According to Mark Bryant in his wonderful book –
Cardinal Richelieu owned fourteen cats.
I have yet to find a contemporary painting of the Cardinal avec cats – I believe the engraving above is from the 18th century.
Mark Bryant even names some of the cats :
Lucifer, Gazette, Racan and Perruque (twins born in the Academian Racan’s wig) Serpolet, Pyramus, Thisbe, Ludovic the Cruel and, his favourite, Sourmise.
They were all looked after by two attendants and were provided for in his will.
I have a copy of Richelieu’s will and, without the actual names of the two attendants, I can’t say for sure whether the above is true or not. As far as I can see there is no mention of cats.
Another brilliant book is Katharine MacDonogh’s Reigning Cats and Dogs: A History of Pets at Court since the Renaissance.
Her comment on Richelieu and his cats…
However, some of the most celebrated clerical cat lovers never kept pets of any description. It was from the incongruous marriage of might and impotence that the myth of Cardinal Richelieu was conceived. Paradis de Montcrif, lecteur of Queen Marie Leszczynska and toady at the court of Louis XV, was the author of the story in which, as the power behind the throne of Louis XIII, Richelieu was cast as a satanic figure who sat and slept surrounded by kittens (he killed them when they reached maturity), essentially familiars, who lent their diabolical aid to maintain this sinister, feline minister in office. Attention was thus skilfully deflected from the King himself who, although the eventual father of the ultra-virile Louis XIV, produced no heirs during the first twenty-two years of marriage to Anne of Austria.
The association of cats, witchcraft and impotence explains their omission from royal portraiture from the reign of Louis XIV onwards.
Two very opposing views.
My Richelieu has cats. Sourmise is mentioned. I will try to find out more about this subject in due course.
1558- First text about the French blue cats.
On the death of a small kitten
Joachim du Bellay
Here lies Belaud, my little grey cat,
Belaud, that was the most handsome perhaps
That nature ever made in cat’s clothing.
This was Belaud, death to rats.
Belaud, to be sure his beauty was such
That he deserves to be immortal.