89: Nero Sees Action

Head of a ginger, black and white cat, looking stern.
Gib’s Niece

My uncle was wearie so I, from the generosity in my heart, offered to set down the last of Nero’s lies.

I told him no more sailors’ talk that none else can comprehend.

Nero knows outlandish words.  My poor uncle had to pause his pen to seek their meaning.  He wisht to make all plain for ease of reading.

I have not the patience.

And I told Nero to make a brisk end, for we were not like to find ink and cut quills on the morrow.  He believed me.

“We made haste toward the sound of shot.  At dawn we saw the Rainbow.  But nearer was a Spanish frigget [frigate] that did not know we was English.  When we put out our flags she, hoping to escape, sprang her luff.”

(Here Nero brake off and scratched hisself.  I sayt nowt.)

“We seized her,” sayt Nero.  “She carried no silver, but we rejoyced to find kitchen eel.”

An 18th century watercoloured sketch of a a man brushing cochineal scale from a cactus.
Collecting what Gib’s niece heard as ‘kitchen eel’ from a prickly pear cactus. Cochineal was much in demand as a dye.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

(I did not enquire why eels were a matter for joy.)

“While our men were rummaging her, a boat came from the Rainbow to say the treasure fleet was but two or three miles ahead, and we must follow.

“Then through the mist we glimpsed two sail astern.  My nose told me they was ours.  I begged that we pursue the fleet.

“Our prisoners from the frigget swore they ships were Spanish.  Proof that they were not.  So came our Mary Rose and Dreadnowt.

“Then all gave chase with wet canvas.  The fleet ran to Tercera.  None of our ships was standing in their way.

“The port’s great guns gave fire when we of the Garland and the Rainbow sought to enter – first under sail, then sly by boat to cut a few ships’ cables.

“My friend on the Rainbow told me that yesternight they’d come upon more ships than she had claws.  She knowed by their stinks they was Spanish. 

“Her captain thought they may be ours.  The sea was calm.  He ordered the boat to be lowered and went to hail them.  They told him they were of Civil [Seville].  When they learnt he was of the Queen’s navy, they was most uncivil and made mock of him.  The Rainbow hung out her lights and fired her ordnance to show the treasure fleet was found.

“We harked you (sayt I).  But how was we to know their ships were all ahead of us, and none astern?  And to leave that frigget unmolested would have caused great heart-burnings among our company.

“My friend marvelled that so few English ships were nigh.  Certes, she and I were not at fault.  

“’Twas a day or more before Essicks and some others joined us.  Along the way they’d took a great ship coming late with two more friggets.  Enough to pay the costs of this voyage.

“And we learnt that after we’d sailed westward, Essicks had newes that the sail sighted there was ours, not Spanish.  He sent word that we didn’t receive, and he and the rest of our ships left their places near Tercera to go to Saint Mikel [San Miguel].

“Had they stayed, the King of Spain’s treasure were ours.

A modern drawing of the map in the previous post, showing Essex’ route to and from the Azores. From ‘The Successors of Drake’ by J. S. Corbett – Internet Archive.

“Frustrate in our hopes, all sailed for Saint Mikel.  I did not go ashore, but I heard that Essicks, going in a boat, was armed only with his sword and a collar to protect his throat.

“When our Rear-Admiral called that he should wear back and breast plates, Essicks answered that he would not go so advantaged above the men who rowed him.  Who could not love Essicks?  Though some sayt a General should not be so careless of hisself.

“I also heared that in one town (I know not where) some women were slow to flee.  Essicks sayt he would punish any man who insulted them.  He put them in a house well-guarded, and sent them food from his table.

“We set sail for home.  The Spanish navy, knowing we came weak and weatherbeaten, was waiting to have at us.  We readied ourselves for fight, but the Queen Cat of Heaven punished them for their insolencie. 

“In harbour all sailors’ fingers are limed twigs – there’s nowt that doesn’t stick to them.  And who would part with goods so hard-gotten?  Sir Water Rawly sold sugar to pay hisself and all his company.  What more was kept from Her Majestie’s cold claws, I cannot tell.”

My uncle arrkst Nero, “What of the question to the learned doctor that touched upon our Earl?  Was it a matter of kitchen eel?”

“It was,” sayt Nero, “put by a lady on the matter of his marriage.”

A black and white photo of the portrait of a young Elizabethan woman, formally dressed and holding a fan.
A very young and anxious-looking Puss Fur-None, better known as Elizabeth (Bess) Vernon (1573-1655).  From Charlotte Carmichael Stopes’ biography of the Earl of Southampton, via the Internet Archive.

“To Puss Fur-None?” arrkst my uncle.

“No,” sayt Nero. “I believe this lady has hopes of her own.”

I scented scandal, but my uncle sayt he would write what Nero told us next.

He fears I may set down something slanderous of His Harryship.

My uncle may be old, but he is cute [sharp].

 Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNero and the Rainbow’s cat were eager to declare they weren’t to blame for anything.

So was the Rainbow’s captain, Sir William Monson.  He claims he sought to delay the treasure fleet by inviting them to try and capture his ship.  That sounds foolhardy, but at the time he wouldn’t have known that almost all the English fleet were elsewhere.

Sir William then faults the Earl of Southampton for the Garland’s staying to take the Spanish frigate and identify the Mary Rose and Dreadnought.  And also Sir Francis Vere (on the Mary Rose) for bringing a soldier’s caution to the pursuit of the fleet into the port of Angra.  But mainly the Earl of Essex, for taking advice from the wrong people.

Had the English fleet maintained its position in the vicinity of Graciosa and Terceira, the treasure would have been theirs.  Hindsight, of course.

The “great ship” escorted by two frigates that was taken belonged to the Governor of Havana.  She was unloaded at Dartmouth and reported to be carrying cochineal and indigo.  A good haul, though there are hints in letters to Sir Robert Cecil that sticky fingers may have been busy before she reached Dartmouth.


29 thoughts on “89: Nero Sees Action

  1. leggypeggy March 16, 2017 / 6:40 pm

    Ah, almost certain there were some sticky fingers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 16, 2017 / 7:22 pm

      Well, rewards weren’t likely to be forthcoming from Queen Elizabeth! It was hard enough to get money out of her at the best of times.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. April Munday March 16, 2017 / 7:51 pm

    I’m surprised the ships didn’t have a way of signalling in code to identify them, even if they weren’t flying flags.

    The saucie niece is too impatient to be a good story-teller like Gib.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 16, 2017 / 8:03 pm

      Yes – and despite the fact that English ships were said to be less unwieldy than Spanish ones, mariners seemed to have a lot of trouble telling English “great ships” and Spanish galleons apart.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday March 16, 2017 / 8:07 pm

      I can see you might have that problem when ships that were captured were used by the side which had captured them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 16, 2017 / 8:28 pm

      That’s logical. But I’m surprised that Sir William Monson, with all his experience at sea, didn’t recognise the Spanish fleet when he came so close, even if it was dark. His account may have grown in the telling, of course. The confusion about the Mary Rose and the Dreadnought is easier to understand, because it was a very misty morning. Sir William claims he didn’t think they were Spanish, but it strikes me as odd that the Earl of Southampton would have ignored both his and John Troughton’s advice. Troughton was the Garland’s captain, and Sir William doesn’t mention him at all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday March 16, 2017 / 8:33 pm

      Everyone tells their story to suit themselves, and I don’t think the young earl always did the most sensible thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 16, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      Except that packing on sail and racing after the fleet may not have been the most sensible thing if more of it was coming up behind you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Amused Onlooker March 16, 2017 / 7:58 pm

    Gib’s niece doesn’t brook nonsense as much as Gib does. I’m almost inclined to think that Nero did actually go on all these adventures rather than collect them as stories. I wonder who that lady with marital aspirations is. The Earl of Southampton must be quite a catch!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 16, 2017 / 8:12 pm

      Nero almost has me convinced, too.
      Any Earl was considered a good catch, but the Earl of Southampton had the additional advantages of being young, good-looking, and amiable; most people seem to have liked him. Apart, of course, from the one that really mattered – Queen Elizabeth.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. trashonthemonocacy March 21, 2017 / 1:10 am

    Gib’s niece really knows how to deal with Nero. (I like her sass, though I know Gib often feels otherwise).

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 21, 2017 / 7:40 am

      Gib was pretty sassy when he was younger. Age has mellowed him.


  5. colonialist March 21, 2017 / 3:13 am

    So nearly the jackpot, but at least not totally fruitless.
    Why was it, again, that Liz didn’t like the Earl?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 21, 2017 / 8:46 am

      Liz’s dislike of him is a mystery. He was attracting too much attention from her maids of honour? He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) play the courtly game of pretending to be enamoured of her and in competition (sometimes genuine) with other male favourites? She suspected him of egging on the brilliant-but-unstable Essex? Or maybe he was just one of those naturally reserved people who are “hard to read” and she didn’t like it?

      Liked by 1 person

    • colonialist March 21, 2017 / 11:27 pm

      Certainly a puzzle. By all accounts, an eminently likeble man.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Soul Gifts March 26, 2017 / 11:48 pm

    LoL – Puss Fur-None. Love the names the cats have for the humans 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Robyn Haynes March 30, 2017 / 4:07 pm

    Intriguing how the cats’ acute senses are a way of identifying ‘ours’: ‘My nose told me they was ours’, and the enemy: ‘She knowed by their stinks they was Spanish’. Such a great highlighting of the predominate feline sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 30, 2017 / 5:11 pm

      Nor do I. Apparently their noses aren’t as good as dogs’, but impressive.

      Liked by 1 person

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