126:  Queen Puss Astonished

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.

A glimpse of the interior of a house with a tiled floor and steps leading into the interior.I made all haste to Essex House, for I guessed he would be there with the ladies.

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) to 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.

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.

A wime glass, grapes, and small cockroach on a table.Then Essex went to dinner in good humour.  (The master sayt nowt of what meats were served.)

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.

Nonsuch Palace.  Built at huge expense by Queen Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, it was demolished in the late 17th century.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNo movie dealing with the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign is complete without the scene of Essex bursting into her bedchamber. 

I think the only contemporary account comes from Rowland Whyte, who sent the news to his employer Sir Robert Sidney in Flushing/Vlissengen as Governor.  Whyte was at Court that day.  Essex, coming from dinner, greeted him warmly and asked after Sir Robert.

Queen Elizabeth would have been astounded by Essex’s 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’s 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.


24 thoughts on “126:  Queen Puss Astonished

  1. Mick Canning March 1, 2018 / 1:06 am

    It does seem very odd to those of us in the twenty first century!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 1, 2018 / 9:03 am

      No wonder Fortune’s Wheel was such a popular conceit.


  2. April Munday March 1, 2018 / 1:33 am

    The whole bursting into the bedchamber thing is really odd, to my mind. Could even Essex have thought it a sensible thing to do? I’m not surprised she seemed changed later. I shouldn’t think Sir Robert had much to do with it. The queen can’t have been pleased by Essex’s presumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 1, 2018 / 10:16 am

      It seems really odd to me, too – though he was desperate to gain the Queen’s ear before anyone else did. And he probably didn’t expect to find her not yet dressed.

      Though I doubt that he burst in in quite the way portrayed in movies or some books. James Shapiro makes much of the scene in his book “1599…”, claiming the Queen didn’t know if Essex had come at the head of an army, killed his enemies at court… !

      But she must have been annoyed by his presumption. Who wouldn’t be?

      Liked by 2 people

    • April Munday March 1, 2018 / 7:59 pm

      I didn’t think of it yesterday, but she must have had guards. How did he get past them?

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 1, 2018 / 8:21 pm

      I wondered about that, too. Probably just by being the Earl of Essex and announcing he had urgent business with the Queen. Dozens of people must have seen him arrive and go striding through the Palace. I also wonder if whoever was on duty outside the Queen’s bedchamber door got into trouble.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday March 1, 2018 / 8:51 pm

      I’m not as old or as vain as she was, but I’d sack anyone who let someone see me before I was dressed and had had breakfast, or at least a cup of tea.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. dornahainds March 1, 2018 / 9:20 am

    Oh, such Tantalizing Intrigue.. 😎🥀😎🥀😎🥀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rachel McAlpine March 1, 2018 / 10:38 am

    Mine enemies have also wrought against me at times, but surely never when I was at dinner. That would be the very limit.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. colonialist March 5, 2018 / 8:24 am

    Strange that a warm greeting of neck-kissing permission should be followed by a cold shoulder …

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 5, 2018 / 10:19 am

      A one-off followed by the shrug-off.


  6. Christine Valentor March 6, 2018 / 5:29 pm

    The movies do play up this one! But it is just strange all around — the relationship of Lettice, Dudley, the Queen and Essex. Who knows what the true nature of it was?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 7, 2018 / 8:33 am

      Other people’s relationships are often mysterious! And I think it’s really hard to get our heads round the challenges Queen Puss faced as a single woman ruler in an age when very few would have thought women capable of rule at all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor March 7, 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Yes, definitely! That is why she — and her entire era — fascinate me so much 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Timi Townsend March 9, 2018 / 5:21 pm

    Indeed, the question of what meats were served is a most pressing issue! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robyn Haynes March 10, 2018 / 3:39 pm

    Interesting about the neck kissing, Denise. And Elizabeth’s baldness as well. Was this likely? And why?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi March 10, 2018 / 8:21 pm

      There’s been a lot of speculation about what the aging Elizabeth looked like before she was made ready for the day. I doubt that she was bald, though she did take to wearing elaborate full wigs in middle age. Quite a few fashionable women must have worn hairpieces, wigs, or had their hair arranged around pads to create those bouffant hairstyles.

      However, Elizabeth did have smallpox as a young woman, and I’ve read it can cause irreversible hair loss, though I don’t know how common that was/is. She also took to wearing heavy white lead-based make-up, presumably to conceal the facial scarring. It’s likely the lead contributed to thinning hair in her old age.


Comments are closed.