Marie Antoinette and the origin of the Maine Coon cat

You probably know that the wife of France's King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, features in one of the many legends on the origin of the Maine Coon Cat. Here is some detail on the lady and her story. It is said that while the people of Paris starved she lived lavishly. She liked pets and at one time had a dog, a pug, which she took to Austria.

Leo, the Maine Coon who won the first formal Ameircan cat show in 1895.

And it is also said that she had six Angora cats. I think, today, we would describe these as Turkish Angora cats but of course this was before the cat fancy and therefore by today's standards they would be better described as long-haired cats possibly from Turkey. And they would have looked like the street cats of Turkey and not the purebred Turkish Angoras bred in America which are very different. The real Turkish Angora look like a traditional Persian cat.

She apparently permitted her glamorous cats to roam around the tables during court gatherings. It was the time of the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette was destined to be arrested. At this time there was a shipping company based in Wiscasset, Maine, USA. Their ship, or one of their ships, Sally, travelled between Maine and France.

Miniature of Marie Antoinette (by Louis Marie Sicard, 1787)
Miniature of Marie Antoinette (by Louis Marie Sicard, 1787)

The Sally was docked at the port of Le Havre during the summer of 1792, at the time of King Louis XVI's and Marie Antoinette's arrest (with their children). The ship's captain was Samuel Clough. Her sympathisers had planned to rescue the Queen and put her on the Sally to escape to America. Her arrest precluded this but her belongings went onto the ship including her cats. She was beheaded before the Sally set sail.

Her Angora cats arrived on the east coast of America which is now Maine, USA. Back in those days all domestic cats were indoor/outdoor cats and it appears that the cats wandered off. Perhaps without her attention and commitment to their welfare they were neglected and allowed to disperse, but I am speculating. That said the whole story is speculation.

The cats fended for themselves in the New England countryside. Her belongings were disposed of but it is claimed that some of her furniture is still to be seen in Wiscasset. Her cats, so the legend goes, became the foundation cats for the beautiful American cat, the Maine Coon. Perhaps the shaggy medium-longhaired coat is a legacy of surviving in harsh Maine winter weather. They would have mated with other local cats over time but retained their longhaired and handsome appearance.

Just before the beginning of the cat fancy i.e. the time when people bred and showed their purebred cats are cat shows, Maine Coon cats were farm cats, sometimes living in barns. They were functioning, working cats but nonetheless handsome and it was decided that they should be shown at informal cat shows. 

This led to a brown tabby being shown at the first American cat show at Madison Square Garden. The cat won the show. So the Maine Coon was quite an established but informal breed of cat, if you like, before their status became formalised during the early years of the American cat fancy. Maine Coons won early informal cat shows in the lead up the Madison Square Garden one.

The Marie Antoinette theory on the origin of the Maine Coon is one of a dozen, no less, most of which are less believable than the one I describe above.


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