There is a legend that the Chartreux are descended from cats brought to France by Carthusian monks to live in the order’s head monastery, the Grande Chartreuse, located in the Chartreuse Mountains north of the city of Grenoble (Siegal 1997:27). But in 1972, the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse denied that the monastery’s archives held any records of the monks’ use of any breed of cat resembling the Chartreux (Simonnet 1990:36–37). Legend also has it that the Chartreux’s ancestors were feral mountain cats from what is now Syria, brought back to France by returning Crusaders in the 13th century, many of whom entered the Carthusian monastic order.
The first documented mention of the breed was by the French naturalist Buffon in the 18th century. The breed was greatly diminished during the first World War and wild populations (Helgren 1997:100-103) were not seen after World War II. A concerted effort by European breeders kept the breed from extinction. The first Chartreux were brought to the U.S. in 1971 by Helen and John Gamon of La Jolla, California. In 1987, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) advanced the Chartreux breed to championship status (Siegal 1997:27). There are fewer than two dozen active Chartreux breeders in North America as of 2007.
Historically famous Chartreux owners include the French novelist Colette, Charles Baudelaire and French president Charles de Gaulle.