156:  Of Locks and Liberty

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.The newes came fast that fall.  There was talk of some improvement in the health of my Earl.

His lodgings in the Tower had been made more commodious, and he’d been let out upon the roof to take the air.  

Then came word that Puss Fur-None would be permit to visit him at times convenient.

I had no wish to go with her.  I knew she hoped to leave me there as his companion.  And is not one who must bide with a prisoner no more than a prisoner herself?

The Tower of London , four years before Tricks’ Earl was there.  Click on the picture for a closer look.

I heard Puss Fur-None speak of the Tower again while I was instructing my kits in the art of poesie.  I was learning them a sonnet composed by my uncle Gib.

Not one of his deep-brained sonnets.  (I can scarce fathom them.)  This was one writ on the discontentments caused by finding a door shut fast against you after you’ve wrought mischief.

It came recent to my mind when I reflected on the ill turn Fortune had dealt me and my Earl.

When in disgrace with Fortune and all eyes,
I out cast bewaul my sorry state,
And trouble close-shut doors with bitter cries,
And claw their heedless wood and curse my fate;
Wishing me like to those now snug within,
Full fed like him, like her with hearth possessed,
And, wanting paws like theirs to move the pin,
With what I best can do contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I raise my tail – and leave my mark,
Strong as the scents at break of day arising
From sullen earth to perfume woods and park.
So all will know I waited there in vain,
But left a sweet remembrance of my pain.

My kits listened most respective.  Then one little fool wisht to know what my uncle had done to be cast out.

I sayt we did not need to know that.  And I told them not to believe my uncle ever wished hisself a man or woman so he could open doors.  That were nowt but a poetick conceit illustrative of discontent.

That silenced them, but not for long. 

“If our Earl may walk upon the Tower roof he must now wish hisself a cat,” sayt one.

“Why?” arrkst the fool kit.

“So he could leap away with none to catch him,” I sayt.

“But our uncle was kept out, and our Earl is kept in,” sayt another.

“A door shut fast is a door shut fast,” sayt I, out of patience.  “And an affront to our liberty.”

Then I made haste to quit the house before Puss Fur-None sought to keep me in.  As I left I heard my kits rejoycing in my going.  Illustrative (they sayt) of their liberty.

Saucie little ingrates.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl’s lodgings in the Tower were comfortable.  His biographer, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, refers to a bill for refurbishments that were probably carried out around August/September 1601.  A partition was built so he could have a “withdrawing” room as well as a bedchamber, and the walls and ceilings were all whitewashed.

While the Earl didn’t have to pay for the refurbishments, another biographer, G.P.V. Akrigg, notes that he paid the Lieutenant of the Tower £9.00 a week rent.  In terms of purchasing power, that’s about £2,000 today.

The state of his finances had been investigated after his conviction.  His lands in Hampshire were valued at £1145.18s (s for shillings: 20s = £1) per annum.  However, this amount was reduced by annuities and other charges to £318.18s, exclusive of his lady’s jointure.[1]   His lady’s jointure was the portion of his estate settled on Bess Vernon to provide her with an income should he die first.

The Earl’s debts amounted to a staggering £8000.  Evidence of an extravagant lifestyle?  Or of having paid his former guardian William Cecil £5,000 for refusing to marry his granddaughter? 

 Anyway, the Earl now seems to have had a stroke of luck.   A few years earlier he’d transferred financial control of his lands to three managers, effectively creating a trust.  This prevented confiscation by the Crown when he was convicted of treason.  Only his personal possessions were forfeit.

G.P.V. Akrigg refers to an inventory (almost illegible) made of items at Place House in Titchfield.  Fortunately Gib’s basket, with his papers stored beneath his cushion, must have gone unnoticed.  Otherwise we may never have known the source of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Place House (Titchfield Abbey) as it looks today.

[1] Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth 1598-1601 ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (1869) p 600.

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