8 April 1554 – The Hanged Cat

Posted By on April 8, 2015

Cat hanged 1554 According to John Stow, the English historian and antiquarian, on this day in 1554 a cat dressed as a priest, a symbol of Catholicism, was found hanged on the gallows in Cheapside.

Here is Stowe’s account:

“The same 8. of April, being then Sunday, a cat with hir head shorn and the likenes of a vestment cast ouer hir, with hir fore feet tied togither, and a round peece of paper like a singing cake [consecrated wafer] betwirt them, was hanged on a gallowes in Cheape, neere to the crosse, in the parish of S. Mathew, which cat being taken downe, was caried to the Bish. of London, and he caused the same to be shewed at Pauls crosse, by the preacher D. Pendleton.”1

As Julie Crawford points out in Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England, “the motivations behind the hanging were undoubtedly contempt for Catholic or popish garments and those who wore them, and the desire to make a spectacular comment on the contemporaneous controversy over the symbolic or mystical nature of the communion ‘wafer’ (here rendered as a flat, inanimate piece of paper in clear representation of the cat killer’s Protestant views).”2

Of course, 1554 was the second year of Mary I’s reign and Parliament had already passed the First Statute of Repeal which had nullified the religious legisation passed in Edward VI’s reign and beginning the restoration of the English church to Rome. The hanging of the cat was an act of rebellion and needed dealing with. In martyrologist John Foxe’s account of the hanging, he mentions Mary’s reaction to the event:

“The 8th of April there was a cat hanged upon a gallows at the cross in Cheapside, apparelled like a priest ready to say mass, with a shaven crown: Her two fore-feet were tied over her head, with a round paper, like a wafer-cake, put between them; whereon arose great evil will against the city of London. For the queen and the bishops were very angry; and the same afternoon there was a proclamation issued, that whosoever could bring forth the party that did hang up the cat, should have twenty nobles, which was afterward increased to twenty marks; but none could or would earn it.”3

Notes and Sources

  1. Stowe, John. Annales of England to 1603, p1054. This can be read online at https://openlibrary.org/books/OL24989234M/Annals_of_England_to_1603
  2. Crawford, Julie (2011) Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England, John Hopkins University Press, p34.
  3. Foxe, John (1830) Fox’s Book of Martyrs; Or, The Acts and Monuments of the Christian Church, Volume I, revised and improved by the Reverend John Malham, p257.

Another account of the hanged cat appears in The Diary of Henry Machyn Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London (1550-1563). Originally published by Camden Society, London, 1848 – see http://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-record-soc/vol42/pp50-66.

Image: Etching taken from Foxes Book of Martyrs.

10 thoughts on “8 April 1554 – The Hanged Cat”

  1. Christine says:

    Poor thing how ignorant they were in those days why make a poor animal suffer just because of their religious beliefs? All the cat wanted to do was chase mice and then sleep it of in a cosy corner, it meant nothing to the poor cats now the RSPCA would be onto them.

    1. Albert Quentel says:

      It’s interesting to note that about 200 years later, one can see from Hogarth’s pictorial series “The Four Stages of Cruelty”(1751) that children at any rate still practiced cruelty towards cats and other living things. Yet, as Hogarth’s commentary shows, some were always aware or were coming to be aware of how wrong such behavior was. Still it took yet another century or so for people in general to see the light. How slow is the moral evolution of humanity!

  2. Renita says:

    I have to agree with Christine. It’s a shame that there was such a lack of compassion for animals at this time. It’s interesting to note that, according to many studies, those who practice cruelty to animals will most certainly be cruel to people as well.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes your right there often people who grow up and commit murder were nasty to animals as children regarding the bear baiting yes that was very cruel to but they thought nothing of it, today we appreciate the suffering of animals but back then it didn’t concern them at all.

  3. Leslie says:

    That poor cat (of course they treated humans this way back then as well)! We’ve come a long way with our respect for all animals. I remember the first time I heard (and subsequently googled what exactly it involved) what one of Elizabeth I’s favorite pastimes was – bear baiting! Awful.

  4. Jacki Milbanks says:

    If the RSPCA remove an abused animal from a home where there are children , they will put children’s service on alert as the abuser is like to then pick on the next weakest which is likely to be a child. Abusers are just bullies. But that’s off topic. Yes this was disgusting (I’m a huge animal lover) but people were treated little better and I suppose we have to view this from a 16th century Viewpoint

  5. Extraordinary warning from history, and yet…how sad…I love cats!

  6. TeresaO says:

    i love animals & my mini poodle is adored & pampered, but i also understand that life in the 16th century was far different than it is today. It must have been hard to show compassion to animals when daily life could be so grueling, families lost children too often, & the basic needs of humanity were difficult to come by. My modern sensibilities rail against the cruelty shown this poor kitty, but that is the crux of the matter…I have modern sensibilities, the citizens of the 16th century did not.

  7. Dawne says:

    This account serves as reminder of how people use religion throughout history in cruel ways. This abbohrent act as described towards the cat evokes strong reactions yet how much moreso when religion is used to persecute and harm people who have differing beliefs or whose way of life fails to match a particular religious view.

  8. Banditqueen says:

    Francis I had a bonfire built with cats and dogs and some kind of primitive fireworks to celebrate something or other according to the visiting Ambassador sent by Charles V to see the preparations for the invasion of France in 1544, in 1543. He was the Emperor’s general but posed as a guest. He had been visiting the Tower and Thames, he was reporting on his entertainments while in France. In Medieval times weird trials took place on animals accused of killing livlistock, biting, stealing chickens, food and so on, with an advocate, the accuser and witnesses. If guilty the animal was hung. If not they were released and nobody could touch them. A strange regard for animal rights on one hand and no regard on the other. Tales of very popular and public cruelty such as this one abound, they were given association with human behaviour, used to represent the so called alien elements of human nature, so being seen as the familiar of a witch, the evil spirit used to torment the victim and then cruelly used as emblems of hatred and hung in the place of a hated person. I don’t believe that society regarded the cat as we do now. Having said this, I do have a book of stories about Medieval cats, all shown doing everything we can do, all being pampered and all bringing good luck. So some obviously saw the poor pussy in a better light.

    Cats were also seen as working animals, especially in brewing and baking and farming as they got rid of mice and were paid in food and milk. One of most stupid things done to try to control the plague was to kill the cats who also controlled the rats.

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