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Louis Le Breton's illustration of a grimalkin from the Dictionnaire Infernal

A grimalkin (also called a greymalkin) is an archaic term for a cat.[1] The term stems from "grey" (the colour) plus "malkin", an archaic term with several meanings (a low class woman, a weakling, a mop, or a name) derived from a hypocoristic form of the female name Maud.[2] Scottish legend makes reference to the grimalkin as a faery cat that dwells in the highlands.

Nostradamus, the French prophet and astrologer, 1503–1566, had a cat named Grimalkin.[3][reliable source?]

Beware the Cat was published in 1570 by William Baldwin. The novel is a story of talking cats, and part of it relates the story of the Grimalkin's death. According to its editors, the story, and thus the name, originates with Baldwin in terms of being the earliest example known in print. It is also spelled Grimmalkin or Grimolochin.[4]

A cat named Grimalkin in William Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth helped the three witches look into Macbeth's future.[5]

During the early modern period, the name grimalkin – and cats in general – became associated with the devil and witchcraft. Women tried as witches in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were often accused of having a familiar, frequently a grimalkin. A noted example is the familiar of one of the three witches in Macbeth.

A Grimalkin appears in chapter 18 of The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The narrator questions if it's a cat looking at a mouse or the devil looking for a soul, in this case that of Judge Pyncheon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "grimalkin, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, Web. 16 June 2015
  2. ^ "malkin, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 27 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Ruling Cats and Dogs". Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  4. ^ Baldwin, William (1570). Beware the Cat: The First English Novel, edited by William A. Ringler, Jr. and Michael Flachmann, Huntington Library Press, ISBN 0-87328-087-3 hardcover (1988), ISBN 0-87328-154-3 softcover (1995)
  5. ^ "Obey the Kitty". Retrieved 20 March 2017.

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