122:  The Troubles of Us She-Creatures

In truth, I never wished to bear kits.  That did not mean I was happy to see others make away with them for no cause.

All I heard the mistress of our household say to her maidservant was that it must be done before the children learnt of them, else there would be tears.

It was the maidservant who seized the little innocents as they came forth and dropped them in the bucket.  The mistress troubled not to soil to her fingers.  (I’ll say nowt of her conscience.)

Then they made a plaister of leaves and rags, wound it tight about my belly, and hid me from the sight of all.  I pulled that plaister off as soon as I could.

When next I went forth, Onix nosed the stinks on me and sayt the leaves were a poltiss to dry my milk and keep my bubs from akeing.  “You should thank the Queen Cat of Heaven you was so well-tended,” sayt he.

I sayt, “Your mistress may be a midwife, but you’re a Know-Nowt.”

Onix sayt, “I know more than you.  The Lady Essex, wife to the noble Earl, is nigh to dropping her next kit, but she’s been ill and has grown so lank [thin] you would scarce credit it.”

Frances (nee Walsingham) 1567-1635, Countess of Essex, with their eldest child Robert (b.1591).

“Old newes,” sayt I. 

“And,” sayt Onix, “the Lady Southampton, wife to your Earl, had a kit in her belly that she hoped would be a boy.  Nowt came of it, and she felt very low.  Your Earl writ to her most kind, saying he was not troubled.  They can make more kits.”

“How know you this?” I arrkst.

A black and white cat reclining on dark floor boards, with his eyes wide and his ears pricked.
Onix, trusted with information of a delicate nature.

“My mistress and her friends speak free in my presence,” sayt Onix.  “They know I may be trusted with such informations.”

“And what of the Pretty Penny?” I arrkst.  “Has she a kit in her belly?  And if so whose?  Her husband’s or Lord Mountjoy’s?”

“By the Pretty Penny,” sayt Onix, hawtie, “mean you the Lady Rich, sister to the Earl of Essex?”

He, being of the middling sort, always spake most respective of great folks. 

But that’s not how they speak of each other, as my uncle Gib and I both observed.

Onix sayt, “The Lady Rich came from the country to her husband’s house at Leez.  He sent for her because he required her aid in some matter of the law.  The Lady Southampton accompanied her.  And now they’re come into the citie to cheer the Lady Essex in her travails.”

One thing I will say for Onix, he knew much about women’s business.

“Are all at Essex House?” I cried.  “We must make haste there now.”

Onix sayt, “The Lady Essex is at her mother’s house, many ways from here.  And I’m required in my shop.”

He turned away.  When I saw his blotched back, I remembered how Picker and Stealer had compared him to a nosewipe, fresh spat into by one with lung-rot.

I thought, I could make a sonnet upon that.

But I durst say nowt.  I’d offended him too much alreadie.

The back view of a seated cat with unusual irregular dark markings..
Onix in his doorway, offended.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.None of the letters the Earl of Southampton wrote from Ireland seem to have survived, but several to him by the women in his life have.

In May 1599 his anxious mother wrote that she’d written three times since she last had a letter from him.  She now presumed he was “in the field…. You may believe I carry a careful heart whilst you are in these dangers.”

The Countess of Essex also wrote, asking him to let her know how her husband was doing.  She knew Essex’s reports and letters to the Queen and Privy Council had priority on his time.

The Earl’s wife Bess Vernon had accompanied her cousin Penelope (Lady Rich) to Chartley, the old Essex family home in Staffordshire, for the summer.  Bess thought she was pregnant, and Penelope wrote to the Earl that “by your son I shall win my wager”.

In June, however, Bess wrote to say what comfort his last letter had brought her now she was not “in that happy state”, and that in time she would bear him as many boys as his heart desired.

Ten days later she wrote again to him whom “I love as my soul, and everlastingly will.  Send to me as soon as you possibly may, for I extremely long for … assurance as I have already received from you of your perfect well-being.

Then she added, in a sad little P.S, that she heard of their daughter’s “beauty and fair grey eyes in all my Lord Rich’s letters hither … but … I have in many letters sent you word of it and … cannot have a word … from you of her.

Poor Bess.  By then she’d probably heard the Earl was still being punished for marrying her while she had yet to provide him with an heir.

A dark-eyed woman with loosely arranged reddish gold hair.
Penelope, Lady Rich (nee Devereux).

Their daughter, now about 7 months old, must have been in the Richs’ house at Leighs (in the county of Essex) with some or all of Penelope’s children.  By mid-1599 Penelope had around eight.

The first four were her husband’s; the rest were those of her lover, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.

Such a marital arrangement was extraordinary for Elizabethan aristocrats, but by the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century it wouldn’t have been so rare.


24 thoughts on “122:  The Troubles of Us She-Creatures

  1. April Munday February 1, 2018 / 8:00 pm

    Poor Tricks and poor Puss Fur-none.

    It’s a shame there aren’t any letters from the earl himself. It would be interesting to hear his voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 1, 2018 / 9:02 pm

      It is a shame. It’s apparent that he was writing frequently to Puss Fur-none and the Pretty Penny, and the Countess of Essex’ letter indicated that she’d recently had one from him. His letters to these three women, and his mother, could have provided some interesting insights into his character.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday February 1, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Wasn’t it a bit scandalous that he was writing to the wives of other men?

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 1, 2018 / 9:39 pm

      No – their husbands (or, in Penelope’s case, Lord Mountjoy) were close friends of the Earl. Plus Puss Fur-none was Penelope’s cousin, making him a cousin by marriage to the Devereux clan. The Essex circle seems to have been tight knit.

      The Countess of Essex made a little joke in her letter that she thought Sir Harry Danvers wasn’t going to write to any of his friends until he could do so in Irish, more eloquent than English. She was obviously expecting him to write to her at some stage, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dornahainds February 2, 2018 / 8:32 am

    I find it quite interesting that the Earl’s letters were convinentally lost and or misplaced.. Some Great gossip was lost, I think. 😎🥀

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 2, 2018 / 9:50 am

      I think so, too. Maybe his letters were so full of gossip his friends burnt them after reading them!


  3. cadburycat February 2, 2018 / 6:43 pm

    One thinks of the Oxford and Melbourne families at the end of the C18th. With the exception of the heir the children were fathered by, well, anyone. Lady Oxford’s kits were known as the Harlian Miscellany and the biological father of Queen Victoria’s Lord M was known to be Lord Egremont.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 2, 2018 / 8:01 pm

      Exactly! Lady Harley and Lord M’s mother are really good examples. I’m sure there have been many more over the years.

      As a youngster I remember reading Lady Diana Cooper’s autobiography, which was fascinating. Although she was brought up as the daughter of the Duke of Rutland he wasn’t her biological father.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. cadburycat February 2, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    One of the younger Melbourne sons was fathered by the Prince of Wales.
    Again, everyone knew.
    I always felt that once Albert came along, Queen Victoria was unkind to Lord M.
    On the basis of the things she recorded him as saying, he understood her far better than Albert ever did ( and possibly loved her more, as well) and if she had followed his advice relations with her sons would have been far better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 2, 2018 / 8:29 pm

      I haven’t read much about Victoria, but I do remember seeing somewhere that it was Albert who was responsible for introducing the overly prim and proper behaviour that we nowadays call Victorian.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. cadburycat February 2, 2018 / 11:26 pm

    That’s right.
    Victoria had a sense of humour and in her later years (encouraged by John Brown) she liked a drink. As with Queen Puss, there was always a man about the place, and the rules applicable to women generally did not apply to either of them.
    Victoria’s problems with her sons, especially the eldest, arose from the fact they took after her, not Albert; her mother and then Albert were very critical of her “wicked uncles “ on the Hanoverian, ie British side, but her sons were just like them.
    Also as with Queen Puss, terrible childhoods – both would have met the threshold criteria for a care order – were the making of them though I doubt they would have got on. Too alike.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robyn Haynes February 3, 2018 / 4:03 pm

    ‘A nose-wipe fresh spat with … lung rot?’ That beats all for description.

    Liked by 3 people

    • toutparmoi February 3, 2018 / 5:50 pm

      Picker and Stealer definitely hang out with the wrong crowd.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. chattykerry February 4, 2018 / 9:34 am

    In truth, I never wished to bear kits – that’s me! My wish was granted and now I feel a little sad. Great writing as always, Denise, and it made me think of how much marriage was a legal contract in the past with such expectations of the brood mare/progeny.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi February 4, 2018 / 10:21 am

      It was, particularly for the wives of noblemen and other men of property. The infant mortality rate was so high at every level of society that two or three heirs often weren’t enough.

      I never wished to bear kits, either, but don’t regret it. I came from a larger family than most people have nowadays, and by the time I was a teenager I considered I’d already done more than my share of child-rearing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • chattykerry February 5, 2018 / 2:03 am

      Coming from a large Irish Catholic community, I understand. In Egypt people had large families because of both infant mortality and children to help the household. There are more than enough humans on our planet now.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel McAlpine February 15, 2018 / 8:35 am

    Fascinating post which played cruelly with my emotions as it proceeded.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.