Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Caveat Canem!

Having completed the rewrites of Shields of Pride, I am now playing catch up with my newer contracted word i.e. the Bigod/Marshal novel. However, I thought I'd drop by my blog to have a quick word about research and the little sparks of interest that so often flicker out of the blue.
I have, I confess, a collector's memory that also happens to be extremely untidy. I pick up all sorts of facts along the way and retain them, but after a while, as they gather an interesting layer of mental dust, I can never remember where I found them in the first place. Probably a good job I'm not a professional academic!
Anyway, to cut to the chase....or perhaps the correct analogy would be 'to show the dog the rabbit,' my re-enactment society has been discussing what kind of dogs were around circa 1066. Obviously, despite some rather far-fetched claims on various websites, official breeds were thin on the ground. The greyhound (leporario) was well known, was a high status dog and hasn't changed that much, but what about the others?

The Constituo Domus Regis of 1136 (Oxford Medieval texts) discusses the wages and employment of the King's household hunting staff. Dogs mentioned are the above greyhound, the lime-hound (liemarii) which apparently was held on a leash and only used for finishing off the prey, and the Brach (braconarii), a small hound that hunted by scent. There's no indication of what the latter two looked like.
The Bayeux Tapestry has some interesting mutts - greyhound and spaniel types I'd say. Sharon Kay Penman favours Elkhounds in her novel When Christ and his Saints Slept - also known as Dyrehunds and native to Scandinavia. First introduced into Britain on a formal basis in 1870 but apparently an ancient breed in their homeland. A fascinating snippet emerged during the list's canine ruminations. A complete dog skeleton dating to the 11th Century was found and the dog type, although not its coat shading and texture could be deduced from its bones. The article and abstract are as follows:
An Anglo-Saxon dog from Salter Street, Stafford
Kate M. Clark
Centre for Human Ecology and Environment, Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
A dog skeleton from a well-dated eleventh century context was recovered from a kiln in Stafford. The animal exhibits particular morphological characteristics, identified metrically, and their similarity to modern comparative animals is discussed. The disposition of the animal in the structure is also described and the possible circumstances of the burial considered. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

It was very interesting to note from reading the article that this particular Anglo Saxon dog resembled in all ways an English bull terrier, except that it was actually the size of an Alsation - scary! Here's the url to the Wikipedia article and a photo of a modern day bull terrier.
Apparently the skull shape was nigh on identical. So anyway, I now know what at least one 11thC dog would have looked like (more or less!). Not sure if I'd want to own one though.
There's also this 9th Century relation to the corgi.
My own favourite Medieval pooch? Has to be the miller's dog from the Luttrell Psalter (illustration at the top of the post) You know he's a vicious ankle biter, but somehow I can just imagine him snickering like Dick Dastardly's Muttley as he goes for it!
The thread on the Regia list has now sensitized me to the Medieval dog and I find that every illustration or painting from that period that I see, I now have to scrutinize it for canine occupancy...


Kemberlee said...

Interesting info, as usual. That's what I love about your blog.

I used to raise and show (English) Bull Terriers in another life. They're a lovely breed with loads of character. They're known in the States as a "clown in a dog suit." They're real comedians!

One of the dogs bred to create the Bull Terrier was the English White Terrier, which is now extinct. It was quite a large leggy dog. Breeding with the bull dogs brought the size down and gave the body some bulk. Other breeds were mixed in for creating the colored variety, and now the miniature Bull Terrier.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Shields of Price re-released. Good luck with that!


Eigon said...

When I was an archaeologist working on the Norwich Castle Mall dig, we found a cat skeleton which became the site mascot. Nicknamed "Not-so-Fluffy", she had been deliberately buried in a rubbish pit, with a pottery saucer/small plate.
Romantics the lot of us, we liked to think of the flaxen-haired little Saxon girl burying her beloved pet with a saucer of milk.