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.


111:  Linkin Makes his Report

When I saw Linkin, I told him he would not believe what I’d read in the Irish book.

He told me I would not believe what he’d learnt in the master’s chamber.

“In truth,” he sayt, “there was so much learned talk of the Irishes’ history, laws, and customs I grew weary, and slept.”

Then he sayt, “The Earl of Essex does not wish to go to Ireland because his enemies here will work against him whilst he’s away.”

“Haply,” sayt I, “he need not bide there long.”

Linkin sayt, “I fear Ireland may be the ruination of him.  Certes, it was the ruination of his father, who gave some Irish lords a good dinner and then murdered them.  Can you credit it?”

“To hear of so bloodie a banquet would surely please all,” sayt I, hopeful.

But Linkin sayt this tale was not fit for our parlement.  Malicious cats might spread the word that noble Essex and our Earl hoped to do the same.  He arrkst what I’d heard.

I told him of the book with pictures.  And of what I’d read therein that gave me to believe the Irishes were kin to us cats.

He sayt that together we’d learnt enough, and went to tell his Irish committy friends.

No invitation for me to accompany him.

A grey cat seated before a stone wall with a wooden door set into it.
Paws, the matriarch of St Pauls.
By day Pauls’ yard served as a clearing house for human news and gossip; by night Paws presided over a parlement of local cats.

When any cat at Titchfield had informations to give out, they came calling, “Newes, newes,” beneath the windows.  Then all knew to assemble at our Field.

In London we had to wait for Paws to summon us.  She sent her minions across the rooves to cry, “Parle, parle.”

Linkin and his friends had ready their report, which he gave out to great applauds.

“Ireland,” sayt Linkin, “is a land of mists and bogs.  It seems a very paradise for us cats,  were it not for the wolves, which are many.

“Some say that the wild Irishes change theirselves into wolves.  But that’s an idle superstition.  Who would choose to be a wolf, kin to dogs?

A wolf as bishop, from a medieval manuscript held by the Walters Art Museum.

“The Irishes understand neither the good protestant religion nor the bad popish one.  But they hate protestants because they hate the English. 

“The English chased them out of their possessions.  And is’t not true that we cats hate those who chase us?

“There are English folks who’ve lived in Ireland since the old times.  Some say they’ve grown more wicked than the Irishes, for they suck Irishness with their mothers’ milk.  As we suck our catness. 

“How is that wicked?  Do not all kits take the nature of their mothers who first frame and fashion them?

“There is great store of fish and fowls in Ireland.  A cat could dine well there.  The Irish eat of flesh, and their chiefest drink is milk.  They seldom eat of bread.  Sometimes they take a drink called Uskwi-Bow [usquebaugh].  Stinking stuff, I believe, but cats need not drink it.  There is much water in Ireland.

“Certes, they’re kin to us, for they care nowt for marriage.  They part at their first quarrel, then find another wife or husband.

“But they do not lack for courage.  They are brave soldiers, and when they come to fight they give out fierce cries to affright their enemy.  As we do.

“They fight not in the field, but hide by river-crossings or narrow paths where they know their enemy will pass.  They pounce, then flee into the trees.  And are not trees a place of safety for us?

“Some say it were better to fight them in winter, when the trees are bare and they cannot hide theirselves.  But I hear the Earl of Essex will set forth in spring.  May the Queen Cat of Heaven protect him!”

“If he goes to kill our Irish kin, she won’t,” came a call.

Other cats sayt they wished to see Ireland for theirselves, and arrkst if it was many ways from Paws’ yard.

The cat from the Spain Committy (aggrieved, for she’d wished to tell of Ireland) sayt there was but two roads, and both led to a wild sea that must be crossed.  That was why the newes she’d sought from Ireland was late in coming.

Linkin sayt, most gracious, “I long to hear it, for my informations came from English households.  I pray some cat on a ship that’s crossed the Irish sea will send newes soon.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks acquired her knowledge of Ireland from John Derrick’s book, but Linkin – and perhaps other cats on the Irish Committy – must have heard some discussion of Edmund Spenser’s A View of the The Present State of Ireland.

Written around 1596, it wasn’t published until 1633, but a number of people would have seen manuscript copies.

Edmund Spenser (c1553-1599). Best remembered now as a poet, he lived in Ireland for about 18 years.

A View is in the form of a dialogue between Irenius, who has lately come from Ireland, and Eudoxus, who asks him questions.

In brief, the Irish are the most barbarous nation in Christendom, more in need of civilising than the English were before the Norman Conquest.

The original Anglo-Norman colonists in Ireland have become as bad as the Irish.

To subdue the country by conventional warfare would be too expensive.  The best strategy would be to establish a series of well-supplied garrisons from where recalcitrant Irish could be starved into submission.

Then the land could be repopulated by English settlers with Irish tenants.  A Lord Deputy should continue to rule Ireland on behalf of the Crown, but with the additional support of a Lord Lieutenant.  Spenser probably had the Earl of Essex in mind for the latter role, but would Essex have wanted it?

He certainly wasn’t keen on leading the latest attempt to subdue Ireland.