A Rabbit Post for Rebels

Image from the Morgan Library.


Here’s one for Fumblr, the Academic Failblog:

Some years ago, while chatting with my students about hunting, I told them that medieval badgers were ferreted out of their holes and then bashed, as they emerged, with clubs. “Like Whack-a-Mole?,” they asked. “Yes. Precisely.”

And the next day I had to confess I’d made it all up, and not even deliberately.

Nets, not clubs: nets are the thing if you want to hunt a badger.

And then last night: I realized we’d slogged through nearly an entire semester of The Canterbury Tales without once mentioning the risings of 1381. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (“Certes, he Jakke Straw and his meinee” &c, VII.3394 ff.) gave me my entrance, and the animal theme led me to my grand finale: the story of the St Alban’s rebels, who, to show their contempt for the poaching laws, crucified a rabbit.

My students immediately understood the significance. “Is that where the Easter Bunny comes from?”

“I’m…I’m not sure.” I offered what I knew: “The French, they have an Easter bell. Instead of a rabbit.”

“Yes, but they crucified a rabbit. Maybe that’s why we have an Easter Bunny.”

“I’ll ask my friends.”

My friend, in this case, is Thomas Walsingham. And forgive my Latin, because neglect. Feel encouraged to correct me.

Ceperunt quemdam cuniculum vivum, inter eos in plano campi per multitudinem populi vi captum, et in quadam hasta coram se ferri statuerunt, et super collistrigium in villa Sancti Albani, in signum libertatis et warrenae sic adeptae, difixerunt (303)

They seized a certain living hare, taken by force by them in the open field by a great crowd of people, and had it carried among them on a spear and fastened it upon a “collistrigium” (a pillory) as a sign of the liberty and warren thus obtained.

Something quite other than a crucifix.

Still, while searching for collistrigium, I found this odd bit of, I hope, forgotten child-rearing practice:

From here.