Was Cardinal Wolsey a cat lover?

It is frequently stated that Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530), the chief minister of Henry VIII, was a cat lover. It is stated that he was so attracted to his cats that he insisted on taking them on formal occasions.

There are reports he took them to state dinners and church services. And according to other reports he always had his favourite black cat beside him, next to his throne, when he was administering justice as Lord Chancellor of England.

Indeed, there is a statue of Cardinal Wolsey in Ipswich town centre of him with a long gown on a fancy throne with a charming cat next to his throne. So here we had a man who supposedly loved cats and took his favourite cat wherever he went at a time when in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII had issued a Papal Bull which made it legal to burn those implicated in witchcraft by virtue of owning a cat. Owning a cat was a risky occupation.

In the classic work, The Tiger in the House (1938) Carl van Vetchen wrote:

“Holy men as well as devils found the cat the most attractive of animals. The profound wisdom, the concealed claws, the stealthy approach, and the final spring, all seem to typify the superior attorney. We should not be astonished, therefore, that Cardinal Wolsey placed his cat by his side while acting in his judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor.”

Dr Desmond Morris in his book Cat World says that (except for recent stories and that statue in Ipswich!) there is no written or pictorial evidence or reference anywhere to support the claim that Cardinal Wolsey loved and looked after a cat or cats. He suggests that it may have been an invention concocted by his enemies to give the impression that he had a sinister “familiar” with him at all times, likening him to a witch.

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