104:  My First Parlement

And what a strange thing it was!

When Paws called for order, a fierce stone-cat [tom-cat] leapt onto the wall to serve as our watch.  Though whether he were there to keep us in or others out I knew not.

Another cat rose and arrkst the Queen Cat of Heaven to look with favour on our parlement.

Then Paws sayt, “Are there new members here?”  (Though I swear she saw us enter.)

A black and white cat posed against a wooden bench with copper, brass and eathernware vessels and a pile of cinnamon quills.
Onix, who has employment in an apothecary’s shop.

Onix begged permission to speak.  He sayt he wished to present two that were in the service of the Earl of Southampton.

That caused a stir.  Linkin and I were called to show ourselves.

Paws arrkst who was the member for our household.

I knew not what she meant by that, but Linkin sayt he was.  And that I lodged with him against our Earl’s return from France.  “Which,” added Linkin, “our Earl says he cannot do, because he lacks for money.”

That set all screeching.  “An Earl with no money?” called some.

“Come he must, if Her Majestie commands it,” sayt Paws. “And take his punishment like a lord.  His cat has no place of her own, and his poor wife and her cousin the Earl of Essex must bear all Her Majestie’s wrath.”

Some cats called, “Shame!”

Then Linkin was arrkst to give an account of hisself.

Linkin, Law-Cat and Member of Parlement.

He boasted so well of his learning that he was welcomed by other law-cats, and invited to sit on their committy.

I was left at the back with the likes of Picker and Stealer.

Then came the reports, as ordered by Paws.  Most tedious, save when a cat told of the funeral of old Lord Purrlie [Burghley].

She sayt that the Earl of Essex had come from his hiding place in the country, and wore the sorriest face of all.

“Sorry for hisself, most like,” she added.  “He’ll get nowt by Lord Purrlie’s death.  All the good places old Purrlie held are taken by Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil] and his friends.”

Another arrkst if it were true that Essex was in hiding because Her Majestie had struck him a blow, and he’d wauled most fierce at her.

I pricked my ears, for I knew nowt of that.

But Paws sayt that we’d had no report of any fight, and our parlement was not for gossips’ talk nor slander.

I could scarce keep from yawning.

Then Paws invited talk of Ireland, where ’twas said that the Irishes had been attacking the English mightily, and won a glorious victory.

Some cats sayt that if the English were taking their places, the Irishes should chase them out.

A dark-haired young man with a spade-shaped beard, He's wearing a glossy white satin doublet.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.

Linkin (getting the nod from Paws) sayt, “And if Her Majestie wishes to punish the Irishes, who can she send against them but the Earl of Essex?”

That brought applauds.

“Certes,” sayt Paws, “many hope Essex will return to Her Majestie’s household, but he lies sick a-bed in his house beyond the citie.”

“Sick of old Queen Puss,” sayt I, not soft enough.  Picker and Stealer turned to give me looks.

Then Picker or Stealer – I knew not which – sought to speak.

I feared she meant to have me chased off, and readied myself for flight.

Instead she sayt, “I slander none, but I hear Essex has sayt that even princes can err, and wrong their subjects.  And that no earthly power is infinite.  Can such wild words be true?  Or has fever enflamed his brains?”

Oh, that was suttle.

“I fear,” sayt Linkin (having the nod again) “that the most noble and heroick Essex has stepped forth upon a slender branch.  We must pray it bears his weight, lest he should fall and look fool.”

That brought great applauds.

How well Linkin could play at politicks.  And Picker and Stealer too.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe fight between Queen Elizabeth and Essex occurred at a meeting on 30 June or 1 July 1598.  Sir Robert Cecil and the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, were also there, and the Clerk of the Signet.

In the absence of a record by anyone present, modern historians rely on the brief account written some years later by William Camden (1551-1623) in his history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Camden calls it a “sharp dissention”.

Queen Elizabeth, from the first volume of Camden’s Annales (1625 edition).

The Lord Deputy of Ireland had recently died, and there was an argument (apparently driven by rivalry between Essex and Sir Robert Cecil) over who should replace him.

When Queen Elizabeth dismissed Essex’ suggestion, he turned his back on her.  She gave him “a cuff on the ear and bade him be gone…”.  He placed his hand on his sword hilt.  The Lord Admiral stepped between them.

Essex announced that he couldn’t swallow such treatment, nor would he have taken it from King Henry VIII – Elizabeth’s father, with whom she liked to be compared.

He left the Court and went to his house at Wanstead (now part of greater London).  He remained there throughout July and August resisting his friends’ and allies’ advice to make peace with Queen Elizabeth, and appearing only at Lord Burghley’s funeral on 30 August.

Essex seems to have been prone to bouts of depression, but after Lord Burghley’s funeral he became dangerously ill.  He was then forgiven by Queen Elizabeth.

The story of the “dissention” has grown in the telling.  Essex was later reported to have also said that the Queen’s conditions (disposition) were as crooked as her carcass – or words to that effect.  He may well have made this remark at some stage, but I find it hard to believe that even he would have said it in her hearing.


100:  Of Citie Cats and Conies

There came the day when I resolved to pass beyond the citie wall, come what may.

A large three-storey brick building, built over an archway with a portcullis.
Ludgate, from a drawing c1650 via Wikimedia Commons. It probably looked much the same when Tricks saw it in 1598.

I sat above the street that led to the gate, watching people trudge below me.  Then I heard a man commanding all to make way.

They did, but with sour looks.

Behind the man walked four harnessed horses.  They drew one of those new-fangle carts that fine folks call a coach.  Another man sat on the coach, holding their reins.

I sprang onto its roof, and lay flat as a flounder.  I hearked women’s voices within – a lady and her gentlewoman, I guessed – but none heeded me.

Once through the gate and over the Bridge of Stinks [the Fleet bridge], I glimpsed a second great gate ahead.  And was vexed, for none had told me of it.

Which was the gate by the inns for skollers of the law?  The gate that Essex’ House lay near?

I was wearie of gates.  And small enough, most like, to slip beneath a shut one.

So I sprang from the coach and hid myself in a churchyard, there to wait until the road was clear.  I caught a coney [rabbit] for my supper.

After I’d ate, two starvelings slipped from the shadows and fell upon my leavings.

“Eat, and welcome, friends,” sayt I.  “Pray tell me, is that great house yonder for skollers of the law?”

They gave me saucie looks.

“Sure,” sayt one, “they’re studious in there.”

The other sayt, “They leave that house more cunning than they was when they came in.”

I was about to offer thanks, when the first sayt, “Pray forgive us, friend.  We took you for a cat.”

“But now we know you’re a coney of another kind,” sayt the second.

Each snapped a last morsel of my rabbit, and skipped away.

I followed them, but turned westward across the rooves.  When I came among tall trees I arrkst myself, Is this where Essex dwells?

An orange, black and white cat standing on a tiled roof against a background of trees.

But, so nigh to the river and far from the road, I had no hope of finding any marks left by little dog Wattie.

Then I saw another cat watching me, peaceable enough.  He turned his head aside when I eyed him.

I took his scents.  Never had I nosed so many coming off one cat!  Nutmeg, pepper, cloves; no end of costly spices.  Then parsley, sage, and rue.  Mixed with other herbs and roots I knew, but couldn’t name.

He was as perfumed as a pomander.

He’d took my scents, too.  He arrkst me, sudden, where I’d caught the coney.

“By the citie gate,” sayt I, most courteous.  “And I hope I robbed none by so doing.  In truth, I offered the choicer parts to two lean sisters who came by.  But I fear hunger stole their wits, for they spake in riddles.  And called me coney, too.”

“Picker and Stealer, they call theirselves,” sayt he.  “They haunt the prison, and learn wicked talk there.”

The prison?

“Then where,” I arrkst, “is the Earl of Essex’ house?”

He stepped from our tree onto the wall at the river’s edge.  “There,” he sayt.  “See the torch that lights his stairs?  But I believe all places in his house are taken.  Who would not serve Essex?”

“I seek no place,” sayt I (untruthful). “I’m in the service of my lord of Southampton.”

“What?” cried he, starting up.  “Is his lordship come?  When shall they be wed?”

“Can no London cat speak plain?” I arrkst.  “When shall who be wed?”

“Why, your Earl and his fair mistress that’s cousin to noble Essex.  She has a kit in her belly.”

He seemed about to say more, but there came a fearful howl.

I looked down to see a great cat whose scars and scabs bore witness to many a bloodie fray, then up to see my new friend flee.

I followed him.  We ran along the wall beside the dark river.

“That villain can’t catch us now,” sayt my friend, pausing to rest.  “He’s too old and slow.”

I sat beside him.

He sayt, “Yonder lies the prison, where nimble cats can cross into the citie.  Picker and Stealer showed me the way.”

Below me the dark water licked at another set of stairs.  Above, the Queen Cat of Heaven’s myriad eyes dimmed themselves against the coming day.

And, mazed as I was by all I’d seen and heared that night, I knew I loved this citie.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorLike many an impatient traveller, Tricks alights from the coach too soon.  She should have stayed until it passed through Temple Bar, where Fleet Street became The Strand.  Then she could have disembarked in front of Essex House.

Instead she mistook the prison of Bridewell for an Inn of Court, to the delight of Picker and Stealer.  “Coney” was an Elizabethan term for any gullible soul who could be easily caught, i.e. conned.

A pen and ink drawing of a female rabbit and a male rabbit in Elizabethan dress.Or, as we might say, a dumb bunny.

Small booklets, purportedly written to warn respectable folk about the wiles of coney-catchers, were popular and entertaining reading.

There was no Embankment in those days.  The mansions by the river had their own “stairs” – steps down to private jetties.

Tricks’ fragrant friend seems to have known a way onto Bridewell’s wall and then its roof.  Bridewell had been one of Henry VIII’s palaces, and later an ambassador’s residence.  In the 1550s it was given to the city to serve as an orphanage, house of correction for disorderly women, and later a workhouse for vagrants.

During Bridewell’s better days, a covered corridor had been built over the River Fleet to give access to additional lodgings in Blackfriars.  If this corridor was still in existence in 1598, the cats may have used its roof as a bridge.