Eat Rabbit Justice, Hound (Mmm… Marginalia #82)

The hunt of the hares is a recurring motif in the margins of medieval manuscripts, one I discussed here some time ago. For a quick refresher, the motif is just your average scene of hunters and hounds chasing rabbits with the principles reversed so that its the rabbits hunting the most dangerous game of all, etc. But this series of images from the lower margins of the British Library’s MS royal 10 E IV* takes rabbit vengeance to the next level. We begin with a rabbit taking down a hunting hound with a volley of arrows:

You might think the hound is done for, but the marksmanship of the rabbit is Robinhoodian; the hound is merely wounded until he’s weak enough to be captured by the rabbit and his buddies and tied up:

But the rabbits, it turns out, are not hunters at all. They’re some sort of rabbit police force. Next stop for the hound is the rabbit judicial system, where he stands trial before a rabbit judge:

It’s unclear if the jury was made up of hounds or hares, but the verdict is swift and certain. The hound is bound and carried in a cart to the gallows:

For you see, the sentence was death by hanging:

Poor hunting hound. Surely, society was to blame! But wait, there’s one final insult. Flip the page of the manuscript and we find that some months later** the hound’s grave is desecrated… by another hound!:

Bad, dog.  Bad!  But, I suppose this is merely a problem of insufficient anthropomorphizing. If the rabbits can run courts and hounds are competent to stand trial, surely hounds would know not to chew the bones of their kinsmen.

*The same manuscript I used for my vacation marginalia post. This thing is chock full of weirdness, so expect to see it a few more times in the coming months.
**Note the blue leaves of the weirdly shaped tree have turned orange in between.

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  • irenedelse

    Weird anthropomorphism, at least. Not only the rabbits are hunters, judges and executioners, but the cart bringing the dog to the gallows is drawn by rabbits too!

  • Orly

    The rabbits seem extremely pleased with themselves. Maybe this is where the animators of Bugs Bunny got the idea to torture the poor Coyote!

  • Got Medieval

    Horses could not be trusted. They are known to associate with hunters.

  • limpey

    The species mistrust seems mutual. What wonderful illustrations. In addition to the rabbits pulling the cart like horses mentioned above, there seems to be a teamster rabbit with a whip — so does this mean that rabbits have a caste system where some rabbits are "ubers" who get to be judges and sheriffs while other rabbits are "unters" who have to pull carts and get whipped?

  • Harry Campbell

    Drugs. Ergotism, or something.

  • Donna Farley

    I'm curious– is there any distinction made between hares and rabbits in these mss.?

    I'm recalling that bit of trivia about the Norman Conquest…that they imported rabbits from the continent, and that there had only been hares in Britain before that….

  • Got Medieval

    …there's a difference between hares and rabbits? Ooops. I assume if they're being hunted (and becoming the hunter) they're hares, not rabbits.

    Now I must go in search of cute fuzzy bunny pics.

  • animary

    Just discovered your blog. Love it and the comments being made. I'm an artist obsessed with 15th century illuminated books the cusp of medieval and renaissance. I've subscribed and will be reading more. I'm currently working on pages for an art of the illuminated manuscript course being taught through the Getty here in LA. I've got to read more!

  • Judy

    Re. the final panel–isn't this what they mean when they say it's a dog eat dog world?

  • Ray

    Coming back to your blog after having lost it for some time. A great little piece about the hare hunters and something that is cute and very funny event today. Move over Bugs, you have some original competition from several hundred years ago.

  • John Bridges

    I wonder if modern rabbit society is concerned about activist hares in their judiciary? Are there liberal bunnies who feel the hanging of hunting dogs is cruel and unusual punishment, and that the death penalty is a medieval throwback?

  • Cmyst

    So Monty Python's Holy Grail was not at all inappropriate in the use of the vile bloodthirsty monster rabbit.

  • Richard Herley

    @Donna Farley — you're quite right. The animals shown are Brown Hares, Lepus europaeus. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) have shorter and fluffier tails.

    It's even funnier if, like those medieval jokers, you know how shy and gentle wild hares are.

    Great blog — I've only just discovered it!

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  • Marina

    Thought you’d want to credit this – I went a little nuts trying to find the origin! It’s at the Bodleian Library: The Romance of 
    Alexander, Jehan de Grise, 14th
    c

  • Vales3

    This is all sorts of weirdness and full of awesomeness. Wow. Very cool thanks for posting this.

  • I-)

    you ain’t nuthin’ but a hound dog!

    I-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/teleny Alissa Mower Clough

    The rabbit in the hanging sequence is very Bugs Bunny-like.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rüdiger-Thiede/100000526931536 Rüdiger Thiede

       The reason why they seem to be same-sex is because at the time, people thought hyenas were hermaphrodites. Turns out the kind of hyenas they knew in ancient Greece (which gave rise to this misconception) have some kind of disorder which leads to a very overdeveloped clitoris, through which the birth canal runs. So without dissecting them or seeing which ones never get pregnant, you can’t reliably tell which sex they are. As you can imagine, they have some difficulties reproducing.

      This supersonic crossing of the TMI boundary was brought to you by the biological sciences.

      • Kelly Alves

        I wanna disorder that gives me an overdeveloped clitoris.

  • Kabc Gabc

    In college, it was always the girls who kissed in public, so one would expect hyenas to do the same – especially if you knew the girls I went to college with…

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  • Tina Marie Comroe

    The rabbit in the hanging sequence is “thumbing” his nose at the dead dog. Kind of like giving the dog “the bird”

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