“Which will be soon, I trust,” sayt he, virtuous. “I hear poor Mistress Fur-None [Vernon] is grown so fat she feigned illness and fled the Court for fear of Her Majestie’s displeasure.”
I was vexed that I’d not known this. “To hell with Her Majestie,” sayt I.
His eyes grew round. “That’s wicked talk.”
“I mean,” I sayt, to smooth him, “that my lord has done no wrong. Before he set forth for France ’twas said he and Mistress Fur-None would marry.”
“Then it matters not how hard upon the wedding their kit comes,” sayt he. “There’s little shame to speak of.”
“Were they cats,” I sayt, “there’d be no shame nor no wedding.”
“True,” sayt he.
We sat a while longer.
I arrkst him if he went to Paws’ yard [St Paul’s churchyard]. I’d seen cats gather there, and guessed they met for newes or merriment as we’d done in our Field at home.
He told me he had scant leisure, so necessary was he in his employment. “But if the night’s fair when my mistress and her maid set forth on women’s work,” he sayt, “I slip out too.”
He offered to call for me when next he went to Paws. I was of a mind to tell him he had no need to call, for I could nose him a mile off. But I forebore.
I told him my name was Tricks. He sayt London cats go by many names, but in his household all called him Onix.
(A fool name for a cat.)
And so we parted friends, though I arrkst myself if Picker and Stealer might prove better company.
“What?” called Linkin, when he saw me at our window. “Back so soon? And not yet Lord Mayor?”
“How is it,” I arrkst, “that Mistress Fur-None has a kit in her belly, and I must hear it from an up-puffed pomander?”
“I know nowt of that,” sayt Linkin. “The night’s talk here was of Lord Purrlie. He’s on his deathbed. Queen Puss [Bess] went to visit him, and fed him broth with her own hands. She won’t know herself without him. His first son Thoms [Thomas] will have the name Lord Purrlie, but his clever son Rabbit [Robert] will have his place at the Queen’s elbow.”
“I care nowt for politicks,” sayt I. “This cat sayt Puss Fur-None is hiding from the Queen. And where’s his Harryship? In hiding from Puss Fur-None?”
“Our Earl’s not one to forsake his friends,” sayt Linkin. “He helped the Daffers [Danvers] brothers flee, and now they’ll have their pardon. And did not our sea-friend Nero say that when the Mathew lay stricken in the water, our Earl’s Garland stood by to give aid? Certes, if he and Puss Fur-None are not wed, they soon will be.”
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, died in London in early August 1598, aged 77. He’d been at Queen Elizabeth’s side throughout her reign, and I suspect she would have been too distressed to give any thought to Elizabeth Vernon’s departure from Court.
Tricks may have been unimpressed by Onix, but he seems well up on city gossip.
It wasn’t unusual for Elizabethan brides to be pregnant on their wedding day; I’ve read that around 25% were. Social historians attribute this to the custom variously referred to as betrothal, espousal, contracting, or hand-fasting. A couple exchanged vows to marry de presenti (in the present), or de futuro (in the future). The vows were usually made before witnesses, and often involved the exchange of little gifts or rings.
As far as both the church and the law were concerned, people weren’t legally married until a ceremony had been performed by a priest or minister. A preliminary exchange of vows wasn’t necessary. However, a betrothal de presenti was binding, if not strictly legal.
Many betrothed couples considered themselves to be as good as married, with predictable results. The church may not have approved, but the wider community was less concerned, provided the wedding took place before the baby was born. Otherwise the child’s legal status was compromised. It’s also likely that a percentage of the poor never bothered with a wedding. As they had little or nothing to leave their children, rights of inheritance would have been irrelevant.
A betrothal de futuro could be broken off by mutual consent, but if the couple had sexual intercourse then it became binding too.