190:  A Year of Frights and Scandal

An alert-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator

Soon after I spake with the player cat, there came newes that the King had been murdered!  And many of his lords with him. 

My lord being from home, I knew not what to think.

Some in our house sayt that White-Hall had locked itself; parlement was afeared; the citie gates were closed; the Tower was readied for actions, and citizens were in arms.

But the murder was nowt but a rumour!  When the King was met coming safe from his progress, many who’d wept with fear now wept with joy.

Sure, that pleased the King.  He sayt it showed his people loved him well, despite the talk spread abroad in other countries.

I think he gave that rumour out hisself.

Next came word of the death of an Earl who was a true friend to my lord and lady, though many sayt he’d brought shame on hisself by marrying a wicked woman.

Charles Blount (Lord Mountjoy), created Earl of Devonshire by King James, died in April 1606.

My lord and lady were much grieved.  By his death I mean, not the marrying.

There was word of another Earl, right shameful.  He is named Linkin, though of no kin to my mother’s late friend (a trusty law cat, cleanie in his habits). 

This Earl of Linkin paid a man to bring a boat or two of dung and spread it nigh unto his neighbour’s house, both east and west.

His neighbour was assailed by horrid stinks, and e’en the water from his well tasted foul.  The Earl hisself fled away to Linkinshire [Lincolnshire] before the deed was done.

I can but marvel that it be worser for an Earl to marry a wicked woman than to buy turds.   Sure, we cats like to leave our marks about our neighbours’ houses, but those excrements are of our own making.

Next, the Queen’s brother came to visit her, and my lord and lady and many other great folks were invite to greet him.  Then he removed to Tibbles [Theobalds – Robert Cecil’s house] where the doings were right scandalous, as I later learnt.

King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway (1577 – 1648) from the Copenhagen History Portal.

I also noted, in my little book of secrets, some choice scandal of the French King, to give out when next I went to Paws’ yard or to the countrie with my lord.

I longed to return to the countrie, but I was not troubled when my lord did not require me to accompany him that year.

I had nowt to tell my mother of Villain Snakes-Purr, save that I had made the akwayntance of Luvvie the player cat.

And I feared shipwrack more than I feared my mother, because of late my lord had been very hot for newes of strange lands.

I learnt of a land named Bantam, so many ways off that the Englishes who dwell there did not know the old Queen was dead!  And of folks I never before heard tell of.  Javans, Chinese, and Japons.

When next my lord went to sea, I feared he might wish to go farther than our island.  I was well content to bide at Southampton House.

Then came word of pestilence [plague] in the citie, so I durst not go to Paws’ with my newes.  I feared infecktion.

And I guessed that Snakes-Purr had fled the town.

Though I prayed he would sicken and die, for that would free me of my burden of revenge.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNerves were bad in 1606: the fake news of King James’ assassination caused a major panic.  James’ habit of spending as little time as possible in London didn’t make communication easy.  This time he’d decamped to Farnham, about 40 miles south-west of London.  The rumour was that he’d been killed just outside Woking as he returned to prepare for his brother-in-law’s visit.

The Earl of Southampton was chief mourner at the funeral of Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire (1563 – 1606), who’d been the partner of Penelope Rich, sister of the late Earl of Essex, since 1590.  In 1605 Penelope and Lord Rich divorced.  She and Charles Blount then married, hoping to legitimise their five children.  Ecclesiastical law did not permit remarriage while a former spouse was still living, so that was regarded as more scandalous than their long-term liaison had been.

Henry Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (1539 – 1616) sounds most unpleasant.  He owned a manor in Chelsea, at that time a village up river from Westminster.  A couple of years earlier he’d driven out the previous tenant of the neighbouring property by sending workmen to take out his garden palings, pull up his cabbages, and drive cattle in to eat his crop of barley.[1]  I assume that what was dumped around his new neighbour’s property was what we euphemistically call “night-soil”.     

And what was Shakespeare doing in late 1605 and 1606?  There’s nothing in the historical records.  Before the plague outbreak he’d been living in Silver Street and (according to Luvvie) had started on Macbeth.  Most Shakespearean scholars agree he was also finishing his rework of the play King Leir (author unknown) which was performed at Court as King Lear in December 1606.

[1] Jones, Deborah Lodowick Bryskett and his Family in Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans ed. Charles J. Sisson, Octagon Books Inc. NY (1966)