106:  Hints of Trouble

Nutmegs and powdered nutmegWell, I write of such hints now, but in truth the hints I nosed that autumn were the herbs and spices heralding the advance of Onix.

And the stinks of the rotten meats in the river we crossed on our way to the wall of Essex House.  Then I was glad that I was accompanied by a walking nosegay.

We oft went to Essex House in hopes of a glimpse of the Earl of Essex, but his house was always so pestered with fine gentlemen we agreed that if he were there he’d be lost amid the throng. 

An engraving of Essex House viewed from the Thames, showing the river wall and gate to the landing stairs.And I do not believe we could ever have foreseen the trouble we would witness after we had gained admittance to that house.

Linkin never accompanied us beyond the citie’s wall.  Now he was a Member for Parlement he spake only of his committy.

“But your comitty was in Paws Yard,” sayt I.  “You’ve sat nowhere since but on our roof with two fat cats I do not know.”

“That’s my committy,” sayt Linkin.  “We may sit where we choose, and when we are done sitting we’ll make a report to parlement.”

“On what?” I arrkst.  “Sitting?”

“On the Unlawful Persecution of Cats.”

“And when will that be?”

“First,” sayt he, “we must agree on what we mean by Unlawful.  And on what we mean by Persecution.  And whether or not Persecution may ever be Lawful.”

“I marvel,” sayt I, “that you see no need to agree on what you mean by Cats.”

“True!” cried Linkin.  “For are there not lions confined in the Tower?  Are they also cats?  We must resolve it.”

And away he went, most happy.  I feared I might not live long enough to hear any report on the matter.

Next, there was talk in our household that His Harryship’s mother, the old Countess, had taken another husband.  Swillem Harfie [Sir William Hervey].

This was not the first time I’d heard that name.  Swillem went with Essex to Cadiz.  And to the Asores as captain of the Bonaventure.

I guessed he lacked for money, and hoped to get his living from the Countess.  And she wished to enjoy a young husband.

No harm in that.  Her first husband used her ill, and I doubt her second ever seized her by the scruff.  Certes, she got no kits from him.

An attractive young woman with a long, pale face. The resemblance between her and her son (face shape, hairline, nose and mouth) is striking.
Mary Browne, later the Countess of Southampton, aged 13. This was probably painted before her first marriage to the 2nd Earl of Southampton, His Harryship’s father.

But now ’twas bruited [rumoured] that His Harryship was mightily displeased with his mother when he learnt of her marrying again.

And she was mightily displeased with His Harryship because he’d married Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] without telling her.

The Earl of Essex sought to end these troubles and restore kindness between them.  He also hoped to perswayde the Countess to welcome her new daughter, Puss Fur-None.

First he sent a friend to discover whether the Countess had married or no.  And if she had not, then to warn her it would cause scandal if she were to wed while her son was in disgrace.

She swore she was not married yet, but sayt she was at liberty to dispose of herself when and where she chose.  And that her son could expect no account from her in the matter of her marriage, because he’d made her a stranger to his.

And that parents were not bound to be dutiful to their children.  It was their children who ought to be dutiful to them.

And much more besides.

So Essex’ friend came away with wet fur and no fish, as my mother would have sayt.

Next, the Countess told Essex that she would welcome Puss Fur-None for his sake (Puss Fur-None being Essex’ cousin), but she would find it more agreeable if Puss were not the wife of her unkind and undutiful son.

Oh, she was fightsome.  I swear she would have made as good a queen cat as a Countess.  How she must have wished to strike His Harryship a blow on the nose!


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe dowager Countess of Southampton (1552-1607) was about 45 when rumours began to circulate about her and Sir William Hervey (c.1565-1642).

Sir William’s exact birth year is unknown, but he was probably around 13 years younger than the Countess.  

Her previous husband was Sir Thomas Heneage, 20 years her senior and in poor health when they married in 1594.  He died less than eighteen months later.  He left her some heavy debts to clear immediately after his death, but she was well-provided for in the longer term.

The young Earl of Southampton’s objection to his mother’s marrying Sir William Hervey was almost certainly financial.

Sir William wouldn’t have been able to touch the Earl’s estates that his mother derived her income from.  However, an ill-drafted marriage settlement might have meant he would have access to her inheritance from Sir Thomas Heneage.

Anyway, marriage was a serious business, particularly among the “better sort”.   Family and friends expected to be consulted, even when both parties were of an age “to dispose of” themselves.

But, as the Countess pointed out, her son hadn’t told her of his marriage, so what had hers to do with him?

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79:  Hard Times For All

Gib reclining on a cushion, looking thoughtful.Of late I’ve heared nowt but talk of hard times.

The harvest was poor – the third such we’ve had, I believe.  My sister was still living when many began to hunger.

I knew that Fortune favoured me, so I daily offered thanks for the fire I have to warm me and the choice meats I eat.

I oft saw rats about this house.  Bold (I thought) from empty bellies.

My niece made a great show of catching and killing them.  My sister taught her well.  The servants say they never saw so good a ratter.

I took pride in her deeds until I saw her creep into the book-chamber lugging a live rat.  She let it loose by the wall cloth, where it hid itself.  Then she settled herself to wait.

I guessed that when any came into the room she would chase out that poor rat and kill it, to great applauds.

I reproved her for such sly doings.  I told her we’re employed to keep vermin from the house, not bring them in for private sport.

She sayt, “How else may I win the freedom of this house and continue my education?”

I had no answer for that.

I saw little of my lord this winter past.  I believe he stayed in London condoling with the most noble Earl of Essicks who was (I hear) so dismayed by Her Majestie’s ill-usage after his heroick action at Cadiz that he took to his bed.  And stayed there.

Whereas the King of Spain was so shamed he swore revenge.  He sent his fleet against us.

“Did I not say he would?” cried Linkin.

“That’s the tricksie Spanish for you,” sayt Nero.  “Coming at us out of season.”

Our own ships were laid up for winter.  Then, when they were made readie to defend us, a wicked wind prevented them from putting to sea.

All that dwell along this coast were much afeared until we learnt that the Spanish met with foul weather.  They lost so many ships they had no choice but to return home.  Certes, they will come again.

A dark-haired, serious-faced young Elizabethan woman.
The Countess of Derby, Elizabeth Stanley (nee de Vere), granddaughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley).  Artist unknown.

Next, Linkin brought newes that the Earl of Essicks has been scruffing the Countess of Darby [Derby].

That’s the girl they wisht my lord to marry.  Old Lord Purrlie’s granddaughter.  What scandal she has brought on her family!

How wise my lord was to refuse to wed such a light-tail.

“Essicks denies it.  He swears that he has not engaged in wickedness with any woman since he set forth for Cadiz,” sayt Linkin. “So perchance he scruffed her before he went.”

Linkin also sayt that my lord spake some unkind words about another Earl, who sayt my lord lied.  So they agreed to fight, as men and cats of honour do.

But the Queen learnt of it, and they was summoned to Court.  The Lords of her Council assured the other Earl that my lord never spake against him.  They were made friends again. 

Head and soldiers of a young man reclining on grass with his head propped on one hand.
The other Earl: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632), by Nicholas Hilliard c.1595.  He’d been proposed as a husband for Elizabeth de Vere, but she declined the match.  He married Dorothy Perrot (nee Devereux), one of Essex’s glamorous sisters.

Linkin and Nero were fire-hot to know what my lord had sayt, but I’d heard no word of the quarrel.

This talk of scandal cheered me, but there was ill newes at home.  

My lord lacks money and owes much to many.  Some of his lands may be sold.

My lord was a good son to his mother when her old husband died and left debts.  He permitted her to sell one of his manors.

Now more may be sold to ease his own burdens.  And I hear he has permission from Her Majestie to travel oversea.

Oh, I fear that blind goddess Fortune may be making ready to turn her wheel and cast me down.

A woman whose face is hidden by her long hair turns a wheel with various animals on it; a monkey, dogs, a large spotted cat, and a donkey. Set against the background of a moon with human facial features.
The Moon and Fortune. By an unknown artist, late 15th century.

With my lord gone, my very house might be sold about my ears.

What will become of me?  I’m too old to find a new place.  I thought to end my days here.

To cheer myself I called my niece to me.

She sprang onto the table, took my pen and dipped it, and sat ready.  “What shall I write?” she arrkst.

In truth, I felt like my lord hisself with his secretarie.

My heart swelled, and four lines of verse come to me.

As an aged queen-cat looks with joy, 
On all her pretty kitlings’ deeds of youth, 
So I, who turn on Fortune’s careless toy, 
Find all my comfort in your wit and truth.

“A few lines,” sayt I.  “Some fine words you’ve heared from me.”

She scarce paused for thought.  She wrote, very neat:

How my joynts ake when I rise from my bed.  I need to piss.  We old cats cannot hold our water as you young cats can.  Why is there no fire in this hearth?  Must I go to the kitchin and lie there neath the table like unto a common cat?

I now comprehend why many say it is not wise to educate females, for then their insolencie will know no bounds.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in March 1597.  In February, the 23 year old Earl of Southampton had handed his estates over to three attorneys for administration.  The reason given was his debts, some of which were inherited from his father.

G.P.V. Akrigg (one of the Earl’s biographers) is convinced the Earl had to pay Lord Burghley £5000 for declining marriage to his granddaughter, but (oddly) Akrigg doesn’t mention this as a likely cause of debt.  Instead, he suggests that the Earl had been living “very lavishly”, though doesn’t offer any details.  However, Earls weren’t expected to be tightwads: I think most Elizabethans would have been shocked and demoralised by the sight of a thrifty Earl.