Tudor cats

Posted By on April 3, 2015

The cat from the statue of Cardinal Wolsey in Ipswich.

The cat from the statue of Cardinal Wolsey in Ipswich.

Thank you for all the kind words regarding the death of my elderly cat Poppy, they mean such a lot to me. Beth von Staats reminded me that Cardinal Wolsey had a cat so I thought I’d write a quick post on Tudor cats, based on a talk I did on Tudor pets for the Tudor Society last year.

Cats were not a popular Tudor pet due to their association with the Devil and witchcraft. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII decreed in his bull against witches that cats were unholy creatures and were to be burned along with the witches that owned them, although I haven’t been able to find that instruction in the bull myself. When witches were burned at the stake it was often said that a black cat leapt out of the flames.

At the coronation of Elizabeth I in January 1559, a dozen or so cats were stuffed into a wickerwork effigy of the Pope and paraded through the streets of London before being burned on a bonfire. Their dying shrieks were said to be the devils inhabiting the Pope’s body. Horrible!

Another cat story is that of the imprisonment of Henry Wyatt, father of poet Thomas Wyatt. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in Richard III’s reign. According to the story, he was saved from starvation by a cat bringing him a pigeon on a regular basis. After his release Sir Henry Wyatt, it is recorded, would ever make much of cats, as other men will of their spaniels or hounds.

The resident cat, used as a “mouser” today, in 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Minister’s residence in London, is thought to date back to the time when Cardinal Thomas Wolsey placed his pet cat by his side, on a cushioned chair, while undertaking his duties as Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. A bronze statue of Wolsey in his hometown of Ipswich in Suffolk features a cat peering out from behind his chair and clinging to his robes. It’s a beautiful feature of his statue.

Thanks again for all your kindness. It’s hard to stay sad anyway when you have two energetic kittens, two mad dogs and three lively children zooming around the house!

Notes and Sources

  • van Vechten, Carl (1922, 2000) The Tiger in the House, New York – see http://www.bartleby.com/234/
  • Beadle, Muriel (1977) The Cat, Simon & Schuster
  • Mee, Arthur (1954) Kent (The King’s England), Hodder & Stoughton
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