150:  The Fatal Day

Our household was up and doing before first light. 

Our mistress had ready a bottle of ale, and was wrapping little breads.  The master’s sweetheart came by soon after with her son.  They had refreshments in a bag.

Linkin and I, not liking visitors at dawn, went upon our roof for quiet.

There we saw a sight.  A glummish procession of barges was coming up the river.  Essex and our Earl being carried from the Tower to Westminster Hall.

Many were about that morn.  None durst do more than whisper blessings.  There were men with muskitts in the barges, lest any should attempt a rescue.

The master had paid a waterman to await him at Black-Fryes stairs.  He sayt ’twere best they went early, because the ways all about Westminster Hall would be throng. 

After they was rowed away Linkin and I sat a while, swivel-eared.  When the hum in the west dulled, Linkin sayt, “All that should be in are in, and it has begun.”

We went to warm ourselves at our hearth.  Linkin told me that first to enter the Hall would be the Judges and the Queen’s Counsel. Then the Lord High Constable of the Tower would bring in the Earls.

The Gentleman Porter would carry the ax before them.

“What!” I cried. “Will they have their heads cut off this day?”

“No,” sayt Linkin.  “’Tis but a show.  When they enter, the ax’s edge is turned away from them.  When they’re found guilty, the Gentleman Porter will hold the ax with its edge toward them.”

Westminster Hall in the early 19th century. It probably looked much the same, though not empty, when the Earls were tried in 1601.

Then Luvvie the Player sayt that this were the greatest show in London.  How he envied the cats that keep Westminster Hall!  They would see and hear all, and what an entertainment they could make of it for their friends.

I told him to keep his thoughts to hisself.  Else I would write to Sir Rabbit.  And tell him of a cat that came across the river with the complices who bespake the treasonable play, and where that cat might be found.

That so affrighted Luvvie he troubled us no more that day.

Then Linkin sayt he knew his own days were numbered, but he daily thanked the Queen Cat of Heaven that he’d lived long enuff for this.  The greatest trial here that ever was held in the reign of Queen Puss.

What of the trial of Scotland’s Queen whose days were ended by old Lord Purrlie?” I arrkst.

“She weren’t tried in London,” sayt Linkin.  “As you would know, had you been living then.”

I forgave him that snib.  He were the last cat from my kitlinghood, and when he went from this world there would be none betwixt me and the dark to which all must return.

And I remembered a thing my uncle Gib oft sayt when he was meloncollie: “What a fragile thing is life, yet how careless we are of it.”

Then, lest he grew too fragile hisself, he would go to the kitchen in search of choice meats.

But it was a long, meatless day that Linkin and I endured, awaiting newes of the trial.  

’Twas after dark when our mistress, the master, and their friends came in, crying of their need for drinks as they hasted to the master’s chamber.

Linkin and I ran with them.  The gentlewomen were speaking kindly of the Earls, the gentlemen unkindly of two men I knew not.

Sir Edward Coke, Attorney-General.

Cook.  And Bacon.

Alas.  Even as I settled myself to hear more I was troubled by sudden wamblings in my womb.  I could think of nowt but a dish of well-cooked bacon.

Such wamblings are a thing we poor queen cats must endure.

They’re caused by the little wrigglers in the dark that take every word we hear into their bellies before they’re grown enuff to have brains.

But, kitling-brained and longing for bacon as I now was, I hearked all that was said around me and will set it down as best I can.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earls of Essex and Southampton stood trial on Thursday 19 February 1601

Leading the prosecution was the Attorney-General Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), with the solicitor Francis Bacon (1561-1626). 

Francis Bacon c1617

Essex had originally been Bacon’s patron and friend, and had tried to get him appointed as Attorney-General.  When the position went to Coke, Essex unsuccessfully pursued the position of Solicitor-General for Bacon.

Bacon knew Essex well, and had been one of his chief advisers.  In the small world of the Elizabethan elite, he was also Sir Robert Cecil’s cousin.

Bacon distanced himself from Essex in late 1599.  As one of the Queen’s solicitors he had little choice, but his appearance for the prosecution might still have raised a few eyebrows.

There was no defense counsel in those days.  The Earls of Essex and Southampton defended themselves.  Not an impossible task for the extraordinarily well-educated, who were often trained in disputation at university, but more difficult for everyone else.

The trial lasted from somewhere between 8.00 and 9.00 in the morning until almost 7.00 in the evening.  Did the spectators take snacks and drinks into the Hall with them, or did they fill up before they went in?  And what of other necessary breaks?  I don’t know.

I’ve heard what Elizabethan theatre audiences were inclined to do in the days before intervals… .  But at a trial?  On the august floor of Westminster Hall?