79:  Hard Times For All

Gib reclining on a cushion, looking thoughtful.Of late I’ve heared nowt but talk of hard times.

The harvest was poor – the third such we’ve had, I believe.  My sister was still living when many began to hunger.

I knew that Fortune favoured me, so I daily offered thanks for the fire I have to warm me and the choice meats I eat.

I oft saw rats about this house.  Bold (I thought) from empty bellies.

My niece made a great show of catching and killing them.  My sister taught her well.  The servants say they never saw so good a ratter.

I took pride in her deeds until I saw her creep into the book-chamber lugging a live rat.  She let it loose by the wall cloth, where it hid itself.  Then she settled herself to wait.

I guessed that when any came into the room she would chase out that poor rat and kill it, to great applauds.

I reproved her for such sly doings.  I told her we’re employed to keep vermin from the house, not bring them in for private sport.

She sayt, “How else may I win the freedom of this house and continue my education?”

I had no answer for that.

I saw little of my lord this winter past.  I believe he stayed in London condoling with the most noble Earl of Essicks who was (I hear) so dismayed by Her Majestie’s ill-usage after his heroick action at Cadiz that he took to his bed.  And stayed there.

Whereas the King of Spain was so shamed he swore revenge.  He sent his fleet against us.

“Did I not say he would?” cried Linkin.

“That’s the tricksie Spanish for you,” sayt Nero.  “Coming at us out of season.”

Our own ships were laid up for winter.  Then, when they were made readie to defend us, a wicked wind prevented them from putting to sea.

All that dwell along this coast were much afeared until we learnt that the Spanish met with foul weather.  They lost so many ships they had no choice but to return home.  Certes, they will come again.

A dark-haired, serious-faced young Elizabethan woman.
The Countess of Derby, Elizabeth Stanley (nee de Vere), granddaughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley).  Artist unknown.

Next, Linkin brought newes that the Earl of Essicks has been scruffing the Countess of Darby [Derby].

That’s the girl they wisht my lord to marry.  Old Lord Purrlie’s granddaughter.  What scandal she has brought on her family!

How wise my lord was to refuse to wed such a light-tail.

“Essicks denies it.  He swears that he has not engaged in wickedness with any woman since he set forth for Cadiz,” sayt Linkin. “So perchance he scruffed her before he went.”

Linkin also sayt that my lord spake some unkind words about another Earl, who sayt my lord lied.  So they agreed to fight, as men and cats of honour do.

But the Queen learnt of it, and they was summoned to Court.  The Lords of her Council assured the other Earl that my lord never spake against him.  They were made friends again. 

Head and soldiers of a young man reclining on grass with his head propped on one hand.
The other Earl: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632), by Nicholas Hilliard c.1595.  He’d been proposed as a husband for Elizabeth de Vere, but she declined the match.  He married Dorothy Perrot (nee Devereux), one of Essex’s glamorous sisters.

Linkin and Nero were fire-hot to know what my lord had sayt, but I’d heard no word of the quarrel.

This talk of scandal cheered me, but there was ill newes at home.  

My lord lacks money and owes much to many.  Some of his lands may be sold.

My lord was a good son to his mother when her old husband died and left debts.  He permitted her to sell one of his manors.

Now more may be sold to ease his own burdens.  And I hear he has permission from Her Majestie to travel oversea.

Oh, I fear that blind goddess Fortune may be making ready to turn her wheel and cast me down.

A woman whose face is hidden by her long hair turns a wheel with various animals on it; a monkey, dogs, a large spotted cat, and a donkey. Set against the background of a moon with human facial features.
The Moon and Fortune. By an unknown artist, late 15th century.

With my lord gone, my very house might be sold about my ears.

What will become of me?  I’m too old to find a new place.  I thought to end my days here.

To cheer myself I called my niece to me.

She sprang onto the table, took my pen and dipped it, and sat ready.  “What shall I write?” she arrkst.

In truth, I felt like my lord hisself with his secretarie.

My heart swelled, and four lines of verse come to me.

As an aged queen-cat looks with joy, 
On all her pretty kitlings’ deeds of youth, 
So I, who turn on Fortune’s careless toy, 
Find all my comfort in your wit and truth.

“A few lines,” sayt I.  “Some fine words you’ve heared from me.”

She scarce paused for thought.  She wrote, very neat:

How my joynts ake when I rise from my bed.  I need to piss.  We old cats cannot hold our water as you young cats can.  Why is there no fire in this hearth?  Must I go to the kitchin and lie there neath the table like unto a common cat?

I now comprehend why many say it is not wise to educate females, for then their insolencie will know no bounds.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in March 1597.  In February, the 23 year old Earl of Southampton had handed his estates over to three attorneys for administration.  The reason given was his debts, some of which were inherited from his father.

G.P.V. Akrigg (one of the Earl’s biographers) is convinced the Earl had to pay Lord Burghley £5000 for declining marriage to his granddaughter, but (oddly) Akrigg doesn’t mention this as a likely cause of debt.  Instead, he suggests that the Earl had been living “very lavishly”, though doesn’t offer any details.  However, Earls weren’t expected to be tightwads: I think most Elizabethans would have been shocked and demoralised by the sight of a thrifty Earl.

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70:  At the Cats’ Field

gibs-niece1At our first assembly this spring my little niece leapt up to tell all that her mother was gone from this world.  This angered her grown sister, who had wisht to give the newes.

There was an exchange of insults between them, and I thought they would come to blows. But my little niece yielded, as is proper, and crept over to me.

She still has the scents of my sister about her, most pleasing to my nose.

Then Nero sayt he’d made a verse in my sister’s honour, and walked to the centre of our circle.  He sang:

Not far from this Field now lies

Gib’s good sister, bold and wise,

mother of a throng of kits,

none of whom displays her wits.

When shall we know such another?

All that’s left t’us is her brother.

I knew not what to think of his song, but it would have made my sister merry.

Many praised it, and called for it again.  Then some sang with him.

My little niece whispered, “Nero is a turd.”

I told her that was no way for a young cat to speak of her betters.  I also sayt that Nero is a poet, and may be forgiven a fool word or two used for the sake of his rhyme.

She seemed about to make a sharp retort, but then Linkin came forward with newes from London.

Item:  Old Lord Purrlie’s granddaughter, that he hoped to see wedded to our Earl, has married the Earl of Derby.

Head and shoulders of a young man with dark curly hair and a slight moustach, against a blue background.
A Nicholas Hilliard miniature of a young man, probably the Earl of Essex, in 1588.

“Now Lord Purrlie may lie smug in his bed,” sayt Linkin.

“He found another Earl for her.  But Lord Derby may not lie so smug in his, for many say his new wife has a fancie for the Earl of Essicks [Essex].  There may be scandal to come.”

Many cats were joyed to hear it.  The promise of scandal, I mean, not newes of the wedding.

“Who doesn’t fancie the Earl of Essicks?” called a stone-cat.  “I wish I had his luck with queens both young and old.”

Item:  There is talk that our Earl must pay Lord Purrlie five thousand pounds.

Linkin sayt, “That’s the way, when you’ve been someone’s wart [ward] and refused to marry.  And now our Earl’s of full age he must also sue for his liver [livery, i.e. buy himself out of wardship].  That don’t come cheap, but the Queen will have the money, not Lord Purrlie.”

“Best you fill your belly now,” called Nero to me.  “You may not dine so well soon.”

I think my little niece spake true.

Linkin then told what he knew of the workings of the Court of Warts, like the law cat he is, giving out many Latin words and other strange saws [sayings].  Too tedious to set down here.

A group of men in dark suits with white ruffs seated around a table. Lord Burghley is at the head. There are some onlookers behind partitions.
Lord Purrlie, better known as William Cecil, Lord Burghley, presiding over the Court of Wards & Liveries.

I slipt away, as did several others.  I was near my house before I nosed my little niece following me.

I arrkst her what she did, even though I’d guessed.

“I’ve come to dwell with you,” she sayt.

“Be not so hastie,” I replied.  “Where you’ve not been offered a place, you must creep in by degrees.”

“I know that,” sayt she, in her saucie way.  “I’ve friended the cats who keep our Earl’s stable, and will lie there a while.”

I do believe she may grow to be a tricksie queen.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorElizabeth de Vere (1575 -1627) married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (1561-1642) in January 1595.  Incidentally, William Stanley is another – along with Elizabeth’s father, the Earl of Oxford – who’s been proposed as the writer of “Shakespeare”.

The Court of Wards & Liveries (to give it its full name) oversaw the management of the royal wards. Officially the Queen’s, their guardianship was sold to others.

The advantage in having a royal ward was twofold.  Along with administering part of their estate and receiving income from it (a practice open to abuse), you had the “benefit” of their marriage.  That is, the right to arrange it.

Marrying an heir to a member of your family was an attractive option.  Wards were under no legal obligation to accept their guardian’s choice of spouse, but one who dug his or her heels in (as the young Earl of Southampton did) could find themselves having to pay their guardian a substantial fine when they came of age.

There’s no record of the Earl of Southampton ever paying Lord Burghley £5000, but it seems generally accepted that he did.  There’s some additional info here about the Court, and the young Earl’s wardship and financial situation.