101:  More of our Earl and his Mistress

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.My aromatickal friend accompanied me to my lodging in Black-Fryes [Blackfriars].  I told him I did but bide there against my lord’s return.

“Which will be soon, I trust,” sayt he, virtuous.  “I hear poor Mistress Fur-None [Vernon] is grown so fat she feigned illness and fled the Court for fear of Her Majestie’s displeasure.”

I was vexed that I’d not known this.  “To hell with Her Majestie,” sayt I.

His eyes grew round. “That’s wicked talk.”

“I mean,” I sayt, to smooth him, “that my lord has done no wrong.  Before he set forth for France ’twas sayt he and Mistress Fur-None would marry.”

“Then it matters not how hard upon the wedding their kit comes,” sayt he.  “There’s little shame to speak of.”

“Were they cats,” I sayt, “there’d be no shame nor no wedding.”

“True,” sayt he.

We sat a while longer.

I arrkst him if he went to Paws’ yard [St Paul’s churchyard].  I’d seen cats gather there, and guessed they met for newes or merriment as we’d done in our Field at home.

A reconstructed image of Old St Pauls, via Wikimedia Commons. Neither Tricks nor the Earl of Southampton would have ever seen its spire, which was destroyed by fire in 1561, and never rebuilt.
The cathedral itself was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666.

He told me he had scant leisure, so necessary was he in his employment.  “But if the night’s fair when my mistress and her maid set forth on women’s work,” he sayt, “I slip out too.”

He offered to call for me when next he went to Paws.

I was of a mind to tell him he had no need to call, for I could nose him a mile off.  But I forebore.

I told him my name was Tricks.  He sayt London cats go by many names, but in his household all called him Onix.

(A fool name for a cat.)

And so we parted friends, though I arrkst myself if Picker and Stealer might prove better company.

“What?” called Linkin, when he saw me at our window.  “Back so soon?  And not yet Lord Mayor?”

A black, white and orange cat peering through a leaded window-pane.

“How is it,” I arrkst, “that Mistress Fur-None has a kit in her belly, and I must hear it from an up-puffed pomander?”

“I know nowt of that,” sayt Linkin.  “The night’s talk here was of Lord Purrlie.  He’s on his deathbed.  Queen Puss [Bess] went to visit him, and fed him broth with her own hands.  She won’t know herself without him.  His first son Thoms [Thomas] will have the name Lord Purrlie, but his clever son Rabbit [Robert] will have his place at the Queen’s elbow.”

“I care nowt for politicks,” sayt I.  “This cat sayt Puss Fur-None is hiding from the Queen.  And where’s his Harryship?  In hiding from Puss Fur-None?”

“Our Earl’s not one to forsake his friends,” sayt Linkin.  “He helped the Daffers [Danvers] brothers flee, and now they’ll have their pardon.  And did not our sea-friend Nero say that when the Mathew lay stricken in the water, our Earl’s Garland stood by to give aid?  Certes, if he and Puss Fur-None are not wed, they soon will be.” 

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWilliam Cecil, Lord Burghley, died in London in early August 1598, aged 77.  He’d been at Queen Elizabeth’s side throughout her reign, and I suspect she would have been too distressed to give any thought to Elizabeth Vernon’s departure from Court.

Tricks may have been unimpressed by Onix, but he seems well up on city gossip.

It wasn’t unusual for Elizabethan brides to be pregnant on their wedding day; I’ve read that around 25% were.

Social historians attribute this to the custom variously referred to as betrothal, espousal, contracting, or hand-fasting.  A couple exchanged vows to marry de presenti (in the present), or de futuro (in the future).  The vows were usually made before witnesses, and often involved the exchange of little gifts or rings.

As far as both the church and the law were concerned, people weren’t legally married until a ceremony had been performed by a priest or minister.  A preliminary exchange of vows wasn’t necessary.

However, a betrothal de presenti was binding, if not strictly legal.  Many betrothed couples considered themselves to be as good as married, with predictable results.

The church may not have approved but the wider community was less concerned, provided the wedding took place before the baby was born.  Otherwise the child’s legal status was compromised.  However, a percentage of the poor probably never bothered with a wedding.  As they had little or nothing to leave their children, rights of inheritance would have been irrelevant.  

A betrothal de futuro could be broken off by mutual consent, but if the couple had sexual intercourse then it became binding, too.


81:  Of Wenches and War

Oh, what times we’ve had at our Field of late.  Nero is in a humour blacker than his coat.  He told me (privily) that his old master has been sick again, and like to die.

Nero fears he will be offered a place in Linkin’s house.  He swore he’d as lief drown hisself.

“There is a willow grows aslant our brook,” sayt he.  “I could climb it and cast myself in.  But water’s an element I’m native and indued to.”

Native and indued.  What fine words.

“Because you was birthed in Fence [Venice]?” I arrkst.

An early view of Venice, by Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century).
A view of Venice, by cartographer Gabriel Bucelin (17th Century). Via Wikimedia.

“And because I swim too well to drown,” sayt Nero, most tragickal.

“Then best you content yourself with making a scene for all to marvel at,” I sayt.  “Come floating by us decked with waterish weeds, and singing sad songs.”

Linkin told me (privily) that he does not fancie Nero as a chamber-fellow, but if his mistress wills such a thing then he must suffer it. 

Ophelia in her wet element.  From Sir John Millais' famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragickal a scene, he would probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water, and his lack of tail might affect his balance.
Ophelia in her element, singing.  From Sir John Millais’ famous painting, held by Tate Britain.  Were Nero to attempt so tragick a scene, he’d probably have to put his feet as well as his paws above water.  Plus, his lack of tail might affect his balance.

I made all merry with my newes of the shameless Pusses I writ of previous.  And I told of another young wench that Queen Puss [Bess] does nowt but complain of.  Her name is Mary Howit [Howard].

“That very name,” sayt Linkin, “is trouble writ large.”

Nero let out a screech, and bristled up.  He believed Linkin spake against the Lord Admiral (another Howit) who is much loved by mariners.

Other cats called for peace.  They wisht to hear more scandal.  None of us loves Queen Puss.  Her very name is blasphemious.  ’Tis one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and we never heared that women may take it.

And all know Queen Puss distains our Earl.  It seems he can do nowt to please her.

Linkin told how Mary Howit attires herself most fine, hoping to take the eye of our Earl.  Some say she has received much favour and marks of love from him.

“Marks of love?” came a call.  “What are they?”

“Spittle on scruffs,” one cried.  All screeched so loud I feared we might be chased from our Field.

Queen Puss called Mary Howit an ungracious flouting wench.

Mary was unwilling to carry Her Majestie’s mantle when she took the air in her garden.  Nor was she ready in the Privy Chamber with Her Majestie’s cup.

An elegant but weary looking woman in silvery white, wearing magnificent jewels,
Queen Elizabeth in her sixties – from a portrait unlikely to have been seen by many before her death. The original is held by The Elizabethan Gardens in North Carolina. Visit them (or their website) for the whole painting and the story of its purchase and authentication.

In truth, she’s never where she should be for her duty to Queen Puss.

“She slips out to call for our Earl,” sayt a young queen cat.

“And he runs to her, as all lusty fellows should,” cried a stone-cat.

I sayt, “I hope she has a loud voice, for my lord will soon take ship against Spain.”

True.  He had leave to travel, but now I hear he will join our newest expedition.  Those Spanish rogues are making readie to come at us again, so we will strike at them.

All were mazed to hear of this.

“What?” they cried.  “Old Puss has oped the door?  Our Earl may go forth and fight any that seeks to come into our land?”

I sayt, “Old Lord Purrlie’s son Sir Rabbit [Robert] spake a word for him.”

At last my lord can prove his valour.  And keep hisself safe from the saucie strumpets that serve Queen Puss.

I pray he comes safe home.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOn 23 May 1597 a William Fenton wrote to Queen Elizabeth’s godson John Harington (of water-closet fame) expressing his dismay at Lady Mary Howard’s attempts to “win” the “young earl.”

Mr Fenton appears to have been a friend of Mary’s, and was concerned that she might lose her place at Court.  He doesn’t name the earl.

I’m happy to take the cats’ word that it was Southampton.  Essex was a more frequent topic of gossip, but he was 31.  Not old, but unlikely to be specified as young.  Also, he was married.  Any winning of him would have been very temporary.

Not only had Mr Fenton attempted to placate the Queen, he also hoped John Harington might help smooth things over, and even arrange for a word on Mary’s behalf to be dropped in Lord Burghley’s ear.

Poor Lord Burghley.  Seventy-six years old and with deteriorating health, he’d have had more important things to worry about.  Such as: famine in parts of the country because of the bad harvests, the ongoing war with Spain, growing resistance in Ireland…