A night or so after I met my mother I was in my lord’s privy garden (my privy, his garden) when she came by again. She bade me accompany her to the Cats Field.
She sayt, “I’ve spread word that you have a good place at the court of King James, and will give newes of him.”
“What?” I cried. “I’ve never been to White-Hall. Our Earl has lodging there, but my place is at Southampton House. In truth, I’ve never looked upon the King.”
“Cats here won’t know that,” sayt she. “And what has truth to do with newes? Many here hate King James, and make mock of him.”
That set me about. Were these countrie cats as wicked as those in the citie?
“Am I, who owes the King my libertie and my good fortune, now to slander him?” I arrkst. “Why?”
My mother made the little sound in her nose that ever meant she was out of patience with me.
“Know you not that he’s made peace with Spain?” she arrkst.
“I do,” sayt I. “And in these parts all may now sleep safe in their beds.”
“But what of our mariners?” arrkst my mother. “The King of Spain’s ambassador complains mightily of them. He says some take service with nations that are enemies to Spain, and go to sea to rob Spanish ships. Others feign to be merchants, but turn pirates once they’re at sea.”
I could say nowt to that. I knew our Earl was making an investigation into some mischiefs in these parts even as we spake.
I think my mother knew so, too.
She sayt, “The King’s Council blames the officers of our ports, saying the ships that put in are not searched, and the pirates are allowed to buy and sell as they ever did.”
Then she turned rhetorickal. “How are our poor masters and mistresses to come by spices for their dinners, wine for their cellars, and fine stuffs for their households? Oh, ’tis well my old sea friend Nero did not live to see the King of Spain command us.”
“And,” sayt she, “l hear tell there’s a new law against witches and the like. I lodge with an old woman. Am I safe in her bed? I daily thank the Queen Cat of Heaven that she’s a gentlewoman and her son’s a cunning lawyer, else we might both be hanged.”
I never before knowed my mother to thank anyone, least of all the Queen Cat of Heaven.
It came to me that she sought to play on my filial affection, as the Whisperers in the Tower had played on my youth and ignorance.
“The King is of a tim’rous nature,” sayt I, cool. “That much I know. I do not blame him. When he was a kit his tutor used him ill, e’en though he applied hisself to his lessons right well.”
I hoped my mother would remember that I applied myself to my lessons right well, and she never ceased to call me fool.
She sayt, cool, “What pitie it is that you came among us, and not your sister that has a place in Sir Rabbit’s household. She would have a tale or two to tell.”
I bethought me of my observances of great folks. I can slander them when needs must. I sayt, “I heard King James was witched once, or so he believes. I shall tell of that.”
My mother made no objection.
English merchants were complaining too. They said that when they put into Spanish-controlled Lisbon with legitimate cargoes the officials ignored their export permits and confiscated their cargoes, claiming they were the spoils of piracy.
The painting of the 1604 peace negotiators contains some familiar names and faces. In the foreground on the right is Sir Rabbit – Robert Cecil, now Lord Cranborne and soon to become Earl of Salisbury. In the middle of the English team is the Earl of Essex’s old friend and de facto brother-in-law Charles Blount, now Earl of Devonshire. On his right sits the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, commander of the fleet that saw off the Armada of 1588 and also head of the little army that brought an end to the Earl of Essex’s rebellion.
The mischiefs the Earl of Southampton was investigating in mid June 1605 related to a ship that had been taking on supplies in the Isle of Wight, possibly with a view to piracy. There were also reports of troops being raised locally on behalf of the Spanish for the ongoing war against the Dutch. Not illegal, but a potential embarrassment for King James? Peace with Spain was one thing, having your citizens go and fight against a Protestant ally quite another.