Animals in the Medieval House

Some time ago I read something that changed the way I think about life in medieval homes. It also changed the way I write about them in my novels. Like you, probably, I think about the human inhabitants of buildings, but we should also be considering the animals that shared domestic spaces with their owners. Be warned, though. People didn’t really keep pets in the Middle Ages. The animals they accommodated earned their keep, one way or the other. One of my chickens hasn’t laid an egg in eighteen months. In the fourteenth century, I’m afraid she would have found her way to the stew pot.

I mentioned in a previous post that people in towns kept pigs. If you had a garden, you kept a pig, usually more than one, because you killed an adult pig in November to eat during the winter. There are many reports of pigs being a nuisance in towns, because they escaped from their gardens, damaged the neighbours’ gardens and added to the general chaos and filth that was a street in a medieval town.

Dogs were also kept by many people, mostly for hunting/poaching. They needed to be exercised, so they would also be in the streets, again, adding to the chaos and mess.

Fewer people owned horses, because they were expensive and most people didn’t need one. I don’t suppose that I need to add that they also contributed to the filth of medieval streets. It’s no wonder that the rushes that covered most ground-level floors had to be changed so often. People must constantly have been treading things in from outside, although they probably slipped off their pattens before they got too far inside the house.

Wealthy people kept hawks of various kinds. These were generally kept in a mews, but wealthy people, then as now, liked to show off their wealth, and their favourite birds went everywhere with them. There would be perches in the solar, where the birds would sit for visitors to admire.

It’s difficult enough these days to imagine what the inside of a medieval house or castle would look like when it was full of people, but it’s even more difficult to remember to think about the animals that lived with them.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Life

23 responses to “Animals in the Medieval House

  1. Now m wondering about medieval cats….

    Liked by 6 people

    • From what I’ve read, cats were kept to protect homes, barns, businesses and ships against vermin. Knowing the times, they probably earned their keep.

      I ALSO read that medievals weren’t above using cat fur for clothing and furnishings. Was probably not common, as cat fur is so variable that getting enough to make something would be difficult.

      There had to be enough of a payoff for cats to stick around. Sadly, when plagues struck, cats were often killed in an effort to halt the contagion. Still, they thrived.

      There have been accounts of some medievals who kept cats for company.
      Read of a man cast into a dungeon who was supposed to die of starvation. Apparently he befriended a cat who, for affection, provided him with birds and vermin which kept him alive until rescue or release.

      Still, I think cats were enjoyed by many who just liked their company. Sadly, most believed animals did not have spirits, or souls (which I do), and unless useful to people, were of no worth. Still a problem today.

      Gotta go hug Dusty! ♥

      Liked by 5 people

    • I did too, but I don’t recall having read anything about them.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Cara Hogarth

    There were useless lap-dogs too — witness Chaucer’s Prioress, who owned ‘smale houndes … that she fedde with rosted flessh, or milk and wastrel-breed’! But I think Chaucer’s point was the Prioress was playing the noble lady and really didn’t ought to have been carting her little dogs on pilgrimage.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I had never really thought of the mayhem of pigs and dogs running about…maybe I’ll stop giving out about dogs in wild spaces now..speaking of pigs in houses, a cousin of mine was coming to visit from Australia. She had a very romantic, unrealistic view of Ireland and imagined travelling about in a donkey and cart. My uncle Jim said of her, “That one, she thinks we still have pigs in the kitchen!” …mind you its not long sonce we did have pigs in the kitchen…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pigs and dogs and horses, oh my! What a wild thing the medieval street must have been!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I find the pig thing interesting because a pig’s natural behaviour is to root, which would turn a small garden into mud in no time, especially if there’s any rain. So town folk must have tried hard to keep their pig out of the veg plot — using strong fencing — and fed them well enough to distract them from their bent towards ‘destruction’. Interesting post, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beth Hanback

    Great article…..however, let us not underestimate the emotional bonds that people formed, even then, with their animals, particularly the dogs (and cats). While they may not have kept “pets” as we do today, (as in, “hey, lets go get a dog fromthe shelter!”) dogs then, as today,served a huge emotional support role as well as guarding resources, children and livestock, also removed vermin,provided warmth at night, and were companions much as they are today. Dogs also pulled carts, and were trained to carry things like firewood. Many ofour breeds today descend from “types” which had thier beginnings in the middle ages. These things do prove your point…..but people during that time were nomore able to resist those puppy (and kitten) faces than we are….and they were just as heartbroken as we when the time came to say goodbye to these faithful companions annd servants.

    Liked by 1 person

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