85:  A Sea of Troubles

A tailless black cat walking by the shore
Nero

Never before had we such need of Nero.  But he’s vanisht.

I went to our stable to discover what the cats there knew.

They arrkst me if ’twere true that Linkin had murdered Nero because he did not want him for a chamber fellow.

“A wicked lie,” sayt I.  “Who told you that?”

They narrowed their eyes, and swore they’d forgot.  Liars all.

No matter.  I can guess, and will reprove her.

Meantime Linkin’s mistress runs hither and yon, crying, “Blackie, Blackie.”

She should save her breath to cool her broth.  Nero heeded his master’s whistle, not the call of Blackie.

Linkin’s mistress also sayt, “I promised that good old man I would look to his cat.  He oft gave me French wines, and left me a fine gold ring to remember him by.”

That made us merry.  Before Nero’s master died, Linkin’s mistress spake of him and his friends as ancient pirates.  Who did nowt but haunt our havens [harbours] seeking ill-got things to buy and sell.

“True,” sayt Linkin. “For they sold my mistress a carpet, some sugar, green ginger, and a piece of Indian stuff like to cloth of silver.  All from Cadiz.  Sure, she has hopes of our newest expedition.”

But oh, what newes and rumours we have heard.

All brought by stranger cats who came looking for hot queens.  They hear the buzz from other cats met on their wanderings.  And so newes travels from one country [county] to the next.

Even from Plymouth.  I know not where that port is, but I hear tell its land and water are named in honour of us cats.

A black and white drawing of a small fortified town, showing the whereabouts of the Catwater.
A section from a 17th century map of Plymouth, showing Catdown and the Catwater.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Item:  Our ships no sooner put to sea than they was scattered.  Sir Water Rawly [Walter Ralegh] stayed but a week amidst wild winds, and then came back to port.  A cat who leapt off his ship and swam ashore sayt she never was so sick in all her days.

Item:  Next came our heroick Essicks, with his ship’s seams opened, masts sprung, and decks fallen.  

Item:  Others returned, but Lord Thoms Howit’s ship braved the tempest and held course for the coast of Spain.  My lord’s did the like, and Lord Mountjoy’s.

Then another cat came by and sayt all our ships lay at Plymouth, and had much sickness in them.  The soldiers were let go, save they that Siffrans [Sir Francis Vere] brought from the Netherlands.

Many of the gentlemen voluntaries slipt away.  Some had lost hope of gain from this voyage.  Others were sick and fearful of the sea.

Next we heared Essicks and Sir Water Rawly wisht to make for the Indies and attack the King of Spain’s treasure ships.  Queen Puss [Bess] sayt No.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex - a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex – a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.

Without Nero, none knew what to believe.

Our fleet set forth again.

Linkin had little newes from London, save a report that our Earl is dead.

“Fools’ talk,” sayt Linkin.  “Essicks, he, and all are safe among some islands, whose name I forget.”

Nero would have known it.  

Then all was quiet.  Came leaf fall, and we heared our fleet was daily looked for [expected].

A cat came calling, “Newes, newes, now,” beneath the windows.  We hastened to our Field.

This cat gave warning that Spanish sails have been sighted!  And none knows where our ships are.

Some were so affrighted by this report that they ran home to hide theirselves.

We old cats lingered.  The Spanish have come near before, and did not the Queen Cat of Heaven lash her tail and make great waves against them?

I wish the Mad Cat were among us still, for he claimed to know her mind.

Sailing ships being tossed on high seas.
Sea Storm, by Abraham Willaerts (c1603-1669) via Wikimedia Commons

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorLinkin’s mistress may have been a puritan, but it seems she liked her luxuries.

One of Queen Elizabeth’s several annoyances after the previous year’s victory at Cadiz – “pillaged to a farthing,” as one there said – was the disappearance of much of the loot.  When ships returned to their home ports, goods were taken off and stashed in local cellars and warehouses.

Elizabeth wasn’t interested in things like carpets, wall hangings, clothes, and household stuff, but she expected coin, plate (silver) and jewellery to be handed over for the Crown’s coffers.  Presumably chests of sugar and other exotic foodstuffs should also have been offered up.

The merchants who’d supplied ships for the expedition had their own ideas.  As did the entrepreneurs who’d tagged along with the Queen’s fleet, and many others besides.

Alas, this year’s expedition seemed unlikely to yield such spoils.

The islands whose name Linkin couldn’t remember are the Azores.  The Earl of Essex (now lacking the troops to occupy a Spanish port, and with barely enough for an attack on the Spanish fleet in Ferrol harbour) had encountered another storm that scattered and damaged his ships, making the Ferrol attack impossible.

He moved to the second phase of his plan and left the coast of Spain to intercept the returning treasure fleet near the Azores.  He’d received a misleading report that Spanish warships from Ferrol had gone to act as its escort.  Perhaps he also thought that the armada was not ready to make for England?

Gib must have written this at the end of October/early November 1597.  Not a good time of year for any to be at sea, regardless of how the Queen Cat of Heaven felt about them.

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21 thoughts on “85:  A Sea of Troubles

  1. Soul Gifts February 16, 2017 / 12:42 am

    Sounds positively awful – I’m not a good sailor, so perhaps I’m biased 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 16, 2017 / 1:03 am

      The voyage seems to have been horrendous – even experienced mariners were laid low by seasickness, and a couple of gentlemen were said to have died from it. Dehydration? The Earl of Essex remained cheerful, saying the pounding his ship took was a saving on victuals. (Few were interested in eating). But after he threw in the towel and returned to England his ship needed so many repairs he went back to sea in another. And full marks to Gib’s lord, who lasted the course. Doubtless we’ll hear more of his doings.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Soul Gifts February 16, 2017 / 12:50 pm

        It’s even more horrific than I imagined! There is nothing worse than seasickness. I once had it so bad it took me three days to recover at home. Needless to say I haven’t been out much since. The weather can be so fickle. That particular day was supposed to be perfect sailing weather and it turned traitor 😦 and even a gentle sway can set me off due to its relentless nature.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. April Munday February 16, 2017 / 2:37 am

    I’m glad to hear that Gib’s saucie niece has started making up her own stories.

    The storm must have been dreadful, otherwise no one would have mentioned it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi February 16, 2017 / 2:53 am

      There seems to have been several storms, all alarming. Having encountered rough seas (at least by our wishy-washy standards), I’ve got nothing but respect for those who stuck with the voyage.

      Liked by 2 people

      • April Munday February 16, 2017 / 4:30 am

        I’ve been on a ship in a gale and I can’t say it was a lot of fun, even with an engine. Those ships were tiny and depended on their sails. They were very brave.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds February 16, 2017 / 4:49 am

    O’ dear sweet Nero, I hope that he travels safely under the protection and guidance of the Queen of Cats. 😇

    Liked by 3 people

  4. colonialist February 21, 2017 / 4:24 am

    The various armadas seem to have attracted storms like magnets. The pounding taken by the English was mild by comparison. With Spain in the mood for sending more armadas, though, it was not a good time to go gallivanting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 21, 2017 / 2:39 pm

      True. I can see why many in England claimed the Deity was on their side.

      Like

  5. Christine Valentor February 22, 2017 / 4:30 pm

    I once had a cat who would only answer to my whistle, never his name! That cat was like a dog,very hearty. Hope to see Nero back soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robyn Haynes February 27, 2017 / 4:01 pm

    I wonder about Nero too. No doubt that will be revealed. I also wonder how much choice there was about going to sea in the worst season for weather. Was it used as a tactical device for those who had better vessels?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 28, 2017 / 7:40 pm

      I think that everybody was too dependent on the winds to take unnecessary risks in the “off-season”, though the English seem to have fared better in gales than the Spanish did. Perhaps this was partly because of superior ship design, and partly because English mariners learnt their trade in rougher waters? But that’s just guesswork on my part.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robyn Haynes March 1, 2017 / 3:19 pm

        An educated guess on your part though. From a cultural point of view, I wonder how much the Spanish and English differed in their attitude to the sea, incentives and risks?

        Liked by 1 person

        • toutparmoi March 2, 2017 / 11:41 am

          I wonder, too. The wealth of the Spanish empire gave the English their incentive, and piracy made for good training before the two countries were officially at war.
          The naval historian Sir Julian S. Corbett prefaces one of his books with this quote from Sir Walter Ralegh: “Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”

          Liked by 1 person

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