On World Cat Day, cats are the mascot of the internet even more than usual. Were cats the mascot of the middles ages, too? Cats think so
Disclaimer : The medieval times was, in general, a bad time to be a cat. They were set on fire, hurled and battered – and those were the family fun days.
Cats were associated with witches. They featured as ingredients in both witches’ brews and folk medicine. In more than one folktale women who consumed cats in stews gave birth to kittens.
Blame Pope Gregory IX, who kicked off centuries of cat-baiting when he decided that Lucifer was half-cat.
At the same time, medieval manuscripts are chock-full of cats preening, grooming, playing and basically acting all Lolcat.
Those who enjoyed animal companions seemed to understand them in much the same way as we do.
Cats often had the run of medieval dining halls, a situation deplored by courtesy manuals, who asked that owners refrain from petting cats sitting on tables.
They also invaded bedrooms, causing the Boke of Nurture to beg that :
the owner dryve out dogge and catte, or els geve them a clout
Needless to say, folk didn’t get with the Boke.
Medieval people had social media too.
They knew a grumpy cat meme when they saw one.
This one is surely the medieval precursor of ceiling cat.
Cats pop up in unexpected places, like in a snail.
Or licking their butts in an apocalyptic religious scene
Medieval people understand the cat/person relationship
They chased mice when not focusing on other things
Cats “helped” their humans
Cats did human things with deep emotions
The ever-popular Fat Cat
Medieval Cat fail – squished by an “L”
Medieval Cat fail – cat castle laid seige to by mice
There’s a ton of Medieval advice and beliefs about cats
This gem from the Distaff Gospels advises how to keep your cat:
“If you have a good cat and you don’t want to lose it, you must rub its nose and four legs with butter for three days, and it will never leave the house.”
A charming tip for wooers of cat-lovers :
“Young men should not hate cats because they are the cause of great happiness and can assist in achieving success in matters of love with young and charming ladies.”
Cats were invaluable with predicting the weather :
“When you see a cat sitting in the sun in a window, licking her behind and not rubbing her ear with her leg, be sure that it will rain that very day…”
John White in “A Rich Cabinet with Variety of Inventions” advises you treat your lover like a cat :
“When a woman wants to be well loved by her husband or her lover, she must give him catnip to eat: he will be so much in love with her that he will not rest unless she is close to him.”
The main takeaway is that people loved their cats
While the perception is that cats were kept in the middle ages for their value as mousers, that isn’t the complete truth.
Neither is their perceived protection from bears, cows, and husbands who turn into goblins at night.
Exeter Cathedral set aside a penny a week (from 1305 to 1467) to feed the cathedral cats who didn’t catch enough mice in the main church.
There is still a small cat door to the cathedral’s south tower.
The Ancren Riwle, or Nun’s Rule, was the English rule for nuns written in about 1300. It’s explicit that while hermits could own three acres and a cow, there was only one companion suitable for an anchoress:
‘You shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, except only a cat.’
In the later Middle Ages, Church officials found that monks and especially nuns were keeping dogs, cats and birds as pets. While they could not ban them entirely, they did plead with the animal-loving monks and nuns not to keep too many and to refrain from taking them into church!
One thing for sure, cats left their prints all over the middle ages. Enjoy World Cat Day!
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.