It’s obvious from the amount of depictions of dogs from the medieval period they were highly prized by our ancestors, both for work and play. They are everywhere! Their delightful little figures pop up on tombs, heraldry and manuscripts regularly.
Some think, when depicted on a tomb effigy of a lady especially, they represent fidelity. Of course that seems plausible but casting that aside I believe that actual pets were being represented unlike the lions, representing strength, that were found at the feet of the effigies of males. Indeed some of their names are on the tombs. Lady Cassy’s little dog ‘Terri‘ was shown and named on her brass at Deerhurst, Gloucestershire and since the brass was commissioned by Lady Cassy after the death of her husband ‘it is likely that the name of the dog represents personal initiative on her part‘( 1 ). Another dog named on an effigy at Ingham was “Jakke“.
Lady Cassy’s little dog, Terri, wearing a collar of bells. Deerhurst, Gloucestershire.
Here is ‘Jakke’. He lies at the foot of Sir Brian de Stapleton Holy Trinity Church Ingham Norfolk. Rubbing of a stolen brass. Photo jmc4 Church Explorer
Many wore collars festooned with bells such as the dogs on Bishop Langham tomb instead of the usual lions found on a male’s tomb. Richard Willoughly specifically requested that bells adorn the collar of the dog at the bottom of his wife’s dress on her effigy.
Richard Willoughby specifically requested the dog at the bottom of his wife’s dress on her effigy to be adorned with bells. Wollaton, Notts.
Blanche Mortimer’s effigy has a little dog, now sadly headless, peeping out of her spread skirts on her tomb at Much Marcle, Herefordshire.
Blanche Mortimer’s s little dog, still with her on her monument. Much Marcle, Herefordshire.
And there they are, for all posterity at their mistresses and masters feet, looking for all the world as if they are about to roll over for a belly scratch at any time.
Dogs are even to to found on misericords – this one on a leash from the Church of St Botolph, Boston, Lincolnshire, church in Boston A dog on a leash c.1390. Photo @Spencer Means
The dogs that lived in upper class households undoubtedly were extremely lucky and led pampered lives but hopefully even the poorest households valued their dogs or ‘mungrell curres‘ as a 13th century writer put it.
Hunting dogs and their various needs being tended to. Gaston de Foix’s Book of the Hunt
Detail from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestry showing a noble lady with her hunting dogs.
For the many other aspects of medieval doggies lives see this article, covering everything you ever wanted to know about our canine friends. I must say I feel for the poor ‘dog boy’ who had to be in the kennels at all times, even nights, to prevent the dogs fighting – Good luck with that! – to monks complaining that dogs and puppies ‘oftentimes trouble the service by their barkings, and sometimes tear the church books‘..
Hunting dogs. Le Livre de la Chasse 1387
Piero della Francesca – beautiful detail of dogs from St Sigismund and Sigismondo Pandolfo
Dogge eyeing up a cat from a 14th century manuscript..
Alaunt with a posh collar…
To read about Blanche Mortimer’s tomb click here.
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- English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages p307 Nigel Saul