104:  My First Parlement

And what a strange thing it was!

When Paws called for order, a fierce stone-cat [tom-cat] leapt onto the wall to serve as our watch.  Though whether he were there to keep us in or others out I knew not.

Another cat rose and arrkst the Queen Cat of Heaven to look with favour on our parlement.

Then Paws sayt, “Are there new members here?”  (Though I swear she saw us enter.)

A black and white cat posed against a wooden bench with copper, brass and eathernware vessels and a pile of cinnamon quills.
Onix, who has employment in an apothecary’s shop.

Onix begged permission to speak.  He sayt he wished to present two that were in the service of the Earl of Southampton.

That caused a stir.  Linkin and I were called to show ourselves.

Paws arrkst who was the member for our household.

I knew not what she meant by that, but Linkin sayt he was.  And that I lodged with him against our Earl’s return from France.  “Which,” added Linkin, “our Earl says he cannot do, because he lacks for money.”

That set all screeching.  “An Earl with no money?” called some.

“Come he must, if Her Majestie commands it,” sayt Paws. “And take his punishment like a lord.  His cat has no place of her own, and his poor wife and her cousin the Earl of Essex must bear all Her Majestie’s wrath.”

Some cats called, “Shame!”

Then Linkin was arrkst to give an account of hisself.

Linkin, Law-Cat and Member of Parlement.

He boasted so well of his learning that he was welcomed by other law-cats, and invited to sit on their committy.

I was left at the back with the likes of Picker and Stealer.

Then came the reports, as ordered by Paws.  Most tedious, save when a cat told of the funeral of old Lord Purrlie [Burghley].

She sayt that the Earl of Essex had come from his hiding place in the country, and wore the sorriest face of all.

“Sorry for hisself, most like,” she added.  “He’ll get nowt by Lord Purrlie’s death.  All the good places old Purrlie held are taken by Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil] and his friends.”

Another arrkst if it were true that Essex was in hiding because Her Majestie had struck him a blow, and he’d wauled most fierce at her.

I pricked my ears, for I knew nowt of that.

But Paws sayt that we’d had no report of any fight, and our parlement was not for gossips’ talk nor slander.

I could scarce keep from yawning.

Then Paws invited talk of Ireland, where ’twas said that the Irishes had been attacking the English mightily, and won a glorious victory.

Some cats sayt that if the English were taking their places, the Irishes should chase them out.

A dark-haired young man with a spade-shaped beard, He's wearing a glossy white satin doublet.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.

Linkin (getting the nod from Paws) sayt, “And if Her Majestie wishes to punish the Irishes, who can she send against them but the Earl of Essex?”

That brought applauds.

“Certes,” sayt Paws, “many hope Essex will return to Her Majestie’s household, but he lies sick a-bed in his house beyond the citie.”

“Sick of old Queen Puss,” sayt I, not soft enough.  Picker and Stealer turned to give me looks.

Then Picker or Stealer – I knew not which – sought to speak.

I feared she meant to have me chased off, and readied myself for flight.

Instead she sayt, “I slander none, but I hear Essex has sayt that even princes can err, and wrong their subjects.  And that no earthly power is infinite.  Can such wild words be true?  Or has fever enflamed his brains?”

Oh, that was suttle.

“I fear,” sayt Linkin (having the nod again) “that the most noble and heroick Essex has stepped forth upon a slender branch.  We must pray it bears his weight, lest he should fall and look fool.”

That brought great applauds.

How well Linkin could play at politicks.  And Picker and Stealer too.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe fight between Queen Elizabeth and Essex occurred at a meeting on 30 June or 1 July 1598.  Sir Robert Cecil and the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, were also there, and the Clerk of the Signet.

In the absence of a record by anyone present, modern historians rely on the brief account written some years later by William Camden (1551-1623) in his history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Camden calls it a “sharp dissention”.

Queen Elizabeth, from the first volume of Camden’s Annales (1625 edition).

The Lord Deputy of Ireland had recently died, and there was an argument (apparently driven by rivalry between Essex and Sir Robert Cecil) over who should replace him.

When Queen Elizabeth dismissed Essex’ suggestion, he turned his back on her.  She gave him “a cuff on the ear and bade him be gone…”.  He placed his hand on his sword hilt.  The Lord Admiral stepped between them.

Essex announced that he couldn’t swallow such treatment, nor would he have taken it from King Henry VIII – Elizabeth’s father, with whom she liked to be compared.

He left the Court and went to his house at Wanstead (now part of greater London).  He remained there throughout July and August resisting his friends’ and allies’ advice to make peace with Queen Elizabeth, and appearing only at Lord Burghley’s funeral on 30 August.

Essex seems to have been prone to bouts of depression, but after Lord Burghley’s funeral he became dangerously ill.  He was then forgiven by Queen Elizabeth.

The story of the “dissention” has grown in the telling.  Essex was later reported to have also said that the Queen’s conditions (disposition) were as crooked as her carcass – or words to that effect.  He may well have made this remark at some stage, but I find it hard to believe that even he would have said it in her hearing.

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102:  Queen Puss Breathes Fire

A detail from an early portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, showing an open jewellery box, a lavish display of pearls, brooches etc, and a pincushion containing the pins grand Elizabethan ladies used to hold their formal attire together. His Harryship and Puss Fur-None were wed in hugger-mugger.

It was the talk of our household.

’Twas sayt that when Queen Puss learnt of it she ran so mad she went not to chapel that day.

I went again to the wall of Essex House, but had no sight of His Harryship or any lady that might be Puss Fur-None.

Even so, Linkin and I were joyed that we’d known of their doings before the master and our mistress did.  Or Queen Puss.

She spake of sending all who were privy to this mischief to the Tower.

Not just our Earl and his Puss, but any who knew of it!

“Well,” sayt I to Linkin, “I always wished to see the Tower.”

He sayt it would not come to that, but the Earl and his new Countess would surely be punished.

We heard the master say that the Daffers [Danvers] brothers were in the citie, and our Earl may have travelled with them.  Even though Sir Rabbit [Robert Cecil] was given a letter from our Earl saying he hoped Sir Harry Daffers would soon come back to France, so they might go into Italy together.

Linkin believed that letter were a trick.  He sayt our Earl wrote it to make Sir Rabbit and all think he was still in Paris, not here.

Oh, his Harryship is suttle.  But how he passed unremarked mazed us both, he being so long and having much hair.

A long-haired young man in a white silk doublet with gold and purple trunkhose, white silk stockings and black shoes. He's also wearing a black and gold gorget, and a plumed helmet and breastplate are nearby.
The Earl of Southampton, or “His Harryship” as the disrespectful Tricks calls him. This is probably his wedding portrait, painted some time after the event.  He wouldn’t have looked like this when he slipped into England.

Then His Harryship returned to France, thinking no harm, and writ again to Sir Rabbit.

This time he arrkst him to tell Queen Puss that he was married.  He hoped Sir Rabbit could do this in such a way as to cause her least offence.

Too late for that.  Queen Puss was alreadie breathing fire.

She sayt he’d brought dishonour upon her Court, and shown hisself most contemptuous in his secret comings and goings.  She commanded him home again.

All here sayt that the longer our Earl tarried in France, the more offended Queen Puss would be.  

Linkin and I agreed that ’twould be no wonder if she sprouted scales and wings, and flew to France to smoke him out herself.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon were married in mid to late August, 1598.  That coincided with the Danvers brothers return to England. 

Elizabeth Vernon was 6 months pregnant.  If the Earl’s plan was to slip unnoticed into England with the Danvers, he may have intended to arrive a month or more earlier, but their departure was delayed because Sir Harry Danvers was ill.

It’s unlikely the Earl was delighted by the pregnancy.  He’d seen no future for himself at Queen Elizabeth’s court and spoken of serving Henri IV, probably in a military capacity.  Henri’s recent peace with Spain would have left him at a loose end, career-wise.

However, I think Elizabeth Vernon has had a grudging press.  One of the Earl’s biographers, A.L. Rowse, announces that the Earl was “homosexual” and married her because her cousin, the Earl of Essex, made him.

G.P.V. Akrigg suggests that the Earl vacillated, balancing his feelings for “the girl” (as Akrigg calls the 25 year old bride-to-be) and his friendship with Essex against his need for a wife with the wealth any Earl could reasonably expect and which the Earl of Southampton needed.

It’s hard to avoid getting the impression that the Earl married Elizabeth Vernon only because she was pregnant.

However, she may have been pregnant because they intended to marry – though probably not until after the Earl, who had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to spend two years overseas, had completed his travels and/or found a niche for himself at a foreign court.

And, despite the Earl’s possible flirtations (and maybe more) in 1597 with Mary Howard and Frances Prannell, he and Elizabeth Vernon had been together for three years.

Perhaps the best comment on their marriage is this unconventional portrait of Elizabeth Vernon.  Is it her wedding portrait?

She’s getting dressed.  Her hair is long and loose, in the style of a virgin bride.  Written on her comb is “Menez moi doucement,” which translates, somewhat inadequately, as “Manage (or Lead) me gently.”

The proportions of her body are odd, so it’s probably accidental that she looks pregnant – even though the position and curve of her left hand draw attention to her stomach.

The little dog on the cushion by her feet may be a favorite pet, but also symbolises fidelity.   

The fur-trimmed red robe lying beside her looks like that of a Countess, to be worn on state occasions.  On the table is a fine display of jewellery, and a pin-cushion with all the pins required to hold a grand Elizabethan lady’s formal attire together.

The portrait, though carefully posed, is unusually intimate for its time.  The Earl must have liked it, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived.