website book blog tutorials noticeboard thegilbertcollection email

a woman's

& hobbies

holidays &
feast days

board games


& needlework

pet keeping






Medieval Pets


Medieval 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 of companionship.

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 and paintings.

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.

Cats 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 less mundane.

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 pet squirrels.

Like 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
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.


Copyright © Rosalie Gilbert
All text & photographs within this site are the property of Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
Art & artifact images remain the property of the owner.
Images and text may not be copied and used without permission.