86: The Fates of Nero

Our ships came safe home.  The Spanish rogues were coming to attack Fowl Mouth, but (as we hoped) the immortal wrath of the Queen Cat of Heaven wrought against them.  She would not suffer the rascals near our fowl.

A delicately coloured drawing of a small harbour with several ships, but only a small human settlement.
A section from a map of Fowl Mouth (better known as Falmouth, on the coast of Cornwall). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Our heroick Essicks has also fled.  He went to the country to scape the mortal wrath of Queen Puss [Bess].

The voyage yielded small profit for her, and she blames him for it.  But Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] found her taking the air in her garden at White Hall, and spake so loud in defence of Essicks that many standing by heared all.

A black and white drawing of a palce in semi-rural surrounds, fronting on to the river.
A 16th century sketch of the palace of Whitehall from the Thames, by Antony van den Wyngaerde. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I do not know if my lord is condoling with Essicks, or in London.  I dare say the Queen’s young Pusses think him heroick.

Some here say he sunk one of the King of Spain’s ships.  I know not the truth of that.

But, in the matter of truth, I reproved my niece for telling the stable cats that Linkin had murdered Nero.

“That was no lie,” sayt she.  “It was a poetick fiction.  Is it my fault they believed me?”

She told me her tale.  Too tedious to set down here, save that a cat named Lankin sought revenge on one called Miro, who had seemed his friend.

Then Lankin nosed Miro’s scents in his mistress’ bed.  So he waited in a secret place where none could witness what he did.  When Miro came by, Lankin leapt out and seized him by the throat, and made an end to him.

Next, Lankin took revenge on his false mistress.  He caught a mouse and dropped it by her petticoats.  The mouse ran under them.  Lankin did the like and, feigning hot pursuit of the mouse, he gave his mistress’ legs and bum a mighty clawing.

“Now, uncle,” sayt my niece, “if there were none to witness Lankin’s wicked murder, how could my report of it be true?”

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She gave me the look direct.

I struck her on her saucie face, and she crept off.

Then I made my way to Linkin’s house, for I feared word of her slanders may have reached him.

But Linkin had his own tale to tell.

He sayt that a friend of Nero’s late master, knowing the Spanish were coming, went to Portsmouth to give what aid he could.  When all danger was passed, he lingered there rejoicing.

Then (sayt this man) what did he see but a black cat eating a crust in the gutter.  This cat was so thin, scabbed, and rusted, he knew him only by his lack of tail. 

He offered the cat a morsel of cheese, and captured him.  Once aboard the boat, the cat started whurring.  (The man shared this boat with Nero’s old master.)

And the man told Linkin’s mistress he believes that when last he went to Portsmouth, poor old Blackie (as he called him) lay hidden on the boat.  And slipt ashore, perchance to seek his master, then but recently deceased.

And he (the man), not knowing Blackie had been aboard, returned without him.

This cat now lies at Linkin’s house, where his mistress tends him.  Then he’ll go to lodge with the man who found him.

“So all’s well that ends well,” sayt I to Linkin.

Linkin knew not what to think.  He feared an imposture.  “He may well gull my poor mistress and that old pirate,” he sayt. “He shall not trump me.”

But whene’er Linkin goes to nose him and take what scents might lie beneath the stinks of gutter, this cat swears at him most horrible.

Linkin led me to the impostor, who lay resting in a scrap of winter sun.

A rusty-furred black cat. lying on his side.

I troubled not to nose him.  I arrkst, poetickal, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight cat?”

And he replied:

I held the Fates clamped tight betwixt my teeth,

And with my paw turned Fortune’s wheel about.

“What mean you by that, you clown?” arrkst Linkin.

“I mean my luck held,” sayt Nero.  “And with it the Garland’s.  But none heeded my advice, so we lost the King of Spain’s treasure by a whisker.  I will say no more.”

Certes, he’ll have much to say when he’s made his verses.  I hope I may live to hear them, true or false.

When I was private in my house again, I counted the winters I’ve seen.  I believe this to be my seventeenth.

I am of sound mind and in good heart, though my joints ake.  I have not lost my personal attractions.  Unlike Queen Puss who has few teeth remaining.  Or Nero, who Linkin’s mistress sayt should be new-named Rustie.

But sometimes I’m troubled by sharp pains in my loins, the like of which I never felt before.  Ask for me in spring, and you may find me a grave cat.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorA few quick points:

The Spanish hadn’t mustered the 30,000 men King Philip of Spain deemed necessary for an invasion, but they hoped to use Falmouth Harbour as a base from which to destroy the English navy.

The Earl of Essex, having little to show for his voyage, withdrew to his house at Wanstead.  A bad move, because it gave his enemies at Court a chance to work against him.

Sir Francis Vere seems to have been an honourable man.  He left a brief and business-like account of the Islands Voyage in his Commentaries, where he mentions his argument with the Queen.  Despite his annoyance with Essex over the level of command he was given, he didn’t want to see him unfairly blamed for the failure.

Gib’s niece has a lighter taste in her reading than her uncle does.  The ‘mouse under the petticoats’ incident is a steal from Beware the Cat.

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.