After Linkin sayt that the Earl of Essex was gone to None-Such Palace to speak with the Queen, I resolved to find our Earl.
From the wall I saw some men step from a boat onto the stairs, and come through the gate into the garden.
When they were given admittance to the house, I slipped in unremarked and looked around the hall.
Then, seeing none I was akwaynted with, my courage failed me. I slipped out again and returned home. But to have entered that house were no small thing.
The next day there came scandalous newes.
The master called his mother (our mistress) into his chamber. Linkin and I guessed they meant to speak free, so made haste to follow.
This is what we learnt.
Essex, coming to the Palace to seek out Queen Puss, went first to the Presence Chamber, and thence to the Privy Chamber. Not finding her, he entered her bedchamber, where never any man (unless he be a physitian) may go.
And what a sight was there! Queen Puss newly risen with her hair about her face. Though I cannot believe there was much of it. My uncle Gib swore she was bald.
Essex hisself was mired to the eyebrows. ’Tis a marvel they knew each other.
He knelt before her, then kissed her hands and her neck. They spake most civil together – though it seems no lady present heard what they sayt.
Then Essex, much heartened by their discourse, went to cleanse hisself (he has a chamber in the Palace) while Queen Puss was made readie for all eyes.
He returned to her within the hour, and she was most gracious. They spake again.
He told how many lords, ladies, and gentlemen came to greet Essex in full view of all. Only Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] and his friends kept apart.
Essex talked very merry of his travels in Ireland, and of the great lords there that are loyal subjects, and of the entertainments he had in their houses.
When Essex returned to Queen Puss, he found her much changed. He was told he must give an account of hisself and his doings in Ireland to the Council.
Then late that night she commanded that he was to keep to his chamber.
Our mistress sayt, “Now all the lords, ladies, and gentlemen at court will flee him like the plague.”
Linkin rose up to say that he believed the enemies of Essex had wrought against him while he ate his dinner. Could any deed be worser?
He spake aloud and I believe the mistress took his meaning. She sayt, “Oh, you know all about it, do you?”
“We do,” sayt I, carried away. “And we are sworn to live or die in the service of noble Essex and our Earl.”
Linkin looked mazed when I sayt this, but the mistress stroked my head and called me a good cat.
I think the only contemporary account comes from Rowland Whyte, who sent the news to his employer Sir Robert Sidney, still stuck in Flushing/Vlissengen as Governor. Whyte was at Court that day. Essex, coming from dinner, greeted him warmly and asked after Sir Robert Sidney.
Queen Elizabeth would have been astounded by Essex’ appearance in her bedchamber. She probably did what she was always good at doing: played for time, while she (and others) worked out what their next moves should be.
The neck-kissing sounds odd to us, but it seems to have been a mark of special favour. To be permitted to kiss Elizabeth’s hand showed you were in her good books; to kiss her “neck” or “breast” might have been even better – in theory, anyway.
Around 18 months earlier, Essex’ mother Lettice, who’d taken Elizabeth’s favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester as her second husband, was finally allowed to come to Court. According to Rowland Whyte she kissed “the Queen’s hands and breast”. However, Lettice wasn’t invited again.
Presumably Elizabeth, having offered her hand or hands, then made a gesture to indicate that a touch of the lips just below the base of her throat would be acceptable. I can’t visualise it, though.