I was carried to the Tower to serve our Earl. In place of our mother, who was sought high and low but could not be found.
The first of us kits to be offered employment was my pretty sister. She was well-furred, and coloured like unto a pearl.
Our mother sayt that were the way of it. “The prettiest kits leave first,” sayt she.
When I arrkst when I might leave, our mother sayt, “Belike you’ll go last.”
My sister had a place in Mr Secretary’s household. Our mother sayt she could not have wished for a better one.
That ’mazed us kits, for we knew our mother did not love Mr Secretary, e’en though the Old Lady (our Earl’s mother) spake most high of him.
To take our sister down a peg, we sang a song about Mr Secretary that our mother had taught us when we arrkst what a libel was.
Our mother sayt she had not writ it, though she wished she had. It was sung everywhere in the citie.
Little Cecil trips up and down
He rules both Court and Crown
With his brother Purrlie clown
In his great CAT-furred gown.
With the long proclamation
He swore he’d saved the town
Is it not likelie?
We told our sister that Mr Secretary Cecil would skin her and give her fur to his clown brother to trim his robe.
Our mother told us not to talk so fool.
The next to leave our household was my brother, and after him my other sisters.
That left me all alone, with little to do but practice my letters and heed my mother’s instructions.
Then came the day when a maidservant brought a basket to our chamber. I liked it so well I clamb in, and was sorry my brother and sisters were not there to fight me for it.
My mother did but glance at it, then say I was no kitling but a young cat of an age to look to himself. She quit our chamber and came no more.
Not long after, I was shut fast in that basket. It was our old nurse who told me I was going to the Tower. I arrkst if I would see that knave Snakes-Purr there. She sayt, No. The Tower was for very fine or very wicked folks. No thieving player would be imprisoned there.
She sayt I must keep mine eyes and ears open and my thoughts to myself, because there would be other cats in the Tower. They might tell me they had employment there, but that was to give colour to their creepings about. In truth, they were like to be spies who would work against me.
I concealed myself beneath a cloth that was in the basket. Other cloths were thrust in over me. I was taken to what I now know to be a coach. I did not like the noises I could hear.
After the coach stopped I was carried some ways. I heared gates opening, and a man say to the maidservant, “What have you in that basket?”
Our Earl’s lady replied, “New shirts for my lord, nothing more.”
The maidservant oped my basket a little, and I heard the clink of coin. I was too afeared to move. The man bade us all Good Day.
Then more men came, and walked with us through strange-stinked ways. I knew I could never find my way home again.
Little Harry would have been about 6 months old when he went to the Tower. Bess Vernon (the young Countess of Southampton) received grudging permission to visit her husband in October 1601, so Harry was probably taken there a couple of months later.
London continued to hum with discontent long after the Earl of Essex’s execution. The verse quoted is from a song attacking Essex’s and Southampton’s enemies. The “long proclamation” with which Thomas, Lord Burghley “swore he’d saved the town” is the one that declared Essex and his supporters traitors.
Alas, I can find no evidence of Harry’s pretty sister in Sir Robert Cecil’s household, so we’ll have to take his word for it. Was Sir Robert a cat man?
Back in 1594 the port of Plymouth had been searched for a cat that had been specially imported for Sir Robert from “the Indias”. Even the mayor was involved. After several days and many threats, the cat – suspected of having been sold by the ship’s purser – was found and shipped to Sir Robert in London aboard the Centaur, presumably under the careful eye of the Captain.
However, this was no feline. The cat is also referred to as a “muscat”, i.e. a musk cat, so it was a civet cat. Not really a cat at all – though the Elizabethans wouldn’t have known that. And we don’t know whether Sir Robert wanted an exotic pet cat or hoped to obtain a private source for civet oil.