13 June 2024
Medieval Dogs: Man's Best Friend in History

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Medieval dogs played diverse roles in society, with specific breeds designated for various tasks. The 16th-century scholar John Caius’ book, De Canibus, categorizes dogs based on their functions, highlighting their importance in medieval life.

Medieval Dogs as Pets: Insight into Our Ancestors’ Companions



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In the Middle Ages, dogs were not just beloved companions; they played vital roles in society, performing various tasks and holding significant cultural and symbolic meanings. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of medieval dogs as pets and explore their diverse roles, relationships with humans, and the unique insights they offer into the lives of our ancestors.

Medieval Dogs with Jobs: A Hierarchy of Functions

In medieval times, most dogs had specific jobs that contributed to human society. John Caius, a 16th-century English physician and scholar, described a hierarchy of dogs based on their functions. At the top were specialized hunting dogs, such as greyhounds and bloodhounds, renowned for their speed and tracking abilities. Even the lowly “mungrells” had their place, working as street performers or turnspits in kitchens, running on wheels that turned roasting meat.

Medieval Dogs in the Aristocracy: Status and Affection

As hunting became an aristocratic pastime, dogs found their way into noble homes, especially the hearts of women. These indoor dogs were often small and delicate, symbolizing their owners’ elite social rank. Puppies were particularly prized for their cuteness and ability to evoke joy.

Medieval Clerics and Their Lapdogs: Companionship and Comfort

Despite the church’s disapproval of pets, clerics often kept dogs as companions. These lapdogs were ideal for indoor living and provided comfort and companionship to their owners.

Medieval Dogs and Urban Life: Safety and Regulation

In urban areas, guard dogs were essential for protecting property and deterring crime. However, authorities also regulated the keeping of these dogs, concerned about potential violence.

Medieval Dogs in Literature and Art: Loyalty, Fidelity, and Devotion

Medieval literature and art are replete with stories and depictions of dogs’ loyalty and devotion to their owners. From the legendary King Garamantes, rescued by his faithful dogs, to the tale of Guinefort, a greyhound venerated as a saint, dogs were celebrated for their unwavering loyalty.

Medieval Dogs as Symbols of Fidelity in Marriage and Faith

In tomb monuments, dogs often symbolized the fidelity of wives to their husbands. In the case of clerical tombs, dogs represented the faith of the deceased. Archbishop William Courtenay’s tomb, for example, features a dog at his feet, symbolizing his unwavering faith.

Medieval Dogs and Gender: Stereotypes and Accessories

Medieval society had gendered stereotypes associated with dog ownership. Men typically owned active dogs for protection, while women preferred lapdogs for companionship and pampering. Wealthy dog owners adorned their companions with accessories like leashes, coats, and cushions, reflecting the aristocratic culture of “vivre noblement” (the art of living nobly).

Medieval Caring for Working Dogs: Health and Performance

Even working dogs required meticulous care to perform at their best. Medieval texts and illustrations depict kennel attendants examining dogs’ teeth, eyes, and ears, and bathing their paws, emphasizing the importance of proper care for optimal performance.

Wrapping Up: Medieval Dogs as Mirrors of Medieval Society

Medieval dogs offer valuable insights into the lives and values of our ancestors. Their diverse roles, relationships with humans, and symbolic meanings reflect the complexities of medieval society. From hunting companions to symbols of loyalty and status, dogs were integral members of medieval communities, mirroring the cultural, social, and economic realities of the time.

FAQ’s

1. What were the different types of jobs that dogs had in medieval times?

In medieval times, dogs had various jobs, including hunting, guarding property, and performing in street performances. Specialized hunting dogs were highly valued for their speed and tracking abilities, while humble “mungrells” worked as street performers or turnspits in kitchens.

2. How were dogs viewed by the aristocracy in medieval times?

Dogs were highly prized by the aristocracy in medieval times, especially small and delicate breeds that symbolized their owners’ elite social rank. Puppies were particularly cherished for their cuteness and ability to evoke joy.

3. What role did dogs play in the lives of clerics in medieval times?

Despite the church’s disapproval of pets, clerics often kept dogs as companions. These lapdogs were ideal for indoor living and provided comfort and companionship to their owners.

4. How were dogs regulated in urban areas in medieval times?

In urban areas, guard dogs were essential for protecting property and deterring crime. However, authorities also regulated the keeping of these dogs, concerned about potential violence.

5. How were dogs depicted in medieval literature and art?

Medieval literature and art often depicted dogs as symbols of loyalty, fidelity, and devotion to their owners. From the legendary King Garamantes, rescued by his faithful dogs, to the tale of Guinefort, a greyhound venerated as a saint, dogs were celebrated for their unwavering loyalty.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.medievalists.net/2015/08/dogs-in-the-middle-ages/ 2. www.thehistoryofdogs.com/dogs-in-the-middle-ages/ 3. www.medievalchronicles.com/medieval-dogs-and-their-roles-in-society/

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Medieval dogs, John Caius (scholar), Dogs in medieval literature

Medieval hunting
Royal hunting, also royal art of hunting, was a hunting practice of the aristocracy throughout the known world in the Middle Ages, from Europe to Far East. While humans hunted wild animals time immemorial, and all classes engaged in hunting as an important source of food and at times the...
Read more: Medieval hunting

John Caius
John Caius (born John Kays ; 6 October 1510 – 29 July 1573), also known as Johannes Caius and Ioannes Caius, was an English physician, and second founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Read more: John Caius

Medieval hunting
Royal hunting, also royal art of hunting, was a hunting practice of the aristocracy throughout the known world in the Middle Ages, from Europe to Far East. While humans hunted wild animals time immemorial, and all classes engaged in hunting as an important source of food and at times the...
Read more: Medieval hunting

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