34: Spanish Newes and Gossips’ Talk

The young cat who is wise beyond his winters gave newes that his master sent from London.  His master is son to the widow who saved the Mad Cat.  After his studies in Cambridge he went to London to learn the law.

This young cat (he is called Linkin) lodged with him there, but now has a place in the widow’s household.

Sir Francis Drake, from James Corbett's 1908 biography in the Internet Archive.
Sir Francis Drake, from Julian S. Corbett’s biography, 1908 edition (Internet Archive).

Linkin told of Siffrans Take [Sir Frances Drake] who sailed out of Plymouth to distress Spanish ships and hinder their making a fleet against us.  

As all know, he entered Cadiz Bay, burned or sank some ships, and took away others.  Then he made attacks on other Spanish havens, and captured a great treasure ship of Portugal that was come from the East Indies.

Linkin knew more.

He sayt that the Queen had sent word to Siffrans that he must keep to the sea, and was not to have at Spanish ships in harbour nor do anything on land.

But Siffrans’ fleet was away with a fair wind, and never received her command.  Which was surely what the Queen had hoped for.

Siffrans presented her with a casket of gold chains and jewels on his return.

The Spanish are enraged.  So Lord Purrlie [Burghley] writ to say that Siffrans had not received the orders the Queen sent after him.  Even so, she was much offended by his actions.  

Lord Purrlie also writ that the Queen sayt she did not yet know the value of the goods from the great ship, but believed it would be recompense for the damage the Spanish do us.

The ship has been unloaded since.  There were spices, silks, carpets, china, ebony, and other costly items, all together worth more than one hundred thousand pounds.  A monstrous sum.

The Queen has the best share of it, and Siffrans the second best.  Others who adventured in this matter have their shares too.  Though some say that Siffrans takes a good piece of every treasure before it can be valued and shared.

I liked Linkin’s newes well, because it shows how suttle great folks are.

An illustration of a Carrack from a 1565 map.
A Portuguese Carrack c.1565

Then that Sea Cat Nero spake very large about Siffrans, saying he had sailed with him several times.

I was tempted to call: Were this before or after you was born in Fence [Venice]?  But I held my tongue.

Nero’s a poet such as I, and ’tis our business to be liars.  Though there may be cats fool enough to believe he speaks true.  Certes, all were fire-hot for a tale from him, but Nero sayt that the nights are growing cold and he would wait for fairer weather.

Yes, thought I.  Best you pass winter by the fire, listening to more tales from your master’s pot-companions [drinking buddies] before you tell your own.

After our assembly I arrkst my sister, “Why has Nero no tail?”  For I did not believe it was took off in a fight ’twixt a Spanish galley and a Barbary corsair as he told.

“Who knows?” sayt she.  “One time he told how his mother called her kits to watch the Lord of Fence [the Doge of Venice] give a ring to the sea.  Nero was sat next to her, and she was so carried away by the spectacle that she bit off his tail and dropped it from their window to the water.”

A tailless black cat walking by the shore

But my sister had also heared that a stranger’s ship came into Portsmouth.

A lusty black cat without a tail stepped ashore and many hot queens greeted him, calling: Hello Sailor.

“A crop of black kitlings was born without tails,” sayt my sister.  “All found employment on ships or with sailors’ wives, for black cats bring good fortune at sea.  I believe this Nero was one such.”

It never ceases to maze me how much my sister knows.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in late September 1587.  Linkin’s lawyer master seems to have had a good ear for gossip and a sharp eye on Queen Elizabeth.  

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) left Plymouth in early April 1587 and was back by late June from the venture that became known as “singeing the King of Spain’s beard”.  His fleet consisted of about 24 ships: 4 were the Queen’s and 1 the Lord Admiral’s; others were contributed by Drake’s business associates and a group of London merchants.  The treasure ship was a Portuguese carrack, the San Felipe, heading home from Goa.  A very conservative estimate of the cargo’s value today would be at least £20,000,000.


12 thoughts on “34: Spanish Newes and Gossips’ Talk

  1. Rachel McAlpine December 12, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    I think I shall recommend this blog as an alternative history text for high schools. I’m particularly interested in the disposal of all that treasure.

    Liked by 3 people

    • toutparmoi December 12, 2015 / 2:40 pm

      I think a lot of people were! Queen Elizabeth’s share of the take was around 45,000 (from the 100,000+). That probably didn’t include the value of the casket that Drake had already given her.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Robyn Haynes December 12, 2015 / 5:21 pm

    I love the licence Gib affords poets of whom he says ’tis our business to be liars.’
    I wonder if the Portuguese ship sailed with a fleet – for protection of such a vast treasure – or alone so as not to attract attention.


    • toutparmoi December 13, 2015 / 8:03 pm

      In the accounts I’ve read the treasure ship seems to have been alone when Drake’s ships encountered her near the Azores. She may have originally been part of a fleet, but fleets often got scattered in the days of sail. Most of Drake’s ships were already on their way back to England, but she would still have been outnumbered, even though heavily armed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes December 13, 2015 / 8:07 pm

      Grave mistake. What happened to the crew in that situation I wonder?


    • toutparmoi December 13, 2015 / 8:43 pm

      Ah. According to a contemporary account by a man called Robert Leng who said he was with Drake, six of her crew were killed in an exchange of fire, and several were wounded. After the ship had surrendered they found that she was also carrying 400 black Africans who were to be sold as slaves in Spain and Portugal. According to Leng, Drake put the ship’s captain, crew, and human cargo into one of his own ships, gave them provisions, and told them to go where they liked. Leng thought they were heading for the island of São Miguel in the Azores. If there had been any market for slaves in England, I daresay Drake would have taken the Africans as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. southamptonoldlady December 13, 2015 / 2:29 am

    Nothing more than Pirates really. We do like our Pirate stories here in Blighty.


    • toutparmoi December 13, 2015 / 8:09 pm

      I’m sure that if they’d had a phrase like “self-funding joint venture” back then, they’d have used it!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. April Munday December 15, 2015 / 1:38 am

    Fascinating, as ever.

    For a wild moment I had a vision of Elizabeth I greeting Sir Francis with “Hello sailor”, then I reread the sentence. It made me laugh the second time as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. claudiothecat December 18, 2015 / 11:36 pm

    I agree with Rachel. Catstory is a much more entertaining and illuminating way of learning about history. It is intriguing that a tail-less cat can tell such great tales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 18, 2015 / 11:55 pm

      Thank you, Claudio. Gib and Linkin both have tails, while the extraordinarily plausible Nero is the one who doesn’t. However, he’s certainly stepped up to the mark and made an asset of what many cats would call a disability.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mitchteemley January 2, 2016 / 7:09 am

    Gib speaks truth, I know full well. For I too am a poet, and ’tis indeed our business to be liars.

    Liked by 1 person

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