70:  At the Cats’ Field

gibs-niece1At our first assembly this spring my little niece leapt up to tell all that her mother was gone from this world.  This angered her grown sister, who had wisht to give the newes.

There was an exchange of insults between them, and I thought they would come to blows. But my little niece yielded, as is proper, and crept over to me.

She still has the scents of my sister about her, most pleasing to my nose.

Then Nero sayt he’d made a verse in my sister’s honour, and walked to the centre of our circle.  He sang:

Not far from this Field now lies

Gib’s good sister, bold and wise,

mother of a throng of kits,

none of whom displays her wits.

When shall we know such another?

All that’s left t’us is her brother.

I knew not what to think of his song, but it would have made my sister merry.

Many praised it, and called for it again.  Then some sang with him.

My little niece whispered, “Nero is a turd.”

I told her that was no way for a young cat to speak of her betters.  I also sayt that Nero is a poet, and may be forgiven a fool word or two used for the sake of his rhyme.

She seemed about to make a sharp retort, but then Linkin came forward with newes from London.

Item:  Old Lord Purrlie’s granddaughter, that he hoped to see wedded to our Earl, has married the Earl of Derby.

Head and shoulders of a young man with dark curly hair and a slight moustach, against a blue background.
A Nicholas Hilliard miniature of a young man, probably the Earl of Essex, in 1588.

“Now Lord Purrlie may lie smug in his bed,” sayt Linkin.

“He found another Earl for her.  But Lord Derby may not lie so smug in his, for many say his new wife has a fancie for the Earl of Essicks [Essex].  There may be scandal to come.”

Many cats were joyed to hear it.  The promise of scandal, I mean, not newes of the wedding.

“Who doesn’t fancie the Earl of Essicks?” called a stone-cat.  “I wish I had his luck with queens both young and old.”

Item:  There is talk that our Earl must pay Lord Purrlie five thousand pounds.

Linkin sayt, “That’s the way, when you’ve been someone’s wart [ward] and refused to marry.  And now our Earl’s of full age he must also sue for his liver [livery, i.e. buy himself out of wardship].  That don’t come cheap, but the Queen will have the money, not Lord Purrlie.”

“Best you fill your belly now,” called Nero to me.  “You may not dine so well soon.”

I think my little niece spake true.

Linkin then told what he knew of the workings of the Court of Warts, like the law cat he is, giving out many Latin words and other strange saws [sayings].  Too tedious to set down here.

A group of men in dark suits with white ruffs seated around a table. Lord Burghley is at the head. There are some onlookers behind partitions.
Lord Purrlie, better known as William Cecil, Lord Burghley, presiding over the Court of Wards & Liveries.

I slipt away, as did several others.  I was near my house before I nosed my little niece following me.

I arrkst her what she did, even though I’d guessed.

“I’ve come to dwell with you,” she sayt.

“Be not so hastie,” I replied.  “Where you’ve not been offered a place, you must creep in by degrees.”

“I know that,” sayt she, in her saucie way.  “I’ve friended the cats who keep our Earl’s stable, and will lie there a while.”

I do believe she may grow to be a tricksie queen.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorElizabeth de Vere (1575 -1627) married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (1561-1642) in January 1595.  Incidentally, William Stanley is another – along with Elizabeth’s father, the Earl of Oxford – who’s been proposed as the writer of “Shakespeare”.

The Court of Wards & Liveries (to give it its full name) oversaw the management of the royal wards. Officially the Queen’s, their guardianship was sold to others.

The advantage in having a royal ward was twofold.  Along with administering part of their estate and receiving income from it (a practice open to abuse), you had the “benefit” of their marriage.  That is, the right to arrange it.

Marrying an heir to a member of your family was an attractive option.  Wards were under no legal obligation to accept their guardian’s choice of spouse, but one who dug his or her heels in (as the young Earl of Southampton did) could find themselves having to pay their guardian a substantial fine when they came of age.

There’s no record of the Earl of Southampton ever paying Lord Burghley £5000, but it seems generally accepted that he did.  There’s some additional info here about the Court, and the young Earl’s wardship and financial situation.

60: A Goodly Pageant

A miniature painting of Gib, the Earl's cat. Gib is white with blue-grey dapples, and green eyes - enhanced by the green background of the painting.Such a throng of cats was there.  Many had come from afar, walking by night and hiding by day for their greater safety.

This was a thing we’d not foreseen, but (sayt Nero) the more the merrier.

The cats who dwell hereabouts sayt they would chase away these incomers as soon as our entertainment was done.  They feared they’d take our places and steal our vittles.

I hoped they would spread our fame abroad.

“Say rather, spread your false imaginations,” sayt the Mad Cat.

And though our play is fool, when I stepped forth as hungrie Lion Rampant and saw many in our audience rise and claw the air in like manner, my heart swoll within me.

One thing we did forget.  Viz, how kitlings love to imitate cats.  And how apt they are to learn.

The kitlings were to show, in silence, what we told.  Save our Maggot (my niece).  For her I writ two little songs.

But the kit we’d chose to play the cook took it into his head to die with speeches.  

He stood like me (Lion Rampant) and squeaked out to his fellow that played young Ox-Foot, “What, my lord, will you murder me?”

Brown spotted kitten standing on its hind legs in a fun fight.I made haste to hold him down, so I could give out my lines on the taste of his blood.

“Help, help!” he cried.

His fond mother, seated near, mistook his cries and my intent.  She came at me very fierce.

But I’m quick in my wits, and have read many play books. I sayt:

Good cook, forbear, you have already died!

Madame, away with him!  Bear his corpse aside.

She dragged him off, he squeaking all the while, “Ox-Foot has killed me.  Alas, I am dead.”

Likewise when two kits – young Ox-Foot and Old Hamton’s wife – acted the killing of Old Hamton.  The kit that played Old Hamton rose up and fought with them instead of dying quiet.

But I believe our audience saw nowt amiss.  How they beat their tails upon the earth to match the measure of our verse!

How they screeched when Ox-Foot killed Lord Purrlie, and when the Queen fought Ox-Foot!

And doubtless they saw the frensied kits now flying back and forth (unrehersed) as servants and the like.

A woman came from a cottage nearby and flung a piece of coal into our Field.  All hushed then, lest a dog be loosed at us.

But, Ox-Foot and the Queen having spake their last, I thought it best to die without much ado.

A tide of kits (as imps from hell, come for our souls) swept across the ground.  The kitchen cat gave out young Hamton’s speech, and so our play ended.

Then Nero sprang up and led all in song.

A black cat looking fierceHe sang, “Who was it killed the poor cook?” and all replied, “It was the Earl of Ox-Foot.”

And so on, with many questions too lewd to be writ here.

“Who was it sired young Hamton?”  “It was the Earl of Ox-Foot.”  “Who then begged him to scruff his wife?”  “It was the Earl of Ox-Foot.”

“And who would Ox-Foot next have killed?” Nero sang at last. 

I called “Our own Earl!”

“Our own Earl!” sang all. “Our own Earl!”

A cottage door swung wide.  A shoe came flying at us.

All scattered then.  But not before two stone-cats had run to the shoe and set their marks on it.

We went a way off, and made revel-rout till dawn.  Such creepings and leapings, such prancings and dancings, such callings and waulings and brawlings.

The Mad Cat sayt, “Your goodly pageant being done, now see what mischiefs you have wrought.”

Our kitchen cat sayt she never had such a time in all her life.

And I never had such great applauds.  But I believe I may be full of shame on the morrow.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib describes his play as fool.  However, a theory that the Earl of Oxford was the Earl of Southampton’s biological father has currency among some who believe that Oxford wrote “Shakespeare”.

The notion that the Earl of Southampton was the biological father of Oxford’s son has surfaced too.  (It’s complicated.)  But could Gib’s false imaginations have contributed to this?  As I’ve said before, I’m surely not the only person in the past 400 years to have deciphered his writings.