansteorra] honor and animals


Ritter Dieterich Kempenich von Eltz:

<<< Animals do not have a sense of honor; you are confusing, among other traits, loyalty with honor. >>>


I do not think that Her Grace is trying to say that any animal has a sense of honor.  Medieval mindsets, however, used symbolism of certain traits or behaviors of animals to represent virtues and vices of humans.  (At the risk of starting another tread, I don't make assumptions as to what emotions, etc. animals have since I can not communicate with them in their language.  I've seen cats appear to be embarrassed which means they have some form of self-esteem.  I've seen animals grieve, show affection, etc. Being a fan of Ender's Game, I try not to judge other species quickly).


But back to the point of this discussion, if you read my previous post, the people of the Middle Ages would see a certain behavior or trait in an animal as a characteristic of a human's virtue.


From the same source:


A peculiarity of the wolf is that it cannot turn its head, because there is no joint in its neck, but must turn its whole body

when it wishes to look behind, thus symbolizing people stiff-necked and stubborn in sin.


That does not mean wolves are stiff necked and stubborn--mine was a sweetie, but she could not just look over her back, but had to turn at least her front half around to see behind her.

Another example:


The cock typifies both vigilance and liberality, because it is always on the watch, and when it finds anything, it does not eat it, but calls the hens together and divides it among them.


I think this is an interesting study and might make people think about what they choose for their arms.  What we think of as a marvelous creature to represent us might not have the same meaning to the Medieval mind.





From: Tim McDaniel <tmcd at panix.com>

Date: April 17, 2010 1:45:52 PM CDT

To: "Kingdom of Ansteorra - SCA, Inc." <ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Ansteorra] Dog as an animal


On Sat, 17 Apr 2010, Catrin ferch Maelgwn <ladycatrin at gmail.com> wrote:

<<< Though they were not noted for it (to my knowledge) in the middle

ages - I must put in a word for the much maligned and misunderstood

goose. The goose is a noble creature, a fierce protector of its

family and a true example of comradeship in nature. >>>


More or less known in the Middle Ages.  The Aberdeen Bestiary has it

on ff. 53r and 53v, <http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/translat/53r.hti>;:


   The goose marks the watches of the night by its constant cry. No

   other creature picks up the scent of man as it does. It was

   because of its noise, that the Gauls were detected when they

   ascended the Capitol. Rabanus says in this context: 'The goose can

   signify men who are prudent and look out for their own safety.'


   There are two kinds of geese, domestic and wild. Wild geese fly

   high, in a an orderly fashion, signifying those who, far away from

   earthly things, preserve a rule of virtuous conduct. Domestic

   geese live together in villages, they cackle together all the time

   and rend each other with their beaks; they signify those who,

   although they like conventual life, nevertheless find time to

   gossip and slander.


   All wild geese are grey in colour; I have not seen any that were

   of mixed colour or white. But among domestic geese, there are not

   only grey but variegated and white ones. Wild geese are the colour

   of ashes, that is to say, those who keep apart from this world

   wear the modest garb of penitence. But those who live in towns or

   villages wear clothes that are more beautiful in colour.


   The goose, more than any other animal, picks up the scent of a

   someone happening by, as the discerning man knows of other men by

   their good or bad reputation, even though they live far

   away. When, therefore, a goose picks up the scent of a man

   approaching, it cackles endlessly at night, as when a discerning

   brother sees in others the negligence that comes with ignorance,

   it is his duty to call attention to it. The cackling of geese on

   the Capitol once helped the Romans, and in our chapter-house

   daily, when the discerning brother sees evidence of negligence,

   his warning voice serves to repel the old enemy, the Devil. The

   cackling of the goose saved the city of Rome from enemy attack;

   the warning voice of the discerning brother guards the life of his

   community from disruption by the wicked.


   Divine providence would not, perhaps, have revealed to us the

   characteristics of birds, if it had not wanted the knowledge to be

   of some benefit to us.


The contents are at <http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/contents.hti>;.  It

has much to say on wolves, including "It cannot turn its neck

around.", and on dogs, including loyalty.  Then again, what it says

about weasels can't be repeated on a family mailing list, and

fortunately he never heard (or at least never repeated) the worst

about hyenas and hares.


Danel de Lincoln



Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2010 07:00:20 -0500

From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Description of the Beaver


This never posted so I will send it again. I hope it comes through ok  

this time.


I came across Harrison's description today which described the rest of  

the beast as akin to a large rat.


Here's the description from the online version of Harrison from  



"I might here intreat largely of other vermin, as the polecat, the  

miniver, the weasel, stote, fulmart, squirrel, fitchew, and such like,  

which Cardan includeth under the word Mustela: also of the otter, and  

likewise of the beaver, whose hinder feet and tail only are supposed  

to be fish.


Certes the tail of this beast is like unto a thin whetstone, as the  

body unto a monstrous rat: as the beast also itself is of such force  

in the teeth that it will gnaw a hole through a thick plank, or shere  

through a double billet in a night; it loveth also the stillest  

rivers, and it is given to them by nature to go by flocks unto the  

woods at hand, where they gather sticks wherewith to build their  

nests, wherein their bodies lie dry above the water, although they so  

provide most commonly that their tails may hang within the same.


It is also reported that their said tails are delicate dish, and  

their stones of such medicinal force that (as Vertomannus saith) four  

men smelling unto them each after other did bleed at the nose through  

their attractive force, proceeding from a vehement savour wherewith  

they are endued.


There is greatest plenty of them in Persia, chiefly about Balascham,  

from whence they and their dried cods are brought into all quarters of  

the world, though not without some forgery by such as provide them.


And of all these here remembered, as the first sorts are plentiful  

in every wood and hedgerow, so these latter, especially the otter  

(for, to say the truth, we have not many beavers, but only in the  

Teisie in Wales) is not wanting or to seek in many, but most, streams  

and rivers of this isle; but it shall suffice in this sort to have  

named them, as I do finally the martern, a beast of the chase,  

although for number I worthily doubt whether that of our beavers or  

marterns may be thought to be the less."


from Modern History Sourcebook: William Harrison (1534-1593):  

Description Of England, 1577 (from Holinshed's Chronicles)


Of Savage Beasts And Vermin


[1577, Book III., Chapters 7 and 12; 1587, Book III., Chapters 4 and 6.]







Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2011 07:46:29 +1000

From: Raymond Wickham <insidious565 at hotmail.com>

Subject: [Lochac] Animal Characters: Nonhuman Beings in Early Modern

        Literature (review available)

To: lochac <lochac at sca.org.au>


Boehrer, Bruce Thomas. "Animal Characters: Nonhuman Beings in

Early Modern Literature". Philadelphia: University of

Pennsylvania Press, 2010. Pp. 256. $49.95. ISBN: 978-0-08122-4249-



Bruce Thomas Boehrer's monograph, "Animal Characters", seeks

to explore some of the particularities of animal representation in

early modern literature. Focusing on a different animal in each

chapter, Boehrer explores both literal and symbolic uses of animals

in a wide range of (mostly English) literary productions. His

approach is interdisciplinary, and he employs a range of

methodologies, dependent upon the source material (and the specific

animal) under consideration.


Chapter 1, "Baiardo's Legacy," focuses on the horse.


Chapter 2, "The Cardinal's Parrot,"


The third chapter, "Ecce Feles," is the only chapter in the book

that deals directly with animal cruelty, specifically the wanton

torture of cats.


Chapter 4, "The People's Peacock," discusses the introduction of

the turkey to Europe.


The final chapter is entitled "Vulgar Sheepe," and addresses the

consistently symbolic presentation of ovine creatures in early

modern literature. Boehrer coins "sheepspeak" to describe a process

of "thinking with sheep" (164) that is key to understanding



Despite this, Boehrer's book is a thought-provoking and interesting

read. While the cultural shifts it charts may be familiar ground to

many, the approach and methodologies taken are unusual, and offer

new perspectives on the material. To read literature and, indeed,

history, through the lens of the animal may seem idiosyncratic, and

Boehrer addresses this head-on. In doing so, he offers a history of

anthropocentrism, which goes some way to rethinking (early) modern

notions of personhood.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org