The cats who appear in this blog were eye-witnesses to history. Here’s the Who’s Who.
The First Narrator:
Gib, also known as Bevis (1580-1598). Scholar, diarist, poet and playwright. Born in the stable at Itchel Manor in Hampshire; joined the (old) Earl of Southampton’s household at 5 or 6 weeks old.
Rose from the position of companion kitten in the schoolroom, where he learnt to write and read, to Cat of the young Earl’s Bedchamber. (See About the People for notes on both Earls.)
Accompanied the young Earl’s sister Mary (Moll) to Cowdray House at Midhurst, West Sussex, in 1581. After her marriage in 1585 he was taken to Place House at Titchfield in Hampshire, where he assumed the position of Keeper of the Book-Chamber (library).
As Gib and his young Earl matured they had less to do with each other, but Gib offers some insights into the young Earl’s character, and seems to have identified with him.
Gib achieved fame as a story-teller and poet at Midhurst, but it was in the lively cat community at Titchfield that his career flourished. William Shakespeare appears to have appropriated some of his sonnets. He may also have used, in Hamlet, aspects of Gib’s play The Most Lamentable Comedie of the Earl of Ox-Foot, containing the pitifull murders of a cook and the old Earl of Hamton, and the bloodie ends of Lord Purrlie, the Queen, Ox-Foot, and his Hungrie Cat, Lion Rampant.
Gib’s opinion of Shakespeare’s own verse was scathing.
The Country Cats: Gib’s Circle in Hampshire and West Sussex.
Gib’s sister (1580-1595): No recorded name. Huntress, barn-queen, and matriarch. Born in the stable at Itchel, and became its keeper after the sudden death of her and Gib’s mother. After Gib’s departure for Cowdray she stowed away on a cart carrying the belongings of one of the old Earl’s servants to Titchfield and took over management of his barn. Gib was delighted to be reunited with her after he came to Place House.
A high point in her life was seeing Queen Elizabeth at Place House in 1591. She acted both Old Hamton’s Ghost and the Queen in Gib’s play. Gib was much grieved by her death not long after.
Gib’s Uncle (c1578 – ?). No recorded name. Kitchen cat at Itchel; key member of a network of spies coordinated by a cat who went by the name of Grey (below). Uncle had a major influence on the young Gib. After he attributed Gib’s imagination to a maggot in his brain, maggots (both creative and destructive) became a recurring theme in Gib’s work.
“Grey” (c1577- after 1587). Spymaster. Terrorized the young Gib, instructed him in the religious conflict of the times, and recruited him for his spy ring before Gib’s move to Cowdray. Grey suspected Jesuit priests were concealed there. Known at Titchfield as The Night-Walker, he appeared in 1587 with news of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.
Smokie (c.1580 – after 1591). Smithy and house cat at Midhurst, West Sussex. Sweet-natured and generous, he befriended Gib and was much impressed when Gib gave him a guided tour of Cowdray House.
Gib was removed to Place House at Titchfield not long after, but was delighted to hear of Smokie from another cat who brought word of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Cowdray in 1591.
The platonic love of Gib’s life, Smokie was the inspiration for at least one of the sonnets. Gib also associates Smokie’s colour (blue) with goodness.
The Kitchen Cat at Place House (? – 1594). Introduced Gib to the cat community at Titchfield. Succeeded by a daughter who acted the part of Young Hampton in Gib’s play.
Nero (c1583 – 1598/99?). Also known as Blackie. Sea cat (retired), poet and singer. Gib’s rival, friend, and collaborator. Place of birth uncertain: his claim of Venice is improbable, as are his numerous accounts of how he came to have no tail.
May have joined the Earl of Essex’s 1597 expedition to the Azores. His vivid account of the expedition was written down by Gib and Gib’s niece Tricks.
Gib admired Nero’s work, but all that survives are the sea stories and a couple of verses recorded in Gib’s journal. Nero took the part of the Earl of Ox-Foot in Gib’s play, composing his own (unrecorded) speeches.
The Mad Cat (c1578 – 1594). Also known as Sugar. House cat, visionary, prophet and preacher. Born in Cambridge, and brought to Titchfield as a kitten. In regular contact with the Queen Cat of Heaven, he also enjoyed hearing his mistress read aloud from the Bible and the works of puritan writers.
Predicted the fate of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and (shortly before his death) a future apocalypse. Or possibly global warming. Refused to act in Gib’s play and preached against it, inadvertently providing excellent publicity.
Linkin (c1585 – 1602). House cat, scholar of the law, and politician. Born in London, probably in the vicinity of Lincoln’s Inn, where he spent his formative months lodging with a law student. Later taken to the house of the student’s mother at Titchfield, where the Mad Cat (above) already lived. Gib describes the young Linkin as “wise beyond his winters,” but later refers to him as “Nose-All-Knows-All”.
A reliable source of London gossip, Linkin also acted the part of Lord Purrlie [Burghley] in Gib’s play. Remained in Titchfield until 1598 when his mistress went to join her widower son in London. Became a Member of the Cats’ Parliament that met in St Paul’s churchyard, and sat on several committees.
The Second Narrator:
Tricks (1594 – ?). Also known as Pretty Puss and (in London) the Titchfield Queen. Huntress, adventurer, and memoirist. Born in the barn at Titchfield to Gib’s sister. She acted the part of Maggot in Gib’s play.
Worked her way into Place House where she was taught to write by Gib, although she never developed his scholarly interests. After Gib’s death in 1598 she learnt that Linkin’s mistress was moving to London and stowed away in her baggage. In London she divided her time between the family home in Blackfriars and the Earl of Essex’s house on the Strand.
After seeing two of Gib’s sonnets rewritten and published under Shakespeare’s name, she resolved to be revenged on Shakespeare. This action was stalled by her participation in Essex’s rebellion of February 1601, but advanced by her son Harry and her friends after her sudden removal to Titchfield in 1602.
The London Cats: Tricks’ Circle in the City and Westminster.
Picker and Stealer (c1596 – after 1609). Twin members of the criminal sorority; later successfully combined the roles of cathedral cats and crime queens to control a large part of the city of London.
Born in respectable circumstances (their mother was Paws, the cat of St Paul’s Cathedral), they took to frequenting the prisons on the west side of the city. Occasionally made excursions much further afield, particularly during Lent, a time of lean pickings. Their familiarity with the city was useful in the search for Shakespeare. After inheriting St Paul’s, they became even more hostile to his presence in their manor.
Onix (c1597 – after 1609) Shop cat. Member of the household of an apothecary and a midwife in Blackfriars. Knowledgeable about medical matters, but regarded as an oddity by other cats because of his strong smell of herbs and spices.
Introduced Linkin and Tricks to the Cats’ Parliament at St Paul’s. Caught up in the Essex rebellion, he provided an important eyewitness account of the events at Essex House on Sunday 8 February.
Scabface (c1594 – after 1602) Street cat, warrior and overlord of an extensive manor in Westminster. Patrolled the stretches of wall beside the Thames from Temple Gardens to Durham House. An admirer of Tricks, he joined the Essex rebellion by attempting a single-pawed assault on Whitehall Palace, thereby missing the actual rising itself and the subsequent siege of Essex House. Almost certainly the sire of some of Tricks’ kittens.
Paws (c1590 – 1603) Cathedral cat, politician, and matriarch. Presided over a Parliament of Cats that met in the churchyard of St Paul’s for reports and sober discussion of current events.
Tricks occasionally attended these parliaments as a spectator, but found them dull. The scandal and stories that were a regular feature of the cats’ assemblies at Titchfield were not encouraged.
Kettie (c1596 – after 1609) Print-shop and house cat. Also known as the Turkey Cat. An accidental immigrant, born in Constantinople. Encountered hardship in London, a city nowhere near as well-disposed to cats as Constantinople (Istanbul) was (is). Eventually found employment near the Ludgate. Impressed the cats of Blackfriars with his tale of Constantinople, and Tricks with his extraordinary agility, but – as a foreigner – he preferred to keep a low profile.
Luvvie (c 1597/98 – after 1609) Theatre cat and aspiring actor. Probably born in Shoreditch, in the vicinity of the Curtain where he made his stage debut in the autumn of 1598. Claimed to be a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the company Shakespeare was a member of) which had temporary use of the Curtain after their own playhouse (the Theater) was closed.
Later made his way across the river to the newly built Globe, but returned to the city in hopes of securing a place in the more upmarket playhouse in Blackfriars. Tricks did not trust him, but thought he could be useful in her search for Shakespeare.
The Third Narrator:
Harry (1601- ?) , also known as Mr Wrissole’s Harry, Greediguts, and Pie-Face. The son of Tricks, and probably Scabface. Had his portrait painted with the Earl of Southampton, becoming the most recognisable cat in early modern English history.
Born in the old Savoy Palace where the Earl of Southampton’s mother had an apartment. Taken by Bess Vernon, the Earl’s wife, to the Tower of London in late 1601 to be a companion to her husband after he was imprisoned for his part in the Essex rebellion. The cats of the Tower called him “Rissole” (Wriothesley – the Earl’s surname) which Harry writes as “Wrissole”.
After the Earl’s release from the Tower in April 1603, Harry was determined to impress his mother by avenging Shakespeare’s theft of his great-uncle Gib’s sonnets.