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.


62: Quarrels

Gib looking up, thoughtfully.My lord will soon be of full age.  We cats see no need to celebrate the day of our birth, but my lord’s birth day will bring baked meats with rich sauces and gravies.

I have no quarrel with that.

My lord’s sister (Lady Moll) and her husband are come, bringing their cook.  He trod on my tail, and showed no remorse.

When I presented myself at supper, Lady Moll cried, “Here’s old Bevis!”  (Me.)

She offered me a morsel from her plate.  I was civil and accepted it, but did not stay to be called “old” twice.

And I was troubled by the strange folk in the house.

At dawn I went to see my sister at her barn.  I hoped to rid myself of my ill humours by quarrelling with her.

My visit started well.  My sister was placing her night’s rats by the barn door.  She sets forth crepusculine [in twilight] to catch a rabbit for supper.  Then she dispatches rats.  She says it’s best to watch for them with a full belly; that gives her patience enough to match their cunning.

“Touch not they rats,” she snarled at me.  “I’ve counted them.  As will my master, before he gives me a dish of milk for my pains.”

“I’ve no need to steal your rats,” sayt I.

“Oh, have you not?  With our Earl here, you’re like to want a gift for him.  An offering for his table.”

I must confess I hadn’t thought of that.  I was wondering if I should snap one and run off when I saw Nero and Linkin coming to us.

They sayt we should have a meeting of our Company to talk of our play, and if we should make another.

My sister was against it.  She sayt all the kitlings have been froward [naughty] since our performance.

“They fight and swear most horrible.  They should be heeding their mothers and learning to hunt. Winter is coming, and the harvest is poor.  Who to protect it but we?”

Two kittens play-fighting on a plank of wood.

“What?” arrkst Nero.  “The kits have learnt the words that you, as our Queen, gave out?”

“I spake the words I was told.  His Gibship here wrote them.”

“Her Majestie swears most horrible,” sayt I.  “That much was true.  But before we make another play I should like to see this one imprinted.”

“Ah,” sayt Linkin, judicious.  “First, a seller of books must buy it from us.  And none will, because it has not been enacted in London.  Nor could it be.”

I sayt, “I could write that it was enacted by the Earl of Southampton’s servants in divers places.”

“You could,” sayt Linkin. “But it would never be licensed.  It slanders the Earl of Ox-Foot [Oxford], our Earl’s mother the Countess, and old Lord Purrlie [Burghley].  And worst, the Queen’s Majestie.  That’s treason.  No printer would touch it for fear of his life.”

I knew he spake true.  But, being ill-humoured, I was of a mind to take him down a peg.

I sayt to Nero, “Lawyers always tell you what you may not do.  Never what you may.”

“You sought my advice,” sayt Linkin.  “I gave it.”

I sayt, “I shall change the play so it slanders none.  I shall lay the scene in some papistical country like Spain or Portugal where they know not how to conduct theirselves.”

“Nor sue for slander,” sayt Nero.

“I shall make the Queen a Duchess,” sayt I.  “And change all the names to foreign ones.”

“Lay it in Italy,” sayt Linkin.  “All love to hear of Italy.  Call the Queen the Duchess of Milan.”

“With Ox-Foot set upon by pirates while he sailed from Fence [Venice] to Milan?” arrkst Nero, wide-eyed.

(Linkin should have kept that suggestion to hisself.  He’s a law cat, not a sea cat.)

“I composed a fine speech on Ox-Foot’s fight with pirates,” sayt Nero.  “It would weary my brain to make another on brigands.”

A close-up of a black cat
Nero, a vexatious sea cat.

I was vexed with Nero then.

I made the entire play save for Ox-Foot’s words and the lewd song at the end.  Yet now was Nero speaking as if his speeches were all!

“It would weary my brain,” sayt I, “to change my play entire.”

Yes.  My play.  We are a Company, but mine was the invention.

“Our play was ever fool,” sayt my sister.  “But all begged my brother for a tale of blood and scruffing, and so he brought it forth.  We joyed ourselves by mocking the great folks that he’s heard tell of.  But why make his tale even more fool to have it imprinted?”

“True,” sayt I.  “It will not serve.”

“Then I’ll take my fee,” sayt Linkin, law cat to the last.  He seized one of my sister’s rats and fled.

Certes, his mistress will praise him when she receives it.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorI was doubtful about posting this account of petty feline squabbles, because it adds little to our understanding of Elizabethan literature or history.  However, I’m aware of what veterinarians refer to as transferred (or redirected) aggression in cats, so I thought a cat’s perception of such behaviour might be interesting.

Gib, upset by the birthday preparations, goes to quarrel with his sister.  (The Earl of Southampton turned 21 on 6 October 1594.  This entry in Gib’s journal must have been written not long before then.)

When Linkin and Nero arrive, Gib decides to annoy Linkin instead.  He looks to Nero for support, but then Nero annoys him.

Linkin, offended by Gib and Nero, takes it out on Gib’s sister by stealing one of her rats.

I’m glad that we humans, when miffed, don’t carry on like this.