105:  Scandal and the Citie

When I first met Onix, he sayt he was so necessary in his employment he had scant leisure.  I think the truth of it was, he had few friends.  His scents were so uncatly.

Once he knew Linkin and I did not distain him, he came to visit us by day.

We three were sat peaceable in our yard when I saw two lean shadows creep along the wall.

“Greetings, friends,” they called.  “We thought it time we was better akwaynted with the new stars in our fundament.”

A lean grey tabby with an intense green stare licks her nose.
Picker, a wicked cat.
– from Shubhankar Sharma via Unsplash.

Linkin and I let that pass.

“I call myself Picker,” sayt one.

And the other, “All know me as Stealer.”

Picker sayt, “We bring newes of your lord, the Right Honourable Earl of Southampton, Baron of Itch-Filled.”

“Titchfield,” sayt I.

“Cry you mercy!” sayt Stealer.  “We meant no offence.  You’re spoke of here as the Itch-Filled queen.”

Oh, I itched.  I itched to have at the saucie sluts.

But I narrowed mine eyes most courteous, and sayt, “Titchfield is a hard word for they that have no education.”

A lean grey tabby cat with an intense green stare and the tip of one ear missing.
Stealer, an equally wicked cat.
– from Shubhankar Sharma via Unsplash.

Stealer sayt, “Not so hard as the thought of your new Countess lying in prison at the pleasure of Her Majestie and the expense of her cousin, the Earl of Essex.”

“That’s not newes,” sayt I.  “All know Her Majestie hates any fair lady loved by a young lord.”

“Has Lady Essex a place at Court?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal.  “Will old Lady Lester [Leicester] ever be forgiven?”

“Or Mistress Rawly [Ralegh]?” sayt Onix. “First she was in the Tower, now she molders in the country.”

“Who trod on your tail?” arrkst Stealer.

Picker continued, “We also hear your Earl makes as great of a fool of hisself in Paris as he ever did here.  He does nowt but play [gamble] at games he rarely wins.”

“Surely, all know that lords love to play?” I arrkst.  “I once did battle with a great rat in the court [courtyard] at Titchfield, while my lord and his friends hung from the windows and laid wagers on us.  I earned my lord three hundred crowns.”

“Praise the day!” cried Stealer.  “But he’s lost three thousand since.”

“Doing battle at tennis and ballon with French lords,” added Picker.

“My lord is suttle,” sayt I. “The more money he loses in France, the better their King will love him.”

They fell silent then.  One clawed at her fleas, while the other cleansed her filthie paws.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed that bout of wits.

’Twas not long ere they came me again.

“Haply, you can answer this,” sayt Stealer.  “A cat in the household of a learned doctor tells of another fair lady who’s hot for your Earl.  How stands she in his affections now he’s wed?”

“Old newes,” sayt I.  “Nigh on a year has passed since I heard she was pursuing him.  Is one husband not enough for her?”

“Perchance she hoped her husband dead,” sayt Stealer.  “And herself a widow rich enough to hook any Earl.”

Picker arrkst, “Did your lord tell of the letter she sent him before he went to France?”

Linkin cut in quick.  “He did, and he chose not to answer her.  You may guess why.”

“We can,” they sayt.  “We do.  Your lord is Essex’ creature to the core.”

And away they flew.

“When heared you of that letter?” I arrkst Linkin.

“Never,” swore he.  “But if Picker and Stealer knew more than we, they would have put a different question to us.”

Then he rose and walked about our yard, setting his mark here and there to rid us of their presence.

I sayt to Onix, “I marvel that Paws, so sober and statelie, admits those dawkins to her parlement.”

“Did you not know?” he cried.  “They’re her daughters, and her spies.  Many fear them.”

Fear them?  Not I.  Like His Harryship, I loved to play.

When I was scarce more than a kit, I oft leapt into the yard where his hunting dogs lodged.  Most were in their house.  One or two might be free for exercise.  I watched them from afar ere I entered.

Oh, the joy when I cleared the wall again with their hubbubs in my ears and their hot breaths behind me!

I guessed my love of excitations would serve me well in this citie.

A drawing of the Earl’s house – The Place – at Titchfield.
The dog yard Tricks found so exciting is shown upper right.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks and Linkin defended the Earl of Southampton well.

He certainly didn’t seem to be doing much to help himself – apart from maintaining the position that he’d done nothing dishonourable, and his only error was to marry without Queen Elizabeth’s consent.

However, lingering in Paris and pleading poverty while losing huge sums of money wasn’t a good look.  In late September 1598 Sir Robert Cecil had word from France that the Earl was making wagers of 2,000, 3,000, and even 4,000 crowns.

And what of Mrs Prannell (nee Frances Howard), whom Tricks last heard of in 1597? She had consulted astrologer Simon Forman again in early February 1598, when the Earl first left for France.  She asked: Would the Earl like her any better?  Did he tell of the letter she’d sent him?  When would he return?

By late September many people must have been asking that last question.

A late Elizabethan grey stone house, surrounded by parkland.
A view of Sir Walter Ralegh’s Sherborne Castle today.
Completed in 1594, and not so large then, it was where his wife Elizabeth  “Mistress Rawly” lived.  There are worse places to “molder”!  Anyway, she would have been kept busy.

 

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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 turned cowbaby and ran squealing to her.

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 Prannill.

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 heard 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 late January/early February 1598.  It seems the Earl made a quick visit to Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Henri IV of France intended to make peace with Spain – a matter of concern to the English.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Mistress Prannell (nee Frances Howard) 1578-1639 – later 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.  Simon Forman assured her she wasn’t.

But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  Did she think he was the father?  Or did she suspect someone else might be?  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 threatened 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?  Or was it something to do with what Willoughby had told Elizabeth Vernon that annoyed or upset her?

Rowland Whyte also 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” at the prospect of the Earl’s departure.  He hints that her reputation is 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 from France?

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.