My lord has come hither. He offended Queen Puss. But who has not?
He did no more than strike an insolent rogue, who then ran squealing to her.
What a cowbaby.
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 Howit [Frances Howard], but she has another name because she has a husband.
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 heared 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.
Gib would have written this in early February 1598. It seems the Earl visited Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France. Sir Robert hoped to dissuade Henri IV from making peace with Spain.
Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.
Frances Howard (1578-1639) – then Prannell, next Seymour, and finally Stuart – was a poor relation of the powerful Howard family.
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. Forman assured her she wasn’t. But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter? In London or away on business? 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 spoke to them again, threatening 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? Had Willoughby told Elizabeth Vernon about it, or made some other remark that annoyed her?
Rowland Whyte 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”. He hints that her reputation could be 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?
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.