157:  A Cat Behind the Arras?


At our All Hallow Eve revel, Scabface boasted that Queen Puss had been so affrighted by his assalt on White-Hall she was now clean mad.

He swore she kept a sword beside her table, for fear he should return.

“She’s much given,” sayt he, “to thrusting it into the wall-cloth.  No cat will hide behind it for fear of being mistook for me and slain.”

“How know you this?” I arrkst.

“I have friends at court,” sayt Scabface, hawtie.

I guessed he meant some queen cats who wished to flatter him.

Later I spake of this with Linkin.  He sayt,  “All goes hard with Queen Puss.  The Spanish have sent aid to the Irishes.  And when she oped a parlement so she could get more money to fight them, she near fell down ’neath the weight of her robes.”

Queen Elizabeth. This portrait was painted some years after her death.  The background is obscure, but Time is looking over her right shoulder, and Death the left.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Linkin sayt, “The members of her parlement complain of abuses.  The Queen gives money-pollies [monopolies] to men she favours, and that makes goods too costly for common folk.  The rich lie about how much money they have, and do not pay their tax.  There was talk of caterpillars in our commonwealth.”

When I first heard of caterpillars at Essex House, I thought they were pillars for cats to sit on.  Linkin, who watched the mistress tend her garden, had told me they were worms that consume all.  So I guessed my rebellous friends were speaking meta-forricle (as my uncle Gib would have sayt) and caterpillars were wicked folk who grow fat while others starve.

“Hah!” sayt I now to Linkin.  “The Earl of Essex is dead, and his friends in jail or banished to the country, yet the talk is still the same.  I heard Queen Puss can’t get her claws on my Earl’s estates.  Perhaps she wishes he were behind the arras [tapestry] that she stabs so fierce.”

At this Luvvie the Player Cat (who’d crept close to hear our talk) cried, “How now, a rat?  Dead for a ducat, dead.”

I was puzzled.  I’d heard those words before, but knew not where.

Then I sayt, “It should be cat.  The speech is of a cat.  Was there not a cat behind an arras once?”

Luvvie sayt, “I do not doubt it should be cat, but the knave chose to spite me by giving me no kew [cue].  There’s nowt but insults to me in that play.  The cat will mew, the dog will have his day.  What make you of such words?”

“Nothing” sayt I, wearie of his nonsense.  “And were you the cat behind the wall-cloth, you might have been slain in earnest.”

A grey tabby cat, peering eagerly over the back of a chair.
Luvvie the Player Cat.

“Not I,” sayt Luvvie.  “The player strikes high.  An old man is killed.  I could have come forth to great applauds.”

“I was killed once,” sayt Linkin, sudden.  “In a play.  I enacted old Lord Purrlie.”

“Was you killed behind an arras?” arrkst Luvvie.

Linkin sayt, “The play was in our Field, and I was hid among grasses.  Mayhap the grasses enacted an arras.”

“Who killed you?” arrkst Luvvie.

“The wicked Earl of Ox-Foot.  Then he swore ’twas done by Young Hamton.”

“You mean Young Hamlet,” sayt Luvvie.  “And there’s no Ox-Foot in the play.” 

“There was,” sayt I. “I know, for I was in it.  My mother enacted the Ghost of Old Hamton, and I the Maggot that was dropped in his ear to kill him.”

“You mean Old Hamlet,” sayt Luvvie.  “And it was poyson in his ear that killed him.  Who made this play whereof you speak?”

“My late uncle Gib,” sayt I.  “Who made the one you know?”

But I’d alreadie guessed what Luvvie’s answer would be.

If any man deserved a maggot in his ear, it were that knave Snakes-Purr.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorBy late 1601 Queen Elizabeth was 68, increasingly frail, in pain from arthritis and bad teeth, and often depressed.  Essex’s execution had made her unpopular.

Her lively godson, Sir John Harington, visited her Court.  He later reported, in a letter dated 9 October, that the Queen was ill-attired, eating little, and frowning on her ladies.  Despite the fact that any danger from “the city business” (i.e. the Essex rising) was past, she kept a sword by her table.  She had bursts of temper at ill news, stamping her feet, and thrusting “her rusty sword at times into the arras in great rage.”

Sir John tactfully attributed this behaviour to the effects of “many evil plots and designs”, but it probably had several causes.  Elizabeth opened her last parliament on 27 October 1601.  While it was in session there were riots and a demonstration.  She eventually got the money she wanted after making her famous Golden Speech on 30 November, but she must have known she was losing control of her kingdom. 


17 thoughts on “157:  A Cat Behind the Arras?

  1. April Munday November 15, 2018 / 2:25 am

    I don’t think old age was kind to any medieval monarch. Edward III was similarly odd by the end of his reign.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi November 15, 2018 / 9:19 am

      As Bette Davis said, “Old age is not for sissies.” A statement even truer back then.

      One thing Elizabeth didn’t know was that Sir Robert Cecil was now corresponding with King James in order to ensure a smooth succession. Just as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. colonialist November 15, 2018 / 3:19 am

    Sad that her long and largely successful reign should have wound down in such a fashion until she felt ‘arrassed.
    They do quote Snakes-Purr a lot, don’t they?

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi November 15, 2018 / 9:23 am

      Elizabeth’s ‘arassment sounds like a case of life imitating art.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds November 15, 2018 / 7:09 am

    Oh! Aye! Heavy is the head that wears the crown. 😎🥀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. larrypaulbrown November 16, 2018 / 11:25 am

    Well, now you’ve done it! Max thinks he deserves a cat pillar. ‘What a purrfect idea,” he said.😎


    • toutparmoi November 16, 2018 / 11:49 pm

      You could erect one for him in the garden, so he could sit high and enjoy the spectacle of you on your knees tending the plants.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave Ply November 16, 2018 / 4:15 pm

    It seems as if the worm has turned for the queen. Or is it the cat-pillars?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robyn Haynes November 17, 2018 / 6:46 pm

    My goodness, that photo of poor Liz in such appalling company. I can see why it was painted after her death – from her deathbed maybe? She couldn’t have approved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi November 17, 2018 / 7:18 pm

      She definitely wouldn’t have approved! This was painted about 17 years after her death, but it’s probably a good likeness, because of the facial resemblance to another done during her lifetime – though in what circumstances I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi November 17, 2018 / 7:24 pm

      I don’t think dreadful – just tired. And aware that her time is almost spent?

      Liked by 1 person

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