He should have been a spy cat, not a sea cat.
He told us he had not yet finished the heroickal verses he means to give out at our Field, but begged me to set down in ink his true account of the voyage. Else it may be lost.
“Willingly,” sayt I, “for I wish to know more of my lord’s doings.”
Nero settled hisself. This (in brief) is what he sayt.
“After my old master went from this world, leaving me (as I then believed) with nowt but a place in Linkin’s household, I resolved to seek death or honour at sea.
“From Portsmouth I took ship to Plymouth where our fleet lay. There, I saw men employed earlier as mariners being put ashore, e’en though that left our ships ill-manned. Those men knew not one rope from another.
“I heard our Earl say that scant as his knowledge is, even he could see some were unfit for service at sea.
“On the key I made the akwayntance of a cat who’d come ashore from the Rainbow.
“She told me the press-masters took bribes and let the proper mariners go. She did not blame the mariners. They knew they’d get nowt from the Queen for their pains but scant vittles and sour ale.
“That was not newes to me. For not only does Queen Puss [Bess] distain us, her penmen defraud us. They care not that we hazard our lives while they lie safe at home.
“Then my new friend sayt our expedition might come to nowt!
“It was ever her captain’s custom before a voyage to seek advice from a learned doctor. This doctor had warned of great peril for our General. And true, Essicks’ ship was leaking before he reached Plymouth.
“The doctor hisself had thought to join this voyage, but saw from his figures that there would be great winds, sickness and the like.
“I arrkst my she-friend if she meant to stay ashore, but she believed her captain and her ship would come safe through.
“I told her my captain was my old shipmate John Trout [Troughton], a man who knows his trade.
“So she and I left Plymouth in good heart. As did our Earl.
“All now know this learned doctor spake true. Such weather at this time of year never was seen before, but we weren’t driven back to port. What some called a tempest was to us no more than a stiff gale.
“We kept with Lord Thoms Howit’s [Thomas Howard’s] ships and came to the coast of Spain.
“We waited for the others there, and gave the Spaniards good sight of us. They did not come out to fight. We believed they were not readie.
“Then a pinniss [pinnace] brought word from Essicks that we was not to let them see us or do owt before he joined us. Too late for that.
“So Lord Thoms Howit ordered that we run to Plymouth on the wind that would not let the other ships set forth again. And there we lay, whilst vittles were consumed and almost all our soldiers sent home.
“Then my she-friend and I agreed that were it not for our reputations, we would have gone ashore and not returned to our ships. But there came a fair wind, and all went forth.”
By the time I’d writ this, my foot and leg aked. I told my niece (listening prick-eared) that she should take up our pen.
But Nero sayt he too was wearie, and would return to end his account on the morrow.
No word of thanks to me.
I was near to telling Nero that I was not his secretarie when he added, “My she-friend from the Rainbow told me of another who sought advice from the doctor. Her question touched upon our Earl. I hope I may remember it when next we meet.”
Oh, that cat’s an arrant knave.
He went to Oxford University aged about thirteen, but ran away to sea when he was sixteen. He had a long and adventurous career. Later in life he wrote his account of the war at sea. Edited by the naval historian Michael Oppenheim, it was published in five volumes between 1902 and 1914 by the Navy Records Society.
Sir William was a regular client of the astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman (1552-1611) who kept careful notes of his consultations and whose clients represent a cross-section of society.
John Troughton/Traughton, captain of the Garland, had sailed with Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake on their last, disastrous expedition to the West Indies in 1595/96, and sent a report of it to Sir Robert Cecil.
Nero wasn’t the only poet on this voyage (if he went, that is). John Donne, who’d been to Cadiz the previous year, was also there, probably on the Earl of Essex’ ship.