109: A Winter of Discontent

I feared the dead time of winter would prove tedious in the citie.  I was not mistaken.

A small brown and white spaniel, with a carved wooden chair back as background,
Little Dog Wattie

The better sort all have their spies, but little dog Wattie, who served as my intelligencer, brought me scant newes. 

He sayt the mistress did but visit friends when they went abroad, and he found their talk so wearisome he scarce troubled to ear it.

He told me our Earl had been loosed from prison, but knew not where he lodged.

I went to invite Onix to accompany me to Essex House, thinking our Earl might be there.  But Onix told me he durst not leave his shop, this being the season when rats and mice were most like to seek entry. 

I arrkst him where Picker and Stealer were.  I’d not seen them since they wished my Earl a sword that would not rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swan’s feet.

He sayt they’d boasted of going to see a wicked man hanged. 

“Oh, where?” I cried.

“Many ways from here,” sayt Onix.  “They left long since, and we’re not like to see them soon.”

He told me this man was condemned to die a traitor’s death because he’d sought to poyson first the Earl of Essex, and then Queen Puss [Bess] herself!

“The fellow used such fool means,” he whispered, “sure, he must be mad.  Or else he was put to the question, and had no choice but to confess.  My master and my mistress say that all’s a pack of lies.” 

Then he fled from the window, afeared he’d sayt too much.

A black and white cat peering through an unglazed window in a timbered Elizabeth house.
Onix at the window.

That night I thought to go alone to Essex House, for I guessed our Earl was there.

But Linkin waylaid me.  He (now chief of the Irish committy) told me that Queen Puss had sayt nowt as yet, but there could be no doubting that Essex would go to Ireland.

Essex did not wish to go, but he had no choice.  It were a matter of his reputation.  And our Earl would go with him, if Queen Puss permitted it.

We feared she would say No.  (A pitie she scaped poysoning.)

“Is Ireland a rainy country?” I arrkst Linkin.  “Where none can go dry-foot?”

Linkin did not know.  He told me I must aid him in his investigations.

He’d learnt that the Spain committy had wrought against him.  Their chief had called for any wandering cat that brought newes of Ireland to be sent to her and none other.

“She’ll gain nowt by that,” sayt I.  “In winter no cat travels far.  And if the newes comes from sea cats, who would swear the truth of it?”

A plump, round-faced, ginger and white cat.
Linkin. Law cat, Member of Parlement, and now chief of the Irish Committy.

“Even so, I must do better,” sayt Linkin.  “I shall keep close to the master and our mistress and heed their talk.  You must seek informations from the books in this house.”

That were easier sayt than done, for we had no bookroom.

Law books lay open in the master’s chamber, but other books were kept in a great box, which was oped only when the master or the mistress wished to look on them.

So I could do nowt but haunt that box.  I leapt in every time the lid was lifted, and feigned to nose a mouse within.

I thought that if I did this oft enough, they might take out all the books and leave me time enough to find one about the Irishes.  If there were one to be found.

Such is the way of the world.

Picker and Stealer were gone to a hanging.  Onix lived in a house where he learnt much of poysoning.

Linkin was chief of the Irish committy.

Whereas I, the cleverest of all, who could both write and read, served as Linkin’s secretarie, wearying first my wits and next mine eyes for the sake of his reputation.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The hanging Picker and Stealer spoke of was probably that of Edward Squire, hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 23 November 1598.

In 1595 Edward Squire had gone on Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage, been captured by the Spanish, allegedly “turned” by English Jesuits in Seville, and sent back to England as a potential assassin.

He then went on the ill-starred expedition to the Azores (the Islands Voyage), where he allegedly tried to kill the Earl of Essex by putting poison on his chair.  In 1598 he was arrested and charged with poisoning the pommel of Queen Elizabeth’s saddle.

Clearly, Onix’ apothecary master and midwife mistress were sceptical of the charges, and attributed his confession to torture.

Tyburn (near where Marble Arch now stands) was about 3 miles westward through open country.  I suspect Picker and Stealer went no further than Newgate – then a gate in the city wall that doubled as a prison – to see the unfortunate man brought out to begin the sorry journey along Holborn and the Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street).


108:  The King of Spain is Dead

Philip of Spain (1527-1598) as a young prince.
– Titian, c1550, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Linkin and I next went to parlement, we heared a report on the old King of Spain.

Paws sayt there’d long been talk of his death, but many refused to believe it.

Now the Committy on Spain had completed their investigation.

A queen cat who was chief of the committy came forward to give out the informations.

She sayt, “The King was slow in his dying.  His lords had time enough to order fine funeral clothes.”

(Sarcastickal applauds.)

“He was so full of corruptions his servants had to crawl beneath his bed and claw holes in the mattress.  This was to drain the evil humours from his sores.”

Onix rose up to say the King had lain a-bed too long.  He arrkst, “Why did the King’s servants not lift and turn him?”

“Turn him where?” arrkst the committy cat.  “A boil showed on his leg.  After it was oped and cleansed, four more grew on his breast.  The foul matter in them bred a great host of lice that were very hard to kill.”

(Applauds.  But I thought those lice were more likely bred in the poetick soul of some Spanish cat.  Did not my uncle sit prick-eared at the door when our Earl’s father died, then tell of a host of maggots that carried off his soul?)

Onix sayt, “All cats should take heed.  We must ever be up and brisk about our business, lest we too grow such sores.”

The committee cat arrkst, “When was the King of Spain not brisk about his business?  I mean the ruination of this country, and many more besides.”

“He was bit by rats!” came a call.  “They give you sores.”

“Well, he’s being turned now,” came another.  “On the devil’s spit.”

“Order!” called Paws.

The committy cat continued her report.  Viz.

The King commanded that his coffin be brought forth.  And that a dead man’s skull be set upon his cupboard, wearing his imperial crown.  All was done.

Then he arrkst that a little box be fetched.  Therein lay a precious jewel that he gave to his daughter.  And a piece of paper for his son, whereon was writ how to govern his kingdom.

“The King,” sayt the committy cat, “told his son to have a great care and regard for his sister, who had been his looking glass and the light of his eyes.” 

(In other words, the favourite kit.  And doubtless his son was joyed to hear it.)

An attractive young woman with high-piled reddish hair, and a hint of the long Habsburg chin. She is richly dressed and jewelled.
The Infanta Isabella, the light of her father’s eyes.
– By Jan Pourbus, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paws rose and gave thanks for the report.

“I’ve more to tell,” sayt the committy cat.


“Also in the box was a whip with little knots in it, all bloodie.  The King told his kits that the blood on it was that of his father who was king before him.  He beat hisself with it.”

None could credit that, but the committy cat swore ’twas true.

“The King gave word that those imprisoned for hunting could be loosed, and some that were to be hanged, pardoned.”

“For hunting what?” arrkst a cat.

“Rats,” called another.  “But he was bit, and learnt the error of imprisoning us.”

Paws sayt that the next who spake out of turn would be arrkst to leave.

“Then,” sayt the comitty cat, “the King gave orders for his funeral, and left this world.”

“A better place without him,” sayt Paws. “And here ends your report.”

“Not so,” sayt the committy cat.  “For there’s a new King now.  He hates us as his father did.  The Spanish are like to come at us through Ireland, and Her Majestie fears the King of Scots may aid them.”

“Enough!” cried Paws, and bade her be gone.

The committy cat gave her evil looks, but did as she was told. 

Linkin (with Paws’ permission) arrkst, rhetorickal, “What says the Earl of Essex?  Crush Spain, and Ireland will not trouble us.”

Some gave him applauds.  Others cried that Essex thought of nowt but war and his own advancement.

Paws sayt, lofty, “What Essex thinks matters not.  I hear on good authority that he shall be sent to subdue the Irishes.”

Then she arrkst Linkin to convoke a committy on Ireland.  He was well pleased.

I warned Linkin that all his committy sittings would give him sores on his bum.

A cat reclining on top of a set of shelves containing large jars of herbs and spices.
Onix, brisk about his business.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorPhilip, King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily, had died at the age of 71 in mid-September 1598.

There’d been a rumour of his death almost a year earlier, so I’m not surprised the cats remained sceptical until they heard a satisfactory account of his last days.

Philip had been a constant presence in Queen Elizabeth’s life: first, her brother-in-law and king for the duration of his marriage to her half-sister Queen Mary I, then her suitor, and finally her enemy.  His death must have been another sharp reminder of her vanishing world.