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 been dressed 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 of Southampton’s biographers, A.L. Rowse, believes that he was “homosexual” and married her at the insistence of her cousin, the Earl of Essex.

G.P.V. Akrigg suggests that he 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.

Both biographers leave 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.

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.

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