Vintage Printable: Anglo Saxon Cat Law

Ancient British Justian law pertaining to cats. True dat.

Justinian Cat Law

Ancient treatise on animal taxonomy has an interesting passage on Justinian cat law — the value of cats and kittens demonstrated that cats weren’t native to the British Isles.


Translation follows after the jump:

Our ancestors seemed to have had a high sense of the utility of this animal. That excellent Prince Hod dda, or Howel the good, did not think it beneath him (among his laws relating to the Prices, &c. of animals*,) to include that of the cat; and to describe the qualities it ought to have. The price of a kitling before it could see was to be a penny; till it caught a mouse two-pence. It was required besides, that it should be perfect in its senses of hearing and seeing; be a good mouser; have the claws whole, and be a good nurse: but if it failed in any of these qualities, the seller was to forfeit to the buyer the third part of its value. If any one stole or killed the cat that guarded the Prince’s granary, he was to forfeit a milch ewe, its fleece and lamb; or as much wheat as when poured on the cat suspended by its tail ( the head touching the floor) would form a heap high enough to cover the tip of the former †. This last quotation is not only curious, as being an evidence of the simplicity of ancient manners, but it almost proves to a demonstration that cats are not aborigines of these islands; or known to the earliest inhabitants. The large prices set on them, (if we consider the high value of the species at that time ‡) and the great care taken of the improvement and breed of an animal that multiples so fast, are almost certain proofs of their being little known at that period.

* Leges Wallica, p. 247, 248.

† Sir Ed. Coke in his Reports, mentions the same kind of punishment anciently for killing a swan, by suspending it by the bill, &c. Vide, Case des Swannes.

‡ Howell dda died in the year 948, after a reign of thirty-three years over South Wales, and eight years over all Wales.

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