107:  A Kit for Our Earl

Mother Wort, Mug Wort, and Marsh Mallow – all considered helpful to women in labour.

When Onix next called, I meant to tell him of the quarrel betwixt His Harryship and his mother.

Before I could say owt, Onix arrkst me if I knew that Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] had brought forth a pretty she-kit.

I was vexed that I did not.

I arrkst him if his mistress had been called to attend upon her. 

He sayt she’d heard the newes from friends.  And that Lady Southampton (as he called Puss Fur-None) had likely been attended by Lady Rich’s midwife.

(Onix, being a cat of the middling sort, always spake most respective of great folks.)

“By Lady Rich, mean you the lady Penelope?  She that is cousin to Puss Fur-None and own sister to the Earl of Essex?” arrkst I, knowing I’d heard of that lady before.

“The same,” he sayt.  “And certes, Lady Rich has brought forth so many fine kits she would be a fit companion for the young Lady Southampton in her first travail.”

A full length portrait of a dark-eyed, fair-haired woman.
A Nicholas Hilliard miniature thought to be of Penelope, Lady Rich c1590.

“True,” sayt I, still displeased that he’d heard this newes before me.

I arrkst, “Know you why she has so many fine kits? It’s because she took a lesson from us queen cats, and has hoist her tail for more than one stout he.  Lord Rich is still living, but Lord Mountjoy is her husband in all but name.”

“That’s wicked talk,” sayt Onix.

But he did not deny it, nor could he.

Then, as was ever the way when Onix and I were together, Picker and Stealer showed their saucie faces.

I swear they sat upon the citie wall watching for a chance to vex me.

“Well met!” called Picker, averting her eyes most courteous.

“We bring newes to glad your heart,” sayt Stealer.

When villains speak with honey tongues, ’tis time to sharp your wits and wear a face as sweet as their words.

“We thought you should know,” sayt Picker, “that your Earl is come from France.”

“And has been sent to lie in no less a lodging than the Fleet, so gracious is Her Majestie,” sayt Stealer.

“A dank, noisome, and unwholesome place,” sayt Onix.

“It speaks!” cried Picker. “Cry you mercy, friend.  We took you for a scented nose-wipe.”

“Fresh spat into,” added Stealer.  “By one with lung-rot.”

Onix should learn to sharp his wits or keep silent.

I sayt in haste, “Let us be thankful that Earls have better accommodation in prison than you’re ever like to see in a palace.”

“E’en so, he’s cursing Dame Fortune,” sayt Picker.  “What did he win by wedding Puss Fur-None?  No money, nor no land.  An end to his travels.  The wrath of his mother, and the malice of Queen Puss.  And now a mere daughter, to crown all.”

“He told you so hisself, did he?” I arrkst.

“There’s no prison in this citie we can’t slip into,” boasted Stealer.

“Slipping into prison is no great matter,” sayt I.  “Slipping out requires more art.” 

“As your Earl may well learn, if he don’t please Queen Puss,” sayt Picker.

“And how should he do that?  Send her a sonnet in praise of her beauty?”

“Now there’s a merry thought,” sayt Stealer.  “Worse lies are told every day.  And all know poets are liars, in prison or out.”

“Was not your uncle a famous poet?” arrkst Picker.  “And are you not a skoller?  Best you pen a sonnet that your Earl can put his name to.”

“My Earl would not so abase hisself,” sayt I.  “He would rather be a lion on the field of battle than a lamb in the Queen’s presence.”

“Then let us pray that he has a sword that cannot rust, a coat of well-greased leather, and a horse with swans’ feet.”

“Indeed,” sayt I.

Swans’ feet?  On a horse?  Those sly sisters knew more than they were telling.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorElizabeth Vernon gave birth to a daughter in early November 1598.  (Like Tricks, I’ll keep on referring to her by her maiden name so as not to confuse her with the Earl’s mother, the Countess of Southampton senior.)

Around the same time, the Earl returned to England and was sent to the Fleet Prison.

Elizabeth Vernon may already have had a brief stay there, but this is uncertain.  One London gossip reported in early September that the Queen had commanded that “the sweetest and best appointed chamber in the Fleet,” be provided for her.

However, I’m not convinced that Queen Elizabeth would have risked imprisoning an Earl’s wife so far into her pregnancy.

The gossips were having a field day at the expense of Elizabeth Vernon and her Earl, but the Queen would have been blamed if a premature birth had resulted in the death of the child and perhaps the mother.

A Birthing Chamber.  The mother, now resting in bed, is being offered sustenance.  The midwife is washing the baby while her assistant stands ready with the swaddling cloth.  The mother’s friends at the far right of the picture are already celebrating.  A cheerful scene, but one with hints of disorder.  Does the picture suggest that women can get a little out of hand on an all-female occasion?
Advertisements

103:  We Go To Paws Yard

There came a sweet night with a fat moon.  Linkin and I knew leaf fall was nigh, and we sat upon our roof tasting the air.

Many cats were a-stir.  We watched them making their ways across the rooves to Paws [St Paul’s], and guessed this was the night for an assembly.

Another view of St Paul’s. The silhouette of the resident cat can just be seen on the roof.

I caught a waft of cinnamon, and saw Onix.  He checked hisself when he saw Linkin, but then (Linkin showing no objection to his presence) he joined us.

He abased hisself so low in friendship he near rolled off our roof.  Then he righted hisself, addressing Linkin as Your Excellencie.  Thinking (most like) that Linkin also served our Earl.

Linkin sayt nowt to correct him.

Onix told us his mistress was fetched out so sudden that her maid, running behind her with her stool, had no time to chase him back into their shop.

“Her stool?” I arrkst, in a maze.  “Are citie cows milked so late?”

That made Onix and Linkin merry.

Onix sayt, “When next my mistress tells me I must bide in at night, I’ll tell her so should she, for all good cows are a-bed.”

A midwife seated on her stool – in this case a small chair. The mother is on a birthing chair, supported by a friend or relative. An early 16th century German illustration, via Wikimedia.

Then he sayt his mistress was no milkmaid but a midwife sworn, and of good report among all.

I was shamed that I’d not guessed this, even though there was no call for midwives in my mother’s barn, nor in my uncle’s bookroom.

Onix sayt he was going to Paws, and invited us to go with him.

I thought Linkin would not come, but he followed us slow and statelie.

Then Onix turned instructive.  Viz:

“First, all must do the bidding of Paws herself, for she keeps both church and yard and no cat may be received there without she say so.”

And, “None may speak unless they’re called upon by Paws, else there’ll be nowt but wauls and brawls and we shall go away no wiser than we came.”

And, “You may be arrkst to give an account of yourselves, so all may know you’re not from strange lands.  There are some in this citie who hate strangers.”

And, “Say nothing against Her Majestie.”

In truth, my heart sank when I heared all this, but Linkin gave me the look that sayt: You’re not in Titchfield now.  So I kept my thoughts well hid.

We leapt up the wall and down to the yard, where cats were gathering in a circle.  A grey queen sat watching all.

Being new, Linkin and I took places at the back, as is courteous.

Before Onix left us, he arrkst if it were true that Her Majestie had sent Mistress Fur-None – her ladyship, as all must now call her – to the prison nigh unto the Stink River [the Fleet].

“For,” he sayt, “a woman in kit should not look on ugly things nor dwell in noisome places, lest the babe takes some hurt thereby.  Or comes ugly and stinkish into this world.”

Was ever the babe born that was not an ugly little stinkard?  But I sayt nowt.

Linkin told Onix that we’d heard that newes, but could not swear to it.

Then near me one whispered, “Sister, I could have sworn we was at Paws, but have we strayed among the fields?  Can you not nose a country coney?”

There came the reply, “In truth, sister, I nosed nowt but a passing grocer’s fart that near struck me dead.”

That were Picker and Stealer – the cats that insulted me when first we met.

Onix looked back, hissing, “My master is no mere grocer, as you well know, and my mistress carries with her nowt that is not healthful.”

Then the grey queen cat, who I guessed was Paws herself, stepped forward and called all to order.

A young man (probably an apprentice) is serving a female customer, and a woman (the apothecary's wife or daughter?) is preparing a mixture. Two men are at a desk - one, seated, is writing down what they are discussing.
An apothecary’s shop:  this is a Flemish one, which would explain the un-English looking headgear worn by the two men – one of whom is probably the apothecary, and the other his assistant.  From F. Kitchener’s ‘Illustrated History of Furniture’ (1903) via the Internet Archive.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorEven an Earl’s cat has to learn what it’s like to be a small member of a very large community.

And no surprise that Tricks finds Onix too prim and proper.  Cats share the preoccupations of their households, and midwives were pillars of their communities.

Midwives were supposed to be licensed by the local ecclesiastical authority – though this didn’t always happen, particularly in country districts.  There’s an example of an Elizabethan midwife’s oath printed in John Strype’s Annals of the Reformation… Vol 1 Part 2 (1824 ed).

In summary, Eleonor Pead swears to exercise her office according to her God-given knowledge and skill, help both poor and rich women, endeavour to ensure that only the true father of the child is named as such, permit no baby to be substituted at birth, use no sorcery or incantation, not destroy or dismember any child, and use only proper words and pure water when performing an emergency baptism (i.e. if the child is not likely to survive).

Onix’ announcement that his master was no mere grocer explains his master’s occupation.

Apothecaries (the equivalent of our pharmacists) both used and sold spices, which were considered to have medicinal value.  At the end of the 16th century apothecaries were still members of the Grocers Company, but in 1617 The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was incorporated.