Bestiary Families

Among the many bestiary manuscripts that still exist, many seem to be related to each other. In some cases the text is very similar in two or more manuscripts; in other cases the illustrations in one manuscript appear to be copies of those in another. To organize the bestiary manuscript genre, the classifying concept of "families" of related manuscripts was developed.

The development of bestiary "families"

The first to propose such a grouping was M.R. James in his 1928 book Bestiary: Being A Reproduction in Full of Ms. 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, where he coined the term "families" and listed the Latin manuscripts he thought belonged in each group. James defined four families, into which he placed 41 manuscripts.

From the start, the concept of bestiary families has been controversial, not so much as to whether bestiary manuscripts can be grouped, as to how many groups there should be, and which manuscripts belong in each group. Since 1928 many scholars have attempted revisions of James's family classification, with varying levels of acceptance.

The family classification was revised by Florence McCulloch in 1959 (and again in 1962) in Mediaeval French and Latin Bestiaries, where she divided James's First Family into three sub-families, which she gave the names "B-Is", "H", and "Transitional". These subdivisions and their names have been generally accepted and are used by most scholars. McCulloch also added a few Latin manuscripts James had missed, and organized the French bestiary manuscripts, though these were not included in the four families.

In 1985 Brunsdon Yapp, a zoologist, proposed dividing the second family into subfamilies A, B, C, and D, based on the appearance of birds in various manuscripts. Yapp and Wilma George in Naming of the Beasts: Natural History in the Medieval Bestiary (1991) also followed this arrangement, and further eliminated McCulloch's "H" version, distributing its manuscripts elsewhere. These proposals met with little acceptance; they are indicated here for completeness, marked Y or W, with Yapp's Second Family divisions in parentheses.

The system was updated in 1989 by Willene B. Clark and Meradith T. McMunn in Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages, where several more manuscripts were added, though the family divisions and the grouping of manuscripts as defined by McCulloch was left intact. Clark and McMunn also listed bestiaries in other languages, but kept them separate from the other categories.

Ron Baxter, in his 1998 Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages, took issue with some of the previous manuscript classifications (particularly McCulloch's), though he did not abandon the family concept. He says that "the approaches of both James and McCulloch represent a considerable simplification of the complex of changes undergone by the Bestiary in the course of the twelfth century, and at the same time provide no rationale by which these modifications may be understood." Baxter (p. 87). After acknowledging that James's "grouping into four text families has proved so influential that it is unlikely to pass wholly out of general use in the foreseeable future" he goes on to say "It is certainly no part of my approach to revise this structure, rather I have been at pains to unlace a residue of rigidity which has characterized much subsequent writing on Bestiaries..." (p. 126-127). For a thorough discussion of Baxter's position on the Families, see chapter 3 of Bestiaries and their Users.

The lists on this site

With all of the revisions to the bestiary classification system over the years, it is difficult to produce a comprehensive list that includes all of the bestiary manuscripts and is likely to satisfy all scholars. The lists presented here basically follow Clark and McMunn (1989), with additions and amendments suggested by the sources given below. The manuscripts have been broadly grouped by language (Latin, French, and Other). Within the Latin group, the manuscripts are further classified according to the family system. The French manuscripts, which, unlike the Latin ones, generally have a known (or commonly attributed) author, are grouped by author. At the beginning of each division will be found an explanation of what the division is and why the manuscripts it contains are where they are. Where further information on a manuscript is available here, the manuscript entry is a link to that information. Only the manuscripts generally called "bestiaries" are included in these lists.

Note 1: The manuscript classification given here is based on the understanding of the editor, and should not be taken as the final and absolute Truth. If you wish to raise objections, or provide corrections or additions, please contact the editor.

Note 2: Versions of these lists can be found all over the web, mostly taken from the Wikipedia copy. The lists on the Medieval Bestiary site are the origin of all the others (including the one on Wikipedia). The lists here are updated as new information becomes available; these updates are not usually reflected in the other lists. The other lists also do not link to manuscript descriptions, as the lists on this site do.

Bibliography and Sources

Bestiary families are discussed in several books and articles; those listed below are some of the most useful. The lists of manuscripts shown on the Latin, French, and Other pages are based on information in these sources. The letter to the left of each citation below is used to indicate in the lists which sources discuss or list a particular manuscript.

  B Ron Baxter, Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages (1998)
  C Willene B. Clark A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second-family Bestiary : Commentary, Art, Text and Translation (2006)
  CM Willene B. Clark and Meradith T. McMunn, Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages: The Bestiary and its Legacy (1989)
  D Ilya Dines A frenchmodeled English bestiary: Wormsley Library MS BM 3747 (2006)
  G Maximilian Goldstaub and Richard Wendriner, Ein Tosco-Venezianischer Bestiarius (1892)
  H Nikolaus Henkel, Studien zum Physiologus im Mittelalter (1976)
  Ku Emmanuelle Kuhry, Panorama des manuscrits et nouvelles ressources pour l’étude de la tradition manuscrite du Physiologus latin (2019)
  J M. R. James, Bestiary: Being A Reproduction in Full of Ms. 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 (1928)
  Ma Llúcia Martín, Aquatic animals in the Catalan Bestiari (2009)
  Mc Florence McCulloch, Mediaeval French and Latin Bestiaries (1962)
  Mk Kenneth McKenzie, Unpublished Manuscripts of Italian Bestiaries (1905)
  S Michel Salvat, "Notes sur les bestiaires catalans" (1984)
  V Baudouin van den Abeele, "Trente et Un Nouveaux Manuscrits de l'Aviarium: Regards sur la Diffusion de l'uvre d'Hugues de Fouilloy" (2003)
  W Wilma George and Brunsdon Yapp, Naming of the Beasts: Natural History in the Medieval Bestiary (1991)
  Y Brunsdon Yapp, "A New Look at English Bestiaries" (1985)