Bartholomaeus Anglicus

A long delayed and – I’m sure – eagerly awaited update.

This one is all about Bartholomaeus Anglicus and his encyclopedia, De proprietatibus rerum or “On the properties of things”. He wrote the work in Latin around 1260, and it was quickly copied and translated into several languages, including French, English, Dutch and Spanish. It remained popular for a long time, with editions being printed into the seventeenth century. There are thought to be about 200 manuscript copies of the encyclopedia still in existence, and hundreds of printed copies.

As is usual with Medieval encyclopedias, Bartholomaeus got his information from numerous earlier sources, without adding much of his own. Though we might laugh at what the thirteenth century writers of encyclopedias believed to be true, to them it was serious business, and they had no doubt it was true. The world beyond the farm or the monastery was mysterious to Medieval people, and the encyclopedias were the best information they had.

Researching Bartholomaeus and his encyclopedia took a long time, especially for the manuscripts, which the holding libraries and museums did their usual best to hide in obscure places. In the end I rooted out 114 of them, or a bit over half the probable total. Very few of the manuscripts are extensively illustrated, but enough are for me to pillage over 350 images.

Also in this update… spell checking! I finally got around to implementing a spellchecker in my database management program, and found to my amazement and shame that I had misspelled hundreds of words. I haven’t finished spellchecking everything yet, but the Beast, Manuscript and Encyclopedia pages have been pretty much cleaned up.

There are several other tweaks and improvements, but I will leave those for you to discover.

Statistics! My, how we have grown in the last few years.

April 10, 2009November 18, 2022September 13, 2023
Bibliography Items152116711817
Encyclopedia Articles03439

For the next update I am going to try to reduce the enormous backlog of information waiting to be entered. The lists of pending manuscripts and bibliography items is getting awfully long.

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Middle Dutch

This update is all about Jacob van Maerlant and his Middle Dutch encyclopedia of strange animals.

I can’t read Middle Dutch – or modern Dutch – which made working with Jacob’s encyclopedia, Der Naturen Bloeme, something of a challenge. Fortunately Jacob used the Latin name for the animals, so I could at least figure out what the sometimes utterly weird illustrations were supposed to be.

The marine monster Zifius, a beast unlike any other
The marine monster called Zifius, a beast unlike any other. From Lippische Landesbibliothek, Ms. 70, folio 87r.

Jacob’s encyclopedia is a free translation into Middle Dutch of the Latin encyclopedia Liber de Natura Rerum written by Thomas de Cantimpré. Jacob didn’t change much, though he did leave out some of the “unimportant” chapters. Middle Dutch has similarities to modern Dutch, in much the same way the Middle English has similarities to modern English. In both cases someone who can read the modern version of the language can relatively easily learn to read the Middle version. While Thomas’s encyclopedia is written in Latin prose, Jacob’s Middle Dutch translation is written in rhyming verse, many thousands of lines of it.

There are eleven mostly complete manuscript copies of Der Naturen Bloeme, some of them fully illustrated. There are also several fragments of the text that range in size from a couple of thin strips of parchment to multi-page sections, with most being a few often tattered and partial pages. I used three of the illustrated complete manuscripts, plus an illustrated substantial fragment, for images and animal chapter names and order.

Like Thomas’s encyclopedia, Jacob’s version has hundreds of animal chapters; the fully illustrated manuscripts usually have over 400 images each. The four manuscripts I used have over 1500 images, which have all been added to the site (bringing the total number of images online to almost 7000!).

That’s about it for this update, except for the usual corrections. No more encyclopedias for a while; they are just too time consuming. The next update will be whenever I get enough new work done, and will probably involve more information on the beasts.

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Encyclopedic Beasts

Well, that was a lot of work!

With this update I have added all of the animal chapters (470+) from the Liber de natura rerum of Thomas of Cantimpré, a thirteenth century encyclopedia. That includes over 100 new and newly identified beasts, an English translation/paraphrase of the Latin text from each chapter (seen under the Sources tab for most beasts), all of the images from manuscript Bibliothèque Municipale de Valenciennes MS 320, a list of animals that are described in the encyclopedia, and more information on Thomas himself. I had been putting off tackling any of the medieval encyclopedias, because they have a lot of very strange and difficult to identify animals not found in bestiaries. Working on Thomas’s book forced me to identify the many beasts I had found in various manuscripts but had not found any information on; there are now only about five mystery beasts left in my database. Having all the animals in Thomas’s encyclopedia in my database will make working on other medieval encyclopedias much easier, since many of the other encyclopedias are based on the Liber de natura rerum.

In the Beast pages Sources tabs, in addition to Thomas’s descriptions I have added/updated the text from many of Thomas’s sources, like Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Solinus and Isidore of Seville. I have also done a full proofreading and edit of all of the Beast pages to correct the many (many!) typos, textual errors and formatting problems.

Two of Thomas’s sources are the mysterious Experimentator and the even more mysterious Liber rerum, both of which he quotes from, neither of which have been identified. The only existing source of either text is Thomas’s quotes. For the encyclopedia entries for both of these, I have extracted the Latin quotes from the Liber de natura rerum and roughly translated them to English. The complete set of quotes can be found under the Texts tab for the Experimentator and Liber rerum encyclopedia entries. As far as know, this is the first time this has been done.

There are also numerous updates to the Manuscript pages, Encyclopedia pages, and the Bibliography, plus a bunch of new images – over 5500 of them are online now. I have corrected many errors throughout the site in a desperately-needed review; with hundreds of pages of text it can be difficult to spot errors, so if you see any, please let me know.

There will be a delay in the next update while I catch up on all the things I have been neglecting for the last two months of arguing with Thomas.

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Thanks, and an Explanation

Thanks to those who have sent me new information, updates and corrections. All such assistance is greatly appreciated.

So why have you not seen your contributions online? Well… I am just one old man with database that needs to be updated, and that takes time. I have an enormous backlog of stuff waiting to be entered into the database, hundreds of manuscripts and beasts and bibliography and encyclopedia stuff and more and more and more… While I can’t possibly keep up with it all, I will get to it eventually, and in the meantime I have it all stashed in Zotero, a “personal research assistant”, as they call it – I call it some very useful software! Nothing is being lost, so in the fullness of time it will appear on the site.

So if you have new or updated information, corrections for my many mistakes, suggestions for encyclopedia articles, or anything else of interest, please send them along! And then please be patient…

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This update is mostly about manuscripts called Psalters (see below), with a bit about Gerald of Wales.


A few more manuscripts have had their illustrations loaded and/or beast lists completed.


There is one updated and one new article.

  • Gerald of Wales: A few updates to the article and manuscript list, and more of Gerald’s text added to various beast entries.
  • Psalters: Manuscripts containing the biblical book of Psalms – and usually many images of a curious nature.

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This update has new and changed stuff in several areas.


A few more manuscripts have had their illustrations loaded and/or beast lists completed.


There are some new or updated articles.

  • Engelbert of Admont (1250-1331) was a scholar and monk in Austria. He wrote on many topics, but he is included here for his Tractus de naturis animalium. The full animal lists of two of the three manuscripts of this text have been loaded (there is no facsimile for the third one):
  • Isidore of Seville: Excerpts from his Etymologies have been added to the article, and many of the beast Sources pages have new or updated accounts from that text.
  • Gossuin de Metz: (13th century) wrote a very popular encyclopedia called L’Image du monde, the Image of the world or the Mirror of the world. Its popularity is shown by the 68 or so manuscripts that still exist. One notable thing about this encyclopedia is its statement (with supporting diagrams) that the Earth is most definitely a sphere, not flat as the ignorant Flat Earthers would have you believe. If you hear anyone saying that medieval people thought the Earth was flat, point them to one of the Image du monde manuscripts; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 574 has nice colorful diagrams to prove that they did not.
  • Guillaume le Clerc: There is some additional information on the Bestiaire divin, excerpts from the Norman-French text, and images from more manuscripts.


While working on the texts by Engelbert of Admont and Isidore of Seville, I found and identified several new animals, and identified some of the mysterious existing ones. Isidore was very helpful in determining what those curious beasts were supposed to be (though often not what they actually are!). There are still over 100 animals in my database that I found in one or more of the medieval encyclopedias but have not been able to identify; the text is often illegible or so heavily abbreviated as to be unintelligible, and the illustrations (if any) are usually no help at all since the artist didn’t know what the animal was either, and just made something up.

Statistics, or Fun with Numbers

The latest numbers for the website, for those who like statistics. The rest of you, look away now!

  • Beasts: 267
  • Manuscripts: 425
  • Bibliography items: 1671
  • Images: 4746
  • Encyclopedia articles: 34
  • Digital Text Library items: 30

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There was a bug in my gallery script that caused all Beast galleries to fail to load if the Manuscript or Encyclopedia gallery image order was set to “Manuscript order”. I fixed it, but you may need to refresh the page in the browser before it works (that’s Control-F5 in Firefox or Chrome for Windows; check your browser’s help for others).

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Latin Bestiaries

This update is about manuscripts, mostly bestiary manuscripts from the Latin families. The Latin family manuscripts include the better known bestiaries such as the Aberdeen Bestiary.


These manuscripts have had all of their illustrations loaded, descriptions updated, and beast lists completed.

These manuscripts do not have a complete digital facsimile online. All available illustrations have been loaded, but there are probably some images missing and the beast lists may be incomplete.

There are now over 4500 images online.

The descriptions for most manuscripts have been cleaned up and regularized.


Many new beasts have been added. Most of these come from Cambridge University Library, Kk.4.25, a third family bestiary with an embedded encyclopedia. Some of the new beasts have not been identified, and others have very limited information. I will be updating those beasts with more information as I find it. Some are pretty obscure! A bird called “Furfurio”? A fish called “Melanurus”? The illustrations (if any) are not at all helpful, of course. Still, I figured out some of them (silkworm! slug!) and I will eventually figure out the rest.


Many manuscripts are “miscellanies”, with two or more texts bound together. Often the texts are unrelated – they were bound into one codex for convenience, not because they had anything in common. Some of the manuscripts on the Medieval Bestiary site have two or more animal texts, sometimes related and sometimes not. Previously, the beast lists on the manuscript page lumped all beasts from all of the texts together into one list, which made it look like the beasts were all part of one text instead of multiple unrelated texts. With this enhancement, where the manuscript contains two or more parts, each part has its own separate set of lists, with each list only containing beasts from a single text. For examples of this, see Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médecine, H. 437 or British Library, Royal MS 2 B VII.

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General Update

A bunch of stuff both new and updated, including several enhancements to the Medieval Bestiary site structure and functionality.

Site Enhancements

  • Image galleries for Encyclopedia entries and Manuscripts can now be displayed in beast name order or in manuscript appearance order. (Beast image galleries are always in manuscript appearance order.) Beast name order is the same as it was before: images displayed in alphabetical order by the name of the beast (e.g. Amphisbaena, Ape, Asp … Unicorn, Viper, Vulture, etc.). With manuscript appearance order the images are displayed in the order they appear on the manuscript pages. This is like how beasts are displayed on the Manuscript Beast pages, where beast name order is on the left and manuscript order is on the right. More information on how to switch between beast name order and manuscript appearance order can by found on the Gallery Help page.
  • The Manuscript Beast page manuscript appearance order list (the list on the right) was not correctly displaying beasts that appeared on more than one page in the manuscript. The beast was only shown once in the list; each appearance will now be shown in the correct order, so if a beast appears two or more times in the manuscript it will appear the same number of times in the list.
  • The Encyclopedia now has an Index. The “Subject Index” tab (which wasn’t an index) has been renamed to “Topics”, and there is a new “Index” tab. The index lists words and phrases related to Encyclopedia entries with links to the entries they refer to; click a link to go to the page for the entry. There’s not a lot in there yet, but it will grow.
  • Some pages (Bibliography and Institute details, image information) are normally displayed in a popup window when a link is clicked. When clicking on such a link in the Search results, the detail page cannot be shown in a popup (Google controls those links), so it was displayed as a normal, unformatted page, which was ugly. It will now be displayed as a proper (though non-standard) Bestiary site page. This is also true if you right click on a link that would normally open in a popup window and select “Open in new tab/window”. Not a perfect solution, but an improvement.
  • There are several other fixes/enhancements that you will probably not notice, that maybe make the site a bit easier to use or look better, or remove something that annoyed me, or maybe I just like it better the new way.


More manuscripts have had their entire sets of images loaded. There are now over 3700 images online. Some manuscripts also have new and updated information.


  • The article on Gervaise and his Bestiaire has been updated with more information, images from the only manuscript where it appears, and some sample text.
  • The article on Lambert of Saint-Omer and his Liber Floridus (an encyclopedia) has a lot more information, a few images, manuscript lists, etc.
  • The article on Pierre de Beauvais and his Bestiaire has been updated with some new information, a bunch of images, several lists and tables and other goodies.


Thanks to bestiary superfan “Wonderlandia” who found several online manuscript facsimiles that I had missed, mostly of the Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer. Which got me started on the Lambert encyclopedia article and kept me busy for several days!

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Bestiaire d’amour

The Bestiaire d’amour or Bestiary of Love is not a traditional bestiary. It has bestiary animals doing bestiary things, but it has a much different purpose. Where the traditional bestiary is a tool for teaching Christian morality, the Bestiaire is a desperate attempt by the author, Richard de Fournival, to win the love of a lady. It is a peculiar concept, radical for its time: A merging of a religious text with courtly love literature.

Richard de Fournival was a thirteenth century French writer, poet, songwriter, surgeon and Catholic church cleric. He was also, in modern terms, a misogynistic jerk. In any court today the lady would have no problem getting a restraining order against him. We don’t know who the lady was, but she wrote a spirited Response to Richard’s Bestiaire in which she made her distaste for his advances very plain.

There are around 24 manuscripts currently known which contain the Bestiaire; four of them also contain the lady’s Response. The text is in one of the dialects of Old French, in prose, though Richard did produce a version in verse. Most of the manuscripts are illustrated, and manuscript images have been loaded for three of them so far:

There is a new and fairly long article on Richard de Fournival and his Bestiaire in the Encyclopedia, with samples of the text from some of the manuscripts and excerpts from an English translation of both the Bestiaire and the Response. There is also a surprisingly large bibliography; lots of people have written about the Bestiaire, often from a feminist viewpoint. The Bestiary Family French page has also been updated with a list or the Bestiaire manuscripts.

This update is almost entirely about Richard, the Bestiaire, the lady and the Response. There are a few changes in other areas, and several corrections here and there, but little other unrelated new content. Finding and entering all of the data for this update was a big, time-consuming job, and I am now very tired of Richard, so I won’t be adding much more about him for a while.

The next update will be mainly structural and functionality changes to the site itself; there are several areas I am not yet satisfied with. Of course I will probably sneak in some new content along the way.

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