65:  Nero Gives Newes

Yes.  That braggart Nero gave newes to spite me.  He guessed there was much about our scandal that I was keeping secret.

Black Cat (Nero) peeking over a plank.

He boasted of his investigations, and of all he’d seen.  (I marvel that he did not bombast it out in blank verse.)

 But I must set this down more orderly.

The morning after I last writ, my lord came home to breakfast.  He arrkst me why I stared so, and called me a fat owl.  In truth, I’d passed the night waking, so I slept that day.

My onlie trouble was a noise like sudden thunder.  I could scent no coming storm, nor was my fur a-prickle.

Later, I visited the stable cats.  They’d heared that the brothers Linkin called murderers had fled across the river Hammel [Hamble].  They did not think the brothers had gone far, because a boy had been sent to the kitchen to fetch food for them.

Cat with basketThe kitchen cat told me that my lady Moll’s cook had filled a basket with roast meats and a pie.

She nosed beef and mutton before the knave thrust her away.

A stable boy took the basket, and she has not seen it since.

For a time all seemed quiet.  Then strangers came to my house in the dead of night.  I arrkst myself what this meant.  I did not see them, but I heared them and I nosed them.   

Next came Nero, calling, “Hot newes.”  Here is the tale he told when we assembled at the Cats’ Field.

“My master goes no more to sea,” sayt Nero, “but he and a friend have a boat.  We, being curious, set forth to Hammel haven.  There came cannon shot from the near castle [St Andrews], which stung mine ears and affrighted many who were fishing.

“I espied upon the water a vessel that my master sayt was not on lawful business.  I saw it put ashore at the far castle all call Calshot.  Some men went to the castle gates for admittance.

“Then my master and his friend complained they could see nowt, and we came home.

A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Titchfield House (Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went, with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.
A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Southampton, Titchfield House (i.e. Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went) with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.

“When next we visited the haven, my master spake with a woman selling fish.  She’d heard that the Captain of Calshot was in Southampton, and his deputy too.  The master gunner at the castle had confined the men, and taken their weapons.

“Later (sayt she) the deputy brought word that they were the Captain’s friends, on their way to service in Brittany.  The deputy dined with them.  Two men seemed very sad, though all ate well of beef, mutton, and the venison pasty they had with them.”

When Nero sayt that, a great screech went up.  Many turned to me and our kitchen cat.

“What know you of this?” called one.  And another, “None sells such fodder on the keys [quays].”

Closeup Portrait of ginger and white cat

“My lord is ever willing to aid his friends,” I sayt.  “As I hope we all are.”

“What?” cried Linkin.  “Do you seek to explain or to justify our Earl’s behaviour?”

I sayt, “I did not come hither to be examined by any who fancies hisself a lawyer because he’s set his bum on a law book or two.”

Linkin bristled up, but other cats called for peace.

They wished to hear more from Nero.

He sayt, “I was with my master at the key [Hamble Quay] when one of the Captain’s men came from Southampton.  He was full of beer and woe, for he knowed he did wrong.  He brought warning from the Captain that the men should flee the castle, because the Captain had received letters that left him no choice but to send orders for their capture.

“Next came a gentleman from Southampton, who also hired a boat to carry him to Calshot.  I slipt aboard, and none sayt me nay.  All know a black cat brings good fortune.

“We crossed the water, and the gentleman entered the castle.  After sunset he and a dozen men made haste into the boat, so weighting it we was scarce above the water.  My luck held, and we came safe to our shore.  I heared one enquire of a Mr Timmick [Dymock] if he knew the way to Titchfield.  He replied that he would know it at midnight.

“I stayed in the boat and was carried back to Hammel, where my master was still drinking with his friends.”   

Then Nero eyed me. “Where are they miscreants now?” he arrkst.  “Not yet in France – the weather’s foul, and the wind unfavourable.”

Nero was toying with me.  He knows full well where they are.  As do I, now.

I called, “Friends, I can tell you.  They’re hid in my house.  I would have told you sooner, but wished to hear our friend’s newes first.”

That took the wind from Nero’s sail.  And I care not if Linkin runs to tell his mistress.  She will not take his meaning.

Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.
Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorIt’s not surprising that Nero should have been so well-informed.  His old sea-captain master would have had many contacts around the coast.

It seems the Danvers brothers’ escape plan meant keeping ahead of the hue and cry until they could get a passage to France.

Pretending they and their helpers were soldiers bound for Brittany, and hiding at Calshot castle (with the Captain’s connivance), was a bold move.  The plan fell through after official word of the killing reached Southampton, and the Captain had to take action.  The brothers fled back to Place House.  They’re next heard of in France.

There was a formal examination into the matter in early January 1595.  Statements from a stable boy, several Hamble locals, soldiers at Calshot, etc. are recorded in the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury (“the Cecil papers”) Vol V pp 84-90, available on line.

Then the inquiry fizzled out, presumably because the Earl of Southampton’s involvement was so obvious.  Some of his closest servants and attendants  – his steward, the keeper of his wardrobe, his barber, his gentleman of horse (stables manager) – were mentioned in the statements, though none appears to have been interviewed.

An interesting example of the extraordinary influence an Elizabethan Earl could wield in his home territory.


49:  I Ride in Triumph

Dappled catWe cats are curious, so I allowed my young friends to seat me in the cart.

My friends are called Puss [Bess], Moll, and Harry.  Those are the names of Her Majestie, our Earl’s sister, and our Earl hisself.  I believe their mother and father are ignorant, and know no other names.

We went towards the bridge.

There was more folks about than usual.  Or more young wenches, I should say.

I kept my eyes wide and my ears pricked for strange dogs.  My friends’ eyes were wide, too.  They looked back often.  I guessed they feared their mother might come after them.  I’ve seen her pulling weeds in the garden, and know her to be fierce.

Then I caught the sound of horses.  But no wild musick, as there was when Her Majestie last came hither.

I nosed the air as best I could.

Above the leafy scents of my conveyance and my company, I caught a whiff of tobacco smoke.  And another of old man.  Two scents that Nero always has about him.

A black cat, looking watchful.He was peeking from behind a wall.  He kept low, with his ears laid flat and sideways, but there was no mistaking him.

My friends halted.  Moll and Harry sat with me by the road while Puss took the cart some way off.

I know Nero does not love Her Majestie, she being so careless of all the poor sailors who have suffered hurts and maims for her sake.  I was of a mind to join him and learn why he waited there.

“Hold him,” called Puss. “Don’t let him run away.”

I knew they could not hold me if I chose to flee, so I lingered, ever watchful.

A small wreath of ivy, lying on a gravel path.Harry put the garland of ivy he carried about my neck.  Moll sayt it was not fine enough. 

Puss sayt that ivy signified fidelity and it looked well.

I believe ivy is a fit garnish for a poet.  (As are bays, though I know not what they are.)

But I feared that, had I need to run, my garland might slip low and trip me.

All heared the sound of horses then.  Moll lifted me. She clasped me tight about my breast, but my belly was exposed (unseemlie) and my toes touched the ground.  Harry seized my feet, and so I hung between them. 

I felt fool, but kept my countenance lest Nero should make a song of this to spite me.

Then what do I see but a knot of young gentlemen riding towards us.  I do not like young men, gentle or otherwise.  They oft take pleasure in setting their dogs on us cats.

Time to take my leave.  As I gathered my strength to break free, Puss stepped into the road, and made a curtsey.

One gentleman raised his hand, and all drew rein.

“Well,” sayt he, “what have we here?”  And oh, I knew that voice.

Puss made another curtsey, and sayt, “Your lordship, we have brought your cat to greet you.”

“My cat?” sayt he.  All with him laughed.

My friends seemed dismayed.  Then, of a sudden, my lord handed his reins to another and sprang down from his horse.

He was most gracious.  He arrkst my friends their names, which he sayt were excellent.  And then their father’s name, and what he did.

He praised my garland of ivy so high that little Harry was overwhelmed, addressed him as Mr Earl, dropped my feet, and fell down on his bum.

My lord helped him rise.  Then he took me from Moll, and held me with one arm about my back.  I was affrighted, and gripped his shoulder with my claws.  His hair was ticklesome, and so long I could see nowt behind us.

When he remounted his horse and took his reins in his free hand my heart near failed me.

My lord told another to give my friends each a penny for their pains.

“So much, your lordship?” arrkst the saucie rogue. “You may be offered cats where’re you go.”

“Their father is my servant,” sayt my lord, most cool.

I never rode by horse before.  I’d done no more than sit upon them while they stood in field or stable.  I knew my uncle travelled in a knapsack on his cook’s back, to the great wonderment of all.  And I’d told of how the cankered cat rode behind Sir Waine, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

So I took courage, as we poets must when we find ourselves in the midst of things that once were marvels, or mere fancies.

I knew Nero had his eyes on me.  And I remembered how he sayt ’twas passing brave to be the cat that walked in triumph through Constantinople.

Well, I’m the cat that rode in triumph to Place House.

Place House (now known as Titchfield Abbey). From an 18th century illustration.
Place House (now in ruins, and known as Titchfield Abbey). From an 18th century illustration, though it probably didn’t look very different in Gib’s day.  The Earl of Southampton’s country seat.