Unicorns (1): for the end of the year

This is the first of three posts about medieval unicorns; it also intersects with something I’m working on right now, about consent.

When talking to non-medievalists (or, to be more correct, not-yet-knowingly-medievalists), it’s always curious to find out about associations and preconceptions and stereotypes that people have about “medievalists” and “the medieval.” Consent rarely features, nor thinking or asking questions about it, nor indeed thinking or questioning. Featuring frequently on the list, we have: knights, chivalry, crusades, trebuchets, and a bunch of stuff that’s mostly familiar through macho mythification and neomedievalist appropriation; most recently and publicly by unsavoury neo-Nazi sorts (white nationalist, white supremacist, far-right, and other assorted fascists). For more on that sort of thing, and for the best work in cutting-edge Medieval Studies this year, I refer you to the forty-part series at The Public Medievalist:

No medieval thing ever asked for any of this to happen to it, or agreed to it. Least of all that other top medieval association, the unicorn. Visually striking, often seen in heraldry, a common first encounter with allegory, it’s very much still alive and kicking; one of the eight words shortlisted for Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, “reflective of some aspect of this eventful year”:

As 2017 draws to a close, we turn to language to help us mark where we have been, how far we have come, and where we are heading.

One word has been judged as not only reflective of the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of this past year, but as having lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.



“Consigned to legend.”

Here, then, is a first collection of the more obvious medieval unicorns. In no particular order, most were first collected in a continuing twitter thread; any comments without attribution are mine.