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.

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69:  Vexations

A black cat (Nero) peeking round a door.Nero came by.  He arrkst if I intended to compose a verse for my late sister and give it out at the Cats’ Field.

I sayt I would not.  I write to joy myself and others, not tell of my private sorrows.

“Then I might,” sayt he. “I’ll think on it.”

Next he sayt, “You’re like to go soon.”

I arrkst him how many winters he’d seen.

“Eight,” sayt he.

I gave him the lie.  I told him he was no kitling when we became akwaynted.  And that was eight or nine winters past.

A ship underwater with fish swimming past.
Tropick waters: a shipwreck with sea monsters.

“True,” he sayt.  “But I’d been at sea.  We sailed in tropick waters where there are no winters.”

I yawned to show my disbelief.

Nero added, “Salt keeps all flesh sound.  I was shipwracked, and swam for my verie life with a host of sea monsters coming hot behind me.  Salt water has preserved me.”

He’s a fickle-tongued fellow.

My little niece (though she be not so little now) has been woeful since her mother went.

She complains of her grown sister, now the barn queen.

Viz, her sister gives her evil looks, and finds fault with all she does.  And her cousins who were once her playfellows have grown unkind.

I sayt, “It’s the way of the world.  When the highest falls, another rises.  And her friends rise with her.  Such is fortune.”

“I will not bide where I’m distained,” sayt she.  “I shall lodge with you.”

I sayt, “That cannot be.  All the places in my household are taken.”

“But,” sayt she, “are you not the highest there?  Can you not do as you list [like]?”

I was shamed then.  In truth, to aid her is my dutie.

“But what of your kitlings?” I arrkst.  “Few born in this house will be left to you.  The queen cats employed here to keep down mice and rats scarce see any of their kits live to be full-grown.”

“Why can’t I be cut as you were?” she arrkst.  “Then I need not be troubled by kits.”

What a wicked fancie.

I sayt, “It’s not possible for a she-cat to be cut and live to tell of it.  Your testes, that the common sort do call your stones, are hid deep within your belly.”

“How know you that?” she arrkst.

“From a learned book that told of men and women.  Certes, we cats are quicker in our wits and our doings than they, but we are like in our bodies.  This book sayt that Nature concealed women’s testes well.  Why?  So that women might not know they’re as well-made as men.  Were women to know that, they’d lose all shame and be even more uppish than they are.”

A young and fluffy black, white, and orange cat.
Gib’s Niece

“I’ve never seen nor heared a book,” sayt she.

I sayt, “Some books tell nowt but lies.  But it come to me that the Queen Cat of Heaven hid she-cats’ stones within their bellies for their greater safety.”

My niece sayt, very sour, “My mother told me that had she been a gib-cat like you, she might have been a poet.”

“Your mother did not know her letters.  How could she have writ?”

“Nero does not know his letters,” sayt she.  “Yet he’s a poet.”

That’s true.

I begin to comprehend why her grown sister and her cousins find her vexatious.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The idea that female bodies were designed to convince women of their inferiority appealed to Renaissance anatomists, whose own theories were derived from Hippocrates (BC c.460-c.375), Aristotle (BC 384-322) and Galen (AD 132- c201).

However, feline society is dominated by matriarchs, so Gib provides a different explanation as to why the female testes (i.e. ovaries) are hidden.  But what book is he referring to? 

In 1592 (50: My Observations) Gib announced that he was “learning Italian, as the nobilitie do”.  Presumably, he’d been sitting in on the Earl of Southampton’s conversations in Italian with his tutor John Florio (1553-1625).

John Florio, from the 1611 edition of his Italian & English dictionary.
John Florio, from the 1611 edition of his Italian & English dictionary.

John Florio’s first language manual Florio his Firste Fruites was published in 1578 with a dedication to Elizabeth I’s long-term favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Around the same time, the Earl of Leicester was among the patients of an Italian doctor Giulio Borgarucci (known as Dr Julio), who became a royal physician.  Dr Julio’s brother Prospero was Professor of Anatomy at Padua, and published Della Contemplazione Anatomica sopra Tutte le Parti del Corpo Umano in 1564.  Dr Julio probably had a copy.

John Florio may have known Dr Julio, so Gib could have heard Florio speak of Professor Borgarucci’s book.

Florio has been suggested as an influence on Shakespeare; he’s sure to have influenced Gib.