At this year’s Fort Tryon Medieval Festival, my colleague Peyton Seabolt and I gave a panel discussing different kinds of animals and their uses during the Middle Ages (complete with puppets!).

The Fort Tryon Medieval Festival is an annual event held at Fort Tryon Park in Bronx, New York. This year it was held on Sunday, October 2nd, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies set up our annual “Ask a Medievalist” booth where visitors could come and ask us questions about the Middle Ages.

Peyton received her BA in History from Armstrong State University, her MA in History from Trent University, and is currently obtaining her PhD in history here at Fordham. Her academic interests are focused on equestrian culture and equestrianism in the Middle Ages with a focus on horse husbandry and logistics. She has been riding horses most of her life and has considerable experience caring for and training horses. As for me, I received my BA in Medieval Literature and Language from Bard College and am currently obtaining my Masters in Medieval Studies here at Fordham. My academic interests are focused on animal symbolism in medieval literature as well as cultural history surrounding the use of animals in the Middle Ages. I also have a greyhound named D’artagnan at home, so I have first hand knowledge of medieval dog breeds and their talents (mainly sleeping on my sofa).

Combining our knowledge of medieval animal husbandry, Peyton and I gave a short talk about how medieval people worked with their animals. Peyton focused on explaining the different breeds and uses for horses while I focused on answering questions regarding domesticated animals such as dogs and cats.

Here are a few of the topics we considered, prompted by our audience:

  • Horses in the Middle Ages were roughly around 5 feet tall
  • There was a medieval greyhound named Guinefort who was a patron saint of children
  • People really did believe dragons and unicorns could be real (though what “real” means is complicated)
  • The pelican was a symbol of Christ as it was believed they fed their young their own blood.
Rose (left) holds a dog puppet while peyton (right) discusses horse breeding

People were most interested in how differently medieval people viewed animals compared to our current understandings. Many also wanted to know about their favorite dog breeds such as corgis, which would have been used at the time for herding sheep since they were small enough to dodge in between their legs. It was incredibly rewarding watching people get excited over Peyton and I ‘debunking’ a lot of the myths of medieval animal husbandry and seeing others pipe up to further ask questions when a new piece of information was revealed.

All in all, it was very successful event and we look forward to seeing more people and answering more questions next year. Maybe Peyton and I will be able to bring along our horse and dog this time too, so stay tuned!