41: My Sister Sees Queen Puss

An idealised portrait of Elizabeth, the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. At the time of her visit In 1591 she was 56
An idealised portrait of Elizabeth, by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, painted around 1595-1600.  At the time of her visit in 1591 Elizabeth was 58.

We was taking the sun at the barn door when the church bells rang.  Then came the sound of horses, and wild musick.

My sister, swivel-eared, sayt the Queen was near and ran off. 

She did not stagger home until night, very merry, with rich sauces on her breath.  Shameless.  

Though I will say she carried a half-eat fowl that her poor neglected kitlings fell on.

My sister sayt she never had such a time in all her life, but would tell me little more.  I must wait for her report at the Cats’ Field.  

She did tell me that, when all was quiet, the kitchen cat led her by back ways to a room where many savoury plates were heaped.  There they supped. 

(I myself felt faint from hunger, but when I presented myself at the kitchen door a boy sayt, “You’ll get nowt else.  I glimpsed you running off with half a fowl not long since.”)

The report my sister and the kitchen cat made was good, but oh, it set me about.  As I will tell.

My sister did not enter the house, lest she be molested by strange dogs.  Instead, she ran up a tree, whence she could see all.  She sayt the Queen and her friends had ridden from Portsmouth, and were bid welcome to the house by the Countess and our young Earl.

Our young Earl.

Cowdray House, from a painting by S.H. Grimm.
Gib’s “other house”, Cowdray, owned by Viscount Montague, the young Earl’s grandfather.

I never knowed my lord was here.  Then it come to me that he may have accompanied the Queen from her own place, and been at my other house [Cowdray] too.

And I heard this at our Field, like a common cat.

I kept my countenance.  I arrkst, “How know you it was our Earl?”

“I saw him many times when he was a kit,” sayt she. “And I heared his voice, scarce changed.”

“How seemed he?” I arrkst.

“The same,” she sayt, “but longer.”  Then she took my meaning, and added, “He were all smirks and smiles when he knew he was observed.  When not, he’d the air of a froward [naughty] kitling struck on the nose for insolencie.”

The kitchen cat told of great tables where many gentlemen and ladies gathered for refreshment.  And of the meats served forth.  She hoped the boys who wash the greasy plates would thank her for cleansing them.   “I’m not too proud,” sayt she, “for such foul work.”

All screeched at that.

My sister sayt ’twas comick to see the Queen trifle with the gentlemen around her, giving great notice first to one and then another.  “By that, we may know her for a true queen, worthy of the name Puss [Bess].  She toys with them as we toy with the stone-cats who pay court to us.”

“That they may prove their worth!” called a lusty stone-cat.

That they may vie with each other, and cause her no annoyance, thought I.  But I sayt, “Our Earl will not trouble hisself with such nonsense.”

“He will,” sayt Linkin, “if he hopes for a good place in her household.”

“What?” I cried.  “He has his own household.”

“He hopes to seize her by the scruff,” came a lewd call.

Place House, one of the young Earl's houses, from an 18th century print held in the Hampshire Record Office
Place House, one of the young Earl’s houses and the venue for the 1591 visit.  From an 18th century print held in the Hampshire Record Office

Linkin sayt, “All wish to sit in high places, as we cats know.  Ladies, lords, and gentlemen seek employment in the Queen’s household.  Gentlemen and yeomen seek employment in a lord’s household, and the kits of yeomen and husbandmen seek employment with a gentleman.  It’s the way of the world.”

A stone-cat arrkst, “Did the Queen hoist her tail for any?”

“No,” sayt my sister.  “And I do not believe she ever hoist her tail in her life.”

“True,” came a call.  “For women have no tails to hoist.  That don’t mean that none has ever scruffed her.”

My sister seemed confused.  “Men don’t have tails,” she sayt.  “In this matter they are like to our friend Nero.  But why do women wear petticoats if not to house their tails?”

Some called that women, having no tails, hoist their petticoats to show willing.

One cat named my sister “Know-Nowt”.

I was not having that.

I may make mock of her if I choose (as she makes mock of me), but I will not stay silent when other cats do.  My sister is a barn queen who was born in a stable.  Small wonder she’s never seen a lady bare-arst.

A woman stands before a mirror, with a devil flashing his bum behind her. His bum (not her face) is reflected in the mirror.
Albrecht Dürer’s Woman at the Mirror. Her true self is revealed in the glass.

“Peace,” I called.  “We cats are accustomed to speak of women hoisting their tails, whether they have them or not. 

“And while it may be true that they lack tails on their corporeal bodies, they have them on their spiritual bodies.  Why?  Because women are devils.”

“Not my good mistress,” called the Mad Cat.

“Friend,” I sayt.  “I’ve read that women are of two sorts.  Some are wiser, better learned, discreeter, and more constant than a number of men. 

“But another and worser sort are fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs, tattlers, triflers, wavering, witless, without council, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty, tale-bearers, eavesdroppers, rumour-raisers, evil-tongued, worse-minded, and in every way doltified with the dregs of the devil’s dunghill.”

Hungrie Lion Rampant, from the Earl of Southampton's coat of arms. An image Gib just can't let go of.
Hungrie Lion Rampant, from the Earl’s coat of arms.

Then I leapt up on my legs like Hungrie Lion Rampant and trod a few paces.  I cried, “Behold a true representation of a woman’s soul!”

Two young black cats standing in devil pose.Many screeched at that, and leapt up too.

In truth, they were a fearsome sight.

Prick-eared dark devils against the light, lashing their tails and clawing the air.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The Earl had reason to look like a “kitling struck…for insolencie.”  He was almost eighteen, and under pressure from his grandfather Viscount Montague, and his mother the Countess of Southampton, to marry Lord Burghley’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth de Vere.

His grandfather and mother would have seen the marriage as a desirable strategic alliance.  The Queen’s regard for Lord Burghley may have caused her to drop a word or two in the young Earl’s ear, as well.  Or perhaps he feared she might.

The Earl was not “of full age” until twenty-one, so they still had time to lean on him.  However, the older children got the harder it was to push them into marriages that weren’t to their liking.

I’ve no idea how Gib could have come across the description of two sorts of women he quotes almost verbatim from Bishop John Aylmer.  Aylmer (c1521-1594) was a scholar, political thinker, and Bishop of London.  And a supporter of a woman’s right to rule.  Or at least of Elizabeth’s right – obviously, she was one of the better sort of women. 


11 thoughts on “41: My Sister Sees Queen Puss

  1. Robyn Haynes February 11, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    Oh dear, Gib! Hoisting their tails indeed. And petticoats to house said tails? It does intrigue me.
    I expect 58 years of age was quite old in the 16th century, even for a queen?

    Liked by 4 people

    • toutparmoi February 11, 2016 / 5:50 pm

      Proportionately, far fewer people made it that far. And only a very fortunate few would have worn anywhere near as well as we do, courtesy of modern medicine and dentistry, not to mention lead-free make-up! On the other hand, obesity and diabetes wouldn’t have been a problem. The really hard part was getting through childhood. Somewhere between a third and a half of all children died in the first years of their lives, depending on where you lived. Cities were far riskier than the country. Hence the low life expectancy (average age of death). But once you’d made it to 35 or 40, your long term survival chances were pretty good.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Robyn Haynes February 11, 2016 / 8:38 pm

      Thanks for your comprehensive answer. Always learn something new from your posts Denise.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. chattykerry February 12, 2016 / 3:44 am

    I, too, have hoisted my petticoats to show willing. If only I had a tail…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Soul Gifts February 12, 2016 / 3:03 pm

    Oh my…….:)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. April Munday February 13, 2016 / 5:49 am

    It’s a shame Gib didn’t see the earl and that the earl didn’t see him. I wonder if Gib would rather have seen the earl or Queen Puss.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. mitchteemley February 14, 2016 / 6:55 am

    Ah, Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of Edward, whom some consider “the real Shakespeare.” Then again, my theory is that Gib was the real Shakespeare.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. larrypaulbrown February 15, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    Truly, it must be your immense literary imagination describing the ‘worse’ sort of woman for I have never met such a despicable creature. All women are undoubtedly goddesses….oh, excuse me while I go choke on words. What’s a ‘flibbergib’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 15, 2016 / 3:51 pm

      Good question! I assume it’s an earlier version of “flibbertigibbet” – a word I remember from my youth, but which I never hear nowadays. It used to be applied to flighty young women. Bimbos? Airheads? But I can’t be blamed for that diatribe against women – they’re the words of an Elizabethan bishop, said to have been spoken in a sermon he preached before Queen Elizabeth!

      Liked by 1 person

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