113:  I Propose a Revel

A dark-eyed woman with loosely arranged reddish gold hair.
The Pretty Penny, better known as Penelope, Lady Rich (nee Devereux).  Elizabeth Vernon’s cousin, and the Earl of Essex sister.

Linkin sayt to me, “There’s no call for you to go to Essex House, now our Earl and the Earl of Essex are gone to Ireland.  And I hear tell that our Earl’s Puss [Bess] and the Pretty Penny have quit that house, too.”

“What?” I cried.  “Those ladies were at Essex House?  With our Earl?  Why did you not tell me?”

“I couldn’t swear to the truth of it,” sayt he, narrowing his eyes most amiable.

I sayt he’d wished to keep me as his secretarie, lest he should require more informations on Ireland for Paws’ fool parlement.

A parlement where I had no voice, because I, having no household of mine own, was not a member.

Then it came to me.

While all waited for newes from Ireland, I would make a revel.  A night of mirth and merriment, such as we had in Titchfield.  With no Paws to tell us to keep our thoughts to ourselves or leave.

I went to tell Onix of my plat [plan].  He was taking the sun in his doorway.

A black and white cat seated in the doorway of an Elizabethan house.But no sooner had I spake of songs and interludes than he grew timorous.

“By interludes,” he arrkst, “mean you plays?  Plays are not permitted here.”

“I do not mean a play,” sayt I.  “My uncle made a play, and I acted a maggot in it.  But a play requires preparations.  I mean no more than a merry tale or two.  Linkin knows of a banquet where all the guests were murthered.  Who would not wish to hear of that?”

Onix scarce heeded me.  “There was a playhouse here, for the better sort,” he sayt.  “My mother’s mother had employment there.”

“What?” I cried.  “Linkin never told me of a playhouse in these parts.”

“’Tis long gone,” sayt he.  “And when some players wished to make another, none would have it.  No, not even the Lord Chamberlain hisself, though those same players were his servants.”

Then Onix told me that all here in Black-Fryes [Blackfriars] had sayt a common playhouse would be a great annoyance to them.

A fair, delicate-featured woman in a black gown with a white ruff and a voluminous white head-dress.
Elizabeth, Lady Russell (nee Cooke).  A leader of the anti-playhouse faction in Blackfriars.

All manner of lewd and vagrant persons would come hither under colour of resorting to plays, but in truth to make mischief.  Breaking of windows, picking and stealing, wauling and brawling.

He sayt, “The streets would be so pestered with rogues, no honest folks could go about their business in good time.   As my mistress must, when she is sent for.

“No, nor honest cats neither.  Strange folks would affront us by leaving their excrements by our gates and their marks against our walls.  We would have much ado to o’er mark them, and scarce time for our own business.

“And what,” he arrkst, “if it should please the Queen Cat of Heaven to visit sickness on this citie?  Having our streets so throng would imperil all.  Best that common playhouses are kept without the citie walls, where all such evils belong.”

I remembered all the stranger cats that came to our Field to see my uncle’s play, and the revel-rout that followed hard upon it.  Onix spake true.

To assuage him, I told him my revel would not be for common cats.  We would invite only our private friends.

“We don’t have any friends,” sayt Onix.

I sayt, “When next you see Picker and Stealer, tell them of a Spring Revel that only our invited friends may attend.  Soon you’ll be mazed to learn how many friends we have.” 

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton’s wife, Elizabeth (Bess) Vernon was close to her cousin Penelope, Lady Rich (1563-1607) – the Earl of Essex’s sister.

When the Earls left for Ireland, Penelope and Bess travelled to Chartley Manor in Staffordshire, formerly the Devereux family home.

Chartley Manor

The precinct of Blackfriars in London takes its name from a large Dominican monastery that once stood there.  Parts of it were used by government for meetings of Parliament and the Privy Council, which might explain why the cats of nearby St Paul’s got the idea of holding their own parlement.

When the monastery became a crown property in 1538, some parts continued to be used for government purposes and others were leased out.  From 1576 to 1584 select companies of choirboy actors from the Chapels Royal gave performances in a theatre there.

In 1596 the joiner-turned-actor/developer James Burbage (c.1531-1597) acquired part of the property to construct a playhouse for his company of adult actors.  This company had as its patron George Carey, Lord Unsdon.  At the time the company was known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men, but when Lord Hunsdon became the Lord Chamberlain in 1597 they were known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

The company had need of a new playhouse.  The lease of the land in Shoreditch (north of the city wall) on which their current playhouse, The Theatre, stood was due to expire.

The prospect of a “common playhouse” in their midst caused an outbreak of nimbyism among the residents of Blackfriars, and they petitioned the Privy Council asking that the project be stopped.  Which it was, but not before James Burbage had spent around £1000 on alterations and refurbishments.

The petitioners were led by Elizabeth, Lady Russell, who styled herself Countess of Bedford even though her husband died before his father did and so never inherited the title of Earl.  Lady Russell was the aunt of Sir Robert Cecil, who’d replaced his father William Cecil, Lord Burghley, as the most powerful man in England.

Other notable signatories were Lord Hunsdon himself, and the printer Richard Field, who published William Shakespeare’s first printed work, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis.

Because Field was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s from Stratford upon Avon, some of Shakespeare’s biographers have speculated that he was also a friend.  If so, Shakespeare, a member of Lord Hunsdon’s Men, might not have felt too pleased with him.


112: Going to the War

A small picture of a few people in a snowy street.What a winter we had that year.  For many a day Linkin and I scarce stirred from our hearth.

Small wonder that we had no newes but what our master brought.  One time he sayt the river was near froze.

Then, when I wished to step out to see if this were true, snow lay thick upon our roof and folk walked splay-foot in the street.

Next, the master told of a poet who’d died.  His corpse was taken to the Abbey, where many poets gathered to mourn him.

They read out verses in his praise, then dropped their quills into the hole where he was laid.

“Old quills past use, most like,” sayt I to Linkin. “Those starvelings would not cast away their good ones.”  And I arrkst him where this Abbey was.

“Many ways from here,” came the answer.

All the master sayt of the poets’ verses was that he’d heard better.

I was joyed to hear that.  My uncle was a famous poet, and he was laid in a hole in our Earl’s garden.  But his fellow poet Nero sang most splendid in his honour.

Linkin and I counted on our claws the winters we had seen.  Linkin thought his numbered fifteen.  Then he sayt he never was so content in all his days, even if he could not leap across the rooves as I did.

That winter was my fourth.  I was not content.  I lodged in a house where the lewd books were kept in a box and any sight worth seeing was “many ways from here”.

“I’ll gain entry to Essex house or die,” I swore to Linkin. “Come spring.”  And how I rejoiced when I first caught its scents, then saw the sun.

I was ready to set forth when little dog Wattie came running wagtail.

He boasted that he would see the Earl of Essex.  Yes, and our Earl too.  And many more fine lords and gentlemen who were going to the war in Ireland.

I pricked mine ears.  The master’s children were speaking of a house in cheap sight [Cheapside] where they could watch all from a window.

“I pray you,” sayt I to Linkin, “do not tell me that cheap sight is many ways off.”

A small black and white cat peering out of the unglazed window of a Tudor house.“No,” sayt he.  “For it lies beyond Paws’ yard [St Paul’s churchyard].  When all leave this house you should follow across the rooves as far as you can go.”

So I went, and on my way saw Onix at his window.

His master and mistress and their kits were gone to see the Earl of Essex too.  When I told him I was bound for cheap sight, he joined me.

And what a sight we saw!

In truth, we were made deaf by the drums and the church bells and the roars of all who called blessings on Lord Essex and his men.

But we sat fast on a high roof, and I also saw our own Earl and his friends ride by.

Many from the streets followed after them, but Onix and I turned for home.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” sayt Onix, carried away.  “And I never saw so many fine horses, nor so many gentlemen.  May the Queen Cat of Heaven pour her blessings on them all!”

Hard upon his utterance came a great clap of thunder, and dark clouds loosed their rain.

Without another word, we fled.  Onix to his house and I to mine, while those below us in the streets sought shelter.

Linkin sayt I came in looking like some villain had near drowned me.

We did not understand the meaning of such foul weather on so bewteous a day.

Had the Queen Cat of Heaven set her mark on us all to show we were under her protection?  Or was this a sign of her displeasure?

A glimpse of 16th Century Cheapside, with the Westcheap Cross in the foreground.
This picture is from a panorama showing Edward VI riding to his Coronation in 1547, but in 1599 Tricks and Onix may have found vantage points on the roof of one the buildings in the background to see the Earls ride by.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe poet Edmund Spenser was buried in Westminster Abbey in January 1599.

A month or so earlier he’d arrived in London from Cork in Ireland, bearing letters for the Privy Council on the dire situation there.  He and his family had fled to Cork city from their home in Kilcolman, County Cork.

What is now referred to as the Nine Years War in Ireland began in 1593, but its origins lay in the Anglo-Norman invasion four centuries earlier.  After that, English rulers regarded themselves as overlords of Ireland, but their influence was pretty much limited to Dublin and the surrounding area known as the Pale.

Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII, had declared himself King of Ireland in 1541, but the native Irish had no interest in being anglicised, nor in accepting him as the head of their church.

The Elizabethan policy of appropriating Irish land as “plantations” for new English settlers (the old ones having become too Irish) gave rival Irish chieftains a common enemy.  By the late 1590s their formidable leader, Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, had inflicted some crushing defeats on English forces in Ireland.  

After the Privy Council had failed to agree on who the next Lord Deputy of Ireland would be, the Earl of Essex was told that, as he opposed the suggestions of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil, he could have the job himself.

Elizabeth never wanted to invest any more money than she had to in Ireland, but nor was she prepared to lose it.  Essex, as Earl Marshal of England and its leading military commander, could hardly refuse the post, though he suspected that his absence from London was exactly what his political rivals wanted.

At the end of 1598 Elizabeth appointed Essex not merely Lord Deputy but Lord Lieutenant (effectively Viceroy).  He left for Ireland in the spring of 1599 as commander of the largest English force sent anywhere since the days of Henry VIII – 16,000 foot and 1300 cavalry – though Tricks and Onix probably saw only a few hundred men parade through London.