Linkin sayt to me, “There’s no call for you to go to Essex House, now our Earl and the Earl of Essex are gone to Ireland. And I hear tell that our Earl’s Puss [Bess] and the Pretty Penny have quit that house, too.”
“What?” I cried. “Those ladies were at Essex House? With our Earl? Why did you not tell me?”
“I couldn’t swear to the truth of it,” sayt he, narrowing his eyes most amiable.
I sayt he’d wished to keep me as his secretarie, lest he should require more informations on Ireland for Paws’ fool parlement.
A parlement where I had no voice, because I, having no household of mine own, was not a member.
Then it came to me. While all waited for newes from Ireland, I would make a Revel.
A night of mirth and merriment, such as we had in Titchfield. With no Paws to tell us to keep our thoughts to ourselves or leave.
I went to tell Onix of my plat [plan]. He was taking the sun in his doorway.
“By interludes,” he arrkst, “mean you plays? Plays are not permitted here.”
“I do not mean a play,” sayt I. “My uncle made a play, and I acted a maggot in it. But a play requires preparations. I mean no more than a merry tale or two. Linkin knows of a banquet where all the guests were murthered. Who would not wish to hear of that?”
Onix scarce heeded me. “There was a playhouse here, for the better sort,” he sayt. “My mother’s mother had employment there.”
“What?” I cried. “Linkin never told me of a playhouse in these parts.”
“’Tis long gone,” sayt he. “And when some players wished to make another, none would have it. No, not even the Lord Chamberlain hisself, though those same players were his servants.”
Then Onix told me that all here in Black-Fryes [Blackfriars] had sayt a common playhouse would be a great annoyance to them.
All manner of lewd and vagrant persons would come hither under colour of resorting to plays, but in truth to make mischief. Breaking of windows, picking and stealing, wauling and brawling.
He sayt, “The streets would be so pestered with rogues no honest folks could go about their business in good time. As my mistress must, when she is sent for.
“Nor honest cats neither. Strange folks would affront us by leaving their excrements by our gates and their marks against our walls. We would have much ado to o’er mark them, and scarce time for our own business.
“And what,” he arrkst, “if it should please the Queen Cat of Heaven to visit sickness on this citie? Having our streets so throng would imperil all. Best that common playhouses are kept without the citie walls, where all such evils belong.”
I remembered all the stranger cats that came to our Field to see my uncle’s play, and the revel-rout that followed hard upon it. Onix spake true.
To assuage him, I told him my Revel would not be for common cats. We would invite only our private friends.
“We don’t have any friends,” sayt Onix.
I sayt, “When next you see Picker and Stealer, tell them of a Spring Revel that only our invited friends may attend. Soon you’ll be mazed to learn how many friends we have.”
The Earl of Southampton’s wife, Elizabeth (Bess) Vernon was close to her cousin Penelope, Lady Rich (1563-1607) – the Earl of Essex’s sister. When the Earls left for Ireland, Penelope and Bess travelled to Chartley Manor in Staffordshire, formerly the Devereux family home.
The precinct of Blackfriars in London takes its name from a large Dominican monastery that once stood there. Parts of it were used by government for meetings of Parliament and the Privy Council, which might explain why the cats of nearby St Paul’s got the idea of holding their own parlement.
When the monastery became a crown property in 1538, some parts continued to be used for government purposes and others were leased out. From 1576 to 1584 select companies of choirboy actors from the Chapels Royal gave performances in a theatre there.
In 1596 the joiner-turned-actor/developer James Burbage (c.1531-1597) acquired part of the property to construct a playhouse for his company of adult actors. This company had as its patron George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, and they were known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men. (Later, in 1597 when he became the Lord Chamberlain, they became the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.)
The company had need of a new playhouse. The lease of the land in Shoreditch (north of the city wall) where their current playhouse The Theatre stood, was due to expire.
The prospect of a “common playhouse” in their midst caused an outbreak of nimbyism among the residents of Blackfriars. They petitioned the Privy Council asking that the project be stopped. Which it was, but not before James Burbage had spent around £1000 on the premises.
A leading petitioner was Elizabeth, Lady Russell, who styled herself Countess of Bedford even though her husband died before his father and never inherited the title of Earl. Lady Russell was the aunt of Sir Robert Cecil, who’d replaced his father William Cecil, Lord Burghley, as the most powerful man in England.
Other notable signatories were Lord Hunsdon himself, and the printer Richard Field who’d published William Shakespeare’s first printed works, the narrative poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.
Because Field was from Stratford upon Avon, some of Shakespeare’s biographers have speculated that he was also a friend. If so, Shakespeare, a member of Lord Hunsdon’s Men, might not have felt too pleased with him.