102:  Queen Puss Breathes Fire

A detail from an early portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, showing an open jewellery box, a lavish display of pearls, brooches etc, and a pincushion containing the pins grand Elizabethan ladies used to hold their formal attire together. His Harryship and Puss Fur-None were wed in hugger-mugger.

It was the talk of our household.

’Twas sayt that when Queen Puss learnt of it she ran so mad she went not to chapel that day.

I went again to the wall of Essex House, but had no sight of His Harryship or any lady that might be Puss Fur-None.

Even so, Linkin and I were joyed that we’d known of their doings before the master and our mistress did.  Or Queen Puss.

She spake of sending all who were privy to this mischief to the Tower.

Not just our Earl and his Puss, but any who knew of it!

“Well,” sayt I to Linkin, “I always wished to see the Tower.”

He sayt it would not come to that, but the Earl and his new Countess would surely be punished.

We heard the master say that the Daffers [Danvers] brothers were in the citie, and our Earl may have travelled with them.  Even though Sir Rabbit [Robert Cecil] was given a letter from our Earl saying he hoped Sir Harry Daffers would soon come back to France, so they might go into Italy together.

Linkin believed that letter were a trick.  He sayt our Earl wrote it to make Sir Rabbit and all think he was still in Paris, not here.

Oh, his Harryship is suttle.  But how he passed unremarked mazed us both, he being so long and having much hair.

A long-haired young man in a white silk doublet with gold and purple trunkhose, white silk stockings and black shoes. He's also wearing a black and gold gorget, and a plumed helmet and breastplate are nearby.
The Earl of Southampton, or “His Harryship” as the disrespectful Tricks calls him. This is probably his wedding portrait, painted some time after the event.  He wouldn’t have looked like this when he slipped into England.

Then His Harryship returned to France, thinking no harm, and writ again to Sir Rabbit.

This time he arrkst him to tell Queen Puss that he was married.  He hoped Sir Rabbit could do this in such a way as to cause her least offence.

Too late for that.  Queen Puss was alreadie breathing fire.

She sayt he’d brought dishonour upon her Court, and shown hisself most contemptuous in his secret comings and goings.  She commanded him home again.

All here sayt that the longer our Earl tarried in France, the more offended Queen Puss would be.  

Linkin and I agreed that ’twould be no wonder if she sprouted scales and wings, and flew to France to smoke him out herself.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon were married in mid to late August, 1598.  That coincided with the Danvers brothers return to England. 

Elizabeth Vernon was 6 months pregnant.  If the Earl’s plan was to slip unnoticed into England with the Danvers, he may have intended to arrive a month or more earlier, but their departure was delayed because Sir Harry Danvers was ill.

It’s unlikely the Earl was delighted by the pregnancy.  He’d seen no future for himself at Queen Elizabeth’s court and spoken of serving Henri IV, probably in a military capacity.  Henri’s recent peace with Spain would have left him at a loose end, career-wise.

However, I think Elizabeth Vernon has had a grudging press.  One of the Earl’s biographers, A.L. Rowse, believes that the Earl was “homosexual” and married her at the insistence of her cousin, the Earl of Essex.

G.P.V. Akrigg suggests that the Earl vacillated, balancing his feelings for “the girl” (as Akrigg calls the 25 year old bride-to-be) and his friendship with Essex against his need for a wife with the wealth any Earl could reasonably expect and which the Earl of Southampton needed.

It’s hard to avoid getting the impression that the Earl married Elizabeth Vernon only because she was pregnant.

However, she may have been pregnant because they intended to marry – though probably not until after the Earl, who had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to spend two years overseas, had completed his travels and/or found a niche for himself at a foreign court.

And, despite the Earl’s possible flirtations (and maybe more) in 1597 with Mary Howard and Frances Prannell, he and Elizabeth Vernon had been together for three years.

Perhaps the best comment on their marriage is this unconventional portrait of Elizabeth Vernon.  Is it her wedding portrait?

She’s getting dressed.  Her hair is long and loose, in the style of a virgin bride.  Written on her comb is “Menez moi doucement,” which translates, somewhat inadequately, as “Manage (or Lead) me gently.”

The proportions of her body are odd, so it’s probably accidental that she looks pregnant – even though the position and curve of her left hand draw attention to her stomach.

The little dog on the cushion by her feet may be a favorite pet, but also symbolises fidelity.   

The fur-trimmed red robe lying beside her looks like that of a countess, to be worn on state occasions.  On the table is a fine display of jewellery, and a pin-cushion with all the pins required to hold a grand Elizabethan lady’s formal attire together.

The portrait, though carefully posed, is unusually intimate for its time.  The Earl must have liked it, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived.


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.