I have a choice piece of scandal to give out at the Cats’ Field. But first I must set it down here lest I die in my sleep as my sister did and no report ever be made of it.
The Earl of Essicks is recovered from his late melancollie. He and Her Majestie are friends again. They may not be friends for long.
’Tis spring, and the heads of all young queens are lighter than their tails.
Some of the light-tails that wait upon Her Majestie are putting theirselves in the way of Essicks. And my lord, I believe.
Queen Puss [Bess] was so wroth with two of her young Pusses that she dealt them blows and harsh words, and chased them off. And for why?
Those saucie strumpets slipt out sly.
They went to see Essicks and his friends playing at ballon. That is, with a ball.
Who does not love such games? When I was young I oft chased balls in my lord’s chamber, and caught or struck them well. Good sport.
The young Pusses hoped for good sport too.
But I do not mean playing with a ball.
They hoped to hoist their tails and be seized by their scruffs.
And it’s whispered that before they went to their sport, they took physick [medicine, or a medical treatment].
Was this to ease a belly-ake? No.
It was so they could come away with empty bellies. I mean, no kits in there.
Did you ever hear the like? Men and women have strange ways.
Were it not for the making of kitlings, we would not trouble ourselves with the foolery of hoisting and scruffing. All know how swift cats are to distain one another, once our seeds have met and mixt.
I blame Queen Puss. There has ever been much lewd talk about her and the lords and gentlemen that she keeps close.
I believe her little Pusses do but ape her behaviour, as kitlings and young cats ape us grown cats.
For, as my sister was wont to say whene’er she saw froward [naughty] kits, “The fault is their mother’s. It’s not off their own fur that they licked it.”
I have more scandal to tell, but my foot grows wearie and I thirst. I shall rest and refresh myself, and write more anon.
Gib needn’t have worried about no “report” ever being made of this incident. It was mentioned in a letter of 13 April 1597 from Rowland White to Sir Robert Sidney. (More of both men later.)
“The Queen hath of late used the faire Mrs. Bridges with Words and Blowes of Anger, and she, with Mrs. Russel, were put out of the Coffer Chamber.” The Coffer Chamber was the dormitory-style accommodation for Elizabeth’s maids of honour. “They lay 3 Nights at my Lady Staffords, but are now returned againe to their wonted Waiting (i.e. their positions as maids of honour). … The Cause of this Displeasure, sayd to be their taking of Phisick, and one Day going privatly thorough the Privy Galleries to see the playing at Ballon.”
Lady Stafford was one of Elizabeth’s Ladies of the Bedchamber. Presumably, she was to keep a close eye on the young miscreants.
The game of ballon (or balloon) was played by hitting a large inflated leather ball back and forth. A player’s arm was protected by a wooden brace.
What incensed Elizabeth was probably the combination of who’d been playing, and the taking of physick.
It’s clear from hints Rowland Whyte drops that one player was the Earl of Essex. And he wouldn’t have mentioned the physick if it weren’t indicative of bad behaviour. It may have been taken orally, or it may have been some sort of barrier method ointment or device.
Gib indicates that the Earl of Southampton was there, but I’ve found no other reference to that. We do know Southampton liked ballon. His near duel with the Earl of Northumberland was delayed because he’d hurt his arm playing.
Sir Robert Sidney (1563-1626) had been appointed in 1589 as Governor of Flushing (Vlissingen), a town the Dutch had temporarily granted to England as surety on a financial loan. By the mid-1590s he seems to have felt his career was stalled, and hoped to come home.
Rowland Whyte was Sir Robert’s agent in London and looked out for his interests there. This included supplies for Flushing, but he also watched for any good position that might soon be vacant (something Gib would understand perfectly), and kept an eye on the health and welfare of Sir Robert’s wife Barbara and their children.
On 1 March 1597 the Earl of Southampton stood godfather at the christening of Sir Robert’s newest daughter, Bridget, and was looking forward to visiting Sir Robert when he began his travels. At that stage Sir Robert hadn’t even been granted leave to see his wife.
Sir Robert’s stalled career and lack of leave may have been because of rival factions at Court and his personal and familial links with Essex. However, he was well served by Rowland Whyte, who did so good a job of keeping Sir Robert up with all the news and gossip that his letters are now a valuable resource for historians.
One of the striking things about the letters is the amount of contact Whyte had with the influential (but rarely mentioned) ladies in and around Elizabeth’s Court who were prepared to advance Sir Robert’s interests where they could.