107:  A Kit for Our Earl

Mother Wort, Mug Wort, and Marsh Mallow – all considered helpful to women in labour.

When Onix next called, I meant to tell him of the quarrel betwixt His Harryship and his mother.

Before I could say owt, Onix arrkst me if I knew that Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] had brought forth a pretty she-kit.

I was vexed that I did not.

I arrkst him if his mistress had been called to attend upon her. 

He sayt she’d heard the newes from friends.  And that Lady Southampton (as he called Puss Fur-None) had likely been attended by Lady Rich’s midwife.

(Onix, being a cat of the middling sort, always spake most respective of great folks.)

“By Lady Rich, mean you the lady Penelope?  She that is cousin to Puss Fur-None and own sister to the Earl of Essex?” arrkst I, knowing I’d heard of that lady before.

“The same,” he sayt.  “And certes, Lady Rich has brought forth so many fine kits she would be a fit companion for the young Lady Southampton in her first travail.”

A full length portrait of a dark-eyed, fair-haired woman.
A Nicholas Hilliard miniature thought to be of Penelope, Lady Rich c1590.

“True,” sayt I, still displeased that he’d heard this newes before me.

I arrkst, “Know you why she has so many fine kits? It’s because she took a lesson from us queen cats, and has hoist her tail for more than one stout he.  Lord Rich is still living, but Lord Mountjoy is her husband in all but name.”

“That’s wicked talk,” sayt Onix.

But he did not deny it, nor could he.

Then, as was ever the way when Onix and I were together, Picker and Stealer showed their saucie faces.

I swear they sat upon the citie wall watching for a chance to vex me.

“Well met!” called Picker, averting her eyes most courteous.

“We bring newes to glad your heart,” sayt Stealer.

When villains speak with honey tongues, ’tis time to sharp your wits and wear a face as sweet as their words.

“We thought you should know,” sayt Picker, “that your Earl is come from France.”

“And has been sent to lie in no less a lodging than the Fleet prison, so gracious is Her Majestie,” sayt Stealer.

“A dank, noisome, and unwholesome place,” sayt Onix.

“It speaks!” cried Picker. “Cry you mercy, friend.  We took you for a scented nose-wipe.”

“Fresh spat into,” added Stealer.  “By one with lung-rot.”

Onix should learn to sharp his wits or keep silent.

I sayt in haste, “Let us be thankful that Earls have better accommodation in prison than you’re ever like to see.”

“E’en so, he’s cursing Dame Fortune,” sayt Picker.  “What did he win by wedding Puss Fur-None?  No money, nor no land.  An end to his travels.  The wrath of his mother, and the malice of Queen Puss.  And now a mere daughter, to crown all.”

“He told you so hisself, did he?” I arrkst.

“There’s no prison in this citie we can’t slip into,” boasted Stealer.

“Slipping into prison is no great matter,” sayt I.  “Slipping out again requires more art.” 

“As your Earl may well learn, if he don’t please Queen Puss,” sayt Picker.

“And how should he do that?  Send her a sonnet in praise of her beauty?”

“Now there’s a merry thought,” sayt Stealer.  “Worse lies are told every day.  And all know poets are liars, in prison or out.”

“Was not your uncle a famous poet?” arrkst Picker.  “And are you not a skoller?  Best you pen a sonnet that your Earl can put his name to.”

“My Earl would not so abase hisself,” sayt I.  “He would rather be a lion on the field of battle than a lamb in the Queen’s presence.”

“Then let us pray that he has a sword that cannot rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swans’ feet.”

“Indeed,” sayt I.

Swans’ feet?  On a horse?  Those sly sisters knew more than they were telling.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorElizabeth Vernon gave birth to a daughter in early November 1598.  (Like Tricks, I’ll keep on referring to her by her maiden name so as not to confuse her with the Earl’s mother, the Countess of Southampton senior.)

Around the same time, the Earl returned to England and was sent to the Fleet Prison.

Elizabeth Vernon may already have had a brief stay there, but this is uncertain.  One London gossip reported in early September that the Queen had commanded that “the sweetest and best appointed chamber in the Fleet,” be provided for her.

However, I’m not convinced that Queen Elizabeth would have risked imprisoning an Earl’s wife so far into her pregnancy.

The London gossips were having a field day at the expense of Elizabeth Vernon and her Earl, but the Queen would have been blamed if a premature birth had resulted in the death of the child and perhaps the mother.

A Birthing Chamber.  The mother, now resting in bed, is being offered sustenance.  The midwife is washing the baby while her assistant stands ready with the swaddling cloth.  The mother’s friends at the far right of the picture are already celebrating.  A cheerful scene, but one with hints of disorder.  Does the picture suggest that women can get a little out of hand on an all-female occasion?

23 thoughts on “107:  A Kit for Our Earl

  1. roshendalal October 5, 2017 / 10:27 pm

    was there preference for a son? must have been. Any female infanticide?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 5, 2017 / 11:23 pm

      There was a preference for sons, probably at every level of society, though most evidence for it comes from aristocratic families. (They’re the ones who left the most documentation.) They always wanted a male heir, and preferably more than one because the survival chances of children were so uncertain. Male heirs carried on the family name, and most titles could only be inherited by males. Daughters were useful because, as brides, they could cement family alliances, but were not considered so necessary.

      I’m not aware of female infanticide, but I wonder if the very poor were more likely to abandon female babies.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April Munday October 5, 2017 / 10:56 pm

    Tricks doesn’t seem to be mixing with the right sort, even if they do bring her gossip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 5, 2017 / 11:33 pm

      I have a sneaky suspicion that Tricks might find the right sort dull. Even though, like many Elizabethans, she’s determined to cling to her place on the status ladder, or even claw her way further up. Shame on her Earl, say I, for not providing her or his wife with suitable accommodation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 5, 2017 / 11:57 pm

      I think she would find the right sort dull too. I think she’s done very well to rise from stable cat to London cat.

      Does the earl know she exists? Have they been properly introduced?

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 6, 2017 / 12:03 pm

      The Earl must have seen her around Place House as she raised herself from barn to stable to laundry to kitchen to library. However, she never achieved the highest position, Cat of the Bedchamber, which was Gib’s from kitlinghood.

      If she was telling the truth about winning the Earl 300 crowns by defeating a rat in mortal combat, he doubtless admired her. But will he recognise her if and when they meet again?


    • April Munday October 6, 2017 / 6:32 pm

      I’d forgotten about the rat. Perhaps that will stand her in good stead when they meet again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds October 6, 2017 / 7:19 am

    Woman’s work is never-ending no mnatter her malady or pregnancy state. 😎😎😎

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rachel McAlpine October 6, 2017 / 4:50 pm

    The picture gives a whole new meaning to the concept of home birth. Chaos, but cheerful enough apart from the mother, who looks totally pooped.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robyn Haynes October 7, 2017 / 8:19 pm

    It seems the cats trade information/gossip in much the same way we humans do. I wonder did they suffer the indignity of ‘fake news’? All in the name of power and influence of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 8, 2017 / 8:32 am

      Cats, with their sharp ears and silent movements, are well-suited to the gathering of news. And I wouldn’t put it past Picker and Stealer to spread fake news, for the very reason you suggest.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. chattykerry October 8, 2017 / 2:00 am

    What a wonderful way with words you have -‘ and has hoist her tail for more than one stout he.’ She would get on well with Katniss…

    Liked by 1 person

    • chattykerry October 10, 2017 / 3:58 am

      Katniss has the tiniest little voice apart from when she screams at her many suitors…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Christine Valentor October 9, 2017 / 2:03 am

    The birthing chamber picture does suggest a bit of chaos among the women. Interesting, because female midwives were later challenged by more ‘proper’ male doctors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 9, 2017 / 7:50 am

      Yes – early midwives were free from male control (apart from being supposed to be licensed by the church), and were well-respected. On the other hand, women were known to be unreliable… Just think of that apple!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. colonialist October 9, 2017 / 7:49 am

    If one thing is certain it is that life in those times was certainly uncertain. From favours to imprisonment was often only a matter of an act or a few words apart.
    Picker and Stealer are overdue for an unexpected swim in the Thames, perhaps.


    • toutparmoi October 9, 2017 / 8:13 pm

      “Swim” is probably the right word. I very much fear that Picker and Stealer are of the kind that always manage to keep themselves afloat.


    • colonialist October 9, 2017 / 10:03 pm

      But it would provide great satisfaction to see them damp and bedraggled!

      Liked by 1 person

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