177: Of Snakes-Purr & Slander

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

I longed to send my mother word of the assalt on Snakes-Purr.

’Tis true I had no part in it, but I knew such newes would joy her.  And she would know I, her good son, had not forgot our vow of vengeance.

Alas, I knew not where she was, other than in the country.

Onix, he that was my mother’s friend, told me not to be cast down.  “Cats range far and wide,” sayt he.  “We carry newes as we go.  Sure, word of Snakes-Purr’s beating will reach her.”

Well and good, but what would make her think well of me?

Picker and Stealer had ordered that a watch be kept upon the house where Snakes-Purr lodged.

The house where Shakespeare lodged, on the corner of Monkwell Street and the now-vanished Silver Street.

There came reports that Snakes-Purr durst not venture forth at night, but so far was he from death he’d been seen in the street by day!

So Picker and Stealer decreed that every paw must be turned against him.  They would not have him in their citie.

Sayt I to Onix, private, “Do they own it entire?”

“I fear they do,” sayt Onix.  “I daily thank the Queen Cat of Heaven that they count me an akwayntance – I will not say friend – and I may go my ways unmolested.”

He told me that Paws yard [St Paul’s churchyard] was once famous for its parlement.  He sayt, “We went for sober discourse, and to hear reports on great matters.  Now those sisters hold court there, we hear nowt but filths and villainy.”

“This world,” sayt he, “is not what it were.”

All old cats say that.

I like to hear of filths and villainy as well as any, but whene’er I ventured to Paws I was pressed for scandal about my lord.

Stealer sayt, “We saw your Earl and his mother in the King’s great procession, but not your Earl’s wife.  Has he hid her away so he can do more with our new Queen than he did with the old?”

I sayt, “My lady was with kit.  ’Twere not good for her to walk among the gaping multitude.”

“True,” sayt Onix.  “She might have dropped it by the way.  Most unseemlie, in a lady.”

“It were a she-kit,” sayt I.  “Named Anne, for our Queen.”

“And our Queen hoist her tail for your Earl not long after,” sayt Picker.  “King James sent him to the Tower for it.  Along with his friends that kept watch while they were at their game.”

I sayt, “Be assured, your ladyships, there’s no truth in that rumour.  Some wicked man told the King my lord had hatcht a plot against him.”

“That’s what you say.  We know different.”

I sayt, “My lord arrkst King James who’d slandered him, because he wished to fight the liar.  The King would tell him nowt.  But so high is my lord raised in the King’s favour that his newest kit is named James for the King.”

“Well,” called one of their crew, “we know that kit must be your lord’s.  Small chance the King would have avenged hisself by scruffing your lord’s lady.”


“Now mark this,” cried Picker, when their minions had stopped screeching.  “We also hear King, Queen, Earl and all may be raised so high before this year is out they’ll never come to earth again.”

At that all screeched so loud I could say no more.

Believe me, that summer I was not grieved when word came we were quitting Southampton House and removing to the country.

The country?  I hoped I’d see my lady mother there.

Southampton House (upper right), sitting approximately where the British Museum is now.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNobody knows exactly why the Earl of Southampton was suddenly sent to the Tower on 24 June 1604, and released a day or so later.  A couple of months earlier the Queen had stood godmother at the christening of his daughter, and King James had made him a Knight of the Garter. 

The French Ambassador reported that King James was in a panic on the night of the arrest, both for his own safety and that of his heir, Prince Henry. 

The Venetian Ambassador tried to find out what was going on, but could only report that the Earl and his friends had been maliciously accused of treason.

James was nervous about plots – there’d already been a couple against him in 1603, involving Southampton’s old enemy Lord Grey and Essex’s old enemies Sir Walter Ralegh and Lord Cobham.  They received stays of execution and were confined in the Tower.

Southampton had no incentive to plot against James.  He was approaching his 31st birthday and had, for the first time in his life, a proper earl’s lifestyle: positions and functions at court, enough wealth to maintain several households, and the ‘employment’ Queen Elizabeth had withheld from him.

The accusations against the Earl and his friends probably had more to do with political factions.  In the absence of any reliable English records, one of the Earl’s biographers (G.P.V. Akrigg) suspects that James later felt foolish, and ordered any official papers on the matter destroyed.

It was a minor glitch in an otherwise happy life.  Elizabeth Vernon gave birth to their first son on St David’s day (1 March) 1605 “a saint to be much honored by that house for so great a blessing, by wearing a leek forever upon that day” according to letter-writer Rowland Whyte.  Doubtless leeks were smaller back then.

 The King and Robert Cecil were the child’s godfathers.