Cats in the Enlightenment (Part 7 – The Great Cat Massacre)

In addition to the negative images of the cat pointed out in the last post, a well documented incident in Paris of a working class mob torturing and murdering cats, because the rabblerousers were unhappy with their economic situation, proved that not all mentalities had changed.

cat massacre

19th Century Illustration of a Tabby Cat


Known as The Great Cat Massacre, workers in 1730 revolted in a print shop in Saint Séverin, Paris, where they massacred the innocent cats of Jacques Vincent’s wife.  The story goes that Vincent’s wife fed and pampered many cats while their own print shop workers went hungry.  The jealous workers grew upset when the cats constantly howled, keeping them awake during the night.   In revenge for the noise and for the kindness the Vincents had shown the cats, the workers at first pretended to be cats and howled in order to wake up the Vincents.  Unable to sleep because of the din produced by the workers, the printer and his wife asked them to remove all the cats except her favorite, “La grise”.  Presumably due to their overall dissatisfaction with their working conditions, the workers, in a fit of sadism and contempt, instead killed the wife’s favorite cat, “La grise”, by breaking its back.  The other feline victims, after being severely beaten, were thrown into sacks and given mock trials.  Once the workers had pronounced their inevitable guilty sentences, they garroted or hanged the innocent creatures.  The working class, perhaps due to their own continued social suffering, were not affected by the bourgeois concern for animal welfare and persisted in their torture of animals, especially the cat.  Again, the cat became a symbol and victim of social unrest.  This time used as a pawn by the workers against the bourgeoisie (Darnton, 1984, p 87).


Other incidents of cat torture persisted in France especially during religious events.  During Mardi Gras, boys joyfully threw cats up in the air and pulled their hair so as to hear them howl.  Sometimes the evil ruffians set cats on fire and chased them through the streets, “cour amiaud,” and on St. John the Baptist day cats were burned.  Only in 1765, was the burning of dozens of cats in Metz outlawed (Ibid. p.104)




Darnton, Robert. (1984). The great cat massacre and other episodes in the French cultural history. Basic Books Inc.



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