A writer of the Middle Ages says: "The peasants wore cat skins, badger skins, etc." It would appear that lambs' and cats' skins were of equal value at that period.
Harrison Weir, in his work on cats, tells us that in 1871 and 1872 a wild cat was exhibited at the Crystal Palace by the Earl of Hopetoun; he also mentions that as late as 1889 Mr. Edward Hamilton, M. D., writing to the Field, gives information of a wild cat being shot at Inverness-shire. He states: "A fine specimen of a wild cat was sent to me on May 3rd, trapped on the Ben Nevis range. Its dimensions were: from nose to base of tail, 1 foot; height at shoulders, 1 foot 2 inches. "In July, 1900, a paragraph to the following effect appeared in the Stock-Keeper: "The Zoological Society have just acquired a litter of wild cats. This is the only instance where a whole litter has been sent to the Gardens. It was taken not far from Spean Bridge, Inverness-shire."
The late Professor Rolleston, in an article on the "Domestic Cats of Ancient and Modern Times" (Journal of Anatomy and Physiology), has well explained much of the confusion about cats in former writers and their so-called interpreters. He shows how loosely now, as long ago, the word "cat" and its classic equivalents may be employed. Just as we still speak of civet cats and martens. Up to the beginning of this century the wild cat was wrongly thought to be the original of the tame species. Yet apart from more exact evidence this is shown to be an error if we note the value set upon domestic cats in former centuries. The Rev. Dr. Fleming, in his "History of British Animals" (1828), points out some of the distinctions between the two species. He also alludes to the spotted variety, termed the Cypress Cat, as noticed by Menet, who wrote the earliest book on British Natural History in 1667.
Puss In Warfare (vide p. 8). (From a 16th Century MS. )
"It is a curious fact," says Mr. J. E. Her-ting, an eminent naturalist, "that in Ireland, notwithstanding reports to the contrary, all endeavours to find a genuine wild cat have failed, the so-called 'wild cat' of the natives proving to be the 'marten cat,' a very different animal."
In the early Middle Ages, according to tradition, cats were utilised in a strange manner. The illustration on p. 7 depicts a German fortress which it was desired by the enemy to set on fire. Not being able, one may suppose, to effect this by treachery, the foes pressed into their service both biped and quadruped. On the back of the pigeon and cat alike, a flask of inflammable matter is attached, and furnished with a time fuse to ignite at the proper moment. There is a broad road for the cat to travel, and we must presume that the gate of the fortress was left open for her entrance. The pigeon would be supposed to cut the cord of the flask with her beak when just over the magazine and let it drop at an auspicious moment. This cut is reduced from a coloured drawing in an unpublished manuscript volume dated 1575, in which is a great variety of illustrations of fireworks for war and recreation.
It is strange that the cat, which was an object of worship and adoration to the Egyptians, should, during the long, dark years of mediaeval history, be looked upon as a diabolical creature. The only pleasant legend handed down to us from the Middle Ages is that of "Dick Whittington and his Cat." There are records to show that this worthy citizen was thrice Lord Mayor of London, and we have always been led to believe that it was to his cat he owed his wealth and prosperity. At all events, so long as London is London, Whittington will ever be associated with his cat.
Innumerable are the legends that gather round the cat during the Middle Ages. It was believed that the devil borrowed the coat of a black cat when he wished to torment his victims. Sorcerers pretended to cure epilepsy by the help of three drops of blood taken from the vein under a cat's tail. At numerous trials for witchcraft, puss figured as the wicked associate of the accused. Cats were offered by sorcerers as oblations to Satan, and they were flung into the fire at the Festival of St. John. All praise to Louis XIII., who as the Dauphin interceded for the lives of these poor pussies thus annually sacrificed. It was thought to bring good luck to a house if a cat were cooked alive in a brick oven, and in Scotland she was roasted before a slow fire as a means of divining the future.
The mania of witchcraft had pervaded all ranks, even the holy profession, whose duty it should be to preach peace and goodwill. Hundreds of wretched old women were sent out of life "in a red gown" (the slang of that day for being burnt "quick" or alive), after undergoing the most excruciating tortures to make them confess the impossibilities for which they suffered.
In 1591, when King James of Scotland was crossing from Denmark, a great tempest arose at sea. This was supposed to have been caused by a "christened cat" being placed in the vessel by witches. The following is an extract from an old pamphlet: "Againe it is confessed that the said christened cat was the cause that the Kings Majestie's shippe had a contrarie wind to the rest of the shippes in his companie, for when the rest of the shippes had a fair and good winde, then was the winde contrarie and altogether against his Majestie." Thus, in the past as in the present day, blame was laid upon the poor harmless puss, where no blame was due.
In an old book called "Twenty Lookes over all the Roundheads of the World," published in 1643, we read:"In the Reigne of Oueene Mary (at which time Popery was much exalted) then were the Roundheads (namely, the monks and friars) so odious to the people, that in derision of them a cat was taken on a Sabbath day, with her head shorne as a Fryer's and the likenesse of a vestment cast over her, with her feet tied together, and a round piece of paper like a singing Celse between them; and thus was she hanged in a gallows in Cheap-side, neere to the Crosse, in the Parish of St. Matthew. Which cat, being taken down, was sent to Doctor Pendleton (who was then preaching at St. Paul's Cross), commanding it to be shown to the congregation. The Round-head Fryers cannotabide to heare of this cat."
A Group Of Cats In Pottery (From Figures in Cases at the British Museum. )