Medieval Monday: Pets

Pets are a common part of the modern lifestyle. We lavish affection on them, share pictures of them with the world, record their antics on our phones, and spend a small fortune on their care, including special food, toys, and treats. I have a house full of animals myself; three cats, two dogs, a lizard, hamster, and sizeable fish tank. Pets amuse us, soothe us, and—usually—keep our blood pressure down. They’re sweet and fun to have around. So I thought for today’s Medieval Monday I would approach the subject of pets from a medieval perspective. In a world where animals were mainly kept for food and labor, did medieval people ever keep what we would consider to be pets?

To answer the question, we must first understand that the concept of a “pet” as we know it did not really exist in the Middle Ages. The idea didn’t become a defined word until the end of the 1500s, and even then, it didn’t have quite the same meaning it does today. Domesticated animals, like cats and dogs, were kept strictly for the services they provided. Cats kept rodents under control. Dogs protected people and livestock, or were used for hunting. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t affectionate toward their animals, it just means they weren’t kept purely for their companionship. They had a job to do which earned their keep and made them valuable. Even in the late Middle Ages (really the Renaissance era) pets were a rarity, and were mainly cats, dogs, or birds kept by the wealthy or by monks and nuns. There are records that the Church discouraged this practice, advising them “not to keep too many and not to take them into church with them.” They thought the resources squandered on these animals would be better used to benefit the poor.

A 13th century scientist and philosopher named Albertus Magnus wrote a book about animals that included advice on their care. He noted that the cat “loves to be lightly stroked by human hands and is playful, especially when it is young.” He said that “they lose their boldness” if you cut off their whiskers, but that their ears should be clipped to keep the dew out. He indicated that dogs meant to be used for guarding should not be constantly petted or fed from the table, or they will “keep one eye on the door, and one on the generous hand of the master.”

Another writer from the 14th century had advice for the care of hunting dogs. He said that their kennels should be off the ground at least a foot, and be built of wood in such a way that the dogs could stay warm in winter and cool in summer. They should always have fresh straw on the floor, clean water, access to a sunny yard for play, and be given daily walks.

However, the animal with the most special status in the medieval world was actually the horse. Albertus noted in his book that war horses were known for displaying intense affection toward their masters. When their masters were lost, they often refused to eat and “grieved to the point of death,” even shedding tears. Another text indicates that “the horse has strong emotions, being “ioiefil in feeldes” and “comforted wiþ noyse of a trompe”; he can be “excyted” to run by the sound of a familiar voice. Furthermore, he is “sory” when beaten in battle and “gladde” when victorious. Some know their “owne lord alone” and forget “myldenesse” if their lord is overcome. It is not unusual for a horse to allow no other man to ride on his back but his “owne lord alone” and “many hors wepeþ whan his lord is deed.”

While working horses were clearly not “pets,” they certainly achieved a greater status than other farm animals (most of which were eaten when their usefulness for other tasks waned), or even than cats and dogs. Horses became the closest thing to a true companion for their masters, most specifically those which were highly trained (such as war horses) or which were ridden very often, or over long distances. Horses displayed loyalty and emotion that people could connect with. They were highly dependent on human care, and the humans who cared for them were equally dependent on their horses. Researcher Kristen M. Figg wrote, “both horses and dogs were often housed in very close proximity to humans, whose lives depended on the quality of the animal who would carry them into battle, help them locate or pursue game, warn them of danger, and—in moments of distress—show empathy for their suffering. This final and distinctive characteristic was crucial, in the context of a culture that speculated much more than we on the nature of the soul and insisted on the distinctive theological status of human beings.”

Moreso than the cat, which was highly independent and not particularly loyal, or the falcon, which was noble but acted on its own interest, dogs and horses both represented the Feudal values which were predominant in the Middle Ages. While none of them qualified as “pets” by our modern day definition, there is no question that they formed close bonds with their humans, and were the predecessors of the beloved, pampered animals that keep us smiling today.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.


Win an Autographed Book!

It was time to say goodbye to the Weekly Fantasy fix

But you can still follow me through my author newsletter, which has deeper insights into my writing, inspirations, and book world.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, now is a great time to do it.

Why now? Because I’m giving away a free autographed book to one lucky subscriber. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway before the end of April for your chance to win a book of your choice from the Wind Rider Chronicles. I will announce the winner in my May 3rd newsletter.

Want a peek at what you’ve been missing? View my last newsletter, Home is Where the Imagination Is. Or take my just-for-fun fantasy survey, and see how your answers compare those of others.

If you like what you see, subscribe, then enter the giveaway. Good luck!

Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.

I love ruins, and I love arches–they are full of mystery, and beauty. You can’t help but wonder where they lead…what was once surrounding them. The old stones tell stories of their own. This image I found particularly beautiful. Someone added a note to it–I have no idea if it was the artist or someone else. It said, “I stand within the portal of my dreams and I must not fear what is to be…it will be even if I wish for it to be different…more to my liking…but I may not know what I really need.”  

What if this archway is not simply the remains of an old structure, but a portal of dreams. Step through and dare to seek them, prepared to face whatever lies on the other side. Our dreams, even when achieved, never quite come out the way we expect, do they? There is always some twist, some unanticipated pleasure or consequence we could not foresee. There is as much risk in following them as there is standing still.

Dare to approach this old crumbling archway, though it may be more than it seems. Will you step into it or walk away? What dreams would you carry with you to the other side? Will they lift you beyond your own vision to be something greater? Or will they twist and change into something completely unexpected? Once through, will there be a way to return, or does the dream, in whatever form it takes, become unchangeable reality that you cannot escape?

Old Ruins by Ninjatic

Medieval Monday: Easter!

Easter was the most important holiday in the medieval world, with many medieval calendars beginning the “new year” with Easter. The holiday included both serious reflection and joyous celebration. Lent was taken quite seriously—forty days of fasting was strictly observed, and the preparations made in anticipation of Easter were extensive. The days before Easter were largely spent in church, starting with the previous Wednesday when services called the Tenebrae began.

On Maundy Thursday (celebration of the Last Supper) the service was solemn and very quiet, with the altars stripped bare of all their decoration. Instead they were covered with branches. This was symbolic of the treatment Jesus received when he was stripped, beaten, and forced to wear a crown of thorns on his way to the cross.

On Good Friday, the medieval world mourned Christ’s death, and a common practice was to begin the day by “creeping to the Cross” barefoot and on one’s hands and knees. Church services were held in almost complete darkness, with just one candleholder (a Hearse) that was gradually extinguished to symbolize the earth falling into darkness. Only the central candle, which represented the light of Christ, remained lit. The priest would read the story of the Passion from the Gospel of John and lift up prayers for God’s mercy and the cleansing of their sins. It would have been a powerful ceremony. No one used tools or nails made of iron on Good Friday. Holy Saturday would have been another day of somber reflection as the world remained in darkness with Jesus lying in the tomb.

But on Easter morning, everything changed—Jesus had risen from the grave, and it was time for a celebration! Church began at sunrise, with everyone gathered outside of the church to sing hymns before going in for services. The darkness from before was replaced with light and the somber mood replaced by joy. Some monasteries put on plays to re-enact the day’s significance. The monks would wear white robes to represent the women who first discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and that he was indeed risen. The forty day fast was finally over, and once all of the church-related activities had ended, it was it was finally time for feasting. Feasts were usually put on by royalty, lords, and wealthy nobles. Symbolically, putting on a great feast for the community was reminiscent of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. With no expense spared, it was an act of charity toward those who had much less, and whose winter reserves were nearing depletion (if not already depleted).

Certain fun traditions were observed as well, such as wearing or receiving new clothes and enjoying colorful Easter eggs. Eggs were boiled in salt water to preserve them during Lent, when eating them was forbidden.  They made their re-appearance on Easter, sometimes painted or dyed for the occasion—usually red to symbolize the blood of Christ.  In Germanic regions they were painted green and hung on trees. Children made games of rolling them downhill, or they were hidden (and found) to represent the disciples finding Jesus’ empty tomb.  Egg coloring could be as simple as boiling them with onions to give them a golden color, or they could actually be decorated with gold leaf, as Edward I did with his Easter eggs in 1290.

The celebration did not end on Easter Sunday, however. Hock Monday followed, during which young women “captured” young men and would only release them if paid a ransom (really a donation to the church). On Hock Tuesday, the roles were reversed and the young women were captured. As you can imagine, these antics did not always end well, and eventually attempts were made to better control them—sometimes even forbid them outright.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

Liebster Award!

Adam at Write Thoughts nominated me for a Liebster Award last week! I was quite surprised and honored that he thought of my blog. Thank you again, Adam–I know you’ve been waiting to see the answers to your questions, and I’m sorry it took so long. But first I’d best share what the rules are for everyone else reading this post, and for those I’ve nominated in turn (the list is at the bottom of the page).

– Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the award.
– Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you.
– Nominate 11 people (comment on their blog to let them know).
– Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions

Adam’s questions to me:

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author?

My favorite author is C.S. Lewis—not just for the Chronicles of Narnia, which are dear to my heart, but for the entire breadth of his writing. The more I get to know his body of work, the more he amazes me.

2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where?

Ireland! You’d think I would have gotten there while I was living in Germany, but I never made it that far. It is still on my “someday” list.

3. What do you enjoy about blogging?

Connecting with other authors and readers. My blog also gives me a chance to express interests not specifically related to my books.

4. What’s your preferred writing space?

My desk, boring as that is. More important than the space is the atmosphere though. I need a quiet place to write, with soft lighting and no distractions. I have to be able to mentally leave this world and enter another one, so anything that continually pulls me back into reality hinders my progress.

5. How do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in lots of places: my medieval history research, old myths and legends, the Bible, out in nature, and sometimes in the faces of strangers. My starting inspiration for my current book series was an online medieval roleplaying game and all the characters and stories that came out of it. I have a pretty active imagination, so it doesn’t take much of a spark to set it off.

6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing?

Writing-related research, building cool stuff in Minecraft with my family, playing with our pets, reading, yoga, and going to our local sports club for some much needed time on the exercise machines or in the pool. (I’ve got to get out of that desk chair sometime!)

7. What started you down the road of writing?

I’m not sure—I have been putting creative words to paper since I first learned how to write a sentence back in first grade. There have certainly been people who have encouraged me along the way, and shaped who I am as a writer, but I think writing is just part of who I am.

8. What’s one story you keep recommending to others?

There isn’t really one story that I recommend. If I do this at all, it is when I know a particular book will resonate with the person I’m talking to.

9. How do you keep yourself motivated?

The stories running through my head are motivating enough. Once the ideas start coming together into a cohesive plot, I just have to get them out in written form.

10. What superpower would you choose and why?

I would want the power to move through time, with no ability to interfere—just to observe. I would finally get to experience the daily life of another era; something historians can only guess at. I’d be able to write some really amazing Medieval Monday posts! It would be pretty awesome to go back and visit my ancestors too. Forget digging through old land deeds, obituaries, and marriage licenses. I’d find out who they really were, the good and bad alike, and see where they came from with my own eyes.

11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional?

I would go to the Eagle and Child and sit down with the Inklings for an evening. I’d be completely intimidated by all of them, of course, and I doubt they would think much of my writing, but it would be a dream come true to just be in their company.

Now here are my nominations for the Liebster Award! (In no particular order):

Into the Writer Lea – Andrea Lundgren
Literature and Lamp Posts – David Wiley
Books and Beverages – Jamie Lapeyrolerie
Lee Duigon
Renee Writes – Renee Scattergood
Robertson Writes – Joshua Robertson
Chris the Story Reading Ape – Chris Graham
Frederick Anderson
Blonde Write More – Lucy Mitchell
Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life – Sally G. Cronin Stories of Adventure and Friendship – Duri Rolvsson

And since I’ve taken a week to get this far, I am going to cheat a little and ask my nominees many of the same questions I was asked (with a few differences). They were great questions, and I’m interested to see how your answers compare with mine anyway! 🙂  Have fun!

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author?
2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where?

3. What do you enjoy about blogging, and how has your blog changed in unexpected ways since you started it?

4. What’s your preferred writing and/or blogging space?

5. How do you find inspiration?

6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing (or from your blog)?

7. What started you down the road of writing and/or blogging?

8. Are there any Indie authors you would recommend to readers looking for a good book?

9. How do you keep yourself motivated?

10. What superpower would you choose and why?

11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional?


Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.

A very striking image with a curious title of “Narnia.” It’s no secret that the Chronicles of Narnia are dear to my heart. This would appear to be Lucy, but the specific scene is not one I recognize from the books themselves. On first impression this seems like a scary and dangerous place–the trees are angular and bare of foliage, maybe even dead. Is the forest ablaze? But that feeling of alarm is offset by those glowing, magical orbs and the fact that Lucy walks through, seemingly unconcerned. So what IS going on in this image? Without knowing the artist’s intent, perhaps that intense glow is Aslan with a mane of holy fire, returning to a world still broken and ruled by the White Witch. Narnia fans, what do you think?

The title, and all Narnia references aside, there is plenty of intrigue in this image to feed a writer’s muse. Delve into its mysteries and come up with your own interpretation of what is happening; who the little girl is, and what sort of world she is wandering through alone, in nothing but her night clothes, and carrying a single lantern for light.  

“Narnia” by Azot

Medieval Monday: The Labors of April

Spring is here! Farm work really gets underway—harrowing and sowing are important chores for this month. Crops planted in April included grains, like barley and oats, and legumes like beans, peas, and vetches. Grain seed was planted by standing with one’s back to the breeze, and flinging a handful of seeds outward from the waist. This was a quick and easy way to create a dense growth of grain. It took four bushels of seed for each acre planted.

By contrast, legumes were more carefully planted. A hole was poked into the soil with a “dibbler stick,” and the seed dropped in. It took three bushels of beans or peas to plant each acre. The field was harrowed after all the planting was done by dragging a tool like a giant rake across the field. This covered all of the newly planted seeds with soil.

Flax and hemp were also planted in April. These had a myriad of uses, the most notable of which was fiber production. In addition to large crop fields, household gardens were cleaned up and made ready for planting in April as well. Herbs and coleworts would be the first things planted.

Calving continued, and the lambs were continually being weaned, which meant dairy work could begin for the spring. Cream, milk, cheese, and butter were back on the menu again. Pigs also began to have piglets, so any food leftovers were given to the pigs.

It’s time for another episode of “Tales from the Green Valley” which focuses on what daily life would have been like during the month of April. Subjects in this episode include spring cleaning (and other chores of a medieval housewife), calving, bedding, building/repairing stone walls, field work, and making food from early spring ingredients. Enjoy!

Did you miss last week’s post on medieval tower houses? Click to read and get a visual tour of one towerhouse still standing in Ireland. Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.