A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Qualities and Value of Cats in 10th-Century Wales



Miss Cuddlywumps delves deeper into old laws about Welsh cats


In two recent posts (“It Took a Cat to Make a 10th-century Welsh Hamlet” and “Divorce in the 10th Century: Who Got the Cat?”), I told you about some old Welsh laws about cats. You may have thought that was the end of the Welsh cat laws, but no. There are a few more laws, all dealing with the worth of a cat and a cat’s essential qualities.

I remind you that we are talking here about laws codified by King Hywel Dda (Howel the Good), “the king of all Wales” (reigned ca. 910–950). Hywel Dda’s one code became three regional codes: the Venedotian, Dimetian, and Gwentian. As you will see, these codes were very similar, at least in what they had to say about cats.

Venedotian Code

On the worth of a cat

A kitten, from the night it was born until its eyes opened, was worth 1 legal penny. From then until the kitten could kill mice, it was worth 2 legal pence. After the cat could kill mice and for the rest of its life, it was worth 4 legal pence.


Cats of the 10th century were expected
to be good mousers.
Photo by Lxowle [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL],
via Wikimedia Commons.

On the qualities of a cat

A cat must have all her claws intact and be able to see, to hear, to kill mice, and to rear and not devour her kittens. If a cat was found to be lacking in any of these qualities, one-third of her worth was to be returned to the buyer.

Gwentian Code

On the worth of a cat of the king

If someone stole a cat of the king, the cat was to be held with its tail up and its head to the ground. Wheat was then poured over the cat until the tip of its tail was covered, and the cat was worth that amount of wheat. (From a cat’s point of view, this sounds like a really bad way to determine value.)

On the qualities of a cat

A cat should be “perfect of ear, perfect of eye, perfect of teeth, perfect of tail, perfect of claw, and without marks of fire [whatever that means].” The cat should also be a good mouser, not devour its kittens, and not go “caterwauling on every new moon.”

Dimetian Code

On the worth of a stolen cat

If someone killed or stole a cat, the cat was to be suspended by its tail with its head on the floor. Again, wheat was poured over the cat until the tip of its tail was covered, and the cat was worth that amount of wheat. (We wonder how often this “pouring wheat over the cat” test was actually carried out. Surely there could be a better way?)

There was a simpler way to figure out the value of a cat, if wheat was not available. According to the code, a cat from the king’s barn was worth a milch sheep with her lamb, and a common cat was worth 4 legal pence.

On the qualities of a cat

The seller of a cat had to ensure the buyer that the cat would not go “a caterwauling every moon.” The cat must also “have ears, eyes, teeth, and nails,” and must be a good mouser.

Miss C’s modern code


Cats of today are expected to be good lap warmers.
Photo by Tobias Klüpfel from Munich, Germany (Flickr)
[CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

On the worth of a cat

Cats are priceless. I’m surprised you have to ask. For more on the worth of a cat, see “If a Cat Was Worth Four Pence 1,100 Years Ago, How Much Is a Cat Worth Today?”

On the qualities of a cat

Fortunately, the modern cat is more a companion than a commodity. A cat must be cute, beautiful, handsome, or what have you. Physical perfection (of ear, eye, teeth, tail, claw) is optional. Mousing is also optional. Caterwauling is discouraged, but having a good tear through the house is not. Purring is a big plus, as is the ability to cuddle with a human who has had a bad day.

Source

Van Vechten, Carl. Cats! The Cultural History. Kindle edition. Burslem Books, 2010. First published as The Tiger in the House, 1936. Locations 1973–1996.

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