chapter  6
10 Pages

The Beasts of Belmont and Venice

ByKeith M. Botelho

The Venetian merchant Alessandro Magno, who chronicled his time spent in and around London in August and September 1562, detailed in his journal a city teeming with animals, from the many domesticated swans that swam on the River Thames (treated with the ultimate respect because of steep fines for their killing), to the fine, large horses that pulled carts full of people or goods, to the animals brought in from many parts for the annual fair at Smithfield, to the “large numbers of deer” populating the many parks, to the dogs, bears, bulls, and “a cheap horse with all his harness and trappings, and a monkey in the saddle” used for the sport of baiting, while also noting the numerous goods available that come from animals, including sheep “which produce excellent wool” and rabbits, whose skins are exported by merchants, as well as salmon, pike, oysters, and beef and mutton that come from the slaughter-houses, for “Englishmen are all fairskinned and blondeand great meat-eaters” (142, 147, 148, 143, 144, 146, 147, 143, 146). As Magno illustrates, animals do not exist in one conceptual or representational category in early modern London, and furthermore they are such a visible presence that Magno sees them as integral to human life, folded into the existence of one another. Magno describes animals in terms of consumption, economics, entertainment, transportation, labor, and delight (but not, interestingly, companionship) as they occupy multiple sensory spaces in the early modern London landscape. In fact, the story of mid-sixteenth-century London and its people is in many ways revealed through animal presence, and the plethora of animals in early modern London tells us a great deal about humans who are part of a web of beastly existence.1