And what a strange thing it was!
When Paws called for order, a fierce stone-cat [tom-cat] leapt onto the wall to serve as our watch. Though whether he were there to keep us in or others out I knew not.
Another cat rose and arrkst the Queen Cat of Heaven to look with favour on our parlement.
Then Paws sayt, “Are there new members here?” (Though I swear she saw us enter.)
Onix begged permission to speak. He sayt he wished to present two that were in the service of the Earl of Southampton.
That caused a stir. Linkin and I were called to show ourselves.
Paws arrkst who was the member for our household.
I knew not what she meant by that, but Linkin sayt he was. And that I lodged with him against our Earl’s return from France.
“Which,” added Linkin, “our Earl says he cannot do, because he lacks for money.”
That set all screeching. “An Earl with no money?” called some.
“Come he must, if Her Majestie commands it,” sayt Paws. “And take his punishment like a lord. His cat has no place of her own, and his wife and her cousin the Earl of Essex must bear all Her Majestie’s wrath.”
Some cats called, “Shame!”
Then Linkin was arrkst to give an account of hisself.
He boasted so well of his learning that he was welcomed by other law-cats, and invited to sit on their committy.
I was left at the back with the likes of Picker and Stealer.
Then came the reports, as ordered by Paws. Most tedious, save when a cat told of the funeral of old Lord Purrlie [Burghley].
She sayt that the Earl of Essex had come from his hiding place in the country, and wore the sorriest face of all.
“Sorry for hisself, most like,” she added. “He’ll get nowt by Lord Purrlie’s death. All the good places old Purrlie held are taken by Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil] and his friends.”
Another arrkst if it were true that Essex was in hiding because Her Majestie had struck him a blow, and he’d wauled most fierce at her.
I pricked my ears, for I knew nowt of that.
But Paws sayt that we’d had no report of any fight, and our parlement was not for gossips’ talk nor slander.
I could scarce keep from yawning.
Then Paws invited talk of Ireland, where ’twas said that the Irishes had been attacking the English mightily, and won a glorious victory.
Some cats sayt that if the English were taking their places, the Irishes did well to chase them out.
Linkin (getting the nod from Paws) sayt, “But if Her Majestie wishes to punish the Irishes, who can she send against them but the Earl of Essex?”
That brought applauds.
“Certes,” sayt Paws, “many hope Essex will return to Her Majestie’s household, but he lies sick a-bed in his house beyond the citie.”
“Sick of old Queen Puss,” sayt I, not soft enough. Picker and Stealer turned to give me looks.
Then Picker or Stealer – I knew not which – sought to speak.
I feared she meant to have me chased off, and readied myself for flight.
Instead she sayt, “I slander none, but I hear Essex has sayt that even princes can err, and wrong their subjects. And that no earthly power is infinite. Can such wild words be true? Or has fever enflamed his brain?”
Oh, that was suttle.
“I fear,” sayt Linkin (having the nod again) “that the most noble and heroick Essex has stepped forth upon a slender branch. We must pray it bears his weight, lest he should fall and look fool.”
That brought great applauds.
How well Linkin could play at politicks. And Picker and Stealer too.
The fight between Queen Elizabeth and Essex occurred at a meeting on 30 June or 1 July 1598. Sir Robert Cecil and the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, were also there, and the Clerk of the Signet.
In the absence of a record by anyone present, modern historians rely on the brief account written some years later by William Camden (1551-1623) in his history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Camden calls it a “sharp dissention”.
The Lord Deputy of Ireland had recently died, and there was an argument (apparently driven by rivalry between Essex and Sir Robert Cecil) over who should replace him.
As Camden tells it, Queen Elizabeth dismissed Essex’s suggestion and he turned his back on her. She gave him “a cuff on the ear and bade him be gone…”. He placed his hand on his sword hilt. The Lord Admiral stepped between them.
Essex announced that he couldn’t swallow such treatment, nor would he have taken it from King Henry VIII – Elizabeth’s father, with whom she liked to be compared.
He left the Court and went to his house at Wanstead (now part of greater London). He remained there throughout July and August resisting his friends’ and allies’ advice to make peace with Queen Elizabeth, and appearing only at Lord Burghley’s funeral on 30 August.
Essex was prone to bouts of depression, but after Lord Burghley’s funeral he became dangerously ill. He was then forgiven by Queen Elizabeth.
The story of the “dissention” has probably grown in the telling. Essex was later reported to have also said that the Queen’s conditions (disposition) were as crooked as her carcass – or words to that effect. He may well have made this remark at some stage, but I find it hard to believe that even he would have said it in her hearing.