81:  Of Wenches and War

Oh, what times we’ve had at our Field of late.  Nero is in a humour blacker than his coat.  He told me (privily) that his old master has been sick again, and like to die.

Nero fears he will be offered a place in Linkin’s house.  He swore he’d as lief drown hisself.

“There is a willow grows aslant our brook,” sayt he.  “I could climb it and cast myself in.  But water’s an element I’m native and indued to.”

Native and indued.  What fine words.

“Because you was birthed in Fence [Venice]?” I arrkst.

An early view of Venice, by Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century).
A view of Venice, by cartographer Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century). Via Wikimedia.

“And because I swim too well to drown,” sayt Nero, most tragickal.

“Then best you content yourself with making a scene for all to marvel at,” I sayt.  “Come floating by us decked with waterish weeds, and singing sad songs.”

Linkin told me (privily) that he does not fancie Nero as a chamber-fellow, but if his mistress wills such a thing then he must suffer it. 

Ophelia in her wet element.  From Sir John Millais' famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragickal a scene, he would probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water, and his lack of tail might affect his balance.
Ophelia in her element, singing.  From Sir John Millais’ famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragick a scene, he’d probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water.  Plus, his lack of tail might affect his balance.

But I made all merry with my newes of the shameless Pusses I writ of previous.  And I told of another young wench that Queen Puss does nowt but complain of.  Her name is Mary Howit (Howard).

“That very name,” sayt Linkin, “is trouble writ large.”

Nero let out a screech, and bristled up.  He believed Linkin spake against the Lord Admiral (another Howit) who is much loved by mariners.

Other cats called for peace.  They wisht to hear more scandal.  And none of us loves Queen Puss.  Her very name is blasphemious.  ’Tis one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and we never heared that women may take it.

All know how Her Majestie distains our Earl.  It seems he can do nowt that pleases her.

Linkin told how Mary Howit attires herself most fine, hoping to take the eye of our Earl.  Some say she has received much favour and marks of love from him.

“Marks of love?” came a call.  “What are they?”

“Spittle on scruffs,” one cried, and all screeched so loud I feared we might be chased from our Field.

Queen Puss called Mary Howit an ungracious flouting wench.

Mary was unwilling to carry Her Majestie’s mantle when she took the air in her garden, nor was she ready in the Privy Chamber with Her Majestie’s cup.

An elegant but weary looking woman in silvery white, wearing magnificent jewels,
Queen Elizabeth in her sixties – from a portrait unlikely to have been seen by many before her death. The original is held by The Elizabethan Gardens in North Carolina. Visit them (or their website) for the whole painting and the story of its purchase and authentication.

In truth, she’s never where she should be for her duty to Queen Puss.

“She slips out to call for our Earl,” sayt a young queen cat.

“And he runs to her, as all lusty fellows should,” cried a stone-cat.

I sayt, “I hope she has a loud voice, for my lord will soon take ship against Spain.”

True.  He had leave to travel, but now I hear he will join our newest expedition.  Those Spanish rogues are making readie to come at us yet again, so we will strike at them.

All were mazed to hear of this.

“What?” they cried.  “Old Puss has oped the door?  Our Earl may go forth and fight any that seeks to come into our land?”

I sayt, “Old Lord Purrlie’s son Sir Rabbit [Robert] spake a word for him.”

At last my lord can prove his valour.  And keep hisself safe from the saucie strumpets that serve Queen Puss.

I pray he comes safe home.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOn 23 May 1597 a William Fenton wrote to Elizabeth’s godson John Harington (of water-closet fame) expressing his dismay at Lady Mary Howard’s behaviour.

He appears to have been a friend of Mary’s, and was concerned that she might lose her place at Court.  He doesn’t name the earl whom Mary was hoping to “ win”, but refers to him as “the young earl”.

I’m happy to take the cats’ word that it was Southampton.  Essex was a more frequent topic of gossip, but he was 31.  Not old, but unlikely to be specified as young.  Also, he was married.  Any winning of him would have been very temporary.

Not only had Mr Fenton attempted to placate Elizabeth, he also hoped John Harington might help smooth things over, and even arrange for a word on Mary’s behalf to be dropped in Lord Burghley’s ear.

Poor Lord Burghley.  Seventy-six years old and with deteriorating health, he’d have had more important things to worry about.  Such as: famine in parts of the country because of the bad harvests, the ongoing war with Spain, growing resistance in Ireland…