170:  Of Healths and Happiness

Head of a startled-looking black and white catOur time in the Tower passed slow.  My second winter came and went.

I was not as discontented as my Earl.  Even so, I had my troubles.

My lord continued sickly, and I feared he might die.  Then what would become of me?  To whom could I send for aid?

I watched my lord pen his letters, and I saw that at the end he put H for Harry.  (Harry was his name as well as mine.)

Then he made a long word that signified “Rissole” [Wriothesley].  There was W before the R and after came many more letters.  It did not look right to me.

One time when he left our bedchamber I took his pen and tried to write “Wrissole” as he did.  I could not remember how.

No, my life was not easy.  I marvel I did not turn sickly too.

Sometimes when my lord took a drink he would say to me, “Here’s to Her Majestie, upon whose health our happiness depends.”

I do not believe the Whisperers who lurked by our door could have guessed what he meant by that.  Nor do I think they knew my lord had writ secret to the King in Scotland.  He arrkst to be set at liberty when that King took Her Majestie’s place.

As spring drew on we resumed our walks upon the roof, and I could nose something more than spring in the air.  I looked for those lank grey cats I’d seen before, but they were not there.

That night a Whisperer hissed, “Wrissole” at our door.  I went to hear her, and she sayt, “The Queen drinks little, and eats less.  We cats know what that betokens, though no man nor woman dares say it.”

I ran to tell my lord.  He knew I spake of meat and drink, and told me I would get no more that night.  But I believe he took my meaning.  His words were but a cover for our joy.

It was not long before another Whisperer brought newes.  “The Queen sits on the floor and will not go to bed.  She knows that when she does, she’ll never rise again.”

When next we was on the roof there came a strange hum from the citie.  I heared a sound my lord sayt were trumpets.

Even as my lord made haste to a higher part, others hasted towards him.  One called that the King of Scots was now our King too!

A procession of lords, councillors and all had come from White-Hall.  The Lord Mayor met them at the Lud-Gate and sayt they could enter his citie.  Which they did, stopping along the ways so Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] could read the proclamation.

I saw my lord’s hat fly away.  Whether he’d thrown it in the air or the wind had snatched it from his head, I neither knew nor cared.

Like my lord’s hat, we would soon be free.

Queen Elizabeth’s Palace at Richmond, where she died at around 3.00 a.m. on 24 March 1603.

Toutparmoi - Note from the Editor Elizabeth was 69, and her reign had lasted for almost 45 years.  She’d been in visible decline for about a month and despite careful avoidance of any obvious mention of her death, Sir Robert Cecil had prepared for a smooth accession by James VI of Scotland.

It’s debateable whether Elizabeth ever named James as her successor.  However, Sir Robert Cecil proclaimed him as King at Richmond Palace before dawn, then he and other Privy Councillors rode to Whitehall for a second proclamation.  From there a grand procession went through Westminster to the city of London.   The news was received quietly, though celebratory bonfires were lit in the streets that evening, and church bells were rung.

 Below is a heavily symbolic picture of Elizabeth made a year or so before her death.  She seems ageless.  The crescent moon near the tip of her elaborate headdress and her array of pearls symbolise virginity; the flowers embroidered on her bodice indicate eternal spring.  The serpent on her left sleeve signals wisdom, and in her right hand she holds a rainbow (peace and calm).  The full Latin text is Non sine Sole Iris  – No Rainbow without the Sun.  In this instance, Elizabeth is also the sun.

The rather unsettling array of eyes and ears embroidered on her mantle might indicate she sees and hears all.  However, historian Susan Doran suggests, in “Elizabeth I & Her Circle” (2015) they represent the watchfulness of her servants, particularly Sir Robert Cecil, who probably commissioned the portrait.


8 thoughts on “170:  Of Healths and Happiness

  1. April Munday April 5, 2019 / 4:10 am

    The rainbow looks somewhat fragile in her hand. It’s a stunning portrait. It’s a good job young Harry never saw it; he’d probably have been (correctly) terrified.

    I suppose Sir Robert took a calculated risk when he proclaimed James king of England. There must have been many others who still fancied their own chances for the throne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 5, 2019 / 9:12 am

      To my modern eye, the picture looks ironic because Cecil was effectively ruling the country by the time it was painted.
      Cecil had been keeping a close eye on Lady Arbella Stuart (James’ cousin, and like him a descendant of Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret) and also on the grandsons of Katherine Grey (Jane Grey’s younger sister), but I don’t think there were any really serious contenders by the time Elizabeth died.
      Other than not having been born in England, James ticked all the right boxes: descent, religion, and sex – plus he already had two sons. Essex’s support had increased his popularity, too. Many Catholics were looking forward to a more tolerant reign, so only a radical fringe could have held out hopes for a Spanish intervention which would put the Infanta Isabella on the throne, though I haven’t come across anything that suggests she wanted it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel McAlpine April 5, 2019 / 5:52 am

    Wow,this is an exciting episode! And what a fascinating portrait. Today I shall wear my gym tights to symbolise low blood pressure, a tee shirt embroidered with cats to symbolise the unity of all living things, and sneakers to symbolise global trade and a living wage. That should do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave Ply April 6, 2019 / 8:52 am

    I’ve always thought that portrait interesting mostly for the eyes and ears symbology, the rest of the symbols I never remember. I suspect Harry wasn’t the only one wondering how he’d fare with a new monarch, and I suspect James may have had a few enemies that weren’t too pleased…

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 6, 2019 / 5:01 pm

      It certainly is a fascinating portrait – the eyes and ears are definitely the most memorable decoration in it.

      Liked by 1 person

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