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

20 Bizarre, Crude and Downright Weird Sketches in Medieval Manuscripts

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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 the text – which range from the mundane to the bizarre, obscene and just plain weird.

Manuscripts of the Middle Ages are filled with farting, pooping, fornicating, and battling humans, animals and creatures of all kinds. From penis monsters to naughty nuns, butt trumpets, and murderous beasts, these medieval texts are full of surprises!

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

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

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

A nude man with his finger in his behind distracts from the more serious illustration of some noble men and women playing chess. ‘Les voeux du paon’. 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/  CC BY 4.0 )

Strange monkey business. Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre, Bruges 1471-1483. British Library, Royal 15 E IV, fol. 192r

Strange monkey business. Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre, 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 depicted 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, Bibliothèque nationale de 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, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 25526, f. 106v.)

A nun appears disgusted at the sight of a man’s bleeding behind from the Romance of Alexander, 1338-1410.

A nun appears disgusted at the sight of a man’s bleeding behind from the Romance of Alexander, 1338-1410.

Two headless men do battle in the Summer volume of the Breviary of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305. (Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 107, f. 99v.)

Two headless men do battle in the Summer volume of the Breviary of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305. (Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 107, f. 99v.)

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

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

A man playing music out of both ends. Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale, Saint-Omer c. 1294-1297. Boulogne-sur-Mer, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 131, fol. 202r

A man playing music out of both ends. Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale, Saint-Omer c. 1294-1297. Boulogne-sur-Mer, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 131, fol. 202r

A sight for sore eyes! Detail of a marginal scene of a man displaying his anus. (Brit Lib, MS Additional 49622, f. 61r)

A sight for sore eyes! Detail of a marginal scene of a man displaying his anus. (Brit Lib, MS Additional 49622, f. 61r)

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

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

A man smells or blows air into the backside of a monster. Unknown manuscript.

A man smells or blows air into the backside of a monster. Unknown manuscript.

Fiesty nun takes on a demon in the Book of Hours ('The De Brailes Hours’), Oxford ca. 1240 BL, Add 49999, fol. 40v

Fiesty nun takes on a demon in the Book of Hours ('The De Brailes Hours’), Oxford ca. 1240 BL, Add 49999, fol. 40v

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

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

A man puts a trumpet in a horse’s rear. Unknown manuscript.

A man puts a trumpet in a horse’s rear. Unknown manuscript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullseye! Monkey archer in Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390 Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 143, fol. 145v

Bullseye! Monkey archer in Pontifical of 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 another creature’s rear from the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.)

By Joanna Gillan

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