80:  Shameless Doings

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 of 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?

An elaborately dressed Elizabethan girls posed with a small dog.
One of the Pusses:  Bess Brydges (c1574-1617), painted at age 14 by Hieronimo Custodis. Wealthy in her own right, she’s said to have strung one of her suitors along while she extracted gifts and loans from him.  He eventually gave up hope of marrying her and initiated legal action to get his money back.
A seated young woman with her head propped on her hand, looking as though she has fallen asleep. Her right foot rests on a skull.
The effigy of the other Puss: Bess Russell (c1575-1601) in Westminster Abbey.  She died of a consumption.  Acute tuberculosis?  The monument was erected by her sister Anne, Lady Herbert, whose wedding Bess had danced at two weeks before her death.

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 them.

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 write more anon.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib’s readers will be as scandalised as he was by such doings, so I’ll supply some extra details.  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 (presumably, she was to ensure the miscreants understood the error of their ways) but are now returned againe to their wonted Waiting (i.e. their positions at Court). … 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.

In other words, they were in trouble for sneaking out to watch the game.

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 Queen Elizabeth was probably the combination of who’d been playing, and the taking of physick.

It’s clear from other hints Rowland Whyte drops that one player was the Earl of Essex.  Gib indicates that the Earl of Southampton was also there.  I’ve found no other reference to that, but we do know he liked playing ballon.

Whyte wouldn’t have mentioned the physick unless it were indicative of bad behaviour.  It may have been taken orally or been some sort of barrier-method ointment or device. 



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 Sir Robert 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.

A feature of this painting is the similarity of dress in little boys and girls: all are wearing skirts, or what the Elizabethans called petticoats. The elder boy is shown with a little sword and plumed hat to emphasise his sex, but he wouldn't have normally worn these.
Lady Sidney with six of the eleven children she bore. She’s indicating the two most important: sons.  The elder boy’s little sword and plumed hat are there to emphasise his sex.  Normally, he wouldn’t have worn either before he was old enough for male attire.
By Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c1596.

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.

Sir Robert’s stalled career 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 sending Sir Robert all the news and gossip that his letters are now an invaluable resource for historians.


20 thoughts on “80:  Shameless Doings

  1. Christine Valentor January 11, 2017 / 7:37 pm

    Wow, interesting bit of gossip! I read that the women back then took tansy flower for spontaneous abortions — maybe it was a birth control too. Bess seems to have been a jealous queen! Again I am struck by the many women named Elizabeth. I have read other accounts, seems like half the women in England were either Anne or Elizabeth in the 16th century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi January 12, 2017 / 7:24 am

      Yes! I’ve occasionally come across references to herbs that could be used, and I wondered if the young Besses thought they might also have a preventive effect. But there were types of suppositories, too. Queen Bess was given to jealousy, but she also had her own reputation to protect. Many, like Gib, would have been quick to blame her.

      Oh, Elizabethan names! I’m always delighted when I come across a less common one. It makes it so much easier to remember who’s who.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor January 12, 2017 / 8:28 pm

      Yes, the Queen had her reputation. Also, she had to give her consent for marriage among her courtiers (presumably because any child might have a claim to the throne one day. Complicated blood lines!) So I suppose the young Besses cavorting about in what might lead to pregnancy was cause for alarm!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Soul Gifts January 11, 2017 / 10:29 pm

    All this hoisting and scruffing is fair scandalous!! I need to go and sniff me some smelling salts lest I faint …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. larrypaulbrown January 12, 2017 / 4:06 am

    Truly, birth control? Who would have thought such contrivances were employed in Gib’s time?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi January 12, 2017 / 7:06 am

      Who indeed? How effective they were could have been another matter.


  4. Rachel McAlpine January 12, 2017 / 1:49 pm

    Once again Gib proves that he is a cat of giant brain. How on earth did he keep track of such complicated goss? It’s doing my head in. Which proves … na, don’t go there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi January 12, 2017 / 2:26 pm

      Gib’s goss was straightforward enough; the blame for the additional info is all mine, I’m afraid. I feared his gentle readers might think the scandalous story was just another of his poetick fictions.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Rachel McAlpine January 12, 2017 / 5:09 pm

      A cunning ploy. But dear Ed. you should claim far more credit for your role in Gib’s narrative. I salute you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Robyn Haynes January 14, 2017 / 5:10 pm

    Ahh, thank goodness for the letters. What will historians of the future do with texts and emails – even if they survive? The courtiers and maids in waiting were a frisky lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi January 14, 2017 / 5:29 pm

      The historians of the future could well find themselves with too much information, rather than too little.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes January 14, 2017 / 5:33 pm

      A possibility. By then we may have electronic means to filter out the useful stuff, much like the software available for narrative analysis although one would hope a little more sophisticated. That’s if computer records survive and aren’t swallowed up by ‘the cloud’.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. chattykerry January 15, 2017 / 4:33 am

    I wouldn’t mind a bit of hoisting and scruffery… 😸

    Liked by 1 person

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