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Larry the Cat outside 10 Downing Street. There is a large festive wreath on the door

Larry the Cat: The history of Britain's 'Chief Mouser'

Image: I T S /

For over 500 years, a seemingly innocuous hero has worked tirelessly in public office to ensure the health and safety of the British government. Many view the position, which has been passed down from protege to protege through the centuries, as a little bit of light-hearted fun. However, despite its playful public appearance, the position has played a vital role in protecting the government.

The title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office might seem like a cheery nod to the cats living in 10 Downing Street, but the truth is that it is a vital and noble position whose history pre-dates the creation of His Royal Majesties Government by almost 200 years.

Who was the first Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office?

The first Chief Mousers landed feet first into their role in 1514. Even though the trailblazers provided an essential public service, their positions in the national government were surprisingly dangerous and carried an inherent risk of death.

When Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was appointed as the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain in September 1514, he brought an entourage of feline friends. He was known in the court of Henry VIII for his eccentric relationship with his multiple cats, who would join him everywhere, from the Royal progress to Sunday mass.

Thanks to an intense and public smear campaign less than 100 years earlier, when the Pope declared war on cats, the general view of the animals during the 15th and 16th centuries was poor.

Due to their association with witchcraft, a fear that was just starting to take hold across Europe at the time of Wolsey’s appointment, people drove cats out of their homes for fear that they were an instrument of the devil.

Undeterred by their bad press, Wolsey insisted on the company of his feline friends at every given opportunity during his time as Lord High Chancellor of the UK, firmly establishing the importance of cats in the running of the country.

Sadly, little is known about Wolsey’s cats, but they remain memorialised to this day alongside their owner in a statue that sits at the junction of Silent Street and St Peter’s Street in Ipswich. Behind the bronze casting of Wolsey, a small cat can be seen peeking its head out.

Who is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office today?

Larry the Cat is the incumbent Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, having held the position since 2011. He currently holds the joint record of serving the most Prime Ministers with his predecessors, Peter and Peter III. He has made regular television appearances while conducting his rounds outside no. 10 Downing Street and has divided popular opinion with his staunch anti-pigeon policy.

However, Larry isn’t the only Chief Mouser who has won the nation's hearts. Here are three more felines from the British public office that you definitely should know about.

Gladstone - Chief Mouser to HM Treasury

The incumbent Chief Mouser to the HM Treasury, Gladstone is the first cat to hold this position. Despite assuming the position in June 2016, the fallout of Brexit meant that the announcement of Gladstone's appointment wasn’t made until late July.

Within 48 hours of arriving in his new offices, Gladstone was making waves within the HM Treasury in Whitehall by catching his first mouse. A go-getter in government, Gladstone has a strong social media following, proving that he is a skilled hunter and a dab hand at public relations too.

Palmerston - Chief Mouser to the Foreign Office

Following his adoption from Battersea Dogs & Cat’s Home in 2016, Palmerston held the title of Chief Mouser of the Foreign Office for a little over four years until he died in 2020. The black and white cat was the first and, to date, the only feline to have held the title.

Like any political career, Palmerston’s tenure wasn’t one without scandal when in July 2016, he and Larry the Cat had a public standoff in Downing Street over a contestation of role jurisdiction. Shortly after this altercation, Palmerstone was unfortunately caught on camera sneaking into no. 10 where, a short time later, he was escorted off the premises by a police escort, making him the first cat burglar to serve in the British government.

Tibs the Great

The Royal Mail officially started employing cats in their workforce in May 1869 when the London Money Order Office took on three cats for a six-month rodent-reduction trial. They were each paid a starting wage of one shilling per week. The first three cats were so diligent in their roles that five years later, they received 1s 6d a week, and Royal Mail offices across the country were opening up positions for four-pawed employees of their own.

Perhaps the most well-revered of these postal felines was Tibs the Great, who managed to keep the Royal Mail HQ entirely rodent-free in his 14-year stretch. Paid 2s 6d a week, Tibs lived in the basement of the building and was cared for by the offices' janitor, who also owned Tibs’ mother, Minnie. When Tibs died in late 1964, several newspapers wrote obituaries in his honour.

Sadly today, there are no official feline Royal Mail workers. Since switching to rodent-free plastic sacks in 1984, demand for postal pussycats has reduced dramatically. All positions are now filled by volunteers who lend their hunting skills to Royal Mail free of charge.