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    Place of origin



    The origins of the Chartreux (or Carthusians) and their name, like those of many breeds, are shrouded in time and conflicting stories. The best known claims that the cats journeyed from South Africa to France with a group of Carthusian monks who carried their companions home to live in the order's head monastery, the Grande Chartreuse, in the Chartreuse Mountains. Another tale says that the ancestors of the Chartreux were feral mountain cats from Syria who traveled to France courtesy of returning thirteenth-century Crusaders, many of whom later entered the Carthusian monastic order with their felines. The connection between the order and the cats was challenged in 1972, however, when the prior of the Grande Chartreuse stated that its archives held no records of the monks' having kept cats resembling the Chartreux.

    Whatever the monastery's archival records might or might not say, the "little gray cat" of France appears in the country's literature as early at the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth century is referenced by the name Chartreux. A more prosaic explanation for the breed's name claims that it is derived from the name of a luxurious eighteenth-century Spanish wool, pile de Chartreux. The cat's wooly coat, developed from generations of cats surviving outdoors in often harsh conditions, resembled the Spanish wool. In the eighteenth century, the dense coat of the Chartreux was prized by furriers because it could be dyed and sold as otter fur.

    Some of the early texts describe the Chartreux as having longer fur, akin to the Persian or Angora of that time. In the eighteenth century, naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte of Buffon, considered the Chartreux familiar enough that he described a blue Persian by likening its color to that of the Chartreux. He believed the Persian, the Angora, and the Chartreux to be related. Buffon wrote that a comparison of the wild cat with the Chartreux cat found that they differed only in the grayish-brown color of the wild cat being changed to ash-colored gray in the Chartreux. German writer Jean Bungartz described the Carthusian (the Chartreux's other name) in An Illustrated Book of Cats (1896) as a self-colored blue variety with long fine hair, black lips, and black soles, and being somewhat phlegmatic, like the Angora and the Persian.

    In his 1926 book Les Races des Chats (The Breeds of Cats), Philippe Jumaud likened the Carthusian or Chartreuse cat to the "Maltese cat" known in the United States, describing its large head, large, full eyes, short nose, and small erect ears. Its coat, he wrote, was "half long and woolly" and the color was bluish gray. A year later, an English cat show judge visiting the Paris Cat Show saw a class for "Chats de Chartreux." As the breed was unknown in the United Kingdom, she asked for more information and came away little the wiser for being told by different parties that they were "the American cat" and the Maltese!

    Natural colonies of these blue-gray cats existed in parts of France up until the early twentieth century. The modern Chartreux trace their ancestry to a few individuals from small, isolated colonies of domestic cats in France collected by breeders interested in preserving this ancient breed. The breed was largely preserved by two sisters, Christine and Suzanne Leger, who selectively bred the Chartreux from feral blue cats from isolated colonies crossed to British Blue Shorthairs. The early breeders based their breed standard on eighteenth-century naturalist descriptions; Chartreux from those breeding programs were exhibited in France in 1928.

    In common with cat breeds across continental Europe, the Chartreux breed was greatly diminished during the Second World War. There were no known natural colonies of these robust blue cats left in France. Only the determination of European breeders kept the Chartreux from extinction; breeders crossed the remaining cats to British Blue Shorthairs and blue-cream shorthairs, to Russian Blues and to blue Persians. These efforts helped, but the breed remained rare even in its home country.

    In the 1950s, French cat fancier Fernand Mery wrote that the Chartreux was not to be confused with the British Blue, calling this a cat of rural France with a stockier body than the British Blue, standing solidly on comparatively short, well-muscled Biblelegs. He described the head as being round and full cheeked, on a thick-set neck. The powerful jaw made Chartreux "temptingly reminiscent" of the European wild cat. The fur was described as woolly and any shade of grayish blue, although paler hues were preferred. In contrast, British cat fancier Rose Tenent did not distinguish between the British Blue and Chartreux when she wrote, "On the Continent, too, this cat [the British Blue] is becoming increasingly popular, and there its name is the Chartreuse," whereas British breeder and judge Grace Pond described the Chartreux as confusingly similar to the British Blue.

    Although the two breeds differ in temperament and physique, the Chartreux breed is not recognized as a separate breed in the United Kingdom because it is considered too similar to the British Blue Shorthair. Early cat fanciers greatly favored blue cats but did not distinguish between breeds until later, so any imported blue French cats would have been interbred with British Shorthairs.

    By 1970, the FIFe (the major European cat registry) had assimilated the Chartreux and the British Blue under the more attractive breed name Chartreux but with the breed standard of the more populous but less interestingly named British Blue Shorthair. Breeders of the pure Chartreux objected, and the move was reversed in 1977, so that the Chartreux and British Blue Shorthair could be maintained as separate breeds, and crossbreeding was discouraged. Some European cat clubs that were not affiliated with FIFe continued to use the name Chartreux for the British Blue Shorthair, for European Blue Shorthair, or for crosses between one of these shorthairs and the genuine French Chartreux (this may change under the growing influences of TICA and of the WCF). This tended to occur in countries where the genuine Chartreux was rarely, if ever, found and has resulted in Chartreux longhairs and blue-cream Chartreux. Although the Chartreux longhairs and blue-cream Chartreux are attractive in their own right, breeders of the genuine Chartreux are careful not to introduce these into their breeding programs.

    The first Chartreux were taken to the United States in 1971, and in 1987 the breed gained formal recognition; however, it remains relatively rare. Unlike many breeds with a long history, the Chartreux has remained almost unchanged in looks since the 1930s. Some of the purest Chartreux bloodlines are now to be found in the United States.

    Traditionally, the first letter of the official name of a Chartreux cat relates to the year of its birth; all Chartreux born in the same year have official names beginning with the same letter. The code letters rotate through the alphabet each year, omitting the letters K, Q, W, X, Y, and Z.

    Physical description

    The Chartreux is a study in contrasts. The medium-size, upright ears and small, narrow muzzle seem out of place on the broad head attached to a thick powerful neck. The shape of Chartreux's head and muzzle give this cat a sweet-looking expression, and the Chartreux is often described as smiling. The substantial, robust body seems to overpower the fine-boned legs and delicate, compact feet. This has earned the Chartreux the rather unflattering nickname of "potato on matchsticks." But when these discordant parts come together, the overall impression is that of a uniquely beautiful cat. This is an extraordinarily slow-maturing breed, with the dense coat reaching its full maturity after three years of age.

    The dense coat is medium short and slightly woolly in texture with a resilient undercoat. It often parts like sheepskin at the neck and flanks. The coat develops as the cat matures, being silkier on younger cats and woollier on mature cats. The cat's orange- or copper-colored eyes contrast with the blue-gray coat. Mature cats usually weigh from 12 to 16 pounds (5–7 kg)

    Colors and varieties

    This breed exists only in the color blue, ranging from ash gray to a deep slate blue. The tips of the fur give the coat a silvery sheen.


    Loyal to their owners, these sweet-natured, quiet cats are adaptable. They do well as solitary cats and in homes where their owners may be gone for most of the day. Although tolerant of children and other animals, they prefer a quiet home and are an excellent breed for senior citizens. They often bond closely with one person, although not to the exclusion of other family members. They like to sleep with, or preferably on, their owners. Despite their sedentary nature, they are intelligent and observant, sometimes learning to unlatch doors. They retain their hunting instincts and enjoy chasing and "killing" a toy; some will also retrieve a toy so it can be thrown for them to "kill" until they tire of the game.

    Activity level


    Vocal level

    Low; many Chartreux will never vocalize.

    Special needs

    Grooming with a brush, especially during the springtime shedding season, will help keep the coat in good condition. This sedentary breed can be prone to obesity if overfed.


    Benedictine is a term used to describe a breeding program of longhaired Chartreux. Some European cats known as Chartreux have mixed heritage resulting in blue-cream variants and longhairs.

    Chartreux kitten

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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