The Cat in Medieval Inventions:

Not only were cats inspirations for paintings, but they also became the models for strange tortuous inventions.  In 1549, a cat organ was made in honor of Philip II of Brussels.  A large bear played the organ that contained up to twenty cats perched in separate compartments.  The parts of their tails that extended outside the box were tied to cords attached to the keyboard.  When the bear hit a key, it pulled the cat’s tail, and the cat would scream, amusing sadistic onlookers (Champfleury, 2005)



Cat Organ cat in medieval inventions

Cat Organ


Cats’ tails were also used as an inspiration for an instrument of human punishment.  The cat-o-nine-tails consisted of nine round spiked metal balls interspersed down two leather straps which could easily slice into vulnerable flesh.  




Cat O'nine Tails Wood cut medieval Cosmographic Universelle of Munster cat in medieval inventions

Cat O’nine Tails
Wood cut medieval Cosmographic Universelle of Munster


Another odd invention, created by Conrad Kyeser (1366-1405) a German engineer, was a battle wagon made in the shape of a cat.  Using the cat’s fear inspiring presence to further strike terror into those who would come upon it, Kyeser did not forget to include the cat’s sharpened claws (Kieckhefer, 2000). Later, cats would also be expected to participate in warfare.  In a 1575 drawing from an unpublished manuscript, a German fortress is an object for attack by fire. Attached to the backs of a cat and pigeon are flammable bombs that they must carry to the fortress and destroy kamikaze style.

Cat-Puss In Warfare vide-p-8F Simpson 16th century Manscript

Cat-Puss In Warfare, Vide-p-8F
16th century Manuscript



Kieckhefer, Richard. (2000). Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press.


Want to know more about the cat in history? Then this is the book for you. Now available on Amazon. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats





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