Marginal Cats – Ye Olde Icanhascheezburger

Long before Icanhascheezburger.com gave us the gift of endless cat memes, Medieval cats were movers and shakers, behaving inappropriately, seizing power, and literally leaving their mark on history.

Most of these lovable assholes are found in the margins and designs of Medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts. Let’s take a tour of all the feline marginalia mayhem, shall we?

Always Inappropriate

You have guests over. The neighboring seigneur and his lady. The venison is perfectly roasted. The troubadour is singing like his life depends on it (and it could). The mead is flowing.

And then the cat comes in, settles down on the middle of the floor and proceeds to do this.

MorganLibrary, MS M. 1004, 15th c., 38m
MorganLibrary, MS M. 1004, 15th c., 38m
Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290. Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r
Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290.
Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r
Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510. Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r
Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510. Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cat doesn’t even give a shit if it’s the Apocalypse.

Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)
Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

Sometimes, though, you’ve just had enough. This is the Medieval version of the squirt bottle:

1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)
1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

Cats with Delusions of Grandeur

Cats have always believed they are the king or queen of the castle and that humans are simply thumbed slaves. Medieval cats were no different, only – as appropriate for the time – they included the Church in their ambitions.

This special kitten not only imitates the adoration of the Christ Child, but has the honor of being featured in the Book of Hours of Joanna the Mad. Yes, she really was mad. More on her another time.

‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506. BL, Add 18852, fol. 412r
‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506.
BL, Add 18852, fol. 412r

Here we have a King of the Cats and a cat who wants a bishopric. Assholes.

Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v
Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v
An Elderly Man Speaking to a Younger Man; A Cat with a Bishop's Crosier and Miter Sitting on a Circular Building; Unknown; Trier (probably), Germany; third quarter of 15th century; Pen and black ink and colored washes on paper; Leaf: 28.7 x 20.6 cm (11 5/16 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 1, fol. 48
An Elderly Man Speaking to a Younger Man; A Cat with a Bishop’s Crosier and Miter Sitting on a Circular Building; Unknown; Trier (probably), Germany; third quarter of 15th century; Pen and black ink and colored washes on paper; Leaf: 28.7 x 20.6 cm (11 5/16 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 1, fol. 48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this cat who let the power go to his head. Go home, royal kitteh, you’re drunk.

Zürich armorial, Zürich ca. 1340Zürich, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, AG 2760, fol. 1r
Zürich armorial, Zürich ca. 1340Zürich, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, AG 2760, fol. 1r

Paw Prints on your Heart…and Manuscript

See this cat? This cat is just waiting to jump up on this poor dude’s manuscript. I’m not kidding.

St. Matthew writing his Gospel book of hours, Bruges ca. 1510-1525 Rouen, BM, ms. 3028, fol. 63r
St. Matthew writing his Gospel book of hours, Bruges ca. 1510-1525 Rouen, BM, ms. 3028, fol. 63r

He probably knocked over the inkwell while he was at it because cats are like that.

Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)
Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)

Cats take pride in ownership, even of the things they destroy. That has never changed, as seen here by this manuscript that some asshole cat peed on.

Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)
Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

Actually, it says a lot more than “Ye Olde Damn Cat!”

“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”

[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.] taken from Medieval Fragments.

The Ultimate Medieval Cat Asshole

I have saved the best for last because…well…I think I’ll just end here and let the picture speak for itself.

‘Flaisch macht Flaisch’, German woodcut, 1555.
‘Flaisch macht Flaisch’, German woodcut, 1555.

 

ultimate bad cat 1
She’s trying to trade a fish for the penis. The cat gives no fucks.

7 Replies to “Marginal Cats – Ye Olde Icanhascheezburger”

  1. Awesome round up. Every once in a while someone pipes up about how everything was so much more proper and decent and pure in Ye Olden Days, and all I can think is “You’ve never actually looked at a medieval manuscript, have you?”

  2. OMG Cait! I am dying here! I can’t even decide which one I thought was the funniest. Has to be the urinated-on manuscript! Thanks for the giggles!

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