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.
Linkin sayt, “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 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.
Item: Our ships no sooner put to sea than they was scattered. Sir Water Rawly [Walter Ralegh] stayed but a week amidst wild winds, then came back to port. A cat who leapt from his ship and swam ashore sayt she never was so sick in all her days.
Item: Next came 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 had slipt away. Some had lost hope of gain from this voyage. Others were sick and fearful of the sea.
Next we heard Essicks and Sir Water Rawly wisht to make for the Indies and attack the King of Spain’s treasure ships there. But Queen Puss [Bess] sayt No.
Then came word our fleet set sail again.
Without Nero, none knew what to believe.
Linkin had little newes from London, save a report that our Earl is dead.
“Fools’ talk,” he sayt. “Essicks, our Earl, 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 heard our fleet was daily looked for [expected].
A cat came calling, “Newes, newes, now,” beneath the windows. We hastened to our Field.
This cat brought warning that Spanish sails have been sighted nigh unto our coast! 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?
But I wish the Mad Cat were among us still, for he claimed to know her mind.
One of Queen Elizabeth’s several annoyances after the previous year’s victory at Cadiz – “pillaged to a farthing,” as one who was 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 so interested in things like 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 latest expedition seemed unlikely to yield such spoils.
The islands whose name Linkin couldn’t remember are the Azores. The Earl of Essex (who now lacked the troops to occupy a Spanish port, and 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.