This is a quote from Jean Simonnet’s book “Le Chat des Chartreux”; a study into the origin and history of the breed: “I am inclined to think that these blue cats originated in the rugged, mountainous regions of Turkey and Iran, from where they were probably brought into the neighbouring territories of Syria”. Their unique coat also indicates that they lived in damp areas with cold nights and harsh winters. They were brought to France by returning Crusaders or merchants in the 13th century. The cats adopted France with all their native vitality and intelligence and the country adopted the breed. Stories of the blue cats began during the 16th century, describing them as stocky cats with a woolly ash-grey coat and copper eyes. The first document mentioning these cats is a poem written by Joachim du Bellay in 1558 entitled “Vers Français sur la mort d’un petit chat”. There is another representation of a blue cat in Jean-Baptiste Perronneau’s painting “Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange” from 1747, into which the cat is painted as a pet, which was quite rare at that time.
The name Chartreux was first mentioned in the “Dictionnaire Universel de Commerce” by Jacques Savary des Brûlons, published in 1723, in which it was defined as “the common name of a type of cat which has a blue coat. Furriers do business with their pelts”. It is possible that these cats were named after the luxurious Spanish wool “la pile des Chartreux” because of the soft and slightly woolly character of the coat. However, the exact origin of the name remains unclear. Although known as the “Cat of France”, they were also referred to as “the cat of the common people”. They did not lead easy lives, as they were valued primarily for the pelt, the meat and as ratters.
The 18th century naturalist Linnaeus described the Chartreux in great detail and gave it the Latin name Felis Catus Coeruleus. Buffon and other later naturalists also documented their studies of the Chartreux. These descriptions were used by the early breeders for putting together a “Chartreux breed standard”. The first official breed standard was accepted by Fédération Féline Française (FFF) in 1939.
Natural colonies of these cats were living in Paris and in some isolated regions of France until the early 20th century. However, after WW I, no major breeding colonies of pure Chartreux were known to exist, so some French breeders became interested in preserving this ancient breed for posterity. One colony was found living on the island of Belle-Île off the coast of Brittany by Christine and Suzanne Léger. They began monitoring the cats, helping to care for them and eventually began selective breeding under the cattery name “le Guevere”. These cats became the nucleus from which the modern day Chartreux now descend.
At the same time, Cat Club de Paris was formed. They started the breeding with blue cats from the wild, up until 1936, when they utilized a Blue Persian to improve the eye colour. Despite the two breeding stocks being different, in 1953 the Léger sisters acquired a male cat from the Cat Club and they acquired a female from Belle-Île. By the mid 1960s the Cat Club’s stock was very inbred. Because of the ignorance of the history of the Chartreux, and the lack of knowledge of the selective breeding of their predecessors, the breeders at that time, started to cross-breed their stock with the British Blue. In 1970, Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) made the unfortunate decision to assimilate the Chartreux with the British Blue and adopted the British Blue standard for both breeds. This led to strong protests from the few remaining breeders of the genuine Chartreux, and in 1977 FFF decided to separate the British Blue and the Chartreux and to introduce a breed standard for each breed. This decision was supported by the president and founder of FIFe. Outcrossing is not allowed by LOOF, CFA and TICA. FIFe state: “A clear distinction should be drawn between the Chartreux and the Russian Blue and the British Blue. Crossing the Chartreux with these two breeds is undesirable”.