109: A Winter of Discontent

I feared the dead time of winter would prove tedious in the citie.  I was not mistaken.

A small brown and white spaniel, with a carved wooden chair back as background,
Little Dog Wattie

The better sort all have their spies, but little dog Wattie, who served as my intelligencer, brought me scant newes. 

He sayt the mistress did but visit friends when they went abroad, and he found their talk so wearisome he scarce troubled to ear it.

He told me our Earl had been loosed from prison, but knew not where he lodged.

I went to invite Onix to accompany me to Essex House, thinking our Earl might be there.  But Onix told me he durst not leave his shop, this being the season when rats and mice were most like to seek entry. 

I arrkst him where Picker and Stealer were.  I’d not seen them since they wished my Earl a sword that would not rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swan’s feet.

He sayt they’d boasted of going to see a wicked man hanged. 

“Oh, where?” I cried.

“Many ways from here,” sayt Onix.  “They left long since, and we’re not like to see them soon.”

He told me this man was condemned to die a traitor’s death because he’d sought to poyson Queen Puss [Bess] herself, and the Earl of Essex!

“The fellow used such fool means,” he whispered, “sure, he must be mad.  Or else he was put to the question, and had no choice but to confess.  My master and my mistress say that all’s a pack of lies.” 

Then he fled from the window, afeared he’d sayt too much.

A black and white cat peering through an unglazed window in a timbered Elizabeth house.
Onix at the window.

That night I thought to go alone to Essex House, for I guessed our Earl was there.

But Linkin waylaid me.  He (now chief of the Irish committy) told me that Queen Puss had sayt nowt as yet, but there could be no doubting that Essex would go to Ireland.

Essex did not wish to go, but he had no choice.  It were a matter of his reputation.  And our Earl would go with him if Queen Puss permitted it.

We feared she would say No.  (A pitie she scaped poysoning.)

“Is Ireland a rainy country?” I arrkst Linkin.  “Where none can go dry-foot?”

Linkin did not know.  He told me I must aid him in his investigations.

He’d learnt that the Spain committy had wrought against him.  Their chief had called for any wandering cat that brought newes of Ireland to be sent to her and none other.

“She’ll gain nowt by that,” sayt I.  “In winter no cat travels far.  And if the newes comes from sea cats, there’ll be no truth in it.”

A plump, round-faced, ginger and white cat.
Linkin. Law cat, Member of Parlement, and now chief of the Irish Committy.

“Even so, I must do better,” sayt Linkin.  “I shall keep close to the master and our mistress and heed their talk.  You must seek informations from the books in this house.”

That were easier sayt than done, for we had no bookroom.

Law books lay open in the master’s chamber but other books were kept in a great box, which was oped only when the master or the mistress wished to look on them.

So I could do nowt but haunt that box.  I leapt in every time the lid was lifted, and feigned to nose a mouse within.

I thought that if I did this oft enough, they might take out all the books and leave me time enough to find one about the Irishes.  If there were one to be found.

Such is the way of the world.

Picker and Stealer were gone to a hanging.  Onix lived in a house where he learnt much of poysoning.

Linkin was chief of the Irish committy.

Whereas I, the cleverest of all, who could both write and read, served as Linkin’s secretarie, wearying first my wits and next mine eyes for the sake of his reputation.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The hanging Picker and Stealer spoke of was probably that of Edward Squire, hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 23 November 1598.

In 1595 Edward Squire had gone on Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage, been captured by the Spanish, allegedly “turned” by English Jesuits in Seville, and sent back to England as a potential assassin.

He then went on the ill-starred expedition to the Azores (the Islands Voyage), where he allegedly tried to kill the Earl of Essex by putting poison on his chair.  In 1598 he was arrested and charged with poisoning the pommel of Queen Elizabeth’s saddle.

Clearly, Onix’s apothecary master and midwife mistress were sceptical of the charges, and attributed his confession to torture.

Tyburn (near where Marble Arch now stands) was about 3 miles westward through open country.  I suspect Picker and Stealer went no further than Newgate – then a gate in the city wall that doubled as a prison – to see the unfortunate man brought out to begin the sorry journey along Holborn and the Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street).


32 thoughts on “109: A Winter of Discontent

  1. April Munday October 19, 2017 / 5:40 am

    Poor Tricks, surrounded by idiots who lack the means to obtain the information she wants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 19, 2017 / 10:25 am

      I’m afraid so. It was a time that supplies some examples of extraordinary cruelty carried out on behalf of the state or in the name of “true religion”, but so does much of human history. I don’t think our species is ever very far from such behaviour.

      Liked by 2 people

    • larrypaulbrown October 19, 2017 / 10:27 am

      Sadly, I agree with you. I find your writing amazing even though I am not overly familiar with that time period. Yes, we could change the names and places and call it “today’s news”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dornahainds October 20, 2017 / 2:20 am

    When sending fools on errand run, one receives foolish – well, nonsense of any kind.

    Great, Great story as always. 😎😎😎🥀🥀🥀

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 11:54 am

      He’s been listening to the sort of wicked talk he usually deplores. This time it came from his master and mistress – both of whom would have known a fair amount about poisons and, worse, could have been closet Catholics!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Robyn Haynes October 21, 2017 / 2:10 pm

    Some kind of topical poison? Not much changes in the corridors of power. Still poisonous but of a different kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 4:43 pm

      Well, if the pommel of the Queen’s saddle were poisoned, I think the servants responsible for making her horse ready would have been at most risk. They probably handled the saddle without wearing gloves.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 7:19 pm

      Ah! That’s shrewd. You should have been a detective. Although Edward Squire was referred to as a scrivener or clerk, according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he said that he had been employed in the royal stables in 1593. That would have been before he joined Sir Francis Drake. So he could well have conscripted a former colleague to do the deed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes October 21, 2017 / 7:42 pm

      Interesting! The plot thickens, Denise. I always learn from your posts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 9:14 pm

      Yes – it seems a strange and confusing case. Edward Squire may well have converted to Catholicism while he was a prisoner in Spain (or pretended to) simply so he could get back to England. And I don’t know whether he poisoned the saddle (or merely told someone in Spain he would) before or after he supposedly poisoned the Earl of Essex’s chair. He may simply have been a casualty of the ongoing propaganda war between Protestant and Catholic factions and the paranoia of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes October 21, 2017 / 9:21 pm

      I looked up drawn and quartered. The poor fellow. Imagine if he’d not been guilty – a possibility. Hanged until not quite deceased and then subjected to such brutality. Why? Was it thought a deterrent?

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 9:53 pm

      I think he was probably innocent of attempted poisoning, but may have engaged in some treasonable talk at some stage. Yes – I assume that way of executing those found guilty of treason was meant to be a deterrent, but so many suffered that fate it obviously didn’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 21, 2017 / 10:11 pm

      True. I’m always amused when I hear the word “animal” applied to a particularly brutal person.
      Animals are incapable of our calculated savagery.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. April Munday October 25, 2017 / 9:44 am

    A propos of nothing, we have two Tudor and Stuart things on television at the moment. One is about the Cecils – Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents. It’s a bit dumbed down, but, if it makes its way to you, worth watching. The other is a drama – Gunpowder – which also features a Cecil. This is, obviously, about the gunpowder plot. I’m told it plays fast and loose with the facts, but, somewhat bizarrely, the Catholics are presented as heroes and James I is a bumbling tyrant. Given that many in England will be burning Guy Fawkes’ effigy next month, it seems a very odd take on history. It also shows England in 1605 as a very gloomy place. London is particularly dark and dirty. There are also torture and executions, and at one distressingly realistic HD&Q.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 25, 2017 / 10:58 am

      Yes, we’ll be letting off fireworks, too. This is a lively time of year – Diwali, followed by Halloween and the increasingly popular (in cities, anyway) Day of the Dead, then Guy Fawkes night.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the TV programmes. I did see a brief item online about Gunpowder, and that some unfortunate citizen was executed “just for being Catholic”. Which made me incredulous straight off.

      The most interesting thing I’ve ever seen on TV about the gunpowder plot was the Richard Hammond-hosted recreation of the probable result if the gunpowder had been ignited. Factual, and sufficiently horrendous. Plus the likely backlash against anyone remotely suspected of any sympathy with the plot.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 25, 2017 / 6:51 pm

      Rest assured, no one, so far, has been executed just for being a Catholic. A priest has been executed and the woman who sheltered him. I think both were treason, but I’m probably wrong. The Catholics have been doing a bit of throat-slitting. It’s rather violent. I do like the way Cecil is portrayed. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to admire him or hate him, but I feel that the kingdom is safe in his hands.


    • toutparmoi October 25, 2017 / 9:26 pm

      The charge probably was treason. Under Elizabeth, a law was passed to the effect that any Englishman leaving to go to Europe to train as a priest (usually Jesuit, I think) and who then returned to England was committing treason. Returning priests therefore travelled incognito and became part of a Catholic underground.

      On the other hand, the old Catholic priests in England from Mary I’s time were tolerated and left alone, but they were dying out. Some of the returning priests would have been coming to minister to practicing Catholics, but others could well have been up to no good.

      The Cecil in Gunpowder will be Robert, Lord Burghley’s younger son, whom the cats refer to as Mr Secretary or Sir Rabbit.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 26, 2017 / 12:06 am

      Yes, the priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered had come back from France. His colleague is part of the plot, although it’s implied that he’s only part of the plot because of the other’s execution.

      It is Sir Robert. He’s a man I would very much want to have on my side, rather than against me.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 26, 2017 / 12:12 am

      He was an extraordinarily clever man. I was in the library yesterday and saw a biography of him, but didn’t pick it up because I have too much other reading to do. It will wait. And yes, you would want him on your side. He had a soft spot for the Earl of Southampton, which was – Spoiler Alert – probably what saved said Earl’s life.


    • April Munday October 26, 2017 / 12:16 am

      The Elizabethan spies programme also said that he was clever, even more so than his father, who wasn’t exactly slow on the uptake.

      They’re both on the BBC, so there’s a good chance you’ll get the opportunity to see them.

      Liked by 1 person

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