178: An Interview with My Mother

I endured our journey to my lord’s great house in the countrie without complaint.   My lord’s great house in the countrie: Place House, from an image held by the Hampshire Records Office.

That house was most strange to me, but I lost no time in enkwiring for my lady mother.  I nosed my way to the stable, the best place for newes.

A cat there told me, “Is she whom you call mother the incomer that claims precedence over us all?  And tells of her high doings in London?”

“Most like,” sayt I, scarce able to believe mine ears.

He sayt, “We arrkst her why she came here.  She sayt she was awaiting our Earl.  Yet we knew he was in the Tower.”

“I was in the Tower, too,” sayt I.  “Perchance you’ve heard her speak of me?”

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry in the Tower.

They had not.

One sayt, “A cat here had a sister that went to London.  She called your mother an impostor, swearing her sister was gone from this world.  Your mother had at her, crying: Liar!  You was ever against me!”

Another sayt, “They fought so fierce we all bristled up.  None knew what to believe.”

“Then,” sayt the first, “the incomer came here and was granted admittance to the house.  So we think it was her sister that lied.”

Sure, that incomer was my mother.  But would she remember me?

They did not know where she might be found that day.  “When next we go to our Field to hear newes and joy ourselves,” sayt one, “she’ll be there.  All love her rebellous tales.”

Tricks – Harry’s mother.

I had no need to find that Field.  The next evening I glimpsed my lady mother in my lord’s garden!

I thought she’d heard of my coming, but when I went to greet her she gave me dark looks.

“Don’t you know me?” I arrkst.  “I’m your son Harry, come with newes of Snakes-Purr.”

“Harry?” sayt she.  “I’ve birthed more Harries – sons and daughters both – than I can number.”

“I’m Harry that was in the Tower,” sayt I.

Still she frowned on me.  I had no choice but to whisper, “Harry the fool kitling.”

“I guessed as much,” sayt she.  “But any cat that flees London for her life must be careful of herself.”

“All is changed now,” sayt I.  “We are safe, because the King and Mr Secretary love our Earl right well.”

“Not well enuff for the King to make him one of his Council,” sayt she.

“Our Earl is one of the Queen’s Council,” sayt I.

Strange attire – and body paint.

“Council for what?” arrkst she.  “Maskings and merriments in strange attires?”

Not even my newes of the attack on Snakes-Purr smoothed her.  “Picker and Stealer have sworn to chase him over the river,” sayt I.  “To the south bank or to hell.  That’s what they say.”

“I doubt those starvelings have riz so high that they can choose who dwells in the citie,” sayt she.

Could I say nowt to please her?

I bethought me of the knave who’d turned the King against my lord by whispering he was plotting treason, and sayt, “Then we must turn some great personage against Snakes-Purr.”

“True,” sayt she. “But how?  I once made a libel against Mr Secretary, naming him Sir Spyder, and writ W.S. below it.  Nowt came of that.”

“Belike Mr Secretary thought the verse too good to have been writ by that thief,” sayt I.

She sayt, “Belike the wind carried all copies away, and Mr Secretary never saw one.”

I sayt, “Then we must weave a web worthy of the Spyder hisself.  And snare Snakes-Purr so well that all the world may know him for the felon he is.”

“You’re not so fool as you look,” sayt she.

From a mother such as mine, that were praise indeed.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorI’m glad Harry managed to find Tricks, even if his reception wasn’t as warm as he’d hoped.  She’s well up on London gossip, so she must be spending most of her time in the household of the woman who inadvertently took her to London in 1598, and  brought her back to Titchfield in 1602.

Four years is a long time in the life of any cat, so it’s not surprising that the locals – save her sister, who’d inherited their mother’s barn – didn’t remember her.  Nor is it surprising that she was wary of Harry.  His first visit to Titchfield was in 1605, and Tricks hadn’t seen him since his kitlinghood in 1601.

The “maskings and merriments in strange attires” Tricks refers to are Queen Anne’s masques.  Anne was an enthusiastic patron of the arts, and her masques were court entertainments with a mix of music, dancing, speech and mime.  They were mostly scripted by Ben Jonson with elaborate sets and costumes designed by Inigo Jones, now best-remembered for his architecture – particularly the Queen’s House at Greenwich.

Some people thought the masques scandalous, because the Queen and the ladies of her court danced in them.  Even worse, Queen Anne was said to have displayed her legs below the knee.