A cat mouser in A.D. 1000 in Wales was worth about £13 in today’s money

Howel the Good and his law book.
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The Prince of Wales in the year 936 was Howel the Good – Hywel Dda – and he made himself famous in cat history by introducing special laws to protect domestic cats. It seems to me that he is the only leader to have valued kittens and cats in a very precise way which indirectly protected them. It was, I would suggest, an early form of animal protection law. And Howel the Good is famous for introducing written laws that were traditions at the time. And he strengthened the status of women too.

For Howel the Good to have created these laws in the 10th century in Europe is remarkable. He appears to have been a man well ahead of his time and a cat lover.

He must have felt that the domestic cat was an animal of value in terms of its mousing skills and the benefits that it brought to farmers and other people. It seems also that he was interested in protecting the more vulnerable in society which included at the time women as well as domestic animals.

The domestic cat in those times was far more functional. This was a utilitarian animal a bit like a dog. As you know, domestic cats have become far less utilitarian and far more entertainers and companions.

Howel the Good felt that the domestic cat should be highly respected and introduced a scale of prices for kittens and cats together with a fixed penalty for stealing or killing a cat.

The prices varied according to the cat’s age and killing skills. To quote:

  1. The worth of a kitten from the night it is kittened until it has opened its eyes is a legal penny.
  2. And from that time, until it shall kill mice, two legal pence.
  3. And after it shall kill mice, four legal pence.

The National Archives in the UK, have a currency converter to show the purchasing power of money in 1270. That is as far back as I can go. Using that converter, it tells me that 4p in 1270 was worth £12.16 in today’s money. That was the value of an adult domestic cat killing mice about 1000 years ago in Britain.

It is quite tricky to value a random-bred cat (moggy) today in 2023 but is probably about three times that and somewhere near £40 but it might be more. Also today, we attach the emotional connection between cat and person to the cat’s value. This increases it. This is a reflection of the companionship role of the domestic cat today in comparison to the working cats of 1000 years ago. Although they were also companions.

Interestingly, he used the phrase “legal pence” implying that in the country at that time (I presume it was Wales) there was a considerable amount of illegal money – I guess counterfeit money. There may have been less regulation of the creation of money in those days.

As you can see the man lay down very precise rules and they included the failure of a cat to kill mice or the failure of a female cat to rear its kittens. If this happened the purchaser could claim back one third of the price that they had paid for the animal.

The penalties for stealing or killing a cat were imaginative. To quote:

“The worth of a cat that is killed or stolen; its head to be put downwards upon a clean even floor, with its tail lifted upwards, and thus suspended, whilst wheat is poured about it, until the tip of its tail be covered; and that is to be it’s worth; if the corn cannot be had, a milch sheep with her lamb and her wool, is its value; if it be a cat which guards the king’s barn.”

The value of a cat was also equated with other livestock as follows:

“There are three animals whose lives are of the same worth: a calf a filly and a cat.”

I think you will agree that Howel the Good was indeed a good ruler, a kindly man who valued the benefits that domestic cats brought to people in the year 936 in Wales. I suspect that he had one or two cats of his own as pets.

Hywel is chiefly remembered for the creation of Wales’ first formal legal system. ‘The Hywel Law Book’ or ‘Cyfraith Hywel’ was written partly in Latin, and dealt with matters of court, law of country, and the law of justices.

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