IMS Open Lecture - Medieval dog love: Grieving hounds and frames of war

This lecture is part of the IMS Open Lecture Series which showcases cutting-edge research by leading scholars in important aspects of medieval studies.

Robert Mills (Professor of Medieval Studies, Department of History of Art, University College London) will present the IMS Open Lecture ‘Medieval Dog Love: Grieving Hounds and Frames of War’. Medieval Art and literature are densely populated with images of grieving hounds. Dogs rest at the feet of tomb effigies. They attend the funerals of selected saints and kings. Or, in a widely-disseminated story with multiple variants, they remain with their murdered masters’ corpses for days on end, lamenting their fate and setting into motion a chain of events that brings the perpetrators to justice. 

A thread of feeling runs through these various depictions of canine mourning: invariably, the creatures’ sorrow is treated as an index of ‘love’ for the persons whose lives they grieve. But imagery of lamenting, loving dogs was also harnessed in the service of moral or political arguments, linked to questions of who or what gets to count as fully human. 

Focusing on the motif’s associations with acts of war and violence, this paper assesses the role of medieval dog love in articulating a politics of loss. By drawing out previously unnoticed connections between the Bayeux Tapestry and a cycle of imagery depicting the martyrdom of St Edmund of East Anglia, Mills shows how dogs and other canids could be used to ‘frame’ medieval responses to war and violence. 

Mills’ research mainly focuses on the visual culture and literature of England and France between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. 

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. All are welcome!

 All queries can be directed to Dr Axel Müller.