79:  Hard Times For All

Gib reclining on a cushion, looking thoughtful.Of late I’ve heared nowt but talk of hard times.

The harvest was poor – the third such we’ve had, I believe.  My sister was still living when many began to hunger.

I knew that Fortune favoured me, so I daily offered thanks for the fire I have to warm me and the choice meats I eat.

I oft saw rats about this house.  Bold (I thought) from empty bellies.

My niece made a great show of catching and killing them.  My sister taught her well.  The servants say they never saw so good a ratter.

I took pride in her deeds until I saw her creep into the book-chamber lugging a live rat.  She let it loose by the wall cloth, where it hid itself.  Then she settled herself to wait.

I guessed that when any came into the room she would chase out that poor rat and kill it, to great applauds.

I reproved her for such sly doings.  I told her we’re employed to keep vermin from the house, not bring them in for private sport.

She sayt, “How else may I win the freedom of this house and continue my education?”

I had no answer for that.

I saw little of my lord this winter past.  I believe he stayed in London condoling with the most noble Earl of Essicks who was (I hear) so dismayed by Her Majestie’s ill-usage after his heroick action at Cadiz that he took to his bed.  And stayed there.

Whereas the King of Spain was so shamed he swore revenge.  He sent his fleet against us.

“Did I not say he would?” cried Linkin.

“That’s the tricksie Spanish for you,” sayt Nero.  “Coming at us out of season.”

Our own ships were laid up for winter.  Then, when they were made readie to defend us, a wicked wind prevented them from putting to sea.

All that dwell along this coast were much afeared until we learnt that the Spanish met with foul weather.  They lost so many ships they had no choice but to return home.  Certes, they will come again.

A dark-haired, serious-faced young Elizabethan woman.
The Countess of Derby, Elizabeth Stanley (nee de Vere), granddaughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley).  Artist unknown.

Next, Linkin brought newes that the Earl of Essicks has been scruffing the Countess of Darby [Derby].

That’s the girl they wisht my lord to marry.  Old Lord Purrlie’s granddaughter.  What scandal she has brought on her family!

How wise my lord was to refuse to wed such a light-tail.

“Essicks denies it.  He swears that he has not engaged in wickedness with any woman since he set forth for Cadiz,” sayt Linkin. “So perchance he scruffed her before he went.”

Linkin also sayt that my lord spake some unkind words about another Earl, who sayt my lord lied.  So they agreed to fight, as men and cats of honour do.

But the Queen learnt of it, and they was summoned to Court.  The Lords of her Council assured the other Earl that my lord never spake against him.  They were made friends again. 

Head and soldiers of a young man reclining on grass with his head propped on one hand.
The other Earl: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632), by Nicholas Hilliard c.1595.  He’d been proposed as a husband for Elizabeth de Vere, but she declined the match.  He married Dorothy Perrot (nee Devereux), one of Essex’s glamorous sisters.

Linkin and Nero were fire-hot to know what my lord had sayt, but I’d heard no word of the quarrel.

This talk of scandal cheered me, but there was ill newes at home.  

My lord lacks money and owes much to many.  Some of his lands may be sold.

My lord was a good son to his mother when her old husband died and left debts.  He permitted her to sell one of his manors.

Now more may be sold to ease his own burdens.  And I hear he has permission from Her Majestie to travel oversea.

Oh, I fear that blind goddess Fortune may be making ready to turn her wheel and cast me down.

A woman whose face is hidden by her long hair turns a wheel with various animals on it; a monkey, dogs, a large spotted cat, and a donkey. Set against the background of a moon with human facial features.
The Moon and Fortune. By an unknown artist, late 15th century.

With my lord gone, my very house might be sold about my ears.

What will become of me?  I’m too old to find a new place.  I thought to end my days here.

To cheer myself I called my niece to me.

She sprang onto the table, took my pen and dipped it, and sat ready.  “What shall I write?” she arrkst.

In truth, I felt like my lord hisself with his secretarie.

My heart swelled, and four lines of verse come to me.

As an aged queen-cat looks with joy, 
On all her pretty kitlings’ deeds of youth, 
So I, who turn on Fortune’s careless toy, 
Find all my comfort in your wit and truth.

“A few lines,” sayt I.  “Some fine words you’ve heared from me.”

She scarce paused for thought.  She wrote, very neat:

How my joynts ake when I rise from my bed.  I need to piss.  We old cats cannot hold our water as you young cats can.  Why is there no fire in this hearth?  Must I go to the kitchin and lie there neath the table like unto a common cat?

I now comprehend why many say it is not wise to educate females, for then their insolencie will know no bounds.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in March 1597.  In February, the 23 year old Earl of Southampton had handed his estates over to three attorneys for administration.  The reason given was his debts, some of which were inherited from his father.

G.P.V. Akrigg (one of the Earl’s biographers) is convinced the Earl had to pay Lord Burghley £5000 for declining marriage to his granddaughter, but (oddly) Akrigg doesn’t mention this as a likely cause of debt.  Instead, he suggests that the Earl had been living “very lavishly”, though doesn’t offer any details.  However, Earls weren’t expected to be tightwads: I think most Elizabethans would have been shocked and demoralised by the sight of a thrifty Earl.


24: Fortune’s Wheel

Folk say that Fortune is fickle.  When first I heared of her, I thought she was a haughty queen cat.  (I was but a kitling.)

Then I believed her to be what men and women call a goddess.  For they seek her favour, catlicks and error-ticks alike, when they play at cards or dice.

But there is more.

One time I saw in a book that she has a great wheel on which she do raise men and women up and cast them down, with no thought for their joys or sorrows.

And now I fear she will cast me down too.

Fortune's Wheel, showing blindfolded Dame Fortune and a diverse group of men and women.
Fortune’s Wheel, from La Danse aux Aveugles by 15th century poet Pierre Michault.  Artist unknown, via Wikimedia Commons.

First, my friend Smokie gave newes that his young mistress is to marry and go to a new place.

He sayt he too may be welcome there, because her sweet-heart is most affable.

This sweet-heart is a carrier who drives the roads hereabouts, carting goods and gear.

He brought a horse to Smokie’s shop [the smithy] for a shoe, and had his first sight of the young mistress.

She was drawing water from the well.  Her sweet-heart came by often after that.  The master sayt he never knowed horses to want for so many shoes.

Next, Smokie told me that the young mistress arrkst if she might take him with her when she wed.  The master and the mistress laughed, and sayt all should have a new son and a daughter such as theirs, who desire no greater marriage portion than a cat.

“But they will give her more than me,” sayt Smokie, “for they love her dearlie.”

I sayt, “They could give nothing to compare with you, for all love you dearlie.”

But I kept my countenance.  And, lest Smokie should think I was not so well-esteemed as he, I added that my young lady Moll was also to be married (this much is true), and I was like to go with her.

Or mayhap I would go with my lord to a college in Cambridge (a place of learning) and continue my education.

A blue cat sitting on a path.Smokie sayt that we were fortunate indeed.  And, were we to part, he never would forget me.

“Nor I you,” I sayt.

We agreed we never could forget, for we have passed so many days together I have his scents and he has mine.  And we have but one soul in our two bodies, as true friends do.  Or so the flossers [philosophers] say.

I know little of our soul, but oh, my heart is heavie.

My house is quiet, for my lady Moll and all are gone hence again.

Smokie’s household is a-buzz.  He heared the master and the mistress talking of him in their bed. 

The mistress sayt she were sorrie to lose him.  The master sayt he was a good cat in the shop for he kept hisself from underfoot, and was not affrighted by the noise nor the dogs that come in with their masters.

And the boy has been saying to his sister: Smokie is my cat, not yours.  So now Smokie believes he will remain here.

I arrkst him which would please him better, and he sayt it did not trouble him.  He would be content wherever he may dwell.  And I believe he spake true.

Smokie has the gift of happiness.

I do not.

This night a dog barked far off and I near leapt out of my skin, then made haste to conceal myself.  I know not why.  I’m not afeared of dogs.

But I fear what Fortune and the morrow may bring.

The Moon and Fortune. An oddly surreal picture showing a crescent moon at the edge of a blue face, a woman whose own face is covered by long hair, and a wheel which animals sit on.
The Moon and Fortune. By an unknown artist for Evert Zoudenbalch (1424-1503)

Toutparmoi - Editor's Note.This is one of the few pieces of Gib’s writing that can be dated.  Lady Mary Wriothesley married Thomas Arundell in June 1585 in London.  Later that year her brother the young Earl (he turned 12 in October) went to St John’s College in Cambridge.  So this must have been written mid-1585.