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Cat in Heraldry

In heraldry the cat is an emblem of liberty; and rightly so! What better emblem than the independent and free spirited cat to signify freedom? Cats hate to be shut up. As an aside we should think about all the cats, wild and domestic in cages throughout the world. They should not be there. The cat is almost certainly the animal most often adopted by sports teams in one way or another; a sign of respect for the cat that is sadly and ironically abused not that uncommonly.

Many long established families or interrelated families have adopted the cat as their emblem. In Scotland we have the Clan Chattan or Clan of the Cats. This is an ancient clan that was founded, I am informed, at the close of the 13th century - an amalgam of several clans.

The crest is the Scottish wildcat. The Scottish wildcat is a wonderfully fierce cat that is barely hanging on in the UK today (2012). Even 100 years ago it was extinct in all but north Scotland. There are said to be 400 left but some are hybrids as they mate with domestic cats. The last time it was seen in England (and no doubt shot) was in the south west over 110 years ago.

Crest of Clan Chattan

The motto: Touch not the cat bot a glove is slightly amusing and wise at the same time. As mentioned, the Scottish wildcat is famous for its fiercely defensive aggression. In modern English the motto means; don't touch the cat without gloves. You wouldn't get near it! The chief of the clan was called, "Mohr au Chat" - the great wild cat.

The coat of arms of the family Keat of Devonshire is "Argent three cats in pale sable". In heraldry "argent" is the tincture of silver. The cats are meant to represent "mountain cats". They are almost certainly the wild cat of Great Britain now called the Scottish wildcat.

Keat of Devonshire Coat of Arms

It is said that a cat in a coat of arms should be square on showing full face and both ears and eyes. That would seem not to be the case above.

Keats as a family name is also ancient. It dates back to the Anglo Saxon race, well before 1066 A.D. In the United States there are some well known people whose surname is Keats: Ezra Jack Keats and author and John Keats a writer and biographer to name two. The best known Keats is the English poet John Keats (1795-1821).

The English surname Catte or Cat (there are other variations) was created sometime not long after 1066 A.D. It appears to have been developed from nicknames given to people who had the appearance and/or character of a cat. That would seem to be the way many names were started in ancient times.

Sources: Various! Including: Our Cats and all about them ISBN 978-1-84664-096-4, Wikipedia, Celtic Studio.com and Clan of the Cat.

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