20 Bizarre, Crude and Downright Weird Sketches in Medieval Manuscripts

Many medieval manuscripts are works of art with devotional passages written in careful calligraphy, accompanied by vivid illustrations and ornate decorative borders. But equally captivating is the marginalia – the sketches and doodles in the margins of text – which range from the mundane to the bizarre, obscene and just plain bizarre.

Manuscripts from the Middle Ages are filled with humans, animals, and creatures of all kinds who fart, poop, fornicate, and fight. From penis monsters to naughty nuns, butt trumpets and murderous beasts, these medieval texts are full of surprises!

The poo king. A king defecates on the heads of two kissing humanoid creatures. Add MS 10294/1 f.1dr | Source: The British Library .

    A naked man with his finger in his behind distracts from the more serious illustration of some noble men and women playing chess.  'The wishes of the peacock'.  Northern France or Belgium, ca.  1350 AD MS G.24 fol.  25v

A naked man with his finger in his behind distracts from the more serious illustration of some noble men and women playing chess. ‘The wishes of the peacock’. Northern France or Belgium, ca. 1350 AD
MS G.24 fol. 25v

There are a surprising number of killer rabbits in medieval manuscripts!  A Killer Rabbit in the Smithfield Decretals, c.  1300, British Library, London, UK.  Detail.  (British Library/ CC BY 4.0)

There are a surprising number of killer rabbits in medieval manuscripts! A killer rabbit in the Smithfield Decretals, c. 1300, British Library, London, UK. Detail. (British Library/ DC BY 4.0 )

Strange monkey business.  Jean de Wavrin, Collection of Chronicles of England, Bruges 1471-1483.  British Library, Royal 15 E IV, fol.  192r

Strange monkey business. Jean de Wavrin, Collection of Chronicles of England, Bruges 1471-1483. British Library, Royal 15 E IV, fol. 192r

Battle between a knight and a snail as depicted in the margins of Gorleston Psalter.  (British Library)

battle between a knight and a snail as illustrated in the margins of Gorleston Psalter . ( British Library )

The penis tree.  A nun harvests phalluses from a phallus tree in the Roman de la Rose, c.  1325-1353.  (Paris, National Library of France, MS. Fr. 25526, f. 106v.)

The penis tree. A nun harvests phalluses from a phallus tree in the Roman de la Rose, c. 1325-1353. (Paris, National Library of France, MS. Fr. 25526, f. 106v.)

A nun looks disgusted at the sight of a bleeding man behind from the Roman of Alexander, 1338-1410.

A nun looks disgusted at the sight of a bleeding man behind from the Roman of Alexander, 1338-1410.

Two headless men confront each other in the summer volume of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar's breviary, Metz ca.  1302-1305.  (Verdun, Municipal Library, MS 107, f. 99v.)

Two headless men confront each other in the summer volume of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar’s breviary, Metz ca. 1302-1305. (Verdun, Municipal Library, MS 107, f. 99v.)

A woman rides a phallic-shaped monster.  Decretum Gratiani with commentary by Bartolomeo da Brescia, Italy 1340-1345.  Lyon, BM, Ms 5128, fol.  100r

A woman rides a phallic-shaped monster. Decretum Gratiani with commentary by Bartolomeo da Brescia, Italy 1340-1345. Lyon, BM, Ms 5128, fol. 100r

A man playing music on both sides.  Vincent de Beauvais, Speculum historiale, Saint-Omer c.  1294-1297.  Boulogne-sur-Mer, Municipal Library, ms.  131, fol.  202r

A man playing music on both sides. Vincent de Beauvais, Speculum historiale, Saint-Omer c. 1294-1297. Boulogne-sur-Mer, Municipal Library, ms. 131, fol. 202r

A pleasure for the eyes!  Detail from a marginal scene of a man showing his anus.  (Brit Lib, Supplementary MS 49622, f. 61r)

A pleasure for the eyes! Detail from a marginal scene of a man showing his anus. (Brit Lib, Supplementary MS 49622, f. 61r)

A naked bishop chastises a defecating cleric in the Gorleston Psalter, c.  1310-1324.

A naked bishop chastises a defecating cleric in the Gorleston Psalter, c. 1310-1324.

A man smells or blows air into the back of a monster.  Manuscript unknown.

A man smells or blows air into the back of a monster. Manuscript unknown.

Fiesty nun picks up a demon from the Book of Hours ('The De Brailes Hours'), Oxford ca.  1240 BL, Add 49999, fol.  40v

Fiesty nun picks up a demon from the Book of Hours (‘The De Brailes Hours’), Oxford ca. 1240 BL, Add 49999, fol. 40v

Monkey business.  A page (folio) from the Maastricht Book of Hours (BL Stowe MS17), an illuminated manuscript known primarily for its animated depictions of animals and half-animals.  1300 - 1325 AD.

Monkey business. A page (folio) from the Maastricht Book of Hours (BL Stowe MS17), an illuminated manuscript known primarily for its animated depictions of animals and half-animals. 1300 – 1325 AD.

A man puts a trumpet on the back of a horse.  Manuscript unknown.

A man puts a trumpet on the back of a horse. Manuscript unknown.

King Philip of Macedon watches his wife laying down a dragon in Les faize d'Alexandre (translation of Historiae Alexandri Magni by Quintus Curtius Rufus), Bruges ca.  1468-1475 BL, Burney 169, fol.  14r

King Philip of Macedon watches his wife laying down a dragon in Les faize d’Alexandre (translation of Historiae Alexandri Magni by Quintus Curtius Rufus), Bruges ca. 1468-1475 BL, Burney 169, fol. 14r

Pontifical Birdman by Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390 Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms.  143, fol.  145v

Pontifical Birdman by Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390 Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 143, fol. 145v

Ready, aim, shoot!  Macclesfield Psalter, England ca.  1330-1340 Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 1-2005, fol.  236r

Ready, aim, shoot! Macclesfield Psalter, England ca. 1330-1340 Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 1-2005, fol. 236r

bull's-eye !  Archer monkey in Pontifical by Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390 Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms.  143, fol.  145v

bull’s-eye ! Archer monkey in Pontifical by Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390 Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 143, fol. 145v

Top image: A grotesque image of an ogre shooting an arrow into the rear of another creature from the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.)

By Joanna Gillan

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