102:  Queen Puss Breathes Fire

A detail from an early portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, showing an open jewellery box, a lavish display of pearls, brooches etc, and a pincushion containing the pins grand Elizabethan ladies used to hold their formal attire together. His Harryship and Puss Fur-None were wed in hugger-mugger.

It was the talk of our household.

’Twas sayt that when Queen Puss learnt of it she ran so mad she went not to chapel that day.

I went to the wall of Essex House, but had no sight of His Harryship or any lady that might be Puss Fur-None.

Even so, Linkin and I were joyed that we’d known of their doings before the master and our mistress did.  Or Queen Puss.

She spake of sending all who were privy to this mischief to the Tower.

Not just our Earl and his Puss, but any who knew of it!

“Well,” sayt I to Linkin, “I always wished to see the Tower.”

He sayt it would not come to that, but our Earl and his new Countess would surely be punished.

We heard the master say that the Daffers [Danvers] brothers were in the citie, and our Earl may have travelled home with them.  Even though Sir Rabbit [Robert Cecil] was given a letter from our Earl saying he hoped Sir Harry Daffers would soon come back to France, so they might go into Italy together.

Linkin believed that letter were a trick.  He sayt our Earl wrote it to make Sir Rabbit and all think he was still in Paris, not here.

Oh, his Harryship is suttle.  But how he passed unremarked mazed us both, he being so long and having much hair.

A long-haired young man in a white silk doublet with gold and purple trunkhose, white silk stockings and black shoes. He's also wearing a black and gold gorget, and a plumed helmet and breastplate are nearby.
The Earl of Southampton, or “His Harryship” as the disrespectful Tricks calls him. This is probably his wedding portrait, painted some time after the event.  He wouldn’t have been dressed like this when he slipped into England.

Next, His Harryship, thinking no harm, returned to France and writ again to Sir Rabbit.

This time he arrkst him to tell Queen Puss that he was married.  He hoped Sir Rabbit could do this in such a way as to cause her least offence.

Too late for that.  Queen Puss was breathing fire.

She sayt he’d brought dishonour upon her Court, and shown hisself most contemptuous in his secret comings and goings.  She commanded him home again.

All here sayt that the longer our Earl tarried in France, the more offended Queen Puss would be.  

Linkin and I agreed that ’twould be no wonder if she sprouted scales and wings, and flew to France to smoke him out herself.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon were married mid to late August 1598.  That coincided with the Danvers brothers return to England. 

Elizabeth Vernon was 6 months pregnant.  If the Earl’s plan was to slip unnoticed into England with the Danvers he may have intended to arrive a month or more earlier, but their departure was delayed because Sir Harry Danvers was ill.

It’s unlikely the Earl was delighted by the pregnancy.  He’d seen no future for himself at Queen Elizabeth’s court and spoken of serving Henri IV, probably in a military capacity.  However, Henri’s recent peace with Spain would have left him at a loose end, career-wise.

I think Elizabeth Vernon has had a grudging press.  One of the Earl’s biographers, A.L. Rowse, believes that he was “homosexual” and married her at the insistence of her cousin, the Earl of Essex.  Another, G.P.V. Akrigg, suggests that he vacillated, balancing his feelings for “the girl” (as Akrigg calls the 25 year old bride-to-be) and his friendship with Essex against his need for a wife with the wealth any earl could reasonably expect and which he certainly needed.

Both biographers leave the impression that the Earl married Elizabeth Vernon only because she was pregnant.

However, she may have been pregnant because they intended to marry – though probably not until after the Earl, who had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to spend two years overseas, had completed his travels and/or found a niche for himself at a foreign court.

Despite the Earl’s possible flirtations (and maybe more) in 1597 with Mary Howard and Frances Prannell, he and Elizabeth Vernon had been an item for at least three years.

Perhaps the best comment on their marriage is this unconventional portrait of Elizabeth Vernon.  Is it her wedding portrait?

She’s getting dressed.  Her hair is long and loose, in the style of a virgin bride.  Written on her comb is “Menez moi doucement,” which translates, somewhat inadequately, as “Manage (or Lead) me gently.”

The proportions of her body are odd, so it’s probably accidental that she looks pregnant – even though the position and curve of her left hand draw attention to her stomach.

The little dog on the cushion by her feet may be a pet, but also symbolises fidelity.   

The fur-trimmed red robe lying beside her is that of a countess, to be worn on state occasions.  Her ruff, with a jewelled front for her bodice, is pinned to the curtain behind her.  On the table is a fine display of jewellery, and a pin-cushion with all the pins required to hold a grand Elizabethan lady’s formal attire together.

The portrait, though carefully posed, is unusually intimate for its time.  The Earl must have liked it, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived.


29 thoughts on “102:  Queen Puss Breathes Fire

  1. leggypeggy August 31, 2017 / 2:17 pm

    Fascinating portrait of Elizabeth Vernon. Thanks for the explanation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi August 31, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      I hope my interpretation is reasonably accurate. Renaissance portraits can be heavy with symbolism :-).

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi August 31, 2017 / 3:58 pm

      The dog is very sweet – it looks like what we refer to now as a papillon.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi August 31, 2017 / 4:15 pm

      It is interesting. The unknown artist has a great way with detail, but I wish he or she had been better at painting people. I’ve come across a fair few references to Elizabeth Vernon in various books, and she’s often damned with faint praise, such as “demure” and “dutiful”. The young woman in this portrait looks livelier than that.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor September 1, 2017 / 1:18 pm

      The unknown artist seems to have a familiar style. I have seen portraits with that similar face.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April Munday August 31, 2017 / 6:27 pm

    The young earl never seems to think terribly clearly about his future. It’s interesting (probably only to me) that his hair is longer than his wife’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi August 31, 2017 / 7:22 pm

      Maybe the difference in hair length could be because his portrait was done by a more skillful artist? However, he seems to have the advantage of naturally wavy hair. Hair length interests me, too. One theory has it that the fashionable length of male hair is an indicator of the current status of women!

      Liked by 2 people

    • April Munday August 31, 2017 / 7:33 pm

      It is a less skilful painting as far as realism is concerned and I wonder if the painter was allowed to see her with her hair down. It does seem a bit shocking that she should stand in front of someone, presumably not a relative, combing her hair.


    • toutparmoi August 31, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      I could be wrong about this, but I understand that fine folks didn’t spend much time in front of the painters. The painter did a quick sketch of the sitter, but then worked with their clothes and other things that were to appear in the portrait in front of them.


    • April Munday August 31, 2017 / 10:11 pm

      I think that’s the case, too, but it’s still a bit shocking that she chose, or someone chose for her, to be painted like that. As you say, the earl must have liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds September 1, 2017 / 3:39 am

    Informative and Cleverly executed. 😎😎😎🥀🥀🥀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robyn Haynes September 2, 2017 / 5:38 pm

    Much is being said about the portrait and that’s what captivates me too. The unconventionality of it is what stands out. Given what you said about its survival being reliant on Sir Harryship’s favour, I wonder what else it conveys? What appealed to him? Could it represent not a likeness but an attitude?

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi September 3, 2017 / 10:12 am

      I think it represents an attitude, but the tricky thing for us is to read that attitude. The portrait looks mischievous to me – or “saucie” as the cats would say – but that could be my modern eye. What do you think?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Robyn Haynes September 3, 2017 / 5:30 pm

      I agree. But I think we must always remember it’s the artist’s impression. That fact that Harry liked it (he did keep it) I take to mean it hit the mark somewhat – or at least served his purpose. The question is, what was his purpose? To admire, admonish, wish fulfilment, the possibilities are intriguing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rachel McAlpine September 3, 2017 / 10:55 am

    Oh the excitement! Will Tricks and Linkin be thrown into the tower? What a lesson for gossipmongers. And I keep staring at the strange hand gestures in the portrait. Obviously they have a meaning, but is it “see you behind the bike shed at midnight” or “I love my love with an E”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 3, 2017 / 11:03 am

      Or, “Two fingers to you, Queen Puss. Once I’m dressed and properly blessed I’ll be a Countess, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel McAlpine September 3, 2017 / 12:11 pm

      Thank you, now I’m satisfied.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. trashonthemonocacy September 6, 2017 / 6:07 am

    She looks far lovelier than “demure” or “dutiful” would indicate. Who, knows, though, with portraits?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 6, 2017 / 8:56 am

      Yes – and even more so with portraits painted so long ago. To the modern eye there’s a fascinating tension between her half-dressed appearance and the symbols of wealth and power around her.


    • trashonthemonocacy September 6, 2017 / 9:02 am

      Which is also unique in the context of its time and place, yes? I didn’t most of my years as a student studying ancient art, which has its own vocabulary and was not nearly as prudish as the art that followed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 6, 2017 / 9:21 am

      It is very unusual for its time, but the survival of historical “records” can be so random there may have been similar paintings of other young women that didn’t survive. Art history is fascinating! I’d love to study more of it.


  7. sevenroses September 9, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    wish I could have learnt history from these lessons when I was in school and college! I would have been a brighter person! what an adorable teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi September 9, 2017 / 7:20 pm

      Tricks and her friends are sharp observers of what’s going on around them. Aren’t all cats?


  8. chattykerry September 10, 2017 / 7:46 am

    It’s a beautiful painting that suggests love and desire.


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