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. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cats in Heraldry

Coat of arms of Benin
The coat of arms of Benin, featuring
two natural leopards rampant.
Our subject today is a big one: heraldry, and specifically the use and symbolism of cats (mostly wild cats) in heraldry. The subject of heraldry can get complicated fast, but we’re sticking to some basics to keep it simple. First, we'll look at what heraldry is and where it came from, and then we'll explore what cats symbolize and some of the different positions they appear in. Finally, we'll start to explore domestic cats in heraldry.

An extremely brief introduction to heraldry

Heraldry has been around since the late 12th century, according to the website of English Heritage. Just think of knights in those metal helmets with visors that protected their faces. How could anyone tell which knight was which when their faces were all covered up? To solve this problem, knights started painting designs on their shields. Each design was unique to that knight, so people would be able to recognize him. They used different colors for the background, with shapes like crosses and chevrons (the shapes were called “ordinaries”) and emblems that could be shapes (stars, diamonds, crescents, etc.) or animals (birds, hares, deer, lions, etc.). The emblems were called “charges.”

The meanings of different cats in heraldry

Coat of Arms of Jersey in the Parish Church of Saint Helier, detail
The coat of arms of Jersey, with three
lions passant guardant, a position in
which they are known as leopards or ounces.
Not surprisingly, everything in heraldry means something. The cats most commonly used as charges seem to be the “big guys,” like lions and tigers, but smaller wildcats and even domestic cats have been used as heraldic symbols. Below are the meanings of different kinds of cats:

Cat, including wildcat and lynx: Liberty, vigilance, forecast, courage
Leopard or ounce: Valiant and hardy warrior who enterprises hazardous things by force and courage
Lion: Dauntless courage and majesty
Tiger:  Fierceness and valor; resentment; dangerous if aroused

The term “leopard” can be kind of confusing because often the so-called leopards you see in heraldry don’t have spots, and everyone knows a leopard can’t change its spots, right? Well, in traditional heraldry, a leopard was basically a lion in a certain position called “passant guardant.” That just means that the animal is walking (“passant”; the right forepaw is raised to indicate walking) and looking at the viewer, or “on guard” (“guardant”). In more modern heraldry, leopards are depicted with spots just as they appear in real life. A heraldic leopard is also sometimes called an “ounce” (tune in tomorrow to learn more about this word as it relates to cats!).

And while we’re on the subject of words that mean something different than you might think, a beast called a “tyger” has also been used in heraldry. This looks sort of like a lion but not quite. It has no stripes, and it’s sometimes called a “heraldic tiger.”

Tyger, or heraldic tiger. Image taken from A Complete Guide to Heraldry, 1909. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A tyger, or "heraldic tiger."

More terms used to describe attitudes of animals in heraldry

We introduced the terms “passant” and “guardant” above, but there are several more words you will commonly see and hear when it comes to the positions or "attitudes" of cats and other animals:
Rampant: reared up on the hind legs
Statant: standing, all four feet on the ground
Sejant: sitting on the haunches; the forepaws are on the ground
Couchant: lying down with the head raised
Regardant: looking over the shoulder

Domestic cats in heraldry

It’s easy to find lots of examples of lions and leopards used as heraldic symbols. Many countries feature these cats or other big cats in their coats of arms, as you’ve seen from the examples we’ve shown. But what about domestic cats? Well, we did find several examples. Here are some of our favorites:

The coat of arms of Sakvice, Czech Republic, has a kitty cat statant facing a lion rampant:

coat of arms of Sakvice, Czech Republic

The arms of the family of Muyser Lantwyck (Belgium), with a cat that has caught a red mouse:

arms of the family of Muyser Lantwyck (Belgium)

And the coat of arms of the municipality of Vaugondry (Switzerland) features a gray cat with its tongue out:

coat of arms of the municipality of Vaugondry (Switzerland)

Now that you've seen some examples of cats in heraldry, maybe you'd like to create your own coat of arms featuring a cat or cats. This would be a terrific subject for Caturday Art! Just sayin'.


Image credits

All images via Wikimedia Commons. Coat of arms of Sakvice by Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic [Public domain]. Arms of Muyser Lantwyck by Keghel [CC BY-SA 3.0]. Coat of arms of Vaugondry by Delta-9 [CC BY 3.0]. Coat of arms of Benin by Tinynanorobots, Fenn-O-maniC [CC BY-SA 3.0]. Coat of arms of Jersey by Man vyi [Public domain]. Tyger, or “heraldic tiger”: Image taken from A Complete Guide to Heraldry, 1909. [Public domain].


  1. sum one round heer knot menshunin any namez dai$y thinkz herz a direct dee send it oh BAST
    but frank lee...me tuna...doez knot think thiz countz ;) ♥♥☺☺

  2. Thank you for this very informative article share, I actually was not too sure was heraldry was. Thanks for the history lesson, keep up the posts. Always love checking out your blog.
    World of Animals

  3. Isn't Switzerland a cool country ? Purrs

    1. Great and interesting post, thank you ! Purrs

  4. Oh my. how interesting. I'm glad I wasn't around then. I'd have been scared of my kin. mol


  5. Way cool! I didn't know any of this!

  6. This is super interesting! I didn't know hardly anything about heraldry but if cats are involved, count me in!

  7. Very interesting post. I like that coat of arms from The Netherlands.

  8. I am on the mailing list for the British Heraldry web site. It is fascinating, and the fact they still makes coats of arms today amazed me but they do!