The Bestiary of Anne Walshe

[ Copenhagen Kongelige Bibliotek Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4˚ ]

April 17, 2001


The Bestiary of Anne Walshe (Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek Gl. kgl. Saml. 1633 4˚) is a Latin bestiary of English origin, produced circa 1400-25. [1] It is now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has been made available as an electronic facsimile which has been published on the Web. [2] Almost nothing else has been published about this manuscript. Christian Bruun included a short description in a catalog [3] of Danish manuscripts in 1890, but according to Erik Drigsdahl [4] this account is "obsolete and worthless." Another catalog [5] of manuscripts in the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen, produced in 1926, gives a more formal (though even briefer) description, but adds little new information. Drigsdahl has also produced a preliminary Web index [6] to the online manuscript, and the manuscript was included in an exhibition catalog in 1952. Apart from these few superficial articles, and the occasional mention in lists of surviving bestiaries, no serious work appears to have been done on this manuscript.

Other than the manuscript itself, this Bestiary is only available as a digital facsimile. Working solely from a digital facsimile has its difficulties, but also some advantages. The chief difficulty is that the resolution of the images on the Web site are relatively low, so details are lost or hard to see. It is also not possible to say much about the pigments of the illustrations, or to be certain which element is on top when text and image overlap. However, being digital allows the manuscript to be manipulated in ways that would otherwise be impossible. Such manipulations have been used on some of the images in this paper. The digital facsimile can also be copied easily, something the original scribe would have undoubtedly found both marvelous and disturbing.


The manuscript is generally believed to be of English origin. According to Bruun, [8] the script is definitely of English origin. The 1926 catalog of the Copenhagen Kongelige Bibliotek manuscript collection also assigns the manuscript to England, though the catalog does not cite a specific reason for this assessment.

That it was in England at an early date is confirmed by the signature of Anne Walshe in several places (Figure 1), [9] as well as other writing, in English, in the same hand. Who Anne was is not known, though the Walshe name (or Walsh, both derived from Waleys, the family place of origin being Wales) was common in England and Ireland at least as early as the twelfth century, [10] with several noble families, especially in Ireland. A record [11] exists of a woman named Anne Walshe being married in Somerset in 1531, though there is no evidence linking her to the manuscript. The handwriting is fifteenth or sixteenth century, according to Ellen Jørgensen; [12] Drigsdahl says the signature is late sixteenth century. [13] These dates imply that Anne was probably not the original owner, though she could have been a daughter of a Walshe household that had owned the manuscript for many years. The full name "Anne Walshe" only appears on folio 73r, but partial versions appear on four other pages (and possibly a fifth).

Figure 1 - Anne Walshe's signature practice

"Anne" is some cases written out in full, and other cases abbreviated to "Ane," with or without an abbreviation sign over the single "n". All instances appear to be written by the same hand. The writing on folio 6v at first glance seems to say "And if" or "And it" but could actually be "Ane" and two unrelated letters. It appears to be in the same hand as the other signatures, though the style of the "A" is different. In three cases (folio 7v, 41v and 42v) the writing is smudged, possibly in an attempt to erase an unsatisfactory effort, and on folio 7v the writing ends in a scribble. The impression the writing gives is of Anne practicing her signature.

On three folia, in the same hand, is the phrase (or part of the phrase) "my umble duti" (Figure 2). On folio 14v only "my u" appears, with the "m" partly smudged. On folio 15r is "my umble duti" in dark, firm strokes. Folio 77v shows several attempts to write the phrase, this time with the second word spelled "umbel". This is the last folio in the manuscript, and has several unused text guidelines at the bottom; Anne clearly thought this was a wonderful place to practice her writing.

Figure 2 - "My umble duti"

Anne has scribbled on several other pages in the manuscript (Figure 3). While a few of the scribbles may contain words, most are simple loops and doodles of the sort someone testing a pen point might do. The scribbles are generally in the same style and type of ink as Anne's signature, though at least one (folio 11r) may be in a different hand. The scribbles appear in the margins and also in the illustrations (eg: folio 16v, where Anne has embellished the beast's teeth).

Figure 3 - Various scribbles

The scribbling is probably the work of the same person who signed her name "Anne Walshe" and repeatedly wrote "my umble duti": that is, Anne Walshe herself. The pattern of the writing and scribbles suggests that Anne was quite young and possibly learning to write. She obviously was not impressed with the book as a work of art, and had no qualms about writing in it wherever she pleased. She seems to have treated the book like a modern child might treat her picture book: interesting and valued, but not sacred - a perfectly acceptable place to practice her writing.

The manuscript arrived in Denmark as the possession of one Jørgen Høeg. On folio 8r he has written in Danish "Denne Bog hører mig Jørgen Høeg thill" ("This book belongs to me Jørgen Høeg"), in what Ellen Jørgensen [14] calls a seventeenth century hand (Figure 4, image digitally enhanced).

Figure 4 - "Denne Bog hører mig Jørgen Høeg thill" (f8r)

Also on folio 8r is a separate inscription written in the same hand (Figure 5, digitally enhanced). It begins as the previous inscription does: "Denne Bog" ("This book") and appears to have "..mig Jørgen" in the middle of the second line. The rest of the words are different from the previous inscription.

Figure 5 - Additional writing by Jørgen Høeg (f8r)

How the manuscript came into the possession of the Kongelige Bibliotek is not known to me; presumably the library has records of its acquisition, though the Web site says nothing on the subject.

There is one other inscription in quite a different hand at the top of folio 48v (Figure 6). The writer does not appear to be the original scribe, Anne Walshe, or Jørgen Høeg. There are what could be numbers in the second line of the inscription ("no 6" and "23"); if these are actually numbers (dubious) this may be an early shelf mark.

Figure 6 - Inscription in fourth script hand (f48v)


The manuscript is a bound codex of 77 parchment folia, about 21 x 14 cm (quarto). The binding is tooled leather with gold decorations around the edges of the front and back covers; the spine is entirely decorated with gold. The title "Bestiarius" is stamped on the spine. There is no firm evidence about the date of binding, though there are suggestions that it is not original. [15]

The parchment is of varying quality, with major repairs on several leaves, sometimes obscuring the text or illustrations. The leaf edges have been dyed red. Most pages are quite dirty, with smudge marks and small stains appearing in the outside margins, suggesting heavy (and possibly careless) use. The first eight folia have a large water stain (of diminishing size on later pages) near the outside upper edge. Several pages have later writing or random scribbles on them. The overall appearance is of a book that was handled frequently, and not particularly treasured.

The text script (see Figure 19, Appendix C for a sample) is a Gothic book hand, [16] with some odd features. Nicole Green says "...this hand [could be called] 'bastard anglicana'-that is, a mixture of textura and anglicana..."; [17] in other words, an idiosyncratic mix of two (or more) "standard" hands. It does bear some resemblance to what Brown calls Bastard Anglicana. [18] This supports Bruun's claim that the script is certainly English. [19]

Each section of the text, generally corresponding to the description of a single beast, has an ornate initial in red and blue (Figure 7). Most initials are decorated with fine red-line flourishes that often occupy most of the vertical margin. Some folia have smaller initials in blue or red only, with no flourishes, marking the start of paragraphs within a beast section.

Figure 7 - Flourished initial, plain initial (f12v)

The layout of the manuscript appears to have been very carefully planned in advance. From an examination of the overlap of ruling, illustrations and texts it appears that the ruling was done first, followed by the illustrations, then the body text, and finally the initials and flourishes. This implies that the manuscript was perhaps produced entirely by a single artist-scribe, who knew exactly what he wanted; or that the artist and/or scribe made an exact copy of an existing manuscript. The two are of course not mutually exclusive.

The ruling is consistent throughout the manuscript (see Figure 8 for a representative sample of the page layout). A rectangle about 8.5 cm wide by 15 cm high is drawn starting about 1.5 cm from the top inside corner, forming the area of the manuscript containing the text and images. All of the pages have this basic outline, which leaves wide margins at the outside edge (about 3.5 cm) and bottom (about 4 cm). The margins are decorated only with the flourishes from the chapter initials. Each folio is numbered in a later hand in the upper right corner. The text is almost always contained within the frame (with occasional lapses; for example, two words have not found room inside the frame on folio 69v), though many images partly escape into the margins. On the two pages containing only a full-page illustration (21v and 38v), no further ruling is done, but on pages with text the frame is ruled with horizontal text guidelines about 60 mm apart, allowing for a maximum of 26 lines of text. Pages containing both text and images have non-ruled areas blocked out for the illustrations, with a frame enclosing each image area to contain the image. On several pages the ruling disappears behind an image where it overlaps, and there is no ruling (other than the page and image area frames) in the area covered by the images.

It seems that the program of illustration had already been established before the ruling was done, and the ruling was arranged to lay out exactly where illustrations were to be placed. This would mean that the scribe would have to be very precise to fit the text into its allotted space. The difficulty of doing this can be seen on folio 41r, where the scribe has been forced to place the last line of text for a chapter in the following image area (Figure 8). The text in this case has to avoid the image, showing that the illustrations were certainly complete before the text was written. As further evidence of this, text sometimes overlaps an image, and can be seen to be on top.

Figure 8 - Page layout; extra text avoids image (f41r)

The initial flourishes were also done after the illustrations; they usually stop just short of touching the image (Figure 9).

Figure 9 - Flourish and illustration (f16r)


Bestiaries generally fall into one of four groups, called "Families" by M.R. James, who produced the first modern study of Bestiaries in 1928. [20] James' classification is by the structure and content of the manuscript text, not by date, though the Families tend chronologically from First to Fourth. First Family bestiaries are much like the Physiologus they are derived from; an example is Oxford University MS Laud Misc. 247, produced circa 1120. Second Family manuscripts add considerable material from other sources, including Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, Book XII; Hugh of Fouilly's Aviarium (Book of Birds); various classical and contemporary "natural history" books (Aristotle, Pliny, etc.); and sometimes herbals and lapidaries. Not all of the "beasts" are animals; birds, insects, trees and even stones are included. While the usual Physiologus has around 51 chapters, [21] Second Family bestiaries often had over 100; the Bestiary of Anne Walshe has about 123.

Second Family manuscripts tend to follow one of several common orderings of beast chapters, though there is considerable variation, and the order is often broken by the insertion or deletion of beasts. From an examination of the chapter order in Anne's bestiary (see Appendix D), it can be seen that the manuscript follows virtually the same order as the Cambridge Bestiary, [22] a Second Family manuscript, for a substantial number of wild and domestic animals. It is also similar in content to another Second Family manuscript, the Aberdeen Bestiary, [23] though they follow the same order of beasts only sporadically in several separate sequences. Clark and McMunn classify Anne's bestiary as Second Family; [24] the textual evidence supports this.

Like most Second Family manuscripts, the Bestiary of Anne Walshe is a compilation from several sources, though the scribe may not have seen those sources himself, but merely copied the text from another bestiary. Because the scribe used the same chapter order as a Second Family bestiary, it follows that he must have had access to one to use as an exemplar. There is no evidence to determine exactly where in England the manuscript was produced, but bestiaries in England were primarily found in monasteries and cathedral schools, [25] so the scribe could well have gained permission to copy one of these, or have been a member of one of the orders owning bestiaries.


The Bestiary of Anne Walshe has 117 illustrations on its 154 pages (about 76% of the pages). In contrast, the Aberdeen Bestiary has 102 illustrations in 206 pages (about 50%). The illustrations in Anne's bestiary, however, are quite different from those in the luxury Second Family bestiaries like the Aberdeen and Ashmole manuscripts. Anne's bestiary has no gold at all, and the images are simple colored drawings, rarely with any background (Figure 10). In contrast, the luxury bestiaries have gold on nearly every image, and the illustrations are usually complex paintings, not simple drawings (Figure 11).

Figure 10 - Pelican
Bestiary of Anne Walshe (f39v)

Figure 11 - Pelican
Aberdeen Bestiary (f35r)

Anne's bestiary has images on most pages, up to folio 65, after which there are no more illustrations. The subjects of the chapters in the final pages (trees, the nature of man) are not usually illustrated in most bestiaries, though the subject of the last folio of the Walshe bestiary, the "lapides igniferi" (fiery stones), often is. Some subjects traditionally were illustrated with full-page or nearly full-page images, and the Walshe manuscript follows this tradition with full-page illustrations of Adam naming the animals (folio 21v) and the Cinnomolgus tree (folio 38v). Two other beasts that are traditionally given full-page illustrations are given almost full pages here; these are the Peridexion tree, doves and dragon (folio 49r); and the elephant and castle (folio 6v). Several illustrations are half-page or larger. Some pages have three images; this is a common feature in bestiary pages that describe snakes (Figure 12/Figure 13).

Figure 12 - Snakes
Bestiary of Anne Walshe (f54r)

Figure 13 - Snakes
Aberdeen Bestiary (f68v)

The Aberdeen illustrations would have been vastly more expensive to produce than those in Anne's manuscript, which may be part of the reason why Anne's bestiary has such a high ratio of images to pages. The simple drawings could be produced much more quickly than the Aberdeen manuscript's paintings, and the lack of gold would further reduce the cost per image. The Walshe manuscript is also relatively small, so half or even full page illustrations would not be very large.

The drawings in the Walshe manuscript have a dark ink outline, filled with a wash of color. The pigment looks like watercolor but is more likely to be colored inks; medieval inks were somewhat acidic, which allowed them to "burn" into the parchment, making the images more durable. The Aberdeen artist used bold, saturated colors (Figure 15), as was common in luxury bestiaries; dull browns and pastels were rarely used. The Walshe artist frequently used browns and other earth colors (Figure 14), and his images are generally subdued, though his reds and oranges are bright and stand out.

Figure 14 - Bonnacon
Bestiary of Anne Walshe (f10r)

Figure 15 - Bonnacon
Aberdeen Bestiary (f12r)

The drawings in Anne's bestiary have a decidedly whimsical air to them. The artist seems to have had a sense of humor. The parrot, who the text says needs to be hit over the head with an iron bar to get his attention, looks suitably angry (Figure 16); the bonnacon (Figure 14) looks smug at his successful defense; the fox has handily tossed his stolen goose across his shoulders (Figure 9); and the girl who has just betrayed the unicorn seems to show remorse (Figure 17).

Figure 16 - Parrot (f33v)

Figure 17 - Unicorn (f5v)

All of these impressions are, of course, the reaction of a modern viewer; yet humor was common enough in medieval manuscripts, even those with a more serious intent than the bestiary.


The Bestiary of Anne Walshe is an interesting manuscript, despite lacking the flash of the luxury bestiaries. The images are appealing to the modern eye that is used to cartoons; I am sure they were equally appealing to Anne. The drawings are simple yet highly effective in illustrating the characteristics of the beasts described in the text. The design and execution of the manuscript as a whole is the work of a skilled and careful craftsman, both artist and scribe. Anne Walshe may have handled her bestiary a bit roughly, but I expect she treasured it all the same.


[1] Ron Baxter, Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages (Phoenix Mill, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p.147.

[3] Christian Bruun, De illuminerede Haandskrifter fra Middelalderen i Det Store Kongelige Bibliotek (1890), p. 117-118. See Appendix A.

[4] Personal correspondence with Erik Drigsdahl; see Appendix B.

[5] Ellen Jørgensen - Catalogus Codicum Latinorum Medii Ævi Bibliothecæ Regiæ Hafniensis (1926), p. 445. See Appendix A for the Latin text of the catalog entry.

[6] Center for Håndskriftstudier i Danmark (CHD) Guide.

[8] See Appendix A and B for the Danish text and translation.

[9] All images of the Bestiary of Anne Walshe are from the Kongelige Bibliotek Web site.

[11] Genealogy Web site.

[12] See Appendix A.

[13] Center for Håndskriftstudier i Danmark (CHD) Guide.

[14] Ellen Jørgensen - Catalogus Codicum. See Appendix A.

[15] Drigsdahl's CHD guide indicates that folio 1r was damaged due to a previous lack of bookplates, suggesting that the manuscript was rebound.

[16] Michelle Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), p. 86ff

[17] Personal correspondence with Nicole Green; see Appendix C. Ms. Green was at the time a doctoral student at Oxford University.

[18] Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts, p.100-1.

[19] Bruun, De illuminerede Haandskrifter. See Appendix A & B.

[20] M.R. James, The Bestiary: Being a reproduction in full of the manuscript Ii.4.26 in the University Library, Cambridge, with supplementary plates from other manuscripts of English origin, and a preliminary study of the Latin Bestiary as current in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928). This book was produced by and for the Roxburghe Club in a very limited edition available only to club members, and was never reprinted; most copies not still owned by members are now in university library special collections, so the book is essentially unavailable. James' system of classification is still in general use. Information pertaining to James' work has been taken from Baxter, Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages.

[21] Michael J. Curley, Physiologus (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979).

[22] Cambridge University Library MS Ii. 4. 26.

[23] Aberdeen University Library MS 24.

[24] Willene B. Clark and Meradith T. McMunn, editors, Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages: The Bestiary and Its Legacy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), p. 199.

[25] Baxter, Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages, p.179-80.