But first, our island. All – fortrisses, forests and woods – was ours to command for the King.
We came in full summer. I busied myself with making a survey of our castle and the lands about. Of an eve, I chased rabbits.
My lord busied hisself with making inspections, for though we are at peace we must ever be ready for war. Who trusts the Spanish?
Sure, there were mischiefs on our island. I believe I learnt more of them than did my lord.
An island cat told me of talk against the King. Some gentlemen had made mock of his new laws against witches, and the marrying of two wives.
One sayt the King was so kind to his Queen he was a poor example for all married men.
Another sayt he was a huntsman who chased the bucks but spared the does.
When a woman present praised the King, another sayt he’d never before heard a woman speak so well of him.
One was so bold as to say the King would not live long, being very weak in the back.
The men were called to London to explain theirselves to the King’s Council. Whilst they waited outside, one boasted to the others of his friendship with our Earl! Did he wish to make my lord seem as traitorous as he?
I guessed that they who live on our island know little of the world.
I told that cat there was no end of talk against the King in the citie. A woman who dwelt in a house in Paws’ Yard had sayt that the King’s mother was a hore and the King a past-it [bastard] with no right to the Crown of England.
Such words are accounted verie wicked, though in truth we knew not why. There are no hores nor past-its among us cats.
The cat sayt that island folks make their wills before they set forth for London, the citie being so strange to them.
Then she told a merrie tale. She sayt there were no foxes nor lawyers on our island. When a lawyer came to settle in the old Queen’s time folks affixed candles to his bum, bells to his legs, and chased him off!
I fear my lord found our island tedious.
We was scarce there one fat moon before he writ to Sir Rabbit, begging him to visit. Then he went cheerful to attend upon the King who was visiting the learned college of Ox-Foot [Oxford].
When he came back he writ again to Sir Rabbit, saying he had nowt to write of. Save the heat of summer, and the storms of winter now begun. And how oft he wished hisself at Court with Sir Rabbit and his other friends.
Then (lest he should seem discontent) he sayt he was pleased enuff with his quiet life. Hah!
I never wished to leave, for as winter came on the squirrels – thieving vermins that they be – grew bold. I chased them too.
But came the day for our removal, first to our great house over the water, thence to London and Southampton House.
When my lord went to White-Hall to make readie for the King’s parlement, I made my way to Paws’ Yard to renew my akwayntance with the citie cats.
I went with a gladsome heart.
I had ready the merrie tale from the island. I thought those wicked creatures would like newes of a lawyer with bells on his legs and his arse afire.
Alas! As I drew nigh to Paws Church the verie air turned direful.
All the minions bristled up.
I glanced about to see what crept behind me.
Nowt. I was alone.
Then came the screeching. “Knave!” “False knave!” “You told all!”
“Told what?” I arrkst, narrowing mine eyes most civil.
Some circled me, high-backed and stiff-legged.
“Deny it!” they cried. “Deny it if you dare!” “Deny it if you can!”
I crouched low upon the ground, to protect my throat and belly. I appealed to Picker and Stealer, sitting hawtie on Paws’ steps. “Your ladyships, I beg you. Of what am I accused?”
“You writ that letter!” they screeched. “You alone could have done it!”
“Letter?” I cried. “What letter? I am new come from the countrie with my lord.”
It seemed I must explain myself, yet I knew not why.
No-one was ever far from trouble, and mischievous chatter could land you in it. The disrespectful comments reported from a lively dinner party on the Isle of Wight a year or so earlier are an example of that.
Hunting bucks but sparing doe sounds like good conservation practice, but I suspect it’s a veiled reference to what we would nowadays call King James’ sexual orientation. That statement isn’t likely to have concerned the Council, but speculation about the monarch’s health and longevity was a definite no-no.
The Earl’s position as Governor of the island wouldn’t have been exciting in peace time, but he seems to have been both popular and conscientious. One thing he did was have a list of all the freeholders on the island drawn up, which must come in handy for genealogists today.
Neither Harry nor the Earl makes any reference to Bess Vernon (the Earl’s wife) and their children on the island. I doubt she chose to stay in London for the summer of 1605, so perhaps she remained at Place House in Titchfield.