All that was needful to let loose my libel were patience and cunning, which we cats have in plenty.
The master had a little room that he called his study. He sat there of an evening, noting what he read in his law books.
When he went to his supper, I leapt onto his table and made use of his writing things.
I writ very fair, with no blotted lines.
Sir Spyder Goes A-Wooing.
The King of Spain’s daughter drinks nothing but water,
The Irishry swill down her wine.
Then came Sir Spyder who offered her cyder,
And sang, Dearest lady, be mine.
With weaving and spinning I’ll ever be winning;
No Scotch fly will trouble our bed.
My dad killed his mother, and I’m such another
I’ll give you a brave Robin’s head.
Over the next days I made four copies, and thrust all beneath a cupboard. Then I waited for an open window (rare in winter) and a breeze that blew to the town.
That was not long. A friend of the master dropped by, and they hid in his study to take tobacco. Then the master oped the window to be rid of the stinks, and they went to his chamber to ’scape the chill air.
What joy it was to see my verses take flight like white doves!
I’d reared no kits in the citie as yet, but when I sent these darlings forth I thought, “What other babes need I?”
The first caught a good wind, and floated towards Paws [St Paul’s] where all go to gather newes. The next three wafted eastward, and I was content.
The last did no more than catch upon a chimney, then come down in our yard. I stepped out the window and ran across the roof to see where it lay.
The maidservant who’d oped the door to let out the master’s friend picked it up.
I leapt from roof to wall to earth, and ran after her into the hall. She gave it to our mistress, asking what it were.
The mistress did but glance at it and say, “Some silly boy has dropped a letter to his love. That’s not you, I hope.”
“No, mistress,” sayt the maid. “My lad can’t write and knows I can’t read.”
The mistress walked to the hearth and made to cast my libel in the fire, but I saw her slip it into her sleeve. When she went to find the master, I went too. I was afeared he would know his own paper and ink.
What they sayt of my verses mazed me.
They guessed all I’d meant and more. Viz.
Sir Spyder who wooed the King of Spain’s daughter was Sir Rabbit. The Scotch fly was the King of Scotland. Robin was the Earl of Essex. (All true.)
Then they sayt the wine the Irishry swill was the papistry that comes of friendship with Spain.
(I meant onlie that the Irishes call wine the King of Spain’s daughter.)
And cyder (my rhyme with Spyder) was a good English drink that signified the throne of England.
(Newes to me.)
I knew that Queen Puss swore she did but sign the paper that sayt Scotland’s queen must lose her head. It was Lord Purrlie [Lord Burghley], Sir Rabbit’s father, who seized upon it and matched word to deed.
To my joy, the master sayt Sir Rabbit was much afeared he’d lose his place as Mr Secretary and all else he had when that queen’s son became our king. And that Sir Rabbit hoped all would believe that the unhappy accident that befell Scotland’s queen was the fault of other men, not his father.
I saw I’d struck a shrewd blow there. I never knew what a truely clever cat I was until that day.
Then the master and the mistress fell to speaking of who might have written such dangerous words. The hand, they sayt, was not that of a penman, unless it were disguised. Which it surely was.
Linkin hissed at me, “Is this fit use of the wit you received from your mother and the learning your uncle gave you?”
And, “Know you not that some say these wicked libels against Mr Secretary merely harden his mind against Essex? While others say that such filths are not writ by the friends of Essex, but by his enemies to justify his punishment and their own ends?”
I showed shame, but felt none. I made four more copies.
Then I bethought me of that villain Snakes-Purr who thieves what others write. This time I spared him some pain (Ha!) by penning W.S. on each page.
I hid them ’neath the cupboard to await another open window and a fair wind.
He saw the Earl of Essex and his circle as his most loyal supporters.
The idea that the Protestant Sir Robert would want a Catholic Spanish princess on the throne sounds bizarre to us, but was rumoured at the time. The Earl of Essex became convinced of it. Any such claim would have rested on her Plantagenet ancestry, but there were still people around who regarded the Tudors as usurpers.