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, and joined the (old) Earl of Southampton’s household at around 5 or 6 weeks old.
Rose from the position of companion kitten in the schoolroom (where he learnt to write and read) to that of 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 interesting 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 as poet and playwright flourished. William Shakespeare appears to have appropriated some of his sonnets, and based Hamlet on his 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.
The Country Cats: Gib’s Circle in Hampshire and West Sussex.
Gib’s sister (1580-1595): No recorded name. Huntress, barn-keeper, and matriarch. Became the stable queen at Itchel after the sudden death of her and Gib’s mother. After Gib’s departure in 1581 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, although they often engaged in bouts of what we would call sibling rivalry.
A high point in her life was seeing Queen Elizabeth visiting 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 Manor, and a key member of a network of spies co-ordinated by a mysterious cat who went by the name of Grey (below). A strict disciplinarian, 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). House cat and 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 House. “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.
Gib was taken 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 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, 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.
A leader in the cat community, he became a local hero after joining the Earl of Essex’s 1597 expedition to the Azores. Nero’s vivid account of the voyage was written down by Gib and his niece Tricks. Gib admired his work, but all that survives are the sea stories and a couple of verses Gib recorded in his 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. 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 when he was showing signs of dementia) a future apocalypse. Or possibly global warming. Refused to act in Gib’s play and preached against it, inadvertently providing excellent publicity.
Linkin (c1585 – c.1601/02). House cat, law cat and politician. Born in London, probably in the vicinity of Lincoln’s Inn, where he spent his formative months lodging with a law student. Was taken to the house of the student’s mother at Titchfield, where the Mad Cat (above) already resided.
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 and scandal, Linkin also displayed a keen interest in politics. Acted the part of Lord Purrlie 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’ Parlement 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. A daughter of Gib’s sister. As a very young kitten, 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 the baggage. Appears to have divided her time between the family home in Blackfriars and the Earl of Essex’s House in 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 delayed by her participation in Essex’s “rebellion” of February 1601.
The London Cats: Tricks’ Circle in the City and Westminster.
Born in respectable circumstances (their mother was said to be Paws, the cat of St Paul’s Cathedral), they took to frequenting the prisons on the west side of the city, and occasionally made excursions to the east side. Their familiarity with the city and its underbelly was useful to Tricks in her search for Shakespeare.
Onix (c1597 – ?) Shop and house cat, employed by an apothecary and a midwife. Probably born 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. Participated, against his better judgement, in the Essex “rebellion” and provided an important eyewitness account of the events at Essex House on Sunday 7.
Scabface (c1592 – ?) Warrior and overlord of an extensive manor in Westminster. Patrolled the stretches of wall beside the Thames from Temple Gardens past Essex House as far as Durham House. An admirer of Tricks, he joined the Essex rebellion but attempted an assault on Whitehall Palace, thereby missing the siege of Essex House.
Paws (c1592 – ?) Cathedral cat, politician, and matriarch. Presided over a Parliament of Cats that met in the churchyard of St Paul’s to report on current events.
Tricks occasionally attended as a spectator, but found the parliament dull. The scandal and stories that were a regular feature of the cats’ assemblies at Titchfield were not encouraged.
Kettie (c1596 – ?) Print shop and house cat. An accidental immigrant, he was born in Constantinople, but came ashore from a merchant ship to do some sightseeing in London.
Encountered hardship in a city nowhere near as well-disposed to cats as Constantinople (Istanbul) was (is). Eventually found employment with printers near the Ludgate. Impressed the cats of Blackfriars with his tale of Constantinople, but – as a foreigner – he preferred to keep a low profile.
The Player Cat – brief bio note coming soon.