Cardinal Richelieu and his Cats

According to Mark Bryant in his wonderful book –

Private Lives: A True Compendium of Curious Facts, Bizarre Habits and Fascinating Anecdotes about the Famous and Infamous throughout History

Cardinal Richelieu owned fourteen cats.

Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu


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…

Paradis de Montcrif

Paradis de Montcrif

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.

One thought on “Cardinal Richelieu and his Cats

  1. MacDonogh is wrong: Moncrif is not the source of the story – in fact, he does not mention Richelieu at all, although he says Colbert was a cat-lover. Also, his book is a celebration of cats, from Ancient Egypt onwards (it’s available on GoogleBooks), so her idea that the story had negative connotations seems wrong, anyway. I’m trying to trace its origins: I suspect it may lurk in some memoir or ‘petite histoire’ of the later 17C (within living memory of Armand). It seems an odd thing to invent from thin air, down to details of the cats’ names and personalities: there is no reason for it, political or other, as far as I can see. (She’s also wrong about Louis XIII: he and Anne of Austria had a few stillborn children before Louis XIV.)

    Alfred Franklin, La vie privée d’autrefois: arts et métiers, modes, moeurs, usages des parisiens du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle d’après des documents originaux ou inédits (Volume serie 01 v.05), pp. 96-98, discusses Armand and his cats, and Piaillon, who was Mlle de Gournay’s cat. Having offended the old lady by addressing her teasingly in archaic language, he recompensed her with money for herself, her servant, and her cat and its kittens! The source is Les historiettes, by Tallemant des Réaux, composed c. 1659, but not published until 19C. Champfleury, in Les Chats (1869), mentions Armand and cats, as does Landrin. His fondness for them seems to have been established in literature by the 1770s.

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