184:  I Defend Myself

Picker and Stealer gave out the charges against me.

Item:  I had betrayed a plat to blow all stinking Scots back to Scotland.

Item:  I had writ a letter to one Mount-Eagle, an old akwayntance of my mother, advising him not to go to the King’s parlement.

One Mount-Eagle, better known as Lord Monteagle (c1575-1622).
Tricks saw him fall into the Thames on the day of the Essex Rising.

Item:  Mount-Eagle took the letter to Mr Secretary, who had showed it to his friends.  (That were my fault, too.)

Item:  I was an upcreeping ear-licker who shamed all rebellous cats, and most of all my mother.

’Mazed as I was by these falsehoods, that last charge pricked me sore.

I sayt, “I have not shamed my mother.  I saw her not long since.  And whiles I was with her I spake against the King and all Scots as rebellous as you could wish.”

The minions flatted their fur and raised their ears.  I guessed they wished to know what I had sayt.

I turned cunning then.

I sayt, “In the countrie I did what all do there.  I mean hunt, hear gossips’ talk, and tell old tales.  I told a tale of witch Scots who christened a poor cat and raised great winds against the King.  But I swear upon my life I never writ no letter.  Nor knew of any plat.”

I should not have spake those last few words.

Picker sayt, “But I myself told you of the blow that was to come.”

“Mean you,” arrkst I, “your words that King, Queen, my Earl and all may be raised so high they would never come to earth again?  I thought you spake of witches and their wind.”

Then I sayt, cool, “I repeated your words to my lady mother, I do confess.  Perchance she wrote the letter?  What was contained therein?”

The mystery letter, written in one sentence.  The warning is (with modern spelling) ‘…though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them…’    The full text of the letter, and a modern ‘translation’, is on the National Archives website.

“All know that now,” sayt Stealer.  “We marvel that you do not.”

 “Soon even the King will know of it,” sayt Picker.  “Or so the cat that keeps Mr Secretary’s house says.”

“We hear tell she’s your sister,” called a minion.  “Can we believe her?”

“Believe me,” I sayt.  “If I or my lady mother had writ a letter, we would have slipped it in our Earl’s baggage for his servants to find.  Why warn this Mount-Eagle, whose name I never heard before, but not out Earl?”

Picker and Stealer are not fool.  They blinked at that.

“Your ladyships,” sayt I. “Permit me, your most humble servant, to take my leave.”

And, to spite their prick-eared minions, I added, “The morrow is All Hallow E’en, and I meant to tell my witch tale here.  Now I know I’m not welcome.”

A grey tabby cat, peering eagerly over the back of a chair.
Luvvie the Player Cat, hoping for the part of Thrice, a brinded cat.

At that a cat who’d sat quiet upon a wall cried out, “Snakes-Purr has stole your tale!  He’s making a play of it.  Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed!  That’s my kew.  I enact Thrice, and enter mewing.”

“Chase that clown off,” commanded Stealer.

The minions ran at him.

That was my kew.  I fled too.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorOne of the better documentaries on the plot is Gunpowder, Treason and Plot (2001).  It cuts a few corners, but includes some interesting comments from historians, though Alison Weir’s description of King James is derived from a hostile source, and Robert Cecil looks downright sinister in the re-enactments.

Eight of the thirteen plotters.  Missing are Robert Keyes, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby, and Francis Tresham.

As for the letter?  The wording certainly sounds like a cat’s attempt to describe an explosion.  Harry’s mother Tricks had form with some of the plotters.  Robert Catesby, John and Christopher Wright, and possibly John Grant and one of the Winters were involved in the Essex Rising of 1601, along with the distinctly unenthusiastic “plotter” Francis Tresham and Lord Monteagle.

If the Earl of Essex had succeeded in his aims of having Queen Elizabeth name James as her successor and call a parliament to impeach Robert Cecil, it’s unlikely Catesby and his associates would have been content.  What he/they seem to have decided they wanted was a Catholic nation under a Catholic monarch.  They put out feelers to Spain as a source of aid.  Then King James made peace with Spain.

James, though raised a Calvinist, was relaxed on religion.  He wasn’t upset when his Lutheran wife converted to Catholicism, and showed no interest in reducing the ceremonies and rituals retained by the Church of England.  He saw himself as a peacemaker and reconciler.  He probably underestimated how difficult that could be.

Robert Catesby and his fellow extremists turned to direct action.  It’s no surprise that Picker and Stealer knew of the plot by the spring of 1605.  When did Robert Cecil learn of it?  Lord Monteagle took the letter to him on 26 October.  According to historian Jenny Wormald[1]  Robert Cecil showed it to a few other Privy Councillors and said he’d been warning James of papist plots for the past three months.

James – away hunting – returned to London on October 31.  He saw the letter, though no obvious action was taken until 4 November.

Much as I would like to believe Tricks wrote it, I accept Harry’s reasoning as to why she didn’t.  Anyway, even if she figured out a way of sending it while the Earl was on the island, I doubt she knew Monteagle’s name.

[1] Wormald, Jenny. “Gunpowder, Treason, and Scots.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 1985, pp. 141–168.

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