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, and 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.
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.
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.
“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 worse 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.”
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!”
In truth, they were a fearsome sight.
Prick-eared dark devils against the light, lashing their tails and clawing the air.
The Earl had reason to look like a “kitling struck…for insolencie.” He was almost eighteen, and under heavy 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 read the extract about women he quotes almost verbatim from Bishop John Aylmer. He’s unlikely to have come across anything written by Aylmer in the Catholic households he lived in. John Aylmer (c1521-1594) was a scholar, political thinker, and later 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.