86: The Fates of Nero

Our ships came safe home.  The Spanish rogues waited near Fowl Mouth to attack them, but (as we hoped) the immortal wrath of the Queen Cat of Heaven wrought against them.  She would not suffer the rascals near our fowl.

A delicately coloured drawing of a small harbour with several ships, but only a small human settlement.
A section from a map of Fowl Mouth (better known as Falmouth, on the coast of Cornwall). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Our heroick Essicks has also fled.  He went to the country to scape the mortal wrath of Queen Puss [Bess].

The voyage yielded small profit for her, and she blames him for it.  But Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] found her taking the air in her garden at White Hall, and spake so loud in defence of Essicks that many standing by heared all.

A black and white drawing of a palce in semi-rural surrounds, fronting on to the river.
A 16th century sketch of the palace of Whitehall from the Thames, by Antony van den Wyngaerde. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I do not know if my lord is condoling with Essicks, or in London.  I dare say the Queen’s young Pusses think him heroick.

Some here say he sunk one of the King of Spain’s ships.  I know not the truth of that.

But, in the matter of truth, I reproved my niece for telling the stable cats that Linkin had murdered Nero.

“That was no lie,” sayt she.  “It was a poetick fiction.  Is it my fault they believed me?”

She told me her tale.  Too tedious to set down here, save that a cat named Lankin sought revenge on one called Miro, who had seemed his friend.

Then Lankin nosed Miro’s scents in his mistress’ bed.  So he waited in a secret place where none could witness what he did.  When Miro came by, Lankin leapt out and seized him by the throat, and made an end to him.

Next, Lankin took revenge on his false mistress.  He caught a mouse and dropped it by her petticoats.  The mouse ran under them.  Lankin did the like and, feigning hot pursuit of the mouse, he gave his mistress’ legs and bum a mighty clawing.

“Now, uncle,” sayt my niece, “if there were none to witness Lankin’s wicked murder, how could my report of it be true?”

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She gave me the look direct.

I struck her on her saucie face, and she crept off.

Then I made my way to Linkin’s house, for I feared word of her slanders may have reached him.

But Linkin had his own tale to tell.

He sayt that a friend of Nero’s late master, knowing the Spanish were coming, went to Portsmouth to give what aid he could.  When all danger was passed, he lingered there rejoicing.

Then (sayt this man) what did he see but a black cat eating a crust in the gutter.  This cat was so thin, scabbed, and rusted, he knew him only by his lack of tail. 

He offered the cat a morsel of cheese, and captured him.  Once aboard the boat, the cat started whurring.  (The man shared this boat with Nero’s old master.)

And the man told Linkin’s mistress he believes that when last he went to Portsmouth, poor old Blackie (as he called him) lay hidden on the boat.  And slipt ashore, perchance to seek his master, then but recently deceased.

And he (the man), not knowing Blackie had been aboard, returned without him.

This cat now lies at Linkin’s house, where his mistress tends him.  Then he’ll go to lodge with the man who found him.

“So all’s well that ends well,” sayt I to Linkin.

Linkin knew not what to think.  He feared an imposture.  “He may well gull my poor mistress and that old pirate,” he sayt. “He shall not trump me.”

But whene’er Linkin goes to nose him and take what scents might lie beneath the stinks of gutter, this cat swears at him most horrible.

Linkin led me to the impostor, who lay resting in a scrap of winter sun.

A rusty-furred black cat. lying on his side.

I troubled not to nose him.  I arrkst, poetickal, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight cat?”

And he replied:

I held the Fates clamped tight betwixt my teeth,

And with my paw turned Fortune’s wheel about.

“What mean you by that, you clown?” arrkst Linkin.

“I mean my luck held,” sayt Nero.  “And with it the Garland’s.  But none heeded my advice, so we lost the King of Spain’s treasure by a whisker.  I will say no more.”

Certes, he’ll have much to say when he’s made his verses.  I hope I may live to hear them, true or false.

When I was private in my house again, I counted the winters I’ve seen.  I believe this to be my seventeenth.

I am of sound mind and in good heart, though my joints ake.  I have not lost my personal attractions.  Unlike Queen Puss who has few teeth remaining.  Or Nero, who Linkin’s mistress sayt should be new-named Rustie.

But sometimes I’m troubled by sharp pains in my loins, the like of which I never felt before.  Ask for me in spring, and you may find me a grave cat.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorA few quick points:

The Spanish hadn’t mustered the 30,000 men King Philip of Spain deemed necessary for an invasion, but they hoped to use Falmouth Harbour as a base from which to destroy the English navy.

The Earl of Essex, having little to show for his voyage, withdrew to his house at Wanstead.  A bad move, because it gave his enemies at Court a chance to work against him.

Sir Francis Vere seems to have been an honourable man.  He left a brief and business-like account of the Islands Voyage in his Commentaries, where he mentions his argument with the Queen.  Despite his annoyance with Essex over the level of command he was given, he didn’t want to see him unfairly blamed for the failure.

Gib’s niece has a lighter taste in her reading than her uncle does.  The ‘mouse under the petticoats’ incident is a steal from Beware the Cat.

85:  A Sea of Troubles

A tailless black cat walking by the shore

Never before had we such need of Nero.  But he’s vanisht.

I went to our stable to discover what the cats there knew.

They arrkst me if ’twere true that Linkin had murdered Nero because he did not want him for a chamber fellow.

“A wicked lie,” sayt I.  “Who told you that?”

They narrowed their eyes, and swore they’d forgot.  Liars all.

No matter.  I can guess, and will reprove her.

Meantime Linkin’s mistress runs hither and yon, crying, “Blackie, Blackie.”

She should save her breath to cool her broth.  Nero heeded his master’s whistle, not the call of Blackie.

Linkin’s mistress also sayt, “I promised that good old man I would look to his cat.  He oft gave me French wines, and left me a fine gold ring to remember him by.”

That made us merry.  Before Nero’s master died, Linkin’s mistress spake of him and his friends as ancient pirates.  Who did nowt but haunt our havens [harbours] seeking ill-got things to buy and sell.

“True,” sayt Linkin. “For they sold my mistress a carpet, some sugar, green ginger, and a piece of Indian stuff like to cloth of silver.  All from Cadiz.  Sure, she has hopes of our newest expedition.”

But oh, what newes and rumours we have heard.

All brought by stranger cats who came looking for hot queens.  They hear the buzz from other cats met on their wanderings.  And so newes travels from one country [county] to the next.

Even from Plymouth.  I know not where that port is, but I hear tell its land and water are named in honour of us cats.

A black and white drawing of a small fortified town, showing the whereabouts of the Catwater.
A section from a 17th century map of Plymouth, showing Catdown and the Catwater.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Item:  Our ships no sooner put to sea than they was scattered.  Sir Water Rawly [Walter Ralegh] stayed but a week amidst wild winds, and then came back to port.  A cat who leapt off his ship and swam ashore sayt she never was so sick in all her days.

Item:  Next came our heroick Essicks, with his ship’s seams opened, masts sprung, and decks fallen.  

Item:  Others returned, but Lord Thoms Howit’s ship braved the tempest and held course for the coast of Spain.  My lord’s did the like, and Lord Mountjoy’s.

Then another cat came by and sayt all our ships lay at Plymouth, and had much sickness in them.  The soldiers were let go, save they that Siffrans [Sir Francis Vere] brought from the Netherlands.

Many of the gentlemen voluntaries slipt away.  Some had lost hope of gain from this voyage.  Others were sick and fearful of the sea.

Next we heared Essicks and Sir Water Rawly wisht to make for the Indies and attack the King of Spain’s treasure ships.  Queen Puss [Bess] sayt No.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex - a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex – a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.

Without Nero, none knew what to believe.

Our fleet set forth again.

Linkin had little newes from London, save a report that our Earl is dead.

“Fools’ talk,” sayt Linkin.  “Essicks, he, and all are safe among some islands, whose name I forget.”

Nero would have known it.  

Then all was quiet.  Came leaf fall, and we heared our fleet was daily looked for [expected].

A cat came calling, “Newes, newes, now,” beneath the windows.  We hastened to our Field.

This cat gave warning that Spanish sails have been sighted!  And none knows where our ships are.

Some were so affrighted by this newes they ran home to hide theirselves.

We old cats lingered.  The Spanish have come near before, and did not the Queen Cat of Heaven lash her tail and make great waves against them?

I wish the Mad Cat were among us still, for he claimed to know her mind.

Sailing ships being tossed on high seas.
Sea Storm, by Abraham Willaerts (c1603-1669) via Wikimedia Commons

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorLinkin’s mistress may have been a puritan, but it seems she liked her luxuries.

One of Queen Elizabeth’s several annoyances after the previous year’s victory at Cadiz – “pillaged to a farthing,” as one there said – was the disappearance of much of the loot.  When ships returned to their home ports, goods were taken off and stashed in local cellars and warehouses.

Elizabeth wasn’t interested in things like carpets, wall hangings, clothes, and household stuff, but she expected coin, plate (silver) and jewellery to be handed over for the Crown’s coffers.  Presumably chests of sugar and other exotic foodstuffs should also have been offered up.

The merchants who’d supplied ships for the expedition had their own ideas.  As did the entrepreneurs who’d tagged along with the Queen’s fleet, and many others besides.

Alas, this year’s expedition seemed unlikely to yield such spoils.

The islands whose name Linkin couldn’t remember are the Azores.  The Earl of Essex (now lacking the troops to occupy a Spanish port, and with barely enough for an attack on the Spanish fleet in Ferrol harbour) had encountered another storm that scattered and damaged his ships, making the Ferrol attack impossible.

He moved to the second phase of his plan and left the coast of Spain to intercept the returning treasure fleet near the Azores.  He’d received a misleading report that Spanish warships from Ferrol had gone to act as its escort.  Perhaps he also thought that the armada was not ready to make for England?

Gib must have written this at the end of October/early November 1597.  Not a good time of year for any to be at sea, regardless of how the Queen Cat of Heaven felt about them.