Home Secretary

Thursday, September 08, 2022


Larry the cat waiting to be let into 10 Downing Street, 2019. Photograph by Parrot of Doom. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

As Boris Johnson left Downing Street for the last time on September 6, Larry, a cat who has lived at Number 10 since 2011 and overseen the three Conservative administrations since then, was seen perched on the doorstep. According to the office of the prime minister, Larry, who bears the title Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, “spends his days greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defenses, and testing antique furniture for napping quality. His day-to-day responsibilities also include contemplating a solution to the mouse occupancy of the house.” Though the opposition has sometimes accused Larry of slacking on the job along with the rest of the cabinets he’s worked with during his term, the new prime minister, Liz Truss, has embraced his widespread popularity and told the public that she is “one of his preferred cabinet ministers” and that they have an “extremely positive” relationship, even though during her campaign a child had suggested to her that Larry would make a better prime minister. The New York Times recently reported that

In his farewell remarks, Mr. Johnson gave Larry a shout-out, noting that he had overcome an initially fractious relationship with the Johnson’s family dog, Dilyn, the latest of several scratchy relations he has had with cats and dogs in the Downing Street complex. Larry, he said, was a figure worth emulating.

“If Dilyn and Larry can put behind them their occasional differences,” Mr. Johnson declared, “then so can the Conservative Party”…In 2019, during President Donald Trump’s visit to Britain, Larry made an appearance in photos, then held up proceedings by taking a nap under the presidential vehicle—a $1.5 million armored Cadillac known as the Beast. A year later, as Britain awaited updates on a post-Brexit trade deal, he stole the show by embarking on an ambitious (and failed) attack on a distracted pigeon.


Lady Holding a Cat, by Katsushika Hokusai, c. 1810. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Asian Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer.

In the spring of 1022 Lady Sarashina, a Heian-era noblewoman serving in the emperor’s court as a lady-in-waiting to the princess, learned that the daughter of the major counselor to the king, whose notebooks she had been studying to practice her handwriting, had died. She buried herself in romance novels for solace, and the following spring, while up late reading, she heard a cat mewling in the court. She and her sister adopted the cat, caring for it in secret and hiding it from the servants. Lady Sarashina came to treat the cat as a noblewoman, addressing it as “Young Miss of the Major Counselor,” to which the cat would respond and approach them, “looking for all the world as though it understood what we were saying.” Young Miss died in a fire a year later, but Lady Sarashina’s father promised to remember her to the major counselor. In her diary, translated in 2014 by Sonja Arntzen and Moriyuki Itō, the lady-in-waiting records the incident that cemented her loyalty to her pet:

It stayed right with us all the time, and if something unclean was put in front of it to eat, it would turn its head away and refuse to eat it…We were so happy and enchanted with it, but just around then, my sister fell ill. Since the house was in an uproar, I had the cat kept in the north wing and did not call it to our side, at which point it raised a fuss, meowing noisily…Then my sister woke up from a painful slumber and said, “Where is the cat? Bring it here.” “Why?” I asked, and she said, “In my dream, the cat came to my side and said, ‘I, who was once the daughter of the provisional major counselor, have been reborn in this form. Since the younger daughter of this household felt so sad remembering me, it created a small karmic bond that brought me to be with you for a while. But now I have been shut away with the servants; how awful it is!’ and the appearance of the cat crying was just like a well-born beautiful woman. I woke up with a start, and hearing the cat meowing, I was struck with pity.”