86: The Fates of Nero

Our ships came safe home.  The Spanish rogues were coming to attack Fowl Mouth, but (as we hoped) the immortal wrath of the Queen Cat of Heaven wrought against them.  She would not suffer the rascals near our fowl.

A delicately coloured drawing of a small harbour with several ships, but only a small human settlement.
A section from a map of Fowl Mouth (better known as Falmouth, on the coast of Cornwall). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Our heroick Essicks has also fled.  He went to the country to scape the mortal wrath of Queen Puss [Bess].

The voyage yielded small profit for her, and she blames him for it.  But Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] found her taking the air in her garden at White Hall, and spake so loud in defence of Essicks that many standing by heared all.

A black and white drawing of a palce in semi-rural surrounds, fronting on to the river.
A 16th century sketch of the palace of Whitehall from the Thames, by Antony van den Wyngaerde. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I do not know if my lord is condoling with Essicks, or in London.  I dare say the Queen’s young Pusses think him heroick.

Some here say he sunk one of the King of Spain’s ships.  I know not the truth of that.

But, in the matter of truth, I reproved my niece for telling the stable cats that Linkin had murdered Nero.

“That was no lie,” sayt she.  “It was a poetick fiction.  Is it my fault they believed me?”

She told me her tale.  Too tedious to set down here, save that a cat named Lankin sought revenge on one called Miro, who had seemed his friend.

Then Lankin nosed Miro’s scents in his mistress’ bed.  So he waited in a secret place where none could witness what he did.  When Miro came by, Lankin leapt out and seized him by the throat, and made an end to him.

Next, Lankin took revenge on his false mistress.  He caught a mouse and dropped it by her petticoats.  The mouse ran under them.  Lankin did the like and, feigning hot pursuit of the mouse, he gave his mistress’ legs and bum a mighty clawing.

“Now, uncle,” sayt my niece, “if there were none to witness Lankin’s wicked murder, how could my report of it be true?”

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She gave me the look direct.

I struck her on her saucie face, and she crept off.

Then I made my way to Linkin’s house, for I feared word of her slanders may have reached him.

But Linkin had his own tale to tell.

He sayt that a friend of Nero’s late master, knowing the Spanish were coming, went to Portsmouth to give what aid he could.  When all danger was passed, he lingered there rejoicing.

Then (sayt this man) what did he see but a black cat eating a crust in the gutter.  This cat was so thin, scabbed, and rusted, he knew him only by his lack of tail. 

He offered the cat a morsel of cheese, and captured him.  Once aboard the boat, the cat started whurring.  (The man shared this boat with Nero’s old master.)

And the man told Linkin’s mistress he believes that when last he went to Portsmouth, poor old Blackie (as he called him) lay hidden on the boat.  And slipt ashore, perchance to seek his master, then but recently deceased.

And he (the man), not knowing Blackie had been aboard, returned without him.

This cat now lies at Linkin’s house, where his mistress tends him.  Then he’ll go to lodge with the man who found him.

“So all’s well that ends well,” sayt I to Linkin.

Linkin knew not what to think.  He feared an imposture.  “He may well gull my poor mistress and that old pirate,” he sayt. “He shall not trump me.”

But whene’er Linkin goes to nose him and take what scents might lie beneath the stinks of gutter, this cat swears at him most horrible.

Linkin led me to the impostor, who lay resting in a scrap of winter sun.

A rusty-furred black cat. lying on his side.

I troubled not to nose him.  I arrkst, poetickal, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight cat?”

And he replied:

I held the Fates clamped tight betwixt my teeth,

And with my paw turned Fortune’s wheel about.

“What mean you by that, you clown?” arrkst Linkin.

“I mean my luck held,” sayt Nero.  “And with it the Garland’s.  But none heeded my advice, so we lost the King of Spain’s treasure by a whisker.  I will say no more.”

Certes, he’ll have much to say when he’s made his verses.  I hope I may live to hear them, true or false.

When I was private in my house again, I counted the winters I’ve seen.  I believe this to be my seventeenth.

I am of sound mind and in good heart, though my joints ake.  I have not lost my personal attractions.  Unlike Queen Puss who has few teeth remaining.  Or Nero, who Linkin’s mistress sayt should be new-named Rustie.

But sometimes I’m troubled by sharp pains in my loins, the like of which I never felt before.  Ask for me in spring, and you may find me a grave cat.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorA few quick points:

The Spanish hadn’t mustered the 30,000 men King Philip of Spain deemed necessary for an invasion, but they hoped to use Falmouth Harbour as a base from which to destroy the English navy.

The Earl of Essex, having little to show for his voyage, withdrew to his house at Wanstead.  A bad move, because it gave his enemies at Court a chance to work against him.

Sir Francis Vere seems to have been an honourable man.  He left a brief and business-like account of the Islands Voyage in his Commentaries, where he mentions his argument with the Queen.  Despite his annoyance with Essex over the level of command he was given, he didn’t want to see him unfairly blamed for the failure.

Gib’s niece has a lighter taste in her reading than her uncle does.  The ‘mouse under the petticoats’ incident is a steal from Beware the Cat.

81:  Of Wenches and War

Oh, what times we’ve had at our Field of late.  Nero is in a humour blacker than his coat.  He told me (privily) that his old master has been sick again, and like to die.

Nero fears he will be offered a place in Linkin’s house.  He swore he’d as lief drown hisself.

“There is a willow grows aslant our brook,” sayt he.  “I could climb it and cast myself in.  But water’s an element I’m native and indued to.”

Native and indued.  What fine words.

“Because you was birthed in Fence [Venice]?” I arrkst.

An early view of Venice, by Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century).
A view of Venice, by cartographer Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century). Via Wikimedia.

“And because I swim too well to drown,” sayt Nero, most tragickal.

“Then best you content yourself with making a scene for all to marvel at,” I sayt.  “Come floating by us decked with waterish weeds, and singing sad songs.”

Linkin told me (privily) that he does not fancie Nero as a chamber-fellow, but if his mistress wills such a thing then he must suffer it. 

Ophelia in her wet element.  From Sir John Millais' famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragickal a scene, he would probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water, and his lack of tail might affect his balance.
Ophelia in her element, singing.  From Sir John Millais’ famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragick a scene, he’d probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water.  Plus, his lack of tail might affect his balance.

I made all merry with my newes of the shameless Pusses I writ of previous.  And I told of another young wench that Queen Puss [Bess] does nowt but complain of.  Her name is Mary Howit [Howard].

“That very name,” sayt Linkin, “is trouble writ large.”

Nero let out a screech, and bristled up.  He believed Linkin spake against the Lord Admiral (another Howit) who is much loved by mariners.

Other cats called for peace.  They wisht to hear more scandal.  None of us loves Queen Puss.  Her very name is blasphemious.  ’Tis one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and we never heared that women may take it.

And all know Queen Puss distains our Earl.  It seems he can do nowt to please her.

Linkin told how Mary Howit attires herself most fine, hoping to take the eye of our Earl.  Some say she has received much favour and marks of love from him.

“Marks of love?” came a call.  “What are they?”

“Spittle on scruffs,” one cried.  All screeched so loud I feared we might be chased from our Field.

Queen Puss called Mary Howit an ungracious flouting wench.

Mary was unwilling to carry Her Majestie’s mantle when she took the air in her garden.  Nor was she ready in the Privy Chamber with Her Majestie’s cup.

An elegant but weary looking woman in silvery white, wearing magnificent jewels,
Queen Elizabeth in her sixties – from a portrait unlikely to have been seen by many before her death. The original is held by The Elizabethan Gardens in North Carolina. Visit them (or their website) for the whole painting and the story of its purchase and authentication.

In truth, she’s never where she should be for her duty to Queen Puss.

“She slips out to call for our Earl,” sayt a young queen cat.

“And he runs to her, as all lusty fellows should,” cried a stone-cat.

I sayt, “I hope she has a loud voice, for my lord will soon take ship against Spain.”

True.  He had leave to travel, but now I hear he will join our newest expedition.  Those Spanish rogues are making readie to come at us again, so we will strike at them.

All were mazed to hear of this.

“What?” they cried.  “Old Puss has oped the door?  Our Earl may go forth and fight any that seeks to come into our land?”

I sayt, “Old Lord Purrlie’s son Sir Rabbit [Robert] spake a word for him.”

At last my lord can prove his valour.  And keep hisself safe from the saucie strumpets that serve Queen Puss.

I pray he comes safe home.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOn 23 May 1597 a William Fenton wrote to Queen Elizabeth’s godson John Harington (of water-closet fame) expressing his dismay at Lady Mary Howard’s attempts to “win” the “young earl.”

Mr Fenton appears to have been a friend of Mary’s, and was concerned that she might lose her place at Court.  He doesn’t name the earl.

I’m happy to take the cats’ word that it was Southampton.  Essex was a more frequent topic of gossip, but he was 31.  Not old, but unlikely to be specified as young.  Also, he was married.  Any winning of him would have been very temporary.

Not only had Mr Fenton attempted to placate the Queen, he also hoped John Harington might help smooth things over, and even arrange for a word on Mary’s behalf to be dropped in Lord Burghley’s ear.

Poor Lord Burghley.  Seventy-six years old and with deteriorating health, he’d have had more important things to worry about.  Such as: famine in parts of the country because of the bad harvests, the ongoing war with Spain, growing resistance in Ireland…