40: Old Gib Cats and Mighty Queens

Dappled catMy household has been in disarray.  I never before saw so many strange folk about the house and yard.  And many carts come and go.

The kitchen cat sayt new cooks are here.  Which means great folks are too.  I arrkst myself, Were the Countess or my lady Moll come? For me?

I hid myself in the stable.

When I was left forlorn at this place, I wished to be sent for.  But now I have friends here, and fame as a poet.

For a time, I believed my lord would come here when he ended his studies at college.  Then I heared that he was at Gray’s Inn, and I wondered if that was where the fearsome spy cat Master Grey lodged.

Linkin the Law Cat
Linkin the Law Cat

But Linkin the Law Cat (and Know All) sayt that Gray’s Inn was an inn among other inns where good industrious boys go to learn the law so they might get their honest livings, and idle rich boys go to joy theirselves ere they live off the honest toil of others.

(By “good boys” Linkin means his master, and by “idle boys” he means my lord, but I did not quarrel with him.)

Next, Linkin told me that Lord Purrlie [Burghley] wants my lord to marry, and has a wife ready.  But my lord has arrkst for time to think on it.

It shames me that I must hear this from Linkin. 

Linkin’s master writes from London to his prating puritan mother, and she reads passages from his letters to her household.

None writes to me.

As I lay concealed in the stable thinking on all this, I heared a young stone-cat come by calling, “Newes, newes.”

I made haste to our Field to hear him.

This cat sayt he had gone a-courting, and travelled far.  He met many cats along the way.  One told of an old gib cat who spake of a palace where once he’d been received with honour.  Now a mighty queen had been admitted at its gate.

All the stone-cats pricked their ears.  They love a tale of queens.

A blue cat, close-up in grass
Gib’s friend Smokie

I pricked mine, too.  Could this palace be the house where I once lived?  And he that these young cats call “an old gib” my sweet friend Smokie?

Joyed as I was to have word of him (and to me he never can be old), I was troubled that I too may seem an old gib.

’Tis true I’ve seen ten winters, which is more than most cats do.  But they go young from this world.

I whispered to Nero, “How many winters have you seen?”

A close-up of a black cat
Nero

He was listening to the young cat’s newes, and did not reply.

I arrkst, “Are we old gibs?”

He answered, “I’m not a gib, I’m a castrato.  I sing very fine.”

I had forgot he claims to be Italian.

The young cat sayt this mighty queen did eat, at breakfast, three oxen and one hundred and forty geese.  Then she went out into the yard and killed three or four deer.  And later many bucks were killed for her delight, and a pond emptied of its fish.

All marvelled that any cat could eat so much.

In a trice it come to me.  I called, “This were no queen cat, but a woman.  She that the night-walking spy cat Master Grey calls the Great Queen.  And many call Her Majestie.”

The young cat arrkst, “How can that be?  The old gib sayt that in his shop, folk call her Queen Puss.”

“Friend,” I sayt, “The worthy gib of whom you speak is my friend, and the cat you met with was mistook.  She that the common folk call Queen Puss [Queen Bess] is a woman.”

“Blasphemious!” called some.  (Puss is one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven.  Only we cats may have it, in her honour.)

Linkin sayt, “Then all that meat was eat by her wolvish friends.”

The Mad Cat cried, “Locusts!”

“And,” called Nero, not to be outdone, “there be sailors with hurts and maims who never were rewarded for their service in the wars.  They’re now starving unto death, and their poor cats with them.”

“I hear tell,” sayt Linkin, “the cats of this woman’s household (I will not call her Queen) must join with the rats they’re employed to kill in stealing fish from her pantry, they’re so ill-fed.”

“Be that as it may,” I sayt, “I believe my house is being made ready to receive her.  Think you that I shall be on hand to greet her?  No.  What is’t to her whether she kills a deer or a cat?”

“She can eat of a deer,” called my sister.  “Would she dine on a cat?  I think not.”

My sister and the kitchen cat swore that they would see this Queen Puss and bring a report to our next assembly.

“And,” sayt my sister to me, “as you do not mean to attend upon her, you may come to my barn and watch my kitlings.  For great folks oft have hawks with them, and I do not wish to lose any of my kits.”

“I could not wish for better company,” sayt I, sarcastical.

My sister grows more uppish by the day.

A Hawk on A Falconer's Glove
A Hawk on a Falconer’s Glove

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorSome of Gib’s papers may have been lost, or perhaps he had difficulty finding paper and cut quills?  His previous journal entry would have been written in September 1588; this one can be dated to September 1591.

Gib’s young Earl was awarded his MA from Cambridge in 1589, when he was 16.  Then he went to Gray’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court.  (Linkin’s lawyer master may have studied at Lincoln’s Inn, which would explain Linkin’s name.)

Elizabethan England was a litigious society, and a working knowledge of the law was considered useful for landed gentlemen.  However, the gilded youth at the Inns of Court were more inclined towards dancing, fencing, and the theatre than studying law.

 In August/September 1591 Queen Elizabeth spent 6 days at Cowdray House in Sussex (where Gib once lived) then visited Chichester, Portsmouth, The Place at Titchfield, and probably Southampton.

Each summer Queen Elizabeth made progresses (royal visits) around various parts of southern England.  Her subjects could see her and her court in all their splendour, and areas with suspected pockets of disaffection might be won over.  Such visits were a massive undertaking for all concerned.

Elizabeth travelled with up to three hundred people – courtiers, government officials, their staff and servants – and perhaps a thousand horses.  They were housed by the local nobility and gentry, and anywhere else suitable. To entertain her was an honour and a huge expense.

23: Bright Days

My lady Moll, her mother the Countess, and her ladyship’s old father are at their house in the town.  And I hear tell that they will see my young lord.  But I am not displeased to be here.

Grey cat is enjoying natureI have Smokie for company, and I never had so fair a friend.

I’ve attended many milkings with him.  The first time I kept back, but after the young mistress had filled her pail she was most loving to me.

She arrkst me whence I came, and stroked my head.

Now I go near like Smokie do.  Oh, how we curl our tongues about, first to catch the squirts of milk the young mistress offers us and then to lick our whiskers.

An English Longhorn Cow sitting in grass.
Cows are not Poetick

I also arrkst Smokie’s friend the cow if she would like to hear a tale wherein a lady loved a bull, and tricked him so she bore a calf-boy.

(I thought I could tell her that part onlie, and leave out the matter of the young cats.)

But all this cow sayt was:  Bulls may be fool, but they not so verie fool.

And Smokie sayt that cows are not poetick.

A Blue Cat. On grass.Another of our pastimes is to take the sun in Smokie’s garden, where he keeps watch for thieving birds and mice whilst I devise a new tale.

One day not long since, Smokie was mopish.  He sayt he had been with his mistress in the garden, where she was pulling out little plants.  He saw some remaining, so he (meaning no harm, he sought onlie to help) followed her along the row, attacking them.

But his mistress looked back and cried:  What, all my little seedlings gone?  Every one?  And she waxed wroth, calling him a bad cat.  So he ran off and left her to her labours.  “She’ll get no more help from me,” sayt Smokie.  “She may kiss mine arse.”  (He learn such strong talk in the smith’s shop.)

Gib's House, (i.e. Cowdray House) from an 18th century painting by John Keyse Sherwin that shows the two front towers of the gatehouse.
Gib’s House, (i.e. Cowdray House) from an 18th century painting by John Keyse Sherwin that shows the front towers of the gatehouse.

To cheer him I offered to show him my house.  We went in by the gate and up into a tower where we looked through the windows and saw the world.

We also saw the keeper come out from his tower where he was drinking with his friends, and make his mark against a wall.  (Now that the great folks and their servants are away they who keep this house are idle, and invite their idle friends here.)

Smokie thought the towers were the house, but I sayt no, this be but the gatehouse.  I ran down to greet the keeper, and he oped the second gate for us.  We went into the great court [courtyard].

That brinded cat I fought was there, but durst not say a word.  Smokie took a drink from the fountain, not because he thirsted, but to show the brinded rascal he may do so if chooses.  And he marvelled to see the house stand all around the court and us.

What a day that was!   We chased each other round the Hall and up the stairs.  We climbed the cloths that hang from the walls, and Smokie sayt their stitching gives our claws good purchase.  The wall cloths in his house are but painted.

I led him to the kitchen and was shamed that none offered us refreshment, but Smokie did not remark it.

He was too mazed by my house.  When I told him he had not seen one quarter of it, he sayt it was a verie palace, and he’d never hoped to enter so great a house in all his life.

Then he went home with no thoughts of revenge.  For he sayt he forgave his mistress her hard words to him, as she would forgive him his error. 

And I am so happy in this place I do marvel that ever it misliked me.

The Courtyard - looking west towards the two rear towers of the gatehouse.
The Courtyard – looking west towards the rear of the gatehouse.  This image and the one beside it are from “Cowdray:  The History of a Great English House” by Mrs Charles Roundell, 1884. (Internet Archive)
The Hall at Cowdray House
The Hall at Cowdray House