39:  Wicked Tongues and Clean Whiskers

A black and white cat doing a happy danceOh, we’ve been merry of late.

The Spanish have sailed eastward, so will not land near us. Nero brought this newes.  His master has returned from Portsmouth, where he went to aid in the defences.

Our ships fought four times with the Spanish as they came along the narrow sea [the Channel].

We cats heared the fight for our island [Wight].  Then, when the Spanish lay off the coast of France, our ships attacked them there, doing some hurt.

“And would have done more, had they powder enough,” sayt Nero.

All the Mad Cat would say, when arrkst in jest what more the Queen Cat of Heaven has told him, is, “I know what I know.”

Linkin’s master writ from London that he saw the Queen’s Majestie, most richly bejewelled, upon a white horse.  She made a fine speech to hearten her soldiers.

“She’d hearten them more if she paid them,” sayt Linkin.

We screeched at that.  Then we loosed our wicked tongues on Lord Lester [Leicester] who commands the soldiers.  Some arrkst, “When did he ever win a fight?”

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. By Nicholas Hilliard, c1576.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. By Nicholas Hilliard, c1576.

I called, “Pray, friends, be respective.  Lord Lester has a very good place in Her Majestie’s household.  He alone is permitted to seize her by the scruff.”

Another screech.

Linkin sayt, “She has a young Earl now that she keeps very close.”

“She loves them young,” sayt my sister.  “She’ll be calling for our Earl next.”

I liked not that word “our”.  But I made the best of it by showing I know more than my sister does.  I offered scandal, and all pricked their ears.

First, I told of the old Earl and his maggot, as I have writ long since.  Then I sayt, “We need not fear that our young Earl will be as mad as his father.  The old Earl did not put our Earl-kit in his mother’s belly.”

“How know you that?” all cried.

In truth, I heard a whisper when I was a kitling.  But I sayt, very grand, “I discovered this by arithmetickal and astrologickal calculation.

A Full Moon“After our queens hoist their tails, they watch the moon wax fat twice before their kits come forth.

“But women are slow in their doings.  They must watch the moon wax nine times.  Our young Earl was birthed in leaf-fall, not long from that wondrous night when ghosts creep about.

“And where was the old Earl nine moons before?  He had not wit enough to hide his papistry, so was locked in the Tower.”

Oh, what joy it is to spread slander from behind a mask of virtue.

The queen cats were mazed.  “What?” they called.  “Nine fat moons?  To bring forth one yowling little stinkard?”

“But,” sayt the kitchen cat from my household, “were our Countess hot enough, she’d have found a way into the Tower.  Clawed at the door till the gate keeper gave her admittance.  Or leapt onto the leads [roof] and clamb down the chimney.”

“True,” sayt another.  “Women may be slow, but they’re as tricksie as we.”

Then all ran off, saying they hoped to hear more scandal soon.

I arrkst Linkin, “Did your master see my lord with the Queen and her soldiers?”

The Countess's Catlick father, better known as Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague.
The Countess’s Catlick father, better known as Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague (1528-1592).  From a painting by Hans Eworth.

“He sent no report of it.  But your old Catlick lord was there.”

“The Countess’s father?  He that laps up the pap of Error but shows clean whiskers to the Queen?”

“The same.  He came well-armed, with his sons, and brought a troop of horse [cavalry].  He sayt he will hazard all he possesses in Her Majestie’s defence.”

I marvelled at that.  For within the walls of my household, ‘twas whispered that one of the old Catlick lord’s brothers was with the Spanish.

Great folks are suttle, for which I offer thanks.  It come to me that whether the Spanish conquer or no, my household and my place in it are safe.

A Map showing the route the Spanish took around the British Isles. (Augustine Ryther)
A Map showing the route the Spanish took around the British Isles. Engraved by Augustine Ryther (?-1593)

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThere are no real grounds for doubting the legitimacy of Gib’s lord, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.  However, the cats’ lively view of how his mother the Countess conducted her conjugal visits might help explain a myth.

In 1790 the naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) published Some Account of London, which ran through several editions.  In it he writes: “A very remarkable accident befell Henry Wriothsly, earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the Earl of Essex in his fatal insurrection; after he had been confined there [the Tower] a small time, he was surprized by a visit from his favourite cat, which had found its way to the Tower; and, as tradition says, reached its master by descending the chimney of his apartment…”

The 3rd Earl of Southampton, 1603, aged about 29, with a black and white cat.Thomas Pennant is writing about the 3rd Earl, and suggests that his “Tower portrait” with a cat might be the foundation of the tale.

Gib’s memoirs might also be part of the foundation.  It’s unlikely that I’m the only person in over 400 years to have deciphered them.  Even though the cats were talking about a different Earl (the father, not son) and his wife (not cat), they did refer to climbing down a chimney.

Plus, along the way, the Tower cat of tradition seems to have acquired the name Trixie (Tricksie?) though I didn’t see a name in Thomas Pennant’s book.

A few more points:

Elizabeth I delivered her famous speech to the troops in August 1588 at Tilbury, on the north bank of the Thames.  By then the Duke of Medina Sidonia, unable to make any useful connection with the Duke of Parma, was returning to Spain.  The route was to be up the east coast of England, around Scotland, and down the west coast of Ireland.  A combination of fierce winds and unfamiliar seas turned his withdrawal into disaster.

The Duke of Parma, who’d embarked his army at Dunkirk but was threatened by Protestant Dutch ships, never left port.

Viscount Montague’s brother William had sailed with the Armada, as did a number of Englishmen.  There were also Englishmen in the Duke of Parma’s multinational army. William Browne didn’t survive the battle of Gravelines “off the coast of France”.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died in September 1588, aged about 56.  The Queen’s “young Earl” was the 22 year old Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (and Leicester’s stepson).  He’d been high in her favour since 1587, but no-one occupied the place in Elizabeth’s affections that Robert Dudley, whom she’d known since childhood, had.

15: We Go Our Ways

A spotted cat looking up _copyright_Fotolia 13455661My lord was not yet abed when I crept into his chamber.  He arrkst me if I had seen a ghost.  I spake to him aloud, saying ghosts did not affright me.

And I told him this was not the night when they come from their holes and walk.  I had met a wicked night-walking cat that called hisself Grey and made threats against my very life.

I swear my lord took my meaning, for he sayt. “What? Is that true?” and, “Say you so?” and “Oh, poor Bevis.”

He took me in his arms, but then called me a stinkard and told a fellow to take and cleanse me. The rogue received me most courteous, but once away he held me out at arm’s length by my scruff.

And he sowsed me beneath the pump while others helped hold me, or stood by to laugh.  Some dogs watched, too.

Then the man who gibbed [neutered] me came from the buttery where he’d been drinking with the cooks.  He told the rogues to leave off, and to think shame for tormenting a poor cat that never did them no harm.

I was never so shamed in all my life.

As I ran off I bethought me of Grey’s words about keeping close to the young lady.  So it was not to my lord’s chamber but to my lady Moll’s that I went to warm and dry myself.

I sat by her fire, where it come to me that the old Earl had showed a lack of sutiltie in using his Countess so ill, her being kin to the Lord Lecher.  Lester [Leicester], I should say.

It also come to me that it was true my lord was in need of correction.  And that my sowsing, in part, might have been meant for him.  For he had been of late what the common sort (and his lady sister) do call a little shit.

He sayt that now he’s an Earl none may tell him what to do.  And he would go to live in another of his fine houses without us.

Or, that he wished to go to Lord Purrlie’s house, because there he would have other Earls for his school fellows.  Not fools such as we.

The next day, my lord was most loving to me.  Then I watched from a window as he and his attendants rode away. 

I kept close to my young lady.  There came the day when one brought my crate new-lined with straw to her chamber.  My basket was put in and I with it.  The lid was tied down.  I saw there was a cup in one corner of my crate so I could take a drink along the way.

Cowdray House, from a painting by S.H. Grimm.
Cowdray House, from a painting by S.H. Grimm, 1781. The exterior was probably much the same when Gib went there in 1581.

I was put on a cart with a great many boxes and chests.  Two of the little house dogs were lifted on to ride with me.

Then a cover was flung over all, the horses heared the word, and the cart lurched forward.

A tedious voyage with poor company that yapped mightily of nothing.  

My drink spilled, and I had nowt to eat save a piece of pie-crust with no gravy at one place where we rested, and a few morsels of cheese at another.  (I saw no wits in the cheese.)

And I had no choice but to ease myself in the straw of my crate.  An horrible thing for a cat, for we are nicer in this matter than most I could name.

Thus I came to this strange house, and here endeth the True Relation of my life so far.

A portrait of Gib, the narrator, a dappled blue and white cat.As writ by me, Gib, sometimes called Bevis, and Poet to the young Earl of Southampton.  (But truly, I had not thought of assuming the office of Poet until Master Grey told me of it.)

P.S.  One last thing.  The cats did marvel that the old Earl was not yet buried. 

So I called to my sister and the few gathered to see me leave that his funeral was delayed because of the maggots.  “Thrift, friends, thrift.  The more they maggots eat of him, the smaller the fine house they must build to lodge him in may be.”

An embellishment for them to remember me by.

The second Earl of Southampton's tomb effigy on the Wriothesley Monument in St Peter's Church, Titchfield. The effigy above his is his mother's. Photo by Mike Searle, via Wikimedia Commons.
The second Earl of Southampton’s tomb effigy on the Wriothesley Monument in St Peter’s Church, Titchfield. The effigy above his is his mother’s. Photo by Mike Searle, CC BY-SA 2.0. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.Gib’s indifference to the human calendar is frustrating, but it’s likely he started writing his True Relation in December 1581 (after being banned from the library at Cowdray House), and probably spent two or three months scratching away at it.  Writing with a quill pen held between your toes would not be easy.

The old Earl of Southampton died at Itchel Manor in Hampshire on 4 October 1581, two days before his son’s 8th birthday.

In mid-October the Countess wrote to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, seeking his help in limiting Thomas Dymock’s power over the administration of the will, and therefore over her children’s inheritances.  See my note to 10: About the Old Earl’s Will

From her letters (as printed in C.C. Stopes’ biography) it looks as if the young Earl was taken to another household around this time or shortly after.  His sister Mary (Gib’s Lady Moll) was delivered to her mother at Cowdray House in Sussex towards the end of November.  The old Earl’s funeral took place at Titchfield in Hampshire a couple of days later.