190:  A Year of Frights and Scandal

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

Soon after I spake with the player cat, there came newes that the King had been murdered!  And many of his lords with him. 

My lord being from home, I knew not what to think.

Some in our house sayt that White-Hall had locked itself; parlement was afeared; the citie gates were closed; the Tower was readied for actions, and citizens were in arms.

But the murder was nowt but a rumour!  When the King was met coming safe from his progress, many who’d wept with fear now wept with joy.

Sure, that pleased the King.  He sayt it showed his people loved him well, despite the talk spread abroad in other countries.

I think he gave that rumour out hisself.

Next came word of the death of an Earl who was a true friend to my lord and lady, though many sayt he’d brought shame on hisself by marrying a wicked woman.

Charles Blount (Lord Mountjoy), created Earl of Devonshire by King James, died in April 1606.

My lord and lady were much grieved.  By his death I mean, not the marrying.

There was word of another Earl, right shameful.  He is named Linkin, though of no kin to my mother’s late friend (a trusty law cat, cleanie in his habits). 

This Earl of Linkin paid a man to bring a boat or two of dung and spread it nigh unto his neighbour’s house, both east and west.

His neighbour was assailed by horrid stinks, and e’en the water from his well tasted foul.  The Earl hisself fled away to Linkinshire [Lincolnshire] before the deed was done.

I can but marvel that it be worser for an Earl to marry a wicked woman than to buy turds.   Sure, we cats like to leave our marks about our neighbours’ houses, but those excrements are of our own making.

Next, the Queen’s brother came to visit her, and my lord and lady and many other great folks were invite to greet him.  Then he removed to Tibbles [Theobalds – Robert Cecil’s house] where the doings were right scandalous, as I later learnt.

King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway (1577 – 1648) from the Copenhagen History Portal.

I also noted, in my little book of secrets, some choice scandal of the French King, to give out when next I went to Paws’ yard or to the countrie with my lord.

I longed to return to the countrie, but I was not troubled when my lord did not require me to accompany him that year.

I had nowt to tell my mother of Villain Snakes-Purr, save that I had made the akwayntance of Luvvie the player cat.

And I feared shipwrack more than I feared my mother, because of late my lord had been very hot for newes of strange lands.

I learnt of a land named Bantam, so many ways off that the Englishes who dwell there did not know the old Queen was dead!  And of folks I never before heard tell of.  Javans, Chinese, and Japons.

When next my lord went to sea, I feared he might wish to go farther than our island.  I was well content to bide at Southampton House.

Then came word of pestilence [plague] in the citie, so I durst not go to Paws’ with my newes.  I feared infecktion.

And I guessed that Snakes-Purr had fled the town.

Though I prayed he would sicken and die, for that would free me of my burden of revenge.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNerves were bad in 1606: the fake news of King James’ assassination caused a major panic.  James’ habit of spending as little time as possible in London didn’t make communication easy.  This time he’d decamped to Farnham, about 40 miles south-west of London.  The rumour was that he’d been killed just outside Woking as he returned to prepare for his brother-in-law’s visit.

The Earl of Southampton was chief mourner at the funeral of Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire (1563 – 1606), who’d been the partner of Penelope Rich, sister of the late Earl of Essex, since 1590.  In 1605 Penelope and Lord Rich divorced.  She and Charles Blount then married, hoping to legitimise their five children.  Ecclesiastical law did not permit remarriage while a former spouse was still living, so that was regarded as more scandalous than their long-term liaison had been.

Henry Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (1539 – 1616) sounds most unpleasant.  He owned a manor in Chelsea, at that time a village up river from Westminster.  A couple of years earlier he’d driven out the previous tenant of the neighbouring property by sending workmen to take out his garden palings, pull up his cabbages, and drive cattle in to eat his crop of barley.[1]  I assume that what was dumped around his new neighbour’s property was what we euphemistically call “night-soil”.     

And what was Shakespeare doing in late 1605 and 1606?  There’s nothing in the historical records.  Before the plague outbreak he’d been living in Silver Street and (according to Luvvie) had started on Macbeth.  Most Shakespearean scholars agree he was also finishing his rework of the play King Leir (author unknown) which was performed at Court as King Lear in December 1606.

[1] Jones, Deborah Lodowick Bryskett and his Family in Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans ed. Charles J. Sisson, Octagon Books Inc. NY (1966) 


18 thoughts on “190:  A Year of Frights and Scandal

  1. April Munday October 17, 2019 / 8:36 pm

    I’m intrigued by the scandalous goings-on at Theobalds. Sir Robert doesn’t strike me as the type to invite scandal into his home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 17, 2019 / 10:29 pm

      As such state visits were rare, I don’t suppose anyone knew quite what to expect, and it was also a family reunion. Anne was very fond of her brother. I’m sure the cats will have plenty to talk about now Harry’s back in favour with Picker and Stealer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 18, 2019 / 6:25 pm

      Last night I read something in Antonia Fraser’s book that made me reconsider my first comment. Apparently Sir Robert left a jewel worth £1,000 to the Countess of Suffolk and there was talk at the time about the nature of their relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 18, 2019 / 10:45 pm

      There was no end of malicious gossip about Sir Robert, but an affair seems unlikely. Most probably she was a political ally. Sir R was also friendly with her husband, Thomas Howard, and his son William married their daughter. Another friend and ally was Lady Walsingham, wife of Sir Thomas who’d been Christopher Marlowe’s patron. After Sir R’s death it was said he’d died of syphilis, caught from one or both ladies!

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 18, 2019 / 10:52 pm

      I thought she might be some kind of ally, but Fraser stresses that she supported Spain and was a Catholic. I wondered though, because her support of Spain seemed to consist of being paid by the Spanish ambassador for information that was at best misleading and might, at worst, be considered a pack of lies.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 18, 2019 / 11:11 pm

      Yes, they were paying her a “pension”. I suspect she was Sir R’s Spanish liaison officer, as we would say. At one stage I think they may have been paying Sir R -perhaps he passed the job on to her?

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday October 18, 2019 / 11:49 pm

      The more I learn about him, the more complex and interesting I find him.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 19, 2019 / 12:42 am

      He’s extraordinarily complex! I just had a quick look at the biography by Algernon Cecil (which I still haven’t read properly), and he has a chapter on his character with quite a lot about the Spanish pension, which Cecil seems to have been getting around the same time as the Countess was receiving hers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave Ply October 22, 2019 / 12:20 pm

    I didn’t know King Lear was a rewrite. I wonder how many other plays were “borrowed”…

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 23, 2019 / 10:59 am

      Hamlet, quite possibly. We know that Gib produced the earliest version, but there was another version out there as well. No copies of it have survived. Some scholars think it may have been written by Thomas Kyd. There was also a play about “the famous victories of Henry V”. But mostly Shakespeare seems to have used popular romances and other stories, along with history books, as his sources.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dornahainds October 25, 2019 / 5:49 am

    What is that old saying, No good deed goes unpunished!? Or my favorite…

    The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Mark Twain 😎👏

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi October 25, 2019 / 7:55 am

      Those are two very apt quotes. They’re both favourites of mine, too.


  4. mitchteemley December 8, 2019 / 2:55 am

    Have you seen All is True, the Shakespeare-in-retirement movie starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh? It’s a touching dramedy for those (like me) who love the Bard. Ian McKellen plays the Earl of Southampton, so I’m guessing you’re familiar with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 8, 2019 / 9:59 am

      I saw the first series of “Upstart Crow” – the TV comedy that “All is True” span off from. That was funny, but the subsequent TV series don’t seem to have screened here. I haven’t seen “All is True” because I got the impression the movie took itself more seriously than the TV series did. But if you liked it, I’ll keep an eye out for it on a streaming service.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. mitchteemley December 8, 2019 / 11:23 am

    Just the opposite here–Upstart Crow doesn’t seem to be available. I’d definitely watch it if it were. Ah, well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 8, 2019 / 9:16 pm

      The powers-that-be may have decided Upstart Crow was too English for American taste. One thing I enjoyed about it was the way his family were always so unimpressed by him. “Don’t keep trying to write comedy, Will. You know you’ve got no talent for it,” etc.

      Liked by 1 person

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