163:  Our Mother and Me

A black and white cat, staring directly at the portrait painter. This is the cat that appears in the Tower Portrait with the Earl of Southampton.
Our new narrator.

I do not believe our mother ever liked me.

Oh, I do not doubt that if some horrid monster had clamb down the chimney of the chamber wherein we lay and sought to carry me off she would have fought that monster tooth and claw.

But that were because she would not have permitted any monster to meddle with a kit of hers, not for love for me.

I was much afeared of monsters.  My brother and sisters oft begged our mother for tales of horrid monsters.  How I wished that they would not!

Our mother told me tim’rous cats get nowt in this world.  What we want, we must win, because none will offer it to us on a silver platter.

Our mother had much business to attend to.  When she was from home our nurse gave us suck and cleansed us.

Our mother sayt that were proper.  “Many great ladies,” sayt she, “have nurses to suckle and cleanse their brats.  ’Tis fitting I should too.”

Our nurse’s own kits had been made away with, or so our mother sayt.

The late Earl of Southampton – now in the Tower and known as plain Mr Wriothesley.

We all feared that we too would be made away with, but our mother sayt: No.  We were under the protection of our late Earl of Southampton’s lady.

I arrkst why the Earl hisself was late in coming to protect us.

Our mother sayt that calling our Earl “late” was a matter of law.  It meant he were dead, though in truth he were not.

I arrkst, “Why is he dead yet not dead?”  (I feared he were a monster that none could kill.)

Our mother sayt, “By law he’s dead.  He was sentenced to a traitor’s death.  But now he’s imprisoned in the Tower, where some say he’s like to die come what may.”

Then she sayt that one of us kits would be sent to bear him company!

I arrkst, “Does that mean that one of us will be soon be dead?”

“You will,” sayt she, “if you arks me any more fool questions.”

Then she turned sudden on my pretty sister, who was toying with a great feather.  Our mother sayt that were no feather, but a half-cut quill.  She gave my sister the tap on the head that means Take Heed of All I Do, seized the quill in her mouth, and told us we would now learn to write our names.

Quill Pen

We had no names save those known only to the Queen Cat of Heaven who loves all her kits, whether we be fool or no.

So then our mother sayt we were henceforth all named Harry in honour of our undead Earl.  “Belike,” sayt she, “when you have places of your own you may come by other names, but these will serve for the lesson.”

Thus began our education, which is not a thing to be entrusted to nurses.  Or so our mother sayt.  I durst not arks her why.

Instead I watched as she seated herself, thrust out one leg as if she meant to cleanse her belly, and slipped the quill between her toes.

I, most desirous of winning her praise, applied myself to the task of quill-holding right well.

I alone had skill enuff to place it between my toes!

My brother and sisters could not refrain from fighting it and then each other.

But all our mother sayt to me was, “It came easy to you because you have big feet.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorBy my calculations, this cat (temporarily known as Harry) and his siblings were born in the dowager Countess of Southampton’s apartment in the old Savoy Palace in early May 1601.

Tricks probably began their literacy lessons in July – shortly before the (late) Earl’s accommodation in the Tower was refurbished.  I’m not surprised that she seems to have been a less than tender mother, but trying to teach an entire litter of kittens to write with a quill would try anyone’s patience.  Besides, she had a lot on her own far-from-silver platter. 

Tricks was commuting between her residence in Blackfriars and the Savoy on the Strand.  She was determined not to be sent to the Tower to keep her late Earl company.  She had to maintain her role as Mistress of the Revels in Blackfriars, and endeavour to track down Shakespeare to take revenge on him.  A busy life.

The Tower of London, a view from across the river.