Medieval manuscript marginalia show rabbits executing a hound

Back in 2010, Carl Pyrdum posted this medieval manuscript marginalia, founded on a text in the British Museum. It depicts a kind of Sergio Argones story about rabbits chasing down a hunting hound, trying it, and hanging it. There's also a delightfully gruesome coda.

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.

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


  1. i see your rabbit executing a hound, and raise you a 16th century illustration of a cat with a jet pack ::

    1. And I guess this is why we never see dogs in Redwall.

      SO would have preferred bone-digging in one of these two franchises over THREE hobbit iterations. Macabre adult (not ‘adult’) adventure CGI is peachy keen. Feels like PJ’s the only big player, though.

      Simpsons will never go anywhere. It’s a cartoon.

      1.  “Sir Gio”? Yikes. I’ll let a medievalist step in with the definitive answer, but I think he would’ve been called Sergius Aragoni, or Aragona, or whatever the ML genitive of Aragon is. Anyway, “Sergius” is an ancient name with Etruscan roots, a notable Roman gens, and the name of many Christian saints, martyrs, and bishops — as any modern Serge, Sergio, Sergei, Sergey, Serkis, or Sarkus could tell you.

    1. “Do you paw your nose at me, sir?”

      “I paw my nose, sir.”

      “Do you paw your nose at *me*, sir?”

  2. Executing animals after a trial was a medieval tradition- most of the cases I’ve heard of were of pigs that killed children and were put on trial for murder and hanged.

    In the case of swarms of vermin, where the law wasn’t able to capture all the “suspects,” they were tried in a church court rather than a criminal court and the usual sentence was excommunication.

    Regardless of the animal and court, the animal was assigned a lawyer to defend it. In some cases, this lawyer was able to secure an acquittal- the most famous being the trial of a swarm of rats for eating crops, where Bartholomew de Chassenée got his clients off the hook because they couldn’t make the journey to court to hear the charges against them, for fear of being killed by the village cats!

  3. Bless you for that vocab gem. ‘Marginalia’ is so getting worked into a conversation. It’s at once a passive English pun for ‘trivial’ and a shorthand for remix culture. 

    Just as much as the bloodthirsty bunny posse, the doodles and notes (and answers….) I scribbled in the margins of my various textbooks throughout school could be called ‘marginalia’. Not just for printers/editors any more, eh? It’s fun to pretend there isn’t an edition-per-year regime, and that my ten-year-old musings are in super-secret dialogue with some random ten-year-old now, and not pulped into a Starbucks cup.  

  4. Fun fact: the ‘hangman’s noose’ knot (and so, hanging) was a mercy.  The rigidity of the knot was meant to break the neck/spine, making death quick/numb (as opposed to strangulation).  (same idea with beheading).

    In the movies you always see some hangman whistling while tying that knot, or a headsman gleefully sharpening his blade. But the historical ‘professional’ executioner must have been a much more muddy, Kevorkian-esque figure. Not all ‘nooses’ are ‘hagman’s nooses’. Why go to all that trouble to invent, perfect and tie that knot on the day of if your ends are sadistic? Why sharpen your blade?

    Rabbits, long persecuted by the hound, diaspora in yon unfamiliar br’er, should have their justice. I say justice, and not ‘vengeance’ because of the hangman’s knot pictured.  

    And on a COMPLETELY unrelated note, to which I’ve led myself, apparently, Wikipedia’s noose/hangman’s knot disambiguation should be a little more up-front, as I’m sure the site is used often as a suicide reference.

  5. The hares are nice and fat while the hounds appear to have been underfed in an effort to make them hunt with more intensity. The hounds chased the hares down and the humans moved in to take the hares for themselves.

    The hounds were starved by the hunters who exploited the scenting and running attributes that, they, the humans, selectively bred into them.

    I put it to you, rabbits and bunnies of the court, to consider the abuse suffered by those friendless canines whose only crime was to obey their “masters” in order to survive another hunting season. Unlike the hounds’ more fortunate cousins, the Cavalier King Charles, for instance, the hounds were at the mercy of their harsh, loveless environment. Let us not be too quick to judge the hounds whose skinny waists and jutting ribs only speak of their desperation. How would you act if you were in their paws?

    I rest my case.

  6. Interesting! This would seem to be an independent root of manga type illustration, which in Japan is thought to be based on the chojugiga (scrolls of anthropomorphized frogs and rabbits playing) of the 12th C. I am not a scholar in this area but both of these works might be seen as political commentary in the animal farm tradition. Alas the linked original no longer seems to be online.

  7. The other weird bit if you follow the link is that the cart that takes the hound to his execution is pulled by rabbits, driven by another rabbit with a whip!

  8. For those who are intrigued by these things, there’s a book called “Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art” which is fairly short, to the point, and full of interesting information about marginalia and the type of reading in suggests. It’s an interesting subject, I think.

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