DOGS - CATS - SQUIRRELS - SONG BIRDS
women, like women today, were avid pet-keepers. Pets were defined
as those animals kept in the inner chambers of a woman's home
or personal space which have no other practical purpose than that
Pets favoured by women were songbirds, small dogs (usually white
and hairy), cats and occasionally squirrels! Small long-haired
dogs can be seen in many contemporary artworks- manuscripts, effigies
Although dogs represent fidelity and could be included in paintings
in an allegorical sense, some household accounts show expenses
for food for companion dogs rather than those used for hunting
or hawking. A small dog was seen as an acceptable companion for
a lady as long as she did not lavish food on it which was good
enough to feed the poor.
Most artworks help distinguish lapdogs from hunting dogs by a
red, leather collar with several brass bells attached. Collars
like this can also be seen on images of pet squirrels.
are often seen in manuscript margins and fall into two distinct
categories- those which are pets and those which are household
cats for catching mice.
Household cats were usually tabby- that is striped (hence tabby
weave) but the household pet was usually a different colour; something
The most favoured by noble ladies were specially imported Syrian
cats, ginger or ginger and white in colour. These are mentioned
in correspondence many times over- wishing to acquire, the happiness
and love that the kitten has brought and the overwhelming sadness
at the passing of.
The musical song of a kitten was sure to bring delight to any
lady, according to one medieval writer.
Many poets composed elegies for the death of a noble woman's beloved
pet and it was noted that mourning for such a pet was quite normal.
Several women had constructed small tombs and these were also
noted in personal letters.
There are a number of medieval manuscripts which show women with
cats and dogs, they are often shown wearing a red collar and small
bells, much like that of a dog or a cat.
The detail at right, is from an English manuscript from the 14th
century, the Luttrell Psalter, shows an image of the lady
out in a covered carriage with her pet squirrel on her shoulder.
The detail from the floor tile shown, at right, shows a floor
tile of a noble woman wearing a coronet with her pet squirrel
on her hand.
Song birds were also fashionable pets and pet shops listed an
extensive variety of birds which were available. There were guildmakers
to regulate the makers of birdcages which could be quite ornate.
Tax records for bird-sellers and cage-makers appear as early as
1292 in Paris.
© Rosalie Gilbert
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