108:  The King of Spain is Dead

Philip of Spain (1527-1598) as a young prince.
– Titian, c1550, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Linkin and I next went to parlement, we heared a report on the old King of Spain.

Paws sayt there’d long been talk of his death, but many refused to believe it.

Now the Committy on Spain had completed their investigation.

A queen cat who was chief of the committy came forward to give out the informations.

She sayt, “The King was slow in his dying.  His lords had time enough to order fine funeral clothes.”

(Sarcastickal applauds.)

“He was so full of corruptions his servants had to crawl beneath his bed and claw holes in the mattress.  This was to drain the evil humours from his sores.”

Onix rose up to say the King had lain a-bed too long.  He arrkst, “Why did the King’s servants not lift and turn him?”

“Turn him where?” arrkst the committy cat.  “A boil showed on his leg.  After it was oped and cleansed, four more grew on his breast.  The foul matter in them bred a great host of lice that were very hard to kill.”

(Applauds.  But I thought those lice were more likely bred in the poetick soul of some Spanish cat.  Did not my uncle sit prick-eared at the door when our Earl’s father died, then tell of a host of maggots that carried off his soul?)

Onix sayt, “All cats should take heed.  We must ever be up and brisk about our business, lest we too grow such sores.”

The committee cat arrkst, “When was the King of Spain not brisk about his business?  I mean the ruination of this country, and many more besides.”

“He was bit by rats!” came a call.  “They give you sores.”

“Well, he’s being turned now,” came another.  “On the devil’s spit.”

“Order!” called Paws.

The committy cat continued her report.  Viz.

The King commanded that his coffin be brought forth.  And that a dead man’s skull be set upon his cupboard, wearing his imperial crown.  All was done.

Then he arrkst that a little box be fetched.  Therein lay a precious jewel that he gave to his daughter.  And a piece of paper for his son, whereon was writ how to govern his kingdom.

“The King,” sayt the committy cat, “told his son to have a great care and regard for his sister, who had been his looking glass and the light of his eyes.” 

(In other words, the favourite kit.  And doubtless his son was joyed to hear it.)

An attractive young woman with high-piled reddish hair, and a hint of the long Habsburg chin. She is richly dressed and jewelled.
The Infanta Isabella, the light of her father’s eyes.
– By Jan Pourbus, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paws rose and gave thanks for the report.

“I’ve more to tell,” sayt the committy cat.


“Also in the box was a whip with little knots in it, all bloodie.  The King told his kits that the blood on it was that of his father who was king before him.  He beat hisself with it.”

None could credit that, but the committy cat swore ’twas true.

“The King gave word that those imprisoned for hunting could be loosed, and some that were to be hanged, pardoned.”

“For hunting what?” arrkst a cat.

“Rats,” called another.  “But he was bit, and learnt the error of imprisoning us.”

Paws sayt that the next who spake out of turn would be arrkst to leave.

“Then,” sayt the comitty cat, “the King gave orders for his funeral, and left this world.”

“A better place without him,” sayt Paws. “And here ends your report.”

“Not so,” sayt the committy cat.  “For there’s a new King now.  He hates us as his father did.  The Spanish are like to come at us through Ireland, and Her Majestie fears the King of Scots may aid them.”

“Enough!” cried Paws, and bade her be gone.

The committy cat gave her evil looks, but did as she was told. 

Linkin (with Paws’ permission) arrkst, rhetorickal, “What says the Earl of Essex?  Crush Spain, and Ireland will not trouble us.”

Some gave him applauds.  Others cried that Essex thought of nowt but war and his own advancement.

Paws sayt, lofty, “What Essex thinks matters not.  I hear on good authority that he shall be sent to subdue the Irishes.”

Then she arrkst Linkin to convoke a committy on Ireland.  He was well pleased.

I warned Linkin that all his committy sittings would give him sores on his bum.

A cat reclining on top of a set of shelves containing large jars of herbs and spices.
Onix, brisk about his business.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorPhilip, King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily, had died at the age of 71 in mid-September 1598.

There’d been a rumour of his death almost a year earlier, so I’m not surprised the cats remained sceptical until they heard a satisfactory account of his last days.

Philip had been a constant presence in Queen Elizabeth’s life: first, her brother-in-law and king for the duration of his marriage to her half-sister Queen Mary I, then her suitor, and finally her enemy.  His death must have been another sharp reminder of her vanishing world.


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?