87:  Nero Goes Forth

A black cat (Nero) peeking round a door.My niece and I were at our reading when Nero crept in.  You would think he were born in this house, so apt is he to find a door to slip through.

He should have been a spy cat, not a sea cat.

He told us he had not yet finished the heroickal verses he means to give out at our Field, but begged me to set down in ink his true account of the voyage.  Else it may be lost.

“Willingly,” sayt I, “for I wish to know more of my lord’s doings.”

Nero settled hisself.  This (in brief) is what he sayt.

“After my old master went from this world, leaving me (as I then believed) with nowt but a place in Linkin’s household, I resolved to seek death or honour at sea.

“From Portsmouth I took ship to Plymouth where our fleet lay.  There, I saw men employed earlier as mariners being put ashore, though that left our ships ill-manned.  These men knew not one rope from another.

“I heared our Earl say that scant as his knowledge is, even he could see some were unfit for service at sea.

“On the key I made the akwayntance of a cat who’d come ashore from the Rainbow.

“She told me the press-masters took bribes and let the proper mariners go.  She did not blame the mariners.  They knew they’d get nowt from the Queen for their pains but scant vittles and sour ale.

“That was not newes to me.  For not only does Queen Puss [Bess] distain us, her pen men defraud us.  They care not that we hazard our lives while they lie snug at home.

“Then my new friend sayt our expedition might come to nowt!

“It was ever her captain’s custom before a voyage to seek advice from a learned doctor.  This doctor had warned of great peril for our General.  And true, Essicks’ ship was leaking before he reached Plymouth.

“Also, the doctor himself had thought to accompany her captain, but had seen from his figures that there would be great winds, sickness and the like.

“I arrkst my she-friend if she meant to stay ashore, but she believed her captain and her ship would come safe through.

“And I sayt my captain was my old shipmate John Trout [Troughton], a man who knows his trade.

“So she and I left Plymouth in good heart.  As did our Earl.

detail-from-a-painting-by-willem-van-diest-c1600-1678-public-domain-via-wikimedia-commons“All now know this learned doctor spake true.  The like weather at this time of year was never seen, but we weren’t driven back to port.  What some called a tempest was to us no more than a stiff gale.

“We kept with Lord Thoms Howit’s ships and came to the coast of Spain. 

“We waited for the others there, and gave the Spaniards good sight of us.  They did not come out to fight.  We believed they were not readie.

“Then a pinniss [pinnace] brought word from Essicks that we was not to let them see us or do owt till he joined us.  Too late for that.

“So Lord Thoms Howit ordered that we run to Plymouth on the wind that would not let the other ships set forth again.  And there we lay, whilst vittles were consumed and almost all our soldiers sent home.

“In truth, my she-friend and I agreed that were it not for our reputations, we would have gone ashore and not returned to our ships.  Then came a fair wind, and we went forth.”

An Elizabethan Pinnace, from ain illustration in Julian S. Corbett's 'Drake and the Tudor Navy' (1917) via the Internet Archive.
An Elizabethan Pinnace, from an illustration in Julian S. Corbett’s ‘Drake and the Tudor Navy’ (1917) via the Internet Archive.

By the time I’d writ this, my foot and leg aked.  I told my niece (listening prick-eared) that she should take up our pen.

But Nero sayt he too was wearie, and would return to end his account on the morrow.

No word of thanks to me.

I was near to telling Nero that I was not his secretarie when he added, “My she-friend from the Rainbow told me of another who sought advice from the doctor.  Her question touched upon our Earl.  I hope I may remember it when next we meet.”

Oh, that cat’s an arrant knave.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe captain of the Rainbow was Sir William Monson (c1568-1643), who’d been knighted the previous year at Cadiz.

He went to Oxford University aged about thirteen, but ran away to sea when he was sixteen.  He had a long and adventurous career.  Later in life he wrote his account of the war at sea. Edited by the naval historian Michael Oppenheim, it was published in five volumes between 1902 and 1914 by the Navy Records Society.

Sir William Monson was a regular client of the astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman (1552-1611) who kept careful notes of his consultations and whose clients represented a cross-section of society.

John Troughton/Traughton, captain of the Garland, had sailed with Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake on their last, disastrous expedition to the West Indies in 1595/96, and sent a report of it to Sir Robert Cecil.

Nero wasn’t the only poet on this voyage (if he went, that is).  John Donne, who’d been to Cadiz the previous year, was also there, probably on the Earl of Essex’ ship.


85:  A Sea of Troubles

A tailless black cat walking by the shore

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 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 as they set forth.  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?

But 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.