172:  I Listen to the Ladies

An alert-looking black and white catMy days in the Tower learnt me to love wicked talk. 

If ever I feared I might find life tedious among the ladies in our household, I was mistook.

True, my lord’s mother the old Countess was given to praising Mr Secretary Cecil.  Even when there was none of consequence to hear her.

She swore she would never forget he’d saved her son’s life.  And she prayed her son would never forget neither.

But I also heard that poor Mr Secretary was much offended by a rascal that took horse for Scotland with newes of the old Queen’s death.

A rascal that took horse: Sir Robert Carey by an Unknown Artist c 1591

That rascal set forth post haste before the Council had sent their own messenger!

Sure, he hoped for great rewards from King James.  First come, first served.

Many ladies came to visit my lord’s lady Puss [Bess]. 

I lay prick-eared beneath the table whereat they drank their wine.  I heard much to think on.

I knew not who those ladies were, but believed two might be the late Earl of Essex’s sisters, of whom my mother loved to speak.

One sister [Penelope] was heroick.  She had two husbands.  And she stood firm at Essex House the night my mother and all defied the old Queen’s soldiers.

A rather dark portrait of two expensively, but relatively simply dressed young Elizabethan women.
A portrait c1581 said to be of the Earl of Essex’s sisters.  Dorothy (left), now Countess of Northumberland, and Penelope (right), still married to Robert, Lord Rich, but the wife of Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy in all but name.

The other sister [Dorothy] had an evil husband who told her he was joyed her brother’s head had been cut off.  Or so sayt my mother, who called her heroick too.

Word of Mr Secretary put me in mind of mine own pretty sister, who’d turned uppish after she was offered employment in his household.

I learnt she’d had more to brag of since. 

Mr Secretary had a fine new house, and Her Late Majestie had gone to its warming.  Her Maj never arrkst where he got the money. 

Hooked it from her purse, most like.

One young lady brought us strange newes.  She sayt that not long before Her Maj died, she (Her Maj, I mean) had seen herself very lean and fearful in a light of fire.

Mayhap Her Maj was going to be entertained in a hotter place than she ever was in this world?

Another sayt Her Maj spake sharp to Mr Secretary when he told her she must go to bed.  She told him “must” was not a word to be used to princes, and if his father were still alive he would not have durst speak so. 

Then Her Maj sayt: Little man, little man, you know I must die and that makes you presumtious.

Presumtious.  A new word, and a good one.  I vowed to grow presumtious too.

And I heard Her Maj’s corpse would have to be put away soon, lest it come to abominate us all.  Stinks, I mean.  It had been brought in a box to White-Hall from the palace where she died.

Lords and ladies watched this box by night and day.  (Did they fear Her Maj might spring out again?)

All this watching and waiting was an annoyance to the ladies.   Why?  Because King James had left his wife, our new Queen, in Scotland.

There she would wait until the English ladies who must attend Her Maj’s funeral could go to greet her.

“Must” is not a word to be used to any woman.  Nor to us cats, come to that.

A Dance of Death: ladies and skeletons – Wellcome Images London. CC BY 4.0

But I saw the ladies were happy.  They that never had good places in Her Maj’s household would fare better with the new Queen.

The friends of Essex had been cast down, and now would be raised up again.

The ball was at our paws.  Rewards and revengeance would be ours.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorSurviving letters and memoirs indicate London was heaving with gossip after Elizabeth’s death on 24 March 1603.  King James left Edinburgh on 5 April.  Despite having sent word that Elizabeth was to have a funeral with all the honour due to a great prince, he showed no inclination to hurry.  By mid April he’d only got as far as York.

The funeral was set for 28 April.  The weather was warm.  Elizabeth had decreed that her body not be embalmed, an invasive process loosely described by Tricks in her macabre Hallowe’en tale.  Instead, Elizabeth’s body was well-wrapped in cerecloth – expensive waxed cloth.  Or was it?

There was a rumour that not enough cloth had been used, and also a contradictory hint that Sir Robert Cecil had ignored Elizabeth’s decree:  her body had been embalmed (sort of).  One young lady, Elizabeth Southwell, who was 16 or 17 at the time claimed that the coffin burst open while she was taking her turn to keep watch.  Hasty repairs were necessary.

The “rascal that took horse” was Sir Robert Carey/Cary (c1560-1639).  His lively and self-serving memoir includes an assurance that when the Queen could no longer speak she put her hand to her head at mention of King James’ name, thereby indicating he should wear her crown.

Carey, using a mix of bribery and family connections, was among the first to learn of her death.  He left London at around 9 or 10 on the morning of Thursday 24 March, and reached Edinburgh, around 400 miles north, late on Saturday night.  He’d intended to arrive by early evening, but a bad fall from the horse he rode on the last leg of his journey slowed him.  An extraordinary ride.

King James asked for proof: a letter from the Council.  Of course Carey didn’t have one, but says he presented James with a blue ring from his sister Philadelphia, Lady Scrope/Scroop.  She was one of Elizabeth’s senior ladies, and had been a supporter of the Earl of Essex.  The ring (a sapphire?) was a pre-arranged signal.

The Essexians’ star was rising, and Sir Robert Cecil – now well ensconced in James’ favour – knew it.  He sent Essex supporters Sir Charles Percy and Thomas Somerset to Edinburgh with the Council’s dispatches for James.  The Earl of Southampton’s friend Sir Harry Danvers (whose brother Sir Charles had been executed for his part in the Essex rising) was sent to Ireland.


28 thoughts on “172:  I Listen to the Ladies

  1. April Munday April 19, 2019 / 7:00 pm

    Harry is learning wisdom, of sorts. I can’t say that I approve of his opinion of Sir Robert, though. I think I agree with the old countess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 20, 2019 / 8:35 am

      I fear Harry may be turning into a sharp-eared little cynic. A sign of the times?

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday April 20, 2019 / 6:09 pm

      I hope he’s not going to get tangled up in plots like his mother did. These are dangerous times.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 21, 2019 / 10:24 am

      I don’t think young Harry shares his mother’s love of politics. Just as well, because he’s led a sheltered life so far. On Harry’s topic of Sir Rabbit and his money-hooking habits, there’s an interesting note in John Manningham’s diary for 24 March 1603, where he writes about Londoners’ reaction to The Queen’s death and the proclamation of James as King. (Manningham was a law student in the Middle Temple.) He writes, “One wishes the Earl of Southampton and others were pardoned and at liberty; others could be content that some men of great place might pay the Queenes debts, because they beleeve they gathered enough under hir.”

      I suspect that’s a snipe at Sir Robert – his new house in the Strand must have rankled at a time when taxes were being hiked to pay for the war in Ireland.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday April 21, 2019 / 6:46 pm

      Most of us are greedy for wealth, so I think that’s understandable. Theft to fuel that greed is another matter. Was there any suggestion that Sir Robert was dishonest in his dealings, not just with the queen, but with anyone? I gathered from the biography I read that there wasn’t, but the biographer was very biased in the Cecils’ favour, particulalry Sir William.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 22, 2019 / 9:24 am

      Not dishonest in his dealings with the Queen or King James, though under King James he certainly acquired considerable wealth. Pauline Croft (ODNB) points out, rightly, that it’s important not to apply our modern expectations of bureaucratic conduct to a time when officials didn’t receive adequate salaries. On the other hand, Cecil did accept payments from some questionable sources.
      Essex was also convinced that “penmen” were keeping money that should have been coming to his Irish campaign, and I don’t think he was entirely deluded.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday April 22, 2019 / 7:00 pm

      Then I’ll allow my enthusiasm for Sir Robert to subside a little.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Christine Valentor April 19, 2019 / 8:55 pm

    Sir Robert Carey was the grandson of Mary Boleyn… so I think that makes him the grand nephew of Queen Bess. (Or, maybe more! I believe there were rumors that some of Mary’s children were actually Henry VIII’s children!) But it was sort of scoundrelly of him to go riding ahead. I wonder if he ever got any special favors from James. Pretty gross about the funeral taking place a month after the Queen’s death!

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 20, 2019 / 10:05 am

      I think that makes Sir Robert Carey Elizabeth’s first cousin once removed. Mary Boleyn’s children, Henry and Catherine Carey, were Elizabeth’s cousins. Henry was Robert’s Dad. Robert’s other sister was Kate Carey, who seems to have been particularly close to Elizabeth. Kate died not long before Elizabeth did, and Elizabeth was deeply grieved.
      The plot thickens around Mary B’s daughter Catherine Carey, who married Sir Francis Knollys. The writer Sally Varlow makes a strong case for Catherine being the older of Mary B’s two kids, with Henry VIII quite possibly her father. Her daughter Lettice Knollys was said to bear a close resemblance to Elizabeth.
      Robert Carey was a dashing chap; his memoirs are available on the Internet Archive. (I need to update my references list!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor April 20, 2019 / 1:25 pm

      All in the family for sure! Lettice and Elizabeth are always portrayed to look a good deal alike, as though Lettice was almost her younger self.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 21, 2019 / 9:44 am

      That could also explain why Robert Dudley married her, too. He liked her looks – financially she can’t have been a good catch, seeing her first husband (Essex’s dad) ruined himself in Ireland.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor April 21, 2019 / 3:48 pm

      Yes, I always thought that was interesting. Some folks say he married her to make Elizabeth jealous — as Lettice was the younger version. What a soap opera!

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 21, 2019 / 4:01 pm

      Yes, and there was that scandalous story spread about him having poisoned Lettice’s first husband – though it’s much more likely that he died of dysentery. Of course, Dudley also needed an heir; he probably thought it was high time he gave up on Elizabeth.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor April 21, 2019 / 4:08 pm

      He must have realized the futility of pursuing Elizabeth. So much weird stuff surrounding Dudley — including the possible murder of his first wife Amy Robsart. Although I doubt he killed her… Still, a very controversial figure.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 21, 2019 / 4:16 pm

      Elizabeth’s proposal that he marry Mary Queen of Scots was weird – that would have been a crowded marriage. I doubt he had anything to do with Amy’s death, too. I suspect he’s had an unfair press simply because he was one of Elizabeth’s favourites.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Valentor April 22, 2019 / 6:07 pm

      Probably a lot of jealously around him, and hence people were always trying to paint him in a bad light.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 20, 2019 / 10:09 am

      Believe me, while some things change others stay the same! One of my favourite comments came a while back from Larry (larrypaulbrown) who wondered how the Elizabethans could have conducted their dirty politics without Twitter!


  3. colonialist April 20, 2019 / 8:24 am

    The stirrings in the pot now rotate the other way, it would seem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 20, 2019 / 10:10 am

      Yes – Fortune’s wheel has made another turn…


    • toutparmoi April 29, 2019 / 9:18 am

      It is indeed! And speaking of wicked news, I hope to catch up on your blog very soon.


Comments are closed.