147:  Scabface Returns

I, being an Instrument and in danger, deemed it best to stay in our house while I awaited word of the Honorable Trial whose verdick was alreadie known.


I was also afeared of Scabface, who’d gone to White-Hall to make readie for the fighting.  

I was sure he would return thinking I’d sent him there to spite him.

Wattie swore he were an Instrument too.  He did nowt but prance about our house yapping, “Essex, Essex,” and boasting that he’d ’scaped our mistress to join the actions at the Ludgate.

When others fled, he followed a girl who’d been watching the fray down a street that led to the river. 

“That street was closed to our men,” sayt Wattie.  “But the girI had employment in a tavern there.  We were let through, and then I saved myself by leaping in the water.  Fit subject matter for an epick.”

I yawned.

“Am I a spannell dog,” he arrkst, rhetorickal, “and know not how to swim?  Did you not once say to me that when I cast myself into chill waters you would know the world ran mad?”  

“It were our poor mistress that ran mad,” sayt Linkin.  “Fearing he’d been stole or shot.  Then a waterman who’d seized him by the Black-Fryes stairs brought him hither.  That man did not go away with empty pockets, you may believe me.”

A brown and white spaniel in a river.
Wattie’s epick swim.

“I needed no bringing,” sayt Wattie.  “I knew my way home.”  And he danced away, yapping “Epick, epick.”  The Player Cat danced with him.

So then I knew who’d learnt Wattie that word “epick”.

I was so wearie of their foolery I hazarded my life by going to kill me a rabbit in the great garden nigh to Essex House.

It were there I saw Scabface.  Swaggering towards me so proud I guessed I need not fear him, but I offered him my rabbit.  Then endured his brags. 

“I alone breached the defences at White-Hall,” sayt he.  “There were coaches barring all the ways, but none durst bar mine.  I fought a dog, and confiscate a fine baked fowl that he’d stole from who knows where.  What did your coward Earls do?  Hide in Essex House.”

I’d heard enough epicks for one day.

“Essex was deceived,” sayt I.  “By false words that he were to be murdered, and falser ones that friends in the citie would plead for him before the Queen.  He came to grief.”

“None deceived me,” sayt Scabface.  “And I needed none to plead for me.  A queen cat hoist her tail most amiable.  And I heard tell that Queen Puss wished to go to Essex House and call to them that hid there.  Her councillors would not permit it.”

“Well, they wouldn’t, would they,” sayt I.  “She might have learnt the truth about those same councillors.”

“The truth is,” sayt Scabface, “she were mighty hot, and hoped to hoist her tail for an Earl or two.  Better late than never.”

He began to cleanse his whiskers.  “Onlie one man had stummick enuff to follow me.  If he’s not yet dead he soon will be.”

“I heard something of him,” sayt I.

“But nowt of me?” arrkst Scabface.  Then, looking at what little remained of my rabbit, he grew meloncollie.

He sayt, “I never saw Queen Puss.  I’d hoped to see her with her hair about her face.  As Essex did at None-Such palace.”

“You’ve seen her oft enough upon the river,” sayt I.

“From afar,” sayt he, “and there her hair sits quiet upon her head.  I meant to catch that hair while it were loose.  I could have brought it to a Revel.  Good sport for all the swift young queens.”

Elizabeth I with a live hare on top of her curled red wig.
Queen Puss with her hare quiet upon her head.

And then I took his meaning.  He knew not Hair from Hare.

“We’ll have a Revel soon,” sayt I.  “We’ll need cheering when our Earls have lost their heads.  You may tell of your heroick doings at White-Hall.  And who’s to know you never chased Her Majestie’s hare around her bedchamber?”

Scabface had been on a fool’s mission indeed.  

Well, there’s no denying he were the right cat for it.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe man who Scabface says had “stummick enuff” was the soldier Thomas Lee (1551/2–1601).   According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his “stormy military career, prolific writings, and colourful character illumine the Elizabethan experience in Ireland in all its complexity”.

Lee served under Walter Devereux (Essex’s father) in Ulster in the 1570s, was charged with highway robbery in Oxfordshire in 1580, then returned to soldiering in Ireland.  He acted as Essex’s go-between with the Irish “Arch-Rebel” Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and returned to England with Essex in September 1599.

In 1601 Lee wasn’t part of the inner circle: Essex probably didn’t trust his judgement or his ability to keep his mouth shut.  However, when Essex was in the Tower awaiting trial for treason, Lee hit upon the bizarre idea of forcing the Queen to sign a warrant for his release.  He was caught lurking outside the Privy Chamber on Thursday 12 February, tried and convicted of high treason on the following Monday, and executed at Tyburn on Tuesday.

His action did even more damage to Essex’s own case.