112: Going to the War

A small picture of a few people in a snowy street.What a winter we had that year.  For many a day Linkin and I scarce stirred from our hearth.

Small wonder that we had no newes but what our master brought.  One time he sayt the river was near froze.

Then, when I wished to step out to see if this were true, snow lay thick upon our roof and folk walked splay-foot in the street.

Next, the master told of a poet who’d died.  His corpse was taken to the Abbey, where many poets gathered to mourn him.

They read out verses in his praise, then dropped their quills into the hole where he was laid.

“Old quills past use, most like,” sayt I to Linkin. “Those starvelings would not cast away their good ones.”  And I arrkst him where this Abbey was.

“Many ways from here,” came the answer.

All the master sayt of the poets’ verses was that he’d heard better.

I was joyed to hear that.  My uncle was a famous poet, and he was laid in a hole in our Earl’s garden.  But his fellow poet Nero sang most splendid in his honour.

Linkin and I counted on our claws the winters we had seen.  Linkin thought his numbered fifteen.  Then he sayt he never was so content in all his days, even if he could not leap across the rooves as I did.

That winter was my fourth.  I was not content.  I lodged in a house where the lewd books were kept in a box and any sight worth seeing was “many ways from here”.

“I’ll gain entry to Essex house or die,” I swore to Linkin. “Come spring.”  And how I rejoiced when I first caught its scents, then saw the sun.

I was ready to set forth when little dog Wattie came running wagtail.

He boasted that he would see the Earl of Essex.  Yes, and our Earl too.  And many more fine lords and gentlemen who were going to the war in Ireland.

I pricked mine ears.  The master’s children were speaking of a house in cheap sight [Cheapside] where they could watch all from a window.

“I pray you,” sayt I to Linkin, “do not tell me that cheap sight is many ways off.”

A small black and white cat peering out of the unglazed window of a Tudor house.“No,” sayt he.  “For it lies beyond Paws’ yard [St Paul’s churchyard].  When all leave this house you should follow across the rooves as far as you can go.”

So I went, and on my way saw Onix at his window.

His master and mistress and their kits were gone to see the Earl of Essex too.  When I told him I was bound for cheap sight, he joined me.

And what a sight we saw!

In truth, we were made deaf by the drums and the church bells and the roars of all who called blessings on Lord Essex and his men.

But we sat fast on a high roof, and I also saw our own Earl and his friends ride by.

Many from the streets followed after them, but Onix and I turned for home.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” sayt Onix, carried away.  “And I never saw so many fine horses, nor so many gentlemen.  May the Queen Cat of Heaven pour her blessings on them all!”

Hard upon his utterance came a great clap of thunder, and dark clouds loosed their rain.

Without another word, we fled.  Onix to his house and I to mine, while those below us in the streets sought shelter.

Linkin sayt I came in looking like some villain had near drowned me.

We did not understand the meaning of such foul weather on so bewteous a day.

Had the Queen Cat of Heaven set her mark on us all to show we were under her protection?  Or was this a sign of her displeasure?

A glimpse of 16th Century Cheapside, with the Westcheap Cross in the foreground.
This picture is from a panorama showing Edward VI riding to his Coronation in 1547, but in 1599 Tricks and Onix may have found vantage points on the roof of one the buildings in the background to see the Earls ride by.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe poet Edmund Spenser was buried in Westminster Abbey in January 1599.

A month or so earlier he’d arrived in London from Cork in Ireland, bearing letters for the Privy Council on the dire situation there.  He and his family had fled to Cork city from their home in Kilcolman, County Cork.

What is now referred to as the Nine Years War in Ireland began in 1593, but its origins lay in the Anglo-Norman invasion four centuries earlier.  After that, English rulers regarded themselves as overlords of Ireland, but their influence was pretty much limited to Dublin and the surrounding area known as the Pale.

Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII, had declared himself King of Ireland in 1541, but the native Irish had no interest in being anglicised, nor in accepting him as the head of their church.

The Elizabethan policy of appropriating Irish land as “plantations” for new English settlers (the old ones having become too Irish) gave rival Irish chieftains a common enemy.  By the late 1590s their formidable leader, Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, had inflicted some crushing defeats on English forces in Ireland.  

After the Privy Council had failed to agree on who the next Lord Deputy of Ireland would be, the Earl of Essex was told that, as he opposed the suggestions of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil, he could have the job himself.

Elizabeth never wanted to invest any more money than she had to in Ireland, but nor was she prepared to lose it.  Essex, as Earl Marshal of England and its leading military commander, could hardly refuse the post, though he suspected that his absence from London was exactly what his political rivals wanted.

At the end of 1598 Elizabeth appointed Essex not merely Lord Deputy but Lord Lieutenant (effectively Viceroy).  He left for Ireland in the spring of 1599 as commander of the largest English force sent anywhere since the days of Henry VIII – 16,000 foot and 1300 cavalry – though Tricks and Onix probably saw only a few hundred men parade through London.

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107:  A Kit for Our Earl

Mother Wort, Mug Wort, and Marsh Mallow – all considered helpful to women in labour.

When Onix next called, I meant to tell him of the quarrel betwixt His Harryship and his mother.

Before I could say owt, Onix arrkst me if I knew that Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] had brought forth a pretty she-kit.

I was vexed that I did not.

I arrkst him if his mistress had been called to attend upon her. 

He sayt she’d heard the newes from friends.  And that Lady Southampton (as he called Puss Fur-None) had likely been attended by Lady Rich’s midwife.

(Onix, being a cat of the middling sort, always spake most respective of great folks.)

“By Lady Rich, mean you the lady Penelope?  She that is cousin to Puss Fur-None and own sister to the Earl of Essex?” arrkst I, knowing I’d heard of that lady before.

“The same,” he sayt.  “And certes, Lady Rich has brought forth so many fine kits she would be a fit companion for the young Lady Southampton in her first travail.”

A full length portrait of a dark-eyed, fair-haired woman.
A Nicholas Hilliard miniature thought to be of Penelope, Lady Rich c1590.

“True,” sayt I, still displeased that he’d heard this newes before me.

I arrkst, “Know you why she has so many fine kits? It’s because she took a lesson from us queen cats, and has hoist her tail for more than one stout he.  Lord Rich is still living, but Lord Mountjoy is her husband in all but name.”

“That’s wicked talk,” sayt Onix.

But he did not deny it, nor could he.

Then, as was ever the way when Onix and I were together, Picker and Stealer showed their saucie faces.

I swear they sat upon the citie wall watching for a chance to vex me.

“Well met!” called Picker, averting her eyes most courteous.

“We bring newes to glad your heart,” sayt Stealer.

When villains speak with honey tongues, ’tis time to sharp your wits and wear a face as sweet as their words.

“We thought you should know,” sayt Picker, “that your Earl is come from France.”

“And has been sent to lie in no less a lodging than the Fleet, so gracious is Her Majestie,” sayt Stealer.

“A dank, noisome, and unwholesome place,” sayt Onix.

“It speaks!” cried Picker. “Cry you mercy, friend.  We took you for a scented nose-wipe.”

“Fresh spat into,” added Stealer.  “By one with lung-rot.”

Onix should learn to sharp his wits or keep silent.

I sayt in haste, “Let us be thankful that Earls have better accommodation in prison than you’re ever like to see in a palace.”

“E’en so, he’s cursing Dame Fortune,” sayt Picker.  “What did he win by wedding Puss Fur-None?  No money, nor no land.  An end to his travels.  The wrath of his mother, and the malice of Queen Puss.  And now a mere daughter, to crown all.”

“He told you so hisself, did he?” I arrkst.

“There’s no prison in this citie we can’t slip into,” boasted Stealer.

“Slipping into prison is no great matter,” sayt I.  “Slipping out requires more art.” 

“As your Earl may well learn, if he don’t please Queen Puss,” sayt Picker.

“And how should he do that?  Send her a sonnet in praise of her beauty?”

“Now there’s a merry thought,” sayt Stealer.  “Worse lies are told every day.  And all know poets are liars, in prison or out.”

“Was not your uncle a famous poet?” arrkst Picker.  “And are you not a skoller?  Best you pen a sonnet that your Earl can put his name to.”

“My Earl would not so abase hisself,” sayt I.  “He would rather be a lion on the field of battle than a lamb in the Queen’s presence.”

“Then let us pray that he has a sword that cannot rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swans’ feet.”

“Indeed,” sayt I.

Swans’ feet?  On a horse?  Those sly sisters knew more than they were telling.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorElizabeth Vernon gave birth to a daughter in early November 1598.  (Like Tricks, I’ll keep on referring to her by her maiden name so as not to confuse her with the Earl’s mother, the Countess of Southampton senior.)

Around the same time, the Earl returned to England and was sent to the Fleet Prison.

Elizabeth Vernon may already have had a brief stay there, but this is uncertain.  One London gossip reported in early September that the Queen had commanded that “the sweetest and best appointed chamber in the Fleet,” be provided for her.

However, I’m not convinced that Queen Elizabeth would have risked imprisoning an Earl’s wife so far into her pregnancy.

The gossips were having a field day at the expense of Elizabeth Vernon and her Earl, but the Queen would have been blamed if a premature birth had resulted in the death of the child and perhaps the mother.

A Birthing Chamber.  The mother, now resting in bed, is being offered sustenance.  The midwife is washing the baby while her assistant stands ready with the swaddling cloth.  The mother’s friends at the far right of the picture are already celebrating.  A cheerful scene, but one with hints of disorder.  Does the picture suggest that women can get a little out of hand on an all-female occasion?