113:  I Propose a Revel

A dark-eyed woman with loosely arranged reddish gold hair.
The Pretty Penny, better known as Penelope, Lady Rich (nee Devereux).  Elizabeth Vernon’s cousin, and the Earl of Essex sister.

Linkin sayt to me, “There’s no call for you to go to Essex House, now our Earl and the Earl of Essex are gone to Ireland.  And I hear tell that our Earl’s Puss [Bess] and the Pretty Penny have quit that house, too.”

“What?” I cried.  “Those ladies were at Essex House?  With our Earl?  Why did you not tell me?”

“I couldn’t swear to the truth of it,” sayt he, narrowing his eyes most amiable.

I sayt he’d wished to keep me as his secretarie, lest he should require more informations on Ireland for Paws’ fool parlement.

A parlement where I had no voice, because I, having no household of mine own, was not a member.

Then it came to me.

While all waited for newes from Ireland, I would make a revel.  A night of mirth and merriment, such as we had in Titchfield.  With no Paws to tell us to keep our thoughts to ourselves or leave.

I went to tell Onix of my plat [plan].  He was taking the sun in his doorway.

A black and white cat seated in the doorway of an Elizabethan house.But no sooner had I spake of songs and interludes than he grew timorous.

“By interludes,” he arrkst, “mean you plays?  Plays are not permitted here.”

“I do not mean a play,” sayt I.  “My uncle made a play, and I acted a maggot in it.  But a play requires preparations.  I mean no more than a merry tale or two.  Linkin knows of a banquet where all the guests were murthered.  Who would not wish to hear of that?”

Onix scarce heeded me.  “There was a playhouse here, for the better sort,” he sayt.  “My mother’s mother had employment there.”

“What?” I cried.  “Linkin never told me of a playhouse in these parts.”

“’Tis long gone,” sayt he.  “And when some players wished to make another, none would have it.  No, not even the Lord Chamberlain hisself, though those same players were his servants.”

Then Onix told me that all here in Black-Fryes [Blackfriars] had sayt a common playhouse would be a great annoyance to them.

A fair, delicate-featured woman in a black gown with a white ruff and a voluminous white head-dress.
Elizabeth, Lady Russell (nee Cooke).  A leader of the anti-playhouse faction in Blackfriars.

All manner of lewd and vagrant persons would come hither under colour of resorting to plays, but in truth to make mischief.  Breaking of windows, picking and stealing, wauling and brawling.

He sayt, “The streets would be so pestered with rogues, no honest folks could go about their business in good time.   As my mistress must, when she is sent for.

“No, nor honest cats neither.  Strange folks would affront us by leaving their excrements by our gates and their marks against our walls.  We would have much ado to o’er mark them, and scarce time for our own business.

“And what,” he arrkst, “if it should please the Queen Cat of Heaven to visit sickness on this citie?  Having our streets so throng would imperil all.  Best that common playhouses are kept without the citie walls, where all such evils belong.”

I remembered all the stranger cats that came to our Field to see my uncle’s play, and the revel-rout that followed hard upon it.  Onix spake true.

To assuage him, I told him my revel would not be for common cats.  We would invite only our private friends.

“We don’t have any friends,” sayt Onix.

I sayt, “When next you see Picker and Stealer, tell them of a Spring Revel that only our invited friends may attend.  Soon you’ll be mazed to learn how many friends we have.” 


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton’s wife, Elizabeth (Bess) Vernon was close to her cousin Penelope, Lady Rich (1563-1607) – the Earl of Essex’s sister.

When the Earls left for Ireland, Penelope and Bess travelled to Chartley Manor in Staffordshire, formerly the Devereux family home.

Chartley Manor

The precinct of Blackfriars in London takes its name from a large Dominican monastery that once stood there.  Parts of it were used by government for meetings of Parliament and the Privy Council, which might explain why the cats of nearby St Paul’s got the idea of holding their own parlement.

When the monastery became a crown property in 1538, some parts continued to be used for government purposes and others were leased out.  From 1576 to 1584 select companies of choirboy actors from the Chapels Royal gave performances in a theatre there.

In 1596 the joiner-turned-actor/developer James Burbage (c.1531-1597) acquired part of the property to construct a playhouse for his company of adult actors.  This company had as its patron George Carey, Lord Unsdon.  At the time the company was known as Lord Hunsdon’s Men, but when Lord Hunsdon became the Lord Chamberlain in 1597 they were known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

The company had need of a new playhouse.  The lease of the land in Shoreditch (north of the city wall) on which their current playhouse, The Theatre, stood was due to expire.

The prospect of a “common playhouse” in their midst caused an outbreak of nimbyism among the residents of Blackfriars, and they petitioned the Privy Council asking that the project be stopped.  Which it was, but not before James Burbage had spent around £1000 on alterations and refurbishments.

The petitioners were led by Elizabeth, Lady Russell, who styled herself Countess of Bedford even though her husband died before his father did and so never inherited the title of Earl.  Lady Russell was the aunt of Sir Robert Cecil, who’d replaced his father William Cecil, Lord Burghley, as the most powerful man in England.

Other notable signatories were Lord Hunsdon himself, and the printer Richard Field, who published William Shakespeare’s first printed work, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis.

Because Field was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s from Stratford upon Avon, some of Shakespeare’s biographers have speculated that he was also a friend.  If so, Shakespeare, a member of Lord Hunsdon’s Men, might not have felt too pleased with him.

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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?