90: Of Lords, Ladies, and Leave-Taking

An idealised image of Queen Elizabeth (late 1590s) by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

My lord has come hither.  He offended Queen Puss.  But who has not?

He did no more than strike an insolent rogue, who then ran squealing to her.

What a cowbaby.

My lord greeted me most loving.  He sayt he feared we were not like to meet again.

Soon he goes into France with Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil], and onward on his travels.  To Italy, I believe. 

But I must set down all in order, as I learnt it.

Item:  Nero sayt that the lady who arrkst the learned doctor about our Earl’s marrying is Mistress Howit [Frances Howard], but she has another name because she has a husband.

Nero did not know the doctor’s answer.

“That’s not newes,” sayt I. “Our Earl shall marry Puss Fur-None [Bess Vernon].  But that’s a secret.”

“I have more,” sayt Nero. “London newes from Linkin.”

Item:  Mistress Fur-None is much grieved at our Earl’s leaving.  And the rogue that turned cowbaby told her something that caused an unkindness betwixt her and our Earl.

None knows what it were.

Item:  The rogue was insolent to our Earl and Sir Water Rawly while they was playing at cards.  Then our Earl came upon the rogue near the tennis court, and struck him a blow.  The rogue pulled his hair, and when Queen Puss heared of this she praised him!

Our Earl and that cowbaby were arrkst to explain theirselves by Essicks and another great lord.

I knowed that.  But I (and my lord) do not know why Queen Puss is so unkind to him.  Small wonder my lord is full of discontentments.   

And if that weren’t newes enough, I hear my lord’s mother the Countess thinks to take another husband.

His name is Swillem Harfie [Sir William Hervey/Harvey].  He went with Essicks to Cadiz.  And to the Asores as captain of the Bonaventure.

“A good ship,” sayt Nero.  “But I never heared that Swillem did owt to tell of.”

My niece sayt, “Perchance he lacks money, and hopes to get his living from the Countess.  And she wants a lusty young man.”

I know not the truth of that.  My niece swore to discover it.

After I had writ all, she sayt to me, “Uncle, when you go from this world I shall not bide in this place.”

“What?” I cried.  “You have employment here.  The book-chamber will be yours.”

“But I wish to see the world,” sayt she.  “And when our Earl is oversea, this house may be closed to all.  Even us cats.”

I had not thought of that, but I shall not live to see it.  I have immortal longings in me.

“How would you go hence?” I arrkst.

“How came my mother hither?”

“That you know,” sayt I.  “She hid herself on a cart that carried her from the stable where we was born.”

“Then you have your answer,” sayt my niece.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Gib would have written this in early February 1598.  It seems the Earl visited Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Sir Robert hoped to dissuade Henri IV from making peace with Spain.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Frances Howard (1578-1639) – then Prannell, next Seymour, and finally Stuart – was a poor relation of the powerful Howard family.

A portrait (c. 1611) of Frances Howard – now Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford.  By Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Via Wikimedia Commons.

She married three times and died a Duchess, but was slow to give up on the Earl of Southampton.

The cats might have been more interested in her if they’d known that in July and August 1597 she was feeling poorly, and sent urine samples to astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman.

The samples would have been no help; reliable diagnoses from urine were not yet possible.

According to historian A. L. Rowse, she thought she might be pregnant.  Forman assured her she wasn’t.  But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  Nothing is recorded.

The man Gib calls a rogue and a cowbaby is Ambrose Willoughby, a gentleman of the Queen’s Bedchamber.  He’s unlikely to have entered that sanctum – his job would have been to guard the door.

Rowland Whyte (writing in early 1598 to Sir Robert Sidney) says that the Earl of Southampton, Sir Walter Ralegh, and another gentleman were playing primero – similar to poker – in the Presence Chamber, a large reception room for people admitted to the Queen’s public presence.

The Queen had gone to bed, so Willoughby “desired them to give over”.  Then he spoke to them again, threatening to call in the guard to take their table.

Sir Walter Ralegh (captain of the guard) gathered up his money and left, but the Earl “took exceptions”.  It was shortly after this that he hit Willoughby, who retaliated by pulling his hair.

Was an interrupted card game the only reason for the spat?  Had Willoughby told Elizabeth Vernon about it, or made some other remark that annoyed her?

Rowland Whyte writes of the Earl being “troubled at her Majesty’s…usage of him.  Somebody hath played unfriendly parts with him.”   And Elizabeth Vernon “…doth wash her fairest face with too many tears”.  He hints that her reputation could be at risk.  But whether she was quite as weepy as he suggests is debatable: a doleful face before Queen Elizabeth would have got no sympathy, and maybe a slap.

Next, Whyte reports that it was secretly said that she and the Earl were to be married.  Had they contracted to wed on his return?

Whatever, the Earl seems to have been, in modern parlance, Over It.

He was 24 with no career to speak of, and in debt.  There was none of the hoped-for glory from the Islands Voyage.  In his absence his executors had leave to sell off any of his properties except those still held by his mother.  He was probably all too keen to get away from Queen Elizabeth’s Court.

84: Contrary Winds

Linkin and I were private when we spake of my lady Moll’s troubles.  He gave other newes at our Field.

He sayt our ships that will go against Spain left the Thames and came along our coast, slowed only by ill winds.  Along the way they took on soldiers.  All good men, not rogues and vagabonds.

Our Dutch friends who helped us in our victory at Cadiz have brought their ships to join us.

A black and white photo; head and shoulders profile of a soldier in his thirties.
Sir Francis Vere (1561-1609), from a portrait reproduced in ‘The Fighting Veres” by Clements R. Markham (1888).

“And,” sayt Linkin, “Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] came with one thousand or more of his soldiers from the Low Countries, where they aid the Dutch against the Spanish.  But here’s scandal for you.”

We pricked our ears.

“Essicks and Siffrans once were friends.  And though Essicks strives to keep all sweet, there’s a coolness come betwixt them.

“Essicks commands this expedition.  Below him, Lord Thoms Howit and Sir Water Rawly have command at sea.

“Siffrans Fear thought to command on land, as he did at Cadiz.  But no.  Lord Mountjoy has that honour, though he knows scarce more of war than what he’s read in books.

Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, painted c1594 by an unknown artist. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, 1563-1606, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Essicks sayt ’twas not his choice, but Her Majestie’s.  And he made Siffrans a Marshall, and told him that’s a better place than Mountjoy has. 

“Siffrans was not appeased.  He sayt that Queen Puss would not force Essicks to do owt that was not of his choosing.  

“But who thinks Queen Puss does all that Essicks wills?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal. “Not I, though I wish she would.”

“Who is this Mount Joy?” came a call.

“A friend to our Earl,” sayt I.  “And to Essicks.”

My saucie niece whispered, “Say rather, who is Joy?  His horse or Her Majestie?”

Linkin heared her.  He sayt, “Neither.  Better that Mountjoy were named Mount Penny.  She’s own sister to Essicks.”

The lady Penelope is also a friend to my lord.  Linkin grows too bold in his slanders.

A rather dark portrait of two expensively, but relatively simply dressed young Elizabethan women.
A portrait said to be of Dorothy (left) and Penelope Devereux.  Penelope was married to Robert, Lord Rich in 1581, but by 1597 her relationship with Lord Mountjoy was well-established.

I sayt, “Queen Puss likes Lord Mountjoy.  Who knows if Essicks spake true when he sayt the choice was hers?  But small wonder Siffrans Fear is offended.  Who would not be?”

Our kitchen cat arrkst, “When shall they quarrel with the Spanish rather than each other?  And our Earl prove his valour?”

“When all are readie at Plymouth,” sayt Linkin. “But the winds are contrary.”

Many looked for Nero then.  Linkin hears the town talk, but ’tis Nero who knows of the sea.

He was not among us.  None could nose him.  We was mazed.

Then Linkin sayt that Nero, ill-humoured when last we met, had kept away to spite us.

My niece feared he’d made away with hisself.  “He may have drank poison,” sayt she.  “Or leapt from a most high place and not arranged hisself upon the air to make safe landing.  Perchance he fell upon a sword.”

detail-from-a-painting-by-abraham-willaerts-17th-century(The chit has read too many plays.)

“Self-murder is forbid us by the Queen Cat of Heaven,” sayt I.

“True,” called an old cat.  “But when we know our days are done we may refuse all meat and drink, and so haste our end.”

Our kitchen cat sayt, “Perchance our black and melancolick friend has died for grief.”

(She has heared too many woeful ballads.)

I sayt, “Cats have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them.  But not for grief.”

But now I’m troubled, too.  And I pray there are no winds so contrary that they trouble my lord’s ship Garland.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in June/July 1597, around the same time as the fleet finally left Plymouth.  The historian Paul E. J. Hammer describes it as “…the best prepared Elizabethan expeditionary force – even better than that of 1596…”

Their first action was to be the destruction of the Spanish fleet preparing at the port of Ferrol for yet another attempt on England.

The force consisted of 17 of Queen Elizabeth’s ships (including two Spanish galleons, captured the previous year at Cadiz) plus armed merchantmen, transport and supply ships, and the Dutch squadron of around 24 ships.  Probably 120 to 170 ships in all.

The English ships were divided into three squadrons, one commanded by the Earl of Essex, one by Lord Thomas Howard (Vice Admiral), and one by Sir Walter Ralegh (Rear Admiral).

The transports carried around 5,000-6,000 soldiers.  England had no standing army that could be sent abroad, but relied on professionals who’d served overseas, volunteers, and “rogues and vagabonds” scooped off the streets.  Essex had no use for the last group.

He’d therefore put in place a system that drew on and developed the structure of the local militias to provide territorial forces.  The militias’ role had been to defend their counties if the need arose.  How did the men from along the south coast feel about being taken when harvest time was approaching?  Reactions were probably mixed.  The London levies might have been happy; Londoners loved Essex.

While Queen Elizabeth had been loathe to approve much overseas service for Lord Mountjoy, he was not as inexperienced as Linkin suggests.

There was also Sir Francis Vere (grimly resolved to do his duty) with his veterans from the Netherlands, and the gentlemen “voluntaries” who equipped themselves and went for adventure, loot, and even a knighthood.

At Cadiz the Lord Admiral and the Earl of Essex had knighted about 60 men, and “Cadiz knights” became something of a joke.  One man remarked that some had done no more than march into Cadiz’ marketplace on a hot day, wearing back and breastplates and carrying their pikes.