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?


90: Of Lords, Ladies, and Leave-Taking

An idealised image of Queen Elizabeth (late 1590s) by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

My lord has come hither.  He offended Queen Puss.  But who has not?

He did no more than strike an insolent rogue, who turned cowbaby and ran squealing to her.

My lord greeted me most loving.  He sayt he feared we were not like to meet again.

Soon he goes into France with Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil], and onward on his travels.  To Italy, I believe. 

But I must set down all in order, as I learnt it.

Item:  Nero sayt that the lady who arrkst the learned doctor about our Earl’s marrying is Mistress Prannill.

Nero did not know the doctor’s answer.

“That’s not newes,” sayt I. “Our Earl shall marry Puss Fur-None [Bess Vernon].  But that’s a secret.”

“I have more,” sayt Nero. “London newes from Linkin.”

Item:  Mistress Fur-None is much grieved at our Earl’s leaving.  And the rogue that turned cowbaby told her something that caused an unkindness betwixt her and our Earl.

None knows what it were.

Item:  The rogue was insolent to our Earl and Sir Water Rawly while they was playing at cards.  Then our Earl came upon the rogue near the tennis court, and struck him a blow.  The rogue pulled his hair, and when Queen Puss heard of this she praised him!

Our Earl and that cowbaby were arrkst to explain theirselves by Essicks and another great lord.

I knowed that.  But I (and my lord) do not know why Queen Puss is so unkind to him.  Small wonder my lord is full of discontentments.   

And if that weren’t newes enough, I hear my lord’s mother the Countess thinks to take another husband.

His name is Swillem Harfie [Sir William Hervey/Harvey].  He went with Essicks to Cadiz.  And to the Asores as captain of the Bonaventure.

“A good ship,” sayt Nero.  “But I never heared that Swillem did owt to tell of.”

My niece sayt, “Perchance he lacks money, and hopes to get his living from the Countess.  And she wants a lusty young man.”

I know not the truth of that.  My niece swore to discover it.

After I had writ all, she sayt to me, “Uncle, when you go from this world I shall not bide in this place.”

“What?” I cried.  “You have employment here.  The book-chamber will be yours.”

“But I wish to see the world,” sayt she.  “And when our Earl is oversea, this house may be closed to all.  Even us cats.”

I had not thought of that, but I shall not live to see it.  I have immortal longings in me.

“How would you go hence?” I arrkst.

“How came my mother hither?”

“That you know,” sayt I.  “She hid herself on a cart that carried her from the stable where we was born.”

“Then you have your answer,” sayt my niece.

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib would have written this in late January/early February 1598.  It seems the Earl made a quick visit to Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Henri IV of France intended to make peace with Spain – a matter of concern to the English.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Mistress Prannell (nee Frances Howard) 1578-1639 – later Seymour, and finally Stuart – was a poor relation of the powerful Howard family.

A portrait (c. 1611) of Frances Howard – now Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford.  By Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Via Wikimedia Commons.

She married three times and died a Duchess, but was slow to give up on the Earl of Southampton.

The cats might have been more interested in her if they’d known that in July and August 1597 she was feeling poorly, and sent urine samples to astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman.

The samples would have been no help; reliable diagnoses from urine were not yet possible.

According to historian A. L. Rowse, she thought she might be pregnant.  Simon Forman assured her she wasn’t.

But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  Did she think he was the father?  Or did she suspect someone else might be?  Nothing is recorded.

The man Gib calls a rogue and a cowbaby is Ambrose Willoughby, a gentleman of the Queen’s Bedchamber.  He’s unlikely to have entered that sanctum – his job would have been to guard the door.

Rowland Whyte (writing in early 1598 to Sir Robert Sidney) says that the Earl of Southampton, Sir Walter Ralegh, and another gentleman were playing primero – similar to poker – in the Presence Chamber, a large reception room for people admitted to the Queen’s public presence.

The Queen had gone to bed, so Willoughby “desired them to give over”.  Then he threatened to call in the guard to take their table.  Sir Walter Ralegh (captain of the guard) gathered up his money and left, but the Earl “took exceptions”.  It was shortly after this that he hit Willoughby, who retaliated by pulling his hair.

Was an interrupted card game the only reason for the spat?  Or was it something to do with what Willoughby had told Elizabeth Vernon that annoyed or upset her?

Rowland Whyte also writes of the Earl being “troubled at her Majesty’s…usage of him.  Somebody hath played unfriendly parts with him.”   And Elizabeth Vernon “…doth wash her fairest face with too many tears” at the prospect of the Earl’s departure.  He hints that her reputation is at risk.  But whether she was quite as weepy as he suggests is debatable: a doleful face before Queen Elizabeth would have got no sympathy, and maybe a slap.

Next, Whyte reports that it was secretly said that she and the Earl were to be married.  Had they contracted to wed on his return from France?

Whatever, the Earl seems to have been, in modern parlance, Over It.

He was 24 with no career to speak of, and in debt.  There was none of the hoped-for glory from the Islands Voyage.  In his absence his executors had leave to sell off any of his properties except those still held by his mother.  He was probably all too keen to get away from Queen Elizabeth’s Court.