Does your cat get the royal treatment in your home? Your cat may have the Victorian Era to thank for their lavish lifestyle. Though humans and cats have had a love affair for thousands of years (and were worshiped in Ancient Egypt), it wasn’t until the 1800’s that they began to be viewed as pets or members of the family. They were previously seen as “useful animals” that were excellent at rodent control. Queen Victoria of England, her friends, and family had a huge impact on animal rights and pet culture.
Title Photo Credit: Louis Wain, public domain
Queen Victoria Champions Domestic Animals
The Victorian Era changed everything for cats. Queen Victoria had been very isolated during her childhood. Animals and dolls were the only companions that she had. Perhaps this is why Queen Victoria would become an avid animal lover and advocate for animal rights. She was concerned with the treatment of domestic animals and took important steps to help the animals:
- Queen Victoria funded school prizes for essays written about kindness to animals.
- Queen Victoria spoke out publicly against the practice of vivisection (doing experiments on live animals) calling it “a disgrace to a civilized country.”
- In 1840, Queen Victoria gave her official patronage to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (thus it is “royal”). However, she did show a bit of hypocrisy with her love of hunting sports.
Though was known for loving dogs, Queen Victoria owned many pets. She purchased 2 Blue Persian cats that started a frenzy over the breed. Many people wanted cats that looked just like the Queen’s cats. Later in life, Queen Victoria had a black and white Persian named White Heather. White Heather outlived her and was adopted by her son.
The British people followed the Queen’s lead and fell in love with cats. Discovering different breeds of cat soon became of great public interest. Having pet cats that were lavished with affection caught on like wildfire. Some people began to personify cats so much that they would clothe them to keep them from being immodest.
The Royal Cat Ladies
Queen Victoria was not the only member of the royal family to fall in love with cats. Her granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Schleswig Holstein, and daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra of Wales, were actually better known for their love of cats. These women became actively involved in the cat fancy and protecting the welfare of cats.
Princess Victoria of Schleswig Holstein became a breeder of blue Persian cats. Rumor has it that one of the kittens that she bred, Duschar, was given to Queen Victoria in her later years. However, Princess Victoria reclaimed ownership of Duschar after the Queen’s death.
The Cat Fancy Begins
Artist, illustrator, and animal lover, Harrison Weir, organized the first ever cat show in 1871. It was held at the exquisite Chrystal Palace which had hosted the first World’s Fair and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. This was an affair for the upper class and aristocrats to show off their beloved cats and compete for a prize. The allowed breeds included: Black, White, Tabby, and Longhairs.
The public couldn’t wait to see all the different types of cats. The show would have 170 entrants and more than 20,000 visitors! A second show was created to include the cats of the “working class.” “Cat Fancys” as the shows were known quickly spread around the globe. The first Cat Fancy in the U.S. was at Madison Square Garden in 1895.
Harrison Weir had been considered very knowledgeable about breeding animals. In 1892 he published a book called Our Cats and All About Them. The book talks about the different breeds he has identified, caring for cats, cat shows, and some humor. He drew the illustrations of the cats in the book as well.
Other Victorian Era Cat Lovers
There were a number of famous cat lovers throughout the Victorian Era that helped our view of cats to become what it is today. Here are just a few of them:
- Louis Wain – An artist and cat lover that drew anthropomorphic cats (standing upright and behaving as humans).
- Louis Carroll – Author of Alice In Wonderland.
- Beatrix Potter – Author of Peter Rabbit
- Thomas Hardy – English novelist and poet
- Mark Twain – American author and humorist
- Henry James – American/British author
- Alfred Tennyson – Poet Laureate of Great Britan and Ireland during Queen Victoria’s reign
- John Keats – English romantic poet
Is your cat treated like royalty?
Sources & Digging Deeper
- The First Cat Shows – HarrisonWeir.com
- Queen Victoria – Biography
- The History of the RSPCA – Michigan State University
- A Very Brief History of Cat Shows – Sarah Hartwell
- Harrison William Weir (1824-1906) – CFA Foundation
- Queen Victoria’s Secrets – Adrienne Munich
- 101 Amazing Things About Cat Lovers – Todd Hafer
- Amesh (1900) – CFA Foundation