95:  My Doings at Linkin’s House

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.The day after Linkin told all that his mistress would go to London, I paid him another visit.

“I believe,” sayt I, setting down the fat rat I carried, “that I was too hastie in my first reading of my uncle’s Will.  I’ve seen now that he was most desirous for you to have a rat, even though you sought no fee from him.”

Linkin scarce looked at it.  I feared he was still offended with me.

“Caught this very morn,” sayt I. “In the malthouse.  A fragrant gift for your mistress.”

Linkin sayt nowt.

“My uncle,” sayt I, “set great store by your friendship.  He praised your wisdom many a time.  Even when there was none to hear him do it.”

Then I chanced to look up and saw that sly rogue Nero watching from behind the hedge.  He narrowed his eyes and turned away, but I knew he’d guessed what I was at.  I prayed he’d keep his thoughts to hisself.

Linkin sayt, “My house is turned topsy-turvy.  Our bed pulled down before mine eyes, and taken by a carrier.”

“Is your mistress still within?” I arrkst.

“No,” sayt Linkin, distracted.  “She rose early.”

(This answer so joyed Nero that he fell on his back and lay with his feet in the air.) 

“I mean,” sayt I, “is she still within the house?”  I feared I’d come too late and his mistress was gone.

“She’s making baskets ready,” sayt Linkin.  “And when I sat in one she spake a wicked word and cast me out the door.”   

“Are you not to go with her?” I arrkst, dismayed.

“I believe I shall.  She sayt that what she would not entrust to carriers will travel with her.  But I never thought to see the day when I’d share a horse with fowl.”

A brightly coloured rooster standing against a fence.

“You’ll go on horseback?”  (I’d thought there’d be a cart I could slip aboard.)

“I told you,” sayt Linkin.  “She’s preparing baskets.  But what if some calamity befalls us on the way, and I cannot free myself?  How can I flee robbers?  Our dog Wattie has sworn to protect me.  Well, he may talk fierce, but he is little.”

“Courage, friend,” called Nero, slipping through the hedge.  “Did not your mistress and her servants win the day when they gave battle in Cambridge-town?”

“That,” sayt Linkin, “was afore I was born.  I know no more of it than you do.”

“You know your mistress bought a brace of pistols when all feared the Spanish,” sayt Nero.  “Certes, she’ll carry them charged upon her saddle bow.  Best you tell her horse not to stumble, else they may discharge theirselves at him.  Or you.”

A black cat looking thoughtful.
Nero – Sea Cat, Adventurer, Poet, and Troublemaker.

He paused, then sayt, “Now tell me, friend, has your mistress prepared a basket for me?”

I knew Nero arrkst that in jest, but his words set Linkin about.  He wants no chamber-fellow.

“What?” cried Linkin. “Would you desert your master, who took you in after your old captain died?  You live well in his house.  He dropped by not long since with a bag of kitchen-eel [cochineal], and my mistress paid him in good coin.”

“True,” sayt Nero.  “We have a box of it that fell from a ship in Portsmouth.  And Queen Puss has so much, she’s forbid the import of more.  That keeps the price high, and us in choice vittles.  I thought to make a song of it, but verses on the Perilous Peregrinations of Mrs Quickfire and the Custard Cat will gather more applauds.”

I sayt, in haste, to Linkin, “You came safe here from London.  Sure, you can return safe.”

“I was little more than a kitling then,” sayt Linkin.  “I kept snug beneath my master’s coat, and we made good speed.”

“Then think not of this tedious journey, but of your destination.  Where will you lodge in the citie?”

That cheered him.  “I’ve never seen the house,” he sayt, “but I hear ’tis most commodious.  And nigh unto the Strand, where noble Essex dwells.  My mistress saw him ride by once.  He doffed his cap and bent his head to her.”

“Looking at her bubs, most like,” sayt Nero.  “Has she not a very fair pair?”

“Well, friend,” sayt I to Linkin, “All shall be sad to see you go.  When comes that day?”

“Soon,” sayt Linkin.  “If we have fair weather.”

“I’ll bide here till then,” sayt I.  “For ’twill grieve me to lose you so close upon my uncle.”

“Ah,” sayt Nero.  “Parting is such sweet sorrow.  As your uncle once sayt.”

“Didn’t he also say that a cat may whurr and whurr, yet be a villain?” I arrkst Nero.

Then I sayt to Linkin, “Best you offer your mistress this fine rat before Wattie your dog snaps it and wins the praise that should be yours.  And then I should like to make the akwayntance of the horse who’ll carry you.  Shall Wattie also ride with you?”

Wattie loved to chase me.  There was no malice in him; he thought I was his playfellow, but I feared he could end my voyage to the citie before it was begun.

A small section from a 1572 map of London.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTravel wasn’t easy in Elizabethan England.  However, this is a journey Linkin’s mistress must have made many times, though with less luggage.

Nero thinks Linkin is over-anxious.  Custard Cat may have been a reference to Linkin’s ginger and white fur, but “custard” also meant “coward”.  Does anyone else remember the children’s chant of “Cowardy cowardy custard”?

Nero could afford to make fun of Linkin.  He’d returned a hero from the Earl of Essex’ Islands Voyage the previous year, along with so much cochineal and indigo from captured Spanish cargoes that the market was at risk of being flooded.

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90: Of Lords, Ladies, and Leave-Taking

An idealised image of Queen Elizabeth (late 1590s) by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

My lord has come hither.  He offended Queen Puss.  But who has not?

He did no more than strike an insolent rogue, who turned cowbaby and ran squealing to her.

My lord greeted me most loving.  He sayt he feared we were not like to meet again.

Soon he goes into France with Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil], and onward on his travels.  To Italy, I believe. 

But I must set down all in order, as I learnt it.

Item:  Nero sayt that the lady who arrkst the learned doctor about our Earl’s marrying is Mistress Prannill.

Nero did not know the doctor’s answer.

“That’s not newes,” sayt I. “Our Earl shall marry Puss Fur-None [Bess Vernon].  But that’s a secret.”

“I have more,” sayt Nero. “London newes from Linkin.”

Item:  Mistress Fur-None is much grieved at our Earl’s leaving.  And the rogue that turned cowbaby told her something that caused an unkindness betwixt her and our Earl.

None knows what it were.

Item:  The rogue was insolent to our Earl and Sir Water Rawly while they was playing at cards.  Then our Earl came upon the rogue near the tennis court, and struck him a blow.  The rogue pulled his hair, and when Queen Puss heard of this she praised him!

Our Earl and that cowbaby were arrkst to explain theirselves by Essicks and another great lord.

I knowed that.  But I (and my lord) do not know why Queen Puss is so unkind to him.  Small wonder my lord is full of discontentments.   

And if that weren’t newes enough, I hear my lord’s mother the Countess thinks to take another husband.

His name is Swillem Harfie [Sir William Hervey/Harvey].  He went with Essicks to Cadiz.  And to the Asores as captain of the Bonaventure.

“A good ship,” sayt Nero.  “But I never heared that Swillem did owt to tell of.”

My niece sayt, “Perchance he lacks money, and hopes to get his living from the Countess.  And she wants a lusty young man.”

I know not the truth of that.  My niece swore to discover it.

After I had writ all, she sayt to me, “Uncle, when you go from this world I shall not bide in this place.”

“What?” I cried.  “You have employment here.  The book-chamber will be yours.”

“But I wish to see the world,” sayt she.  “And when our Earl is oversea, this house may be closed to all.  Even us cats.”

I had not thought of that, but I shall not live to see it.  I have immortal longings in me.

“How would you go hence?” I arrkst.

“How came my mother hither?”

“That you know,” sayt I.  “She hid herself on a cart that carried her from the stable where we was born.”

“Then you have your answer,” sayt my niece.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib would have written this in late January/early February 1598.  It seems the Earl made a quick visit to Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Henri IV of France intended to make peace with Spain – a matter of concern to the English.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Mistress Prannell (nee Frances Howard) 1578-1639 – later Seymour, and finally Stuart – was a poor relation of the powerful Howard family.

A portrait (c. 1611) of Frances Howard – now Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford.  By Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Via Wikimedia Commons.

She married three times and died a Duchess, but was slow to give up on the Earl of Southampton.

The cats might have been more interested in her if they’d known that in July and August 1597 she was feeling poorly, and sent urine samples to astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman.

The samples would have been no help; reliable diagnoses from urine were not yet possible.

According to historian A. L. Rowse, she thought she might be pregnant.  Simon Forman assured her she wasn’t.

But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  Did she think he was the father?  Or did she suspect someone else might be?  Nothing is recorded.

The man Gib calls a rogue and a cowbaby is Ambrose Willoughby, a gentleman of the Queen’s Bedchamber.  He’s unlikely to have entered that sanctum – his job would have been to guard the door.

Rowland Whyte (writing in early 1598 to Sir Robert Sidney) says that the Earl of Southampton, Sir Walter Ralegh, and another gentleman were playing primero – similar to poker – in the Presence Chamber, a large reception room for people admitted to the Queen’s public presence.

The Queen had gone to bed, so Willoughby “desired them to give over”.  Then he threatened to call in the guard to take their table.  Sir Walter Ralegh (captain of the guard) gathered up his money and left, but the Earl “took exceptions”.  It was shortly after this that he hit Willoughby, who retaliated by pulling his hair.

Was an interrupted card game the only reason for the spat?  Or was it something to do with what Willoughby had told Elizabeth Vernon that annoyed or upset her?

Rowland Whyte also writes of the Earl being “troubled at her Majesty’s…usage of him.  Somebody hath played unfriendly parts with him.”   And Elizabeth Vernon “…doth wash her fairest face with too many tears” at the prospect of the Earl’s departure.  He hints that her reputation is at risk.  But whether she was quite as weepy as he suggests is debatable: a doleful face before Queen Elizabeth would have got no sympathy, and maybe a slap.

Next, Whyte reports that it was secretly said that she and the Earl were to be married.  Had they contracted to wed on his return from France?

Whatever, the Earl seems to have been, in modern parlance, Over It.

He was 24 with no career to speak of, and in debt.  There was none of the hoped-for glory from the Islands Voyage.  In his absence his executors had leave to sell off any of his properties except those still held by his mother.  He was probably all too keen to get away from Queen Elizabeth’s Court.