Marginal Cats by Cait Reynolds

 I’d like to welcome my friend Cait Reynolds today as she takes us along for a trip down the research rabbit hole finding cats in the margins.

I’ve heard it said that the more thing change, the more they stay the same, and I’m pretty convinced it’s true.  Though I write historical fiction that reflects the attitudes and understandings of the times, human beings are still pretty much the same then as they are now. 

Take cat memes for example. They have been around a lot longer than you’d imagine. I’d argue we can find them in medieval tomes if we look hard enough (like in the margins) And that’s where Cait is taking us today, with an hilarious tour finding the cats in medieval manuscripts.

Just a note for my more sensitive readers: The language in this post is a bit stronger than you’re used to fining on Random Bits, so if that will trouble you, you may want to jump down a different Research Rabbit Hole or check out some writerly cats here.

Long before 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.


Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

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.  

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

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



 Cats with Delusions of Grandeur

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

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.

Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v

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



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

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


Paw Prints on your Heart…and Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

“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.

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

And this is what two of my cats are doing as I try to post this article. I’m pretty sure neither cats nor people have changed much!



Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. You can find her online at


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    • Teresa Broderick on August 12, 2017 at 10:11 am
    • Reply

    Very funny. Very enjoyable. One cat owns us in our house. She’s the last of a bunch and is eleven this year. Talk about sure of herself!! Her looks of distain would shrivel you.

    • Linda on August 12, 2017 at 11:10 am
    • Reply

    Why did it have to have crude language. Added nothing to the article.

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