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.


73:  Newes of My Lord

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

I’ve writ little of late.  My niece was fire-hot for her lessons, and that kept me occupied.  Then she disappeared.

Gone to find a handsome stone-cat or two that might occupy her.  Or so I believe.  Such is the way of the world.

I went to the Cat’s Field, but did not see her there.

Linkin gave newes.  He sayt Her Majestie was wearie of the Earl of Essicks [Essex], and had showed our Earl some favour.

Linkin oft knows newes from London.  He hears it from his mistress, whose son dwells there.

But I knew more of this than Linkin did.  True, Her Majestie was most kind to my lord, but then she offered him an insult.

My lord went to hand her to her horse, and she disdained him before all.  He was so shamed he had no choice but to quit her household.

He’s back there now, but I do not think he will forgive her.  Nor would I.

The Earl of Essex (and his horse) dressed for jousting. Attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.
The Earl of Essex (and his horse) dressed for jousting.

My lord never wisht to take the place of Essicks, who is his friend.  But the truth is, our Earl and his friends must strive to please the old Queen, because they can do nowt without she say so.

Should they wish to marry, travel over sea for their education, or join an expedition to have at the Spanish or some other enemie, they must seek her permission.  And she loves to say, No.

The other cats could scarce believe their ears when I told of this.

One arrkst, “Which among us ever sought permission from any?  Save our mother?”

Another added, “And not always her, if truth be told.”

At our next meeting I gave newes of the great celebration that is held every year to mark the day Her Majestie first took her place.

Dressed for jousting: George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558-1603) - by Nicholas Hilliard.
The Queen’s Champion: George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558-1605) – by Nicholas Hilliard.

All love a celebration, even if they no longer love the reason for it.

Many lords and horses don fine armour and make a great show of theirselves.  Play-fighting, that they call the just [joust].

My lord rode in the just as Bevis of Southampton.

A great screech went up then.  All hereabouts know the tale of Bevis, and what an evil woman his mother was.

They begged to hear some scandal about our Earl’s mother, the Countess.

I would not tell any.  True, I have slandered our Countess in my poetick fictions, but she was a good wife to her second husband, who died not long since.

“She poisoned him!” came a call.

“No, friend,” I sayt. “That was in our play, and is not true.”

Gib's lord, the Earl of Southampton, with his armour. Artist unknown; probably painted c1598.
Gib’s lord, the Earl of Southampton, with armour.  Artist unknown; probably painted c1599.

But, as all wisht to hear something to make them merrie, I sayt, “Friends, when last my lord was here I caught a scent of queen about him.

“I do not mean a queen-cat, nor Her Majestie.  I mean a young woman.  It was not his sister, Lady Moll.  This was a woman I do not know.

“Has our Earl a sweetheart?  Have they done no more than touch noses and cleanse each other’s ears, as we cats do in amity?  Or has she hoist her tail and let him seize her by the scruff?”

Linkin thought this woman’s name might be Puss Fur-None [Bess Vernon], but he could not swear to it.

“They all called Puss,” he sayt.  “The old Queen is Puss, and all the hot young queens are Puss too.  Many are given to hoisting, which displeases Her Majestie mightily.”

And we arrkst ourselves if that was why the Queen had snibbed our Earl.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this at the end of 1595.  The Earl of Southampton turned 22 in October that year.  A few points:

The young Earl was briefly tipped by court gossips to become Queen Elizabeth’s new favourite.  She was growing weary of the sulks and self-promotion of the brilliant but erratic Earl of Essex.  However, nothing came of it.  Perhaps the Queen was using Southampton to show Essex he was disposable.  A tricky situation for Southampton, who wouldn’t have wanted to annoy either Essex or the Queen.

The annual celebration Gib refers to is Accession Day on 17 November, when an elaborate display of jousting was put on.  The poet and playwright George Peele wrote an account of the 1595 occasion in Anglorum Feriae: England’s Holidays.

Puss Fur-None, better known as Elizabeth Vernon (c1573-1655?) was Essex’s cousin, and one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids-of-honour.  Southampton’s interest in “the faire Mistress Vernon” was court gossip by September 1595.

The Queen wouldn’t have approved.  Her maids-of-honour were the most junior of her well-born female attendants, and there to learn courtly ways.  Queen Elizabeth may have resented their flirtations (sometimes innocent, sometimes not) with her male courtiers.  But she – as that rare being, a single woman ruler – had also to consider the reputation of her household.