112: Going to the War

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

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

I stepped out onto our roof to see if this were true. Snow lay thick around me, and folk walked splay-foot in the street below.

Next, the master told of a poet who’d died.

His corpse was taken to Westminster church, 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 church was.

“Many ways from here,” came his 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.”

How I rejoyced 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.

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 this 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 meant to see that cheap sight, he joined me.

And what a sight it were!

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.  However, 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 English 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 didn’t want 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, 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.