160:  Signs and Portents

A wine glass and a sprig of rosemary, with heart-shaped decorated pastry and some candies on a platter. A ring with a pink stone lies by the platter's rim.That winter our household came, of a sudden, quiet.

When bags and boxes were first brought forth, I took it for a sign our mistress was returning to her own house in the countrie.

I hid myself, for I did not wish to go with her. 

Then Linkin told me the master’s sweetheart had invited him to make merrie at her house.  The master’s kits, our mistress, and Wattie our dog would accompany him.

Her house was not many ways from the citie, but the weather was so foul Linkin feared they would not have an easie going, and may be delayed in their return.

We were content to remain.  Linkin lay by the fire in the hall, and I oft joined him on the hearth.

I arrkst if the master and his sweetheart would marry at her house.

“No,” sayt Linkin.  “This is no season for marrying.  They’ll wed before the Fasting Time, and our mistress will return to the countrie come spring.”

“What of you?” I arrkst.

“I shall not go with her,” sayt he.  “I’m too old for so hazardous a journey.  I told her this, and she took my meaning.  My master agreed ’twere best I bide here.”

I did not vex Linkin by arksing what hazards he’d met with on our journey hither, though I well remember his foolish fears as he waited while the baskets were made ready.

In truth, it was I who was fearful when we entered the citie, so mazed was I by all its stinks and sounds.  What things I’d learnt and done since then!

“Wattie our dog will go with the mistress,” sayt Linkin.

I arrkst, “Did she say owt of me?”

“She sayt she’ll take you if she can find you.  If she can’t, she’ll take Luvvie.  ’Tis of no consequence.”

I was much offended then.  I sayt, “I an Earl’s cat, yet of no consequence to a mere gentlewoman?”

“That’s not her reason,” sayt Linkin.  “She brought two cats hither, and she’ll take one hence.  I believe she’d sooner take you, because you’re fitter for the countrie than the town.  You vanish for days or even weeks, then return when all believe you lost.  She says that you’re no house cat,”

“No house cat?” I cried.  “I have many houses.  Finer ones than she knows.  Before I came to London the book chamber at Place House was mine.  I’ve reared kits in the Savoy, and all have better places now than her son ever will.”

A small, roud-eyed black and white kitten“Her son’s not imprisoned,” sayt Linkin. “Yours is.”

“Puss Fur-None took him to attend upon my Earl,” sayt I.  “As I attended on him in Essex House and Drury House.  Southampton House could also have been mine, but I never dwelt there because my Earl did not.” 

That I – Rebel, Instrument, Miscreant, and Revenger – should be so distained!  ’Twere too much to bear.  “Your mistress is a Know-Nowt,” I cried.

Then came something horrid.  A sound, deep beneath me.  Like a growl from the earth’s belly.

Linkin heared it too.

Our house trembled, with manie creaks and groans.  Fine glasses on the cupboard clinked together.  Luvvie came leaping down the stairs, and a maid in the chamber above cried out in fright.

Then all was still.

The boy, coming in with baked meats from the cookshop, had heard the maid’s cry, though it seemed he’d heard nowt else.  He called to her, “What’s the matter?”

Linkin and I agreed it were a sign from the Queen Cat of Heaven.  But what did it portend?

Southampton House (upper right), but this was probably built – or enlarged – in the next century. The Earl of Southampton’s town house in Holborn was a little further east, at the top of Chancery Lane.  The Earl doesn’t seem to have used it himself in the late 1590s.  All its apartments were probably leased out.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe little earthquake Tricks describes was felt in London and eastern England on 24 December 1601.

Linkin’s right about Christmas not being a fit season for marrying.  According to historian David Cressy in Birth, Marriage & Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, there were 144 days in the year which the Church of England regarded as unsuitable for marriage, including Advent and Christmas-tide up until 13 January.  Lent (and the 3 weeks prior) was also considered unsuitable.

Marriage wasn’t actually forbidden, but it required a special licence.

In keeping with the custom of her times Tricks has written very little about her offspring, so I’m pleased to see they all found homes, even if one’s in the Tower of London.


30 thoughts on “160:  Signs and Portents

  1. April Munday December 6, 2018 / 3:11 am

    When you say there were 144 days when you couldn’t get married, it doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that a lot of those days followed one another. Life must have been quite complicated if you had to work out when you could do certain things and when you couldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 6, 2018 / 9:20 am

      According to Cressy, it was a hangover from the old ecclesiastical calendar developed “to separate times of ribald festivity from times of religious devotion.” The odd thing is that it survived the Reformation and continued after the RC church relaxed its view. Puritans criticised the custom, so I was surprised to see Linkin’s master observing it.
      Perhaps his bride-to-be is more conformist than he?

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 6, 2018 / 11:15 am

      Puritans thought all days were the same, but they still had to get married in accordance with the rules of the Church of England. I don’t know when Nonconformists were allowed to have their own ceremonies, but I think it was well into the seventeenth century.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 6, 2018 / 1:15 pm

      True, but Linkin’s master could have afforded to pay for a special licence if he and his bride were determined to set their own date – though having to pay to be married out of season also annoyed the puritans.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 6, 2018 / 7:54 pm

      I’d forgotten the special licence bit. Perhaps they just thought it wasn’t a good time to draw attention to themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 6, 2018 / 10:02 pm

      That’s very likely. And as its the second marriage for both, it may have been less of an event anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. leggypeggy December 6, 2018 / 8:46 am

    I always learn something new when I visit here. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds December 6, 2018 / 9:39 am

    It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.. or some sort of drivel. 😇😈😎🥀

    144days of contemplation and silence. Very little pressures of Life. Wow! Now those were the days! 😎🥀

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 6, 2018 / 9:53 am

      Not exactly contemplation and silence – they still had to go to work! And the 12 days of Christmas were a time of great festivity.

      It just occurred to me that having a series of “marriage seasons” spread throughout the year would have given people regular occasions for partying.


  4. Claudio LeChat December 7, 2018 / 12:01 am

    I am curious about Tricks’ son in the Tower. Did he willingly go I wonder, and what sort of life is he living there? I hope he is being well looked after, unlike a certain other cat that I am aware of, currently “holed up” in an Embassy in London I believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 7, 2018 / 9:47 am

      I suspect he may have been the one that Tricks described as ‘fool’ when she was instructing her kits in the art of poesie. He was probably the first to climb into the basket Bess Vernon was taking to the Tower, all unawares of where he’d be taken.

      I too hope he fares better than the cat you speak of.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Claudio LeChat December 7, 2018 / 11:46 am

    O the perils of being adventurous. Tricks shouldn’t be too hard on him. Being an “indoor cat” myself, I appreciate that there are certain challenges being confined, and lots of treats and entertainments are called for, as well as the basics in life. But if the Mistress or Master is on the alert to these (as mine is), then life isn’t too bad. I hope the Earl similarly takes heed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 7, 2018 / 1:04 pm

      I’m sure Tricks’ son will find plenty of entertainment in the Tower. Tricks, on the other hand, likes to find her own fun. I fear it may prove her undoing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Claudio LeChat December 7, 2018 / 2:04 pm

    You have just sent a shiver up my (golden) spine. I haven’t been counting how many of her Nine Lives she has used thus far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 8, 2018 / 8:52 pm

      It’s pretty much the standard story, I’m afraid, and a product of the Shakespeare industry. To give one example, Professor Katherine Duncan-Jones in ‘Shakespeare: An Ungentle Life’ (2010) suggests that not only Essex but also Southampton was behind the playing of Richard II. And that more senior members of the playing company (i.e. Burbage and Shakespeare) pushed Augustine Phillips forward to explain things to the authorities. I can’t remember her explanation as to why she thinks Phillips named a few of Essex’s followers rather than the Earls themselves, but I’m sure it was a good one.

      Are Chaucer scholars in the habit of rewriting medieval history to make their hero’s life seem more exciting than it was?

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 8, 2018 / 11:22 pm

      I knew you’d enjoy it 🙂

      Terry Jones wrote a non-fiction book called ‘Who murdered Chaucer?’, which was a bit sensational, but Chaucer actually had quite an exciting life. I could write a post about it to fill the gap I’ve got at the end of the year.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 9, 2018 / 12:11 am

      I’ll look forward to your post. I remember reading (way back when I was at university) that Chaucer was taken prisoner in France and ransomed by Edward III (?) who paid a higher ransom for a favourite war horse. I fear that may be a Victorian invention, however.

      Meantime, as a writer of fiction, you’ll enjoy this article:

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 9, 2018 / 1:02 am

      That’s a good article. Some people just don’t seem to be able to see the line between fact and fiction.

      I think Chaucer was taken prisoner twice. I haven’t heard the story about the war horse, in fact I’ve never read anything about horses being ransomed. I’m wondering how the horse could have been captured alone. Surely the king would have been riding it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 9, 2018 / 1:15 am

      I wonder where I read of it? Perhaps it was in the intro to Neville Coghill’s translation of Chaucer. It’s an odd anecdote, and may well be in the same category as Shakespeare’s deer-poaching from Sir Thomas Lucy’s non-existent deer park.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 9, 2018 / 3:12 am

      I’ve got that translation. I’ll have a look when I’m near that bookcase.

      I’ve just read a very academic study about ransoms in the 100 Years War. I’m sure the author would have mentioned it if a warhorse had been ransomed. He did mention Chaucer, because there’s a section on lords paying the ransom, or part of it, of members of their retinues.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 9, 2018 / 8:25 am

      I’m sure the author would’ve mentioned it, too. And if there was a possibility of the horse story being true it would be better known.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Robyn Haynes December 17, 2018 / 7:02 pm

    So interesting that Christmas wasn’t a fit time for marrying. The church held great sway over every aspect of life it seems.


    • toutparmoi December 18, 2018 / 8:31 am

      It did. The ecclesiastical calendar was probably influenced by the traditional agricultural calendar, and the cycle of the seasons. Lent was a time for self-denial, but it was also the time when food would have been in short supply. As a youngster in the 1960s I remember noticing that magazines used to do wedding features for ‘Easter Brides’ and wonder what the connection between Easter and marriage was. Now I wonder if it was a traditional survival. David Cressy also noted that October/November were popular months for marrying, presumably because the harvest was in. There’s much to be said for ritual, seasonal observances.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Haynes December 18, 2018 / 8:36 am

      I agree. Many rituals are designed for survival – cohesion and other measures to preserve the body social.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 18, 2018 / 8:58 am

      One of the books on my to-read list is Ronald Hutton’s ‘Stations of the Sun’ about the ritual year in Britain, whose unseasonable remnants are celebrated here in the Antipodes. Scornful as I am of the long, commercial wind-up to Xmas, I experienced a real thrill when I was in England one November and saw all the lights on dark evenings.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. kidsofthe50sand60s February 10, 2019 / 9:40 pm

    I had saved a couple of your posts for when I had time to savour and enjoy them – and it was worth it. I always learn so much from your blog, and often from the comments, too. Meryl

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi February 11, 2019 / 9:05 am

      Thanks, Meryl. Incidentally, I did track down a reference to the ransomed horse April Munday and I were talking about in the comments, but it didn’t belong to Edward III. There’s some more about it in the comments under April’s post on Geoffrey Chaucer. And we still don’t know whether the story is true or not! https://aprilmunday.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/geoffrey-chaucer/

      Liked by 1 person

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