At our next assembly Linkin sayt, “You may have heard me speak of the London lawyer that was my master before I joined his mother’s household.”
(‘Twere a marvel if any of us had not.)
“Well,” sayt Linkin, “his wife has died, sudden.”
“What of her motherless kits?” called an old queen cat. “Who will nourish them?”
“More of those little yowlers later,” sayt Linkin. “First, I’ve newes from Sir Rabbit’s ambassage to France.”
I’d guessed that Mr Secretary would gain nowt there, but kept my thoughts well-hid.
All pricked their ears most courteous, though few love politicks as Linkin does.
He sayt, “Sir Robert and his company made landfall at Dieppe. When they reached Paris, the French King was gone to Brittany to correct a wicked Duke who fancies hisself a Prince.”
“Where’s Brittany?” arrkst a young cat, curious.
“In France,” sayt Nero. “I’ve viewed it from the sea, but ne’er set foot there. Nor would I.”
Linkin sayt: “They travelled many wearisome miles to find the King. He received them most courteous, and expressed his love for Queen Puss. Sir Rabbit presented our Earl, saying he’d come to France to serve the King, and the King embraced him.”
“I hear tell the French King is much given to scruffing,” came a call. “Did Sir Rabbit say owt of that?”
Linkin (deaf) sayt, “The King was not so amiable when it came to talk of Spain, our common enemie. He believes we English scorn him. Sir Rabbit assured him that Queen Puss did not seek to disswade him from his plans, nor was she opposed to a general peace. She merely wished to know what the offers were.
“The King sent all to meet Madame his sister. Sir Rabbit gave her a letter from our Queen. Madame is a good Protestant, and has a seat on the King’s Council.
“Sir Rabbit sayt she was well-painted, ill-dressed, and strangely jewelled, but accompanied by many great ladies.
“The next morning the King was indisposed, but after dinner he entreated our ambassadors to visit his son, and the lady the King wishes to marry.
“Sir Rabbit writ that she’s very fair, well-spoken and courteous, and has another kit in her belly. He had no letter for her (though I believe she would have liked one) so did not spend much time there.”
“Was any French lady so courteous as to hoist her tail and permit one of our gentlemen to seize her by the scruff?” arrkst a lusty young cat.
“Did Sir Rabbit make a report of what was ate at dinner?” arrkst another, hopeful. “Does the French King keep a good table?”
Linkin, tiring of their foolerie, turned rhetorickal.
“Who would not prefer a war of righteousness to a peace of peril? Will the Spanish keep that peace? What of our Dutch friends, who wish to drive them from the Low Countries? They’ll not countenance a truce, much less a treaty.
“And once the Spanish cease fighting with the French, they’ll come at us again. They have all the gold and silver of the Indies in their claws, and will make a new Armada.”
Hot words. But the more Linkin spake against peace, the better I liked that French King.
If he could not get what he wanted from purse-moanious [parsimonious?] Puss of England, he would have it from Philip of Spain.
“With France lost to our cause, will Queen Puss friend the Spanish too?” called Linkin, carried away. “’Tis not I alone who fears so. I believe the most noble and heroick Earl of Essex is of like mind. I hope to hear more of this in London soon.”
“What?” came a saucie call. “Lord Essex has offered you a place in his household? Or is it Sir Rabbit that craves your wise counsel?”
That set all a-screeching.
“My mistress will go to lodge with her son,” sayt Linkin. “And have care of his motherless kits. I shall accompany her.”
“I may join you,” sayt Nero. “Your mistress was ever kind to cats. Once in London, I’ll friend a Turkey merchant and take ship to Constantinople.”
“Last I heard,” sayt Linkin, “you was bound for Fence [Venice].”
“I go wherever the winds command me,” sayt Nero. “And cats eat well in Constantinople.”
Many called for Nero to tell us more of that citie. And some young cats sayt they’d never heared his famous Turkey tale.
Nero promised to give it out when next we met.
That’s one assembly I did not trouble to attend. I’ve heard those lies so oft I could give them out myself.
As I walked home, I feared I may have been too hasty in my dealings with Linkin. I vowed to say sorry for my unkind words. And offer him a rat.
And discover when his mistress would set forth for London.
Henri faced a massive task in trying to unite France under his rule, impoverished as it was by war, and divided by bitter religious differences and the ambitions of powerful nobles.
Brittany was a pro-Spanish stronghold, and Henri had to bring its “governor” the Duke of Mercœur to heel. From there he went to Angers, where the English met him in late March/early April 1598.
Henri’s domestic arrangements must have made Queen Elizabeth’s court seem very straitlaced. Estranged from his wife, Marguerite de Valois, Henri had no legitimate heirs and was hoping to marry his long-term mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées (c1573-1599).
However, Henri’s sister Catherine de Bourbon (1559-1604) was probably the most powerful woman in France. So no surprise that her make-up and dress sense were subject to close scrutiny by foreign ambassadors, just as Elizabeth I’s also were. Some things never change.