85:  A Sea of Troubles

A tailless black cat walking by the shore
Nero

Never before had we such need of Nero.  But he’s vanisht.

I went to our stable to discover what the cats there knew.

They arrkst me if ’twere true that Linkin had murdered Nero because he did not want him for a chamber fellow.

“A wicked lie,” sayt I.  “Who told you that?”

They narrowed their eyes, and swore they’d forgot.  Liars all.

No matter.  I can guess, and will reprove her.

Meantime Linkin’s mistress runs hither and yon, crying, “Blackie, Blackie.”

She should save her breath to cool her broth.  Nero heeded his master’s whistle, not the call of Blackie.

Linkin’s mistress also sayt, “I promised that good old man I would look to his cat.  He oft gave me French wines, and left me a fine gold ring to remember him by.”

That made us merry.  Before Nero’s master died, Linkin’s mistress spake of him and his friends as ancient pirates.  Who did nowt but haunt our havens [harbours] seeking ill-got things to buy and sell.

“True,” sayt Linkin. “For they sold my mistress a carpet, some sugar, green ginger, and a piece of Indian stuff like to cloth of silver.  All from Cadiz.  Sure, she has hopes of our newest expedition.”

But oh, what newes and rumours we have heard.

All brought by stranger cats who came looking for hot queens.  They hear the buzz from other cats met on their wanderings.  And so newes travels from one country [county] to the next.

Even from Plymouth.  I know not where that port is, but I hear tell its land and water are named in honour of us cats.

A black and white drawing of a small fortified town, showing the whereabouts of the Catwater.
A section from a 17th century map of Plymouth, showing Catdown and the Catwater.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Item:  Our ships no sooner put to sea than they was scattered.  Sir Water Rawly [Walter Ralegh] stayed but a week amidst wild winds, and then came back to port.  A cat who leapt off his ship and swam ashore sayt she never was so sick in all her days.

Item:  Next came our heroick Essicks, with his ship’s seams opened, masts sprung, and decks fallen.  

Item:  Others returned, but Lord Thoms Howit’s ship braved the tempest and held course for the coast of Spain.  My lord’s did the like, and Lord Mountjoy’s.

Then another cat came by and sayt all our ships lay at Plymouth, and had much sickness in them.  The soldiers were let go, save they that Siffrans [Sir Francis Vere] brought from the Netherlands.

Many of the gentlemen voluntaries slipt away.  Some had lost hope of gain from this voyage.  Others were sick and fearful of the sea.

Next we heared Essicks and Sir Water Rawly wisht to make for the Indies and attack the King of Spain’s treasure ships.  Queen Puss [Bess] sayt No.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex - a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex – a miniature by Isaac Oliver. © V&A Museum, London.

Without Nero, none knew what to believe.

Our fleet set forth again.

Linkin had little newes from London, save a report that our Earl is dead.

“Fools’ talk,” sayt Linkin.  “Essicks, he, and all are safe among some islands, whose name I forget.”

Nero would have known it.  

Then all was quiet.  Came leaf fall, and we heared our fleet was daily looked for [expected].

A cat came calling, “Newes, newes, now,” beneath the windows.  We hastened to our Field.

This cat gave warning that Spanish sails have been sighted!  And none knows where our ships are.

Some were so affrighted by this report that they ran home to hide theirselves.

We old cats lingered.  The Spanish have come near before, and did not the Queen Cat of Heaven lash her tail and make great waves against them?

I wish the Mad Cat were among us still, for he claimed to know her mind.

Sailing ships being tossed on high seas.
Sea Storm, by Abraham Willaerts (c1603-1669) via Wikimedia Commons

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorLinkin’s mistress may have been a puritan, but it seems she liked her luxuries.

One of Queen Elizabeth’s several annoyances after the previous year’s victory at Cadiz – “pillaged to a farthing,” as one there said – was the disappearance of much of the loot.  When ships returned to their home ports, goods were taken off and stashed in local cellars and warehouses.

Elizabeth wasn’t interested in things like carpets, wall hangings, clothes, and household stuff, but she expected coin, plate (silver) and jewellery to be handed over for the Crown’s coffers.  Presumably chests of sugar and other exotic foodstuffs should also have been offered up.

The merchants who’d supplied ships for the expedition had their own ideas.  As did the entrepreneurs who’d tagged along with the Queen’s fleet, and many others besides.

Alas, this year’s expedition seemed unlikely to yield such spoils.

The islands whose name Linkin couldn’t remember are the Azores.  The Earl of Essex (now lacking the troops to occupy a Spanish port, and with barely enough for an attack on the Spanish fleet in Ferrol harbour) had encountered another storm that scattered and damaged his ships, making the Ferrol attack impossible.

He moved to the second phase of his plan and left the coast of Spain to intercept the returning treasure fleet near the Azores.  He’d received a misleading report that Spanish warships from Ferrol had gone to act as its escort.  Perhaps he also thought that the armada was not ready to make for England?

Gib must have written this at the end of October/early November 1597.  Not a good time of year for any to be at sea, regardless of how the Queen Cat of Heaven felt about them.

84: Contrary Winds

Linkin and I were private when we spake of my lady Moll’s troubles.  He gave other newes at our Field.

He sayt our ships that will go against Spain left the Thames and came along our coast, slowed only by ill winds.  Along the way they took on soldiers.  All good men, not rogues and vagabonds.

Our Dutch friends who helped us in our victory at Cadiz have brought their ships to join us.

A black and white photo; head and shoulders profile of a soldier in his thirties.
Sir Francis Vere (1561-1609), from a portrait reproduced in ‘The Fighting Veres” by Clements R. Markham (1888).

“And,” sayt Linkin, “Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] came with one thousand or more of his soldiers from the Low Countries, where they aid the Dutch against the Spanish.  But here’s scandal for you.”

We pricked our ears.

“Essicks and Siffrans once were friends.  And though Essicks strives to keep all sweet, there’s a coolness come betwixt them.

“Essicks commands this expedition.  Below him, Lord Thoms Howit and Sir Water Rawly have command at sea.

“Siffrans Fear thought to command on land, as he did at Cadiz.  But no.  Lord Mountjoy has that honour, though he knows scarce more of war than what he’s read in books.

Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, painted c1594 by an unknown artist. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, 1563-1606, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Essicks sayt ’twas not his choice, but Her Majestie’s.  And he made Siffrans a Marshall, and told him that’s a better place than Mountjoy has. 

“Siffrans was not appeased.  He sayt that Queen Puss would not force Essicks to do owt that was not of his choosing.  

“But who thinks Queen Puss does all that Essicks wills?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal. “Not I, though I wish she would.”

“Who is this Mount Joy?” came a call.

“A friend to our Earl,” sayt I.  “And to Essicks.”

My saucie niece whispered, “Say rather, who is Joy?  His horse or Her Majestie?”

Linkin heared her.  He sayt, “Neither.  Better that Mountjoy were named Mount Penny.  She’s own sister to Essicks.”

The lady Penelope is also a friend to my lord.  Linkin grows too bold in his slanders.

A rather dark portrait of two expensively, but relatively simply dressed young Elizabethan women.
A portrait said to be of Dorothy (left) and Penelope Devereux.  Penelope was married to Robert, Lord Rich in 1581, but by 1597 her relationship with Lord Mountjoy was well-established.

I sayt, “Queen Puss likes Lord Mountjoy.  Who knows if Essicks spake true when he sayt the choice was hers?  But small wonder Siffrans Fear is offended.  Who would not be?”

Our kitchen cat arrkst, “When shall they quarrel with the Spanish rather than each other?  And our Earl prove his valour?”

“When all are readie at Plymouth,” sayt Linkin. “But the winds are contrary.”

Many looked for Nero then.  Linkin hears the town talk, but ’tis Nero who knows of the sea.

He was not among us.  None could nose him.  We was mazed.

Then Linkin sayt that Nero, ill-humoured when last we met, had kept away to spite us.

My niece feared he’d made away with hisself.  “He may have drank poison,” sayt she.  “Or leapt from a most high place and not arranged hisself upon the air to make safe landing.  Perchance he fell upon a sword.”

detail-from-a-painting-by-abraham-willaerts-17th-century(The chit has read too many plays.)

“Self-murder is forbid us by the Queen Cat of Heaven,” sayt I.

“True,” called an old cat.  “But when we know our days are done we may refuse all meat and drink, and so haste our end.”

Our kitchen cat sayt, “Perchance our black and melancolick friend has died for grief.”

(She has heared too many woeful ballads.)

I sayt, “Cats have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them.  But not for grief.”

But now I’m troubled, too.  And I pray there are no winds so contrary that they trouble my lord’s ship Garland.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in June/July 1597, around the same time as the fleet finally left Plymouth.  The historian Paul E. J. Hammer describes it as “…the best prepared Elizabethan expeditionary force – even better than that of 1596…”

Their first action was to be the destruction of the Spanish fleet preparing at the port of Ferrol for yet another attempt on England.

The force consisted of 17 of Queen Elizabeth’s ships (including two Spanish galleons, captured the previous year at Cadiz) plus armed merchantmen, transport and supply ships, and the Dutch squadron of around 24 ships.  Probably 120 to 170 ships in all.

The English ships were divided into three squadrons, one commanded by the Earl of Essex, one by Lord Thomas Howard (Vice Admiral), and one by Sir Walter Ralegh (Rear Admiral).

The transports carried around 5,000-6,000 soldiers.  England had no standing army that could be sent abroad, but relied on professionals who’d served overseas, volunteers, and “rogues and vagabonds” scooped off the streets.  Essex had no use for the last group.

He’d therefore put in place a system that drew on and developed the structure of the local militias to provide territorial forces.  The militias’ role had been to defend their counties if the need arose.  How did the men from along the south coast feel about being taken when harvest time was approaching?  Reactions were probably mixed.  The London levies might have been happy; Londoners loved Essex.

While Queen Elizabeth had been loathe to approve much overseas service for Lord Mountjoy, he was not as inexperienced as Linkin suggests.

There was also Sir Francis Vere (grimly resolved to do his duty) with his veterans from the Netherlands, and the gentlemen “voluntaries” who equipped themselves and went for adventure, loot, and even a knighthood.

At Cadiz the Lord Admiral and the Earl of Essex had knighted about 60 men, and “Cadiz knights” became something of a joke.  One man remarked that some had done no more than march into Cadiz’ marketplace on a hot day, wearing back and breastplates and carrying their pikes.