No, I haven’t lost my mind. I started pondering cats in the Regency when Megan asked if I had ever put a cat in a Regency romance. I haven’t, and I had to ask myself why. I love cats. I love all animals for that matter, but I adore cats. I realized that I am uncertain how cats were seen in the Regency period. I do know cats were kept as functional animals–as mouse and rat-catchers–in kitchens, in warehouses, and on ships. But were they commonly considered pets?
I have not encountered any contemporaneous writing mentioning cats in particular, and welcome hearing from anyone who has. There is some pictorial evidence, but little that I could find was specific to the Regency period. We can start with ancient Egypt, where it is commonly known that cats were admired and worshipped. We know that cats existed in ancient Rome, as evidenced by the fresco from Pompeii shown above.
We know that cats were kept as house pets in earlier periods in England as well. Here are two portraits, one of third Earl of Southampton with his cat Trixie in the Tower of London, c.1601-1603, and a portrait of the Graham Children by William Hogarth that depicts
the family cat in the background.
The third Earl of Southampton kept his cat with him throughout his imprisonment and commissioned John de Critz the Elder to paint the portrait of himself and his cat prior to his release. This certainly is evidence of cat love!
The portrait of the Graham children simply shows the cat’s presence in the household–hungrily eyeing the caged bird with a very predatory expression on his face.
So now I arrive at the Regency period. I found a portrait of a kitten by George Stubbs which must have been commissioned by a very adoring owner (a Miss Anne White):
Unfortunately, I did not find any other formal portraits containing cats in the Regency period, and I welcome information and links from anyone who knows more than I. But I did find two satirical prints that rather say it all!
The first is dated 1808…
And here we have a print by the same artist in 1815.
Actually, I suppose what I have learned is that there were “Catwomen” in the Regency! I think I have just discovered where I would have fit in if I had lived in that time…except I probably would have been a milkmaid with a furry following rather than a gracious lady as is depicted above. ::Sigh:: That would be my fantasy…having a servant to clean the litter pan!
So, does anyone else have any primary or secondary information on cats in the Regency? Did they even HAVE litter pans? Enquiring minds want to know!