Sunday, 24 April 2016
How Cats made Good Pets in Medieval Times
Apologies for a two-week absence of posts. This was due to the arrival of Poggle the Puggle puppy! This week a short post about the character of cats and how they made good illicit pets (at least in medieval times!)
In the Middle Ages pet keeping was frowned upon. This was because animals were seen as servants of man, as adorned by God and set out in the Bible, and to ‘spoil’ them went against nature. There was also the argument that in times of terrible hardship, keeping a pet took food out of the mouths of the starving poor.
Indeed, noblemen did keep pet dogs and overfed them, since obesity was seen as a way of showing off your wealth and that you had so much food you could feed it to the dog.
However, cats were hunters which meant they could fend for themselves and not eat valuable rations. This meant in medieval times many people who had no reason to keep a working dog, could justify contact with a cat. Indeed, working animals were usually kept outside, but the nature of mice meant the cat was allowed indoors, which provided another contact point between people and potential pet.
Women who lived and worked in the home, those in religious orders, and scholars spent a lot of time indoors. The quiet nature of cats meant that those in religious orders could pet a cat without being found out, and cats suited the reflective nature of scholars.
"I have seen in my own order, some lectors who despite being highly learned and of great sanctity had a blemish [pet-keeping] on account of which they were judged frivolous men."
In religious orders especially, it was considered saintly to love wild animals, but frivolous to keep them as pets. The Cistercian order banned keeping of animals for pleasure.
“Cats, dogs, and other animals are not to be kept by nuns as they distract from seriousness.”
But how do legislate against showing affection to the kitchen cat? In reality, a blind eye was often turned when it came to cats, because of their quietness and use as hunters.