66:  My Little Niece

Gib, a cat with blue dapples, looking startled.My lord has gone to London.  I can call my house mine own.

This morning, as I passed through the kitchen, a boy gave me a fish head.  It was not to my liking, so I took it to my sister’s barn.

The kitlings there (my little niece, and two birthed by a niece full-grown) nibbled it most happy.

My sister and I sat a while together, peaceful.  We marvelled at how far we’ve come since we were kits in the old Earl’s stable.

I’m a poet and cat of the young Earl’s bedchamber.  My sister is a barn queen with many kin-cats most respective to her.

“In truth, Queen Puss [Bess] herself should envie you,” sayt I.  “Now she’s old, all who know her hate her.  She has no kit to take her place when she goes from this world.  That may bring us to strife, as in the old time.  Hers is a place many will fight for.  Or the Spanish may come at us, for their king thinks hisself our king too.”

I saw my little niece was listening prick-eared.  When I left for home she followed me.

“I wish to see your house,” sayt she.  “I wish to see the book room where you find your tales.  Will you show me how to find a tale?”

“I find my tales in books, not rooms.”

“What’s a book? I wish to see one.”

I walked fast.

“I have newes,” she called.  “I wish to give it at the Cats’ Field.  When shall we all meet again?”

I sayt, “If wishes were fishes, no cat would starve.”

"If wishes were fishes..." A still life by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660)
“If wishes were fishes…”
A still life by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660)

Then I added, “We shall not meet before the spring, unless any has great matter to report.  And kits may not give newes at our Field.  What do kits know that all would hear?”

“I know of the murder you spake of,” she sayt.

“Stale newes,” sayt I.  “Our stable cats saw seven horses go out at night.  Four returned, and now they’re in London with my lord.  All know the Daffers [Danvers] brothers and their servant are over the sea.”

She sayt, “My newes is not from these parts.  I heared it from a stranger cat who came by our barn.  He had it from another cat, who had it from another, and so across this country [county] and the next.”

“Gossips’ talk,” sayt I, but had patience.  I know what it is to be a kitling most curious.

She sayt, “The stranger cat told me that the gentleman who was slain is named Harry Long.  He came from a household where all are scoundrels.  Their servants murdered one of the Daffers’ men, and gave many insults and injuries besides.

“Then Harry Long writ unto the elder of the Daffers brothers, offering to whip his bare arse.  This brother set forth and gave him a beating.  As he turned to go, Harry drew his sword and wounded him.  The younger brother had no choice but to shoot the villain.”

Sayt I, “This report came from a cat in the Daffers household, most like.  Poets may tell lies, but we must also seek the truth.”

A small black, white, and orange kitten
Gib’s Little Niece

My little niece sayt, “I told the stranger cat that if he could swear to the truth of it, then come spring I would hoist my tail and let him put a kit in my belly.  And so he swore.”

“Well,” sayt I, “he would, wouldn’t he.”  

She gave me a pert look.  “Come spring, I will have as many sworn reports as I choose and a bellyful of kits.  But you will know no more than I, and have no kits at all.”

Then she ran off.

Oh, I pray those kits will settle her, else she may prove more rebellous than ever her mother and I were.

65:  Nero Gives Newes

Yes.  That braggart Nero gave newes to spite me.  He guessed there was much about our scandal that I was keeping secret.

Black Cat (Nero) peeking over a plank.

He boasted of his investigations, and of all he’d seen.  (I marvel that he did not bombast it out in blank verse.)

 But I must set this down more orderly.

The morning after I last writ, my lord came home to breakfast.  He arrkst me why I stared so, and called me a fat owl.  In truth, I’d passed the night waking, so I slept that day.

My onlie trouble was a noise like sudden thunder.  I could scent no coming storm, nor was my fur a-prickle.

Later, I visited the stable cats.  They’d heared that the brothers Linkin called murderers had fled across the river Hammel [Hamble].  They did not think the brothers had gone far, because a boy had been sent to the kitchen to fetch food for them.

Cat with basketThe kitchen cat told me that my lady Moll’s cook had filled a basket with roast meats and a pie.

She nosed beef and mutton before the knave thrust her away.

A stable boy took the basket, and she has not seen it since.

For a time all seemed quiet.  Then strangers came to my house in the dead of night.  I arrkst myself what this meant.  I did not see them, but I heared them and I nosed them.   

Next came Nero, calling, “Hot newes.”  Here is the tale he told when we assembled at the Cats’ Field.

“My master goes no more to sea,” sayt Nero, “but he and a friend have a boat.  We, being curious, set forth to Hammel haven.  There came cannon shot from the near castle [St Andrews], which stung mine ears and affrighted many who were fishing.

“I espied upon the water a vessel that my master sayt was not on lawful business.  I saw it put ashore at the far castle all call Calshot.  Some men went to the castle gates for admittance.

“Then my master and his friend complained they could see nowt, and we came home.

A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Titchfield House (Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went, with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.
A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Southampton, Titchfield House (i.e. Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went) with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.

“When next we visited the haven, my master spake with a woman selling fish.  She’d heard that the Captain of Calshot was in Southampton, and his deputy too.  The master gunner at the castle had confined the men, and taken their weapons.

“Later (sayt she) the deputy brought word that they were the Captain’s friends, on their way to service in Brittany.  The deputy dined with them.  Two men seemed very sad, though all ate well of beef, mutton, and the venison pasty they had with them.”

When Nero sayt that, a great screech went up.  Many turned to me and our kitchen cat.

“What know you of this?” called one.  And another, “None sells such fodder on the keys [quays].”

Closeup Portrait of ginger and white cat

“My lord is ever willing to aid his friends,” I sayt.  “As I hope we all are.”

“What?” cried Linkin.  “Do you seek to explain or to justify our Earl’s behaviour?”

I sayt, “I did not come hither to be examined by any who fancies hisself a lawyer because he’s set his bum on a law book or two.”

Linkin bristled up, but other cats called for peace.

They wished to hear more from Nero.

He sayt, “I was with my master at the key [Hamble Quay] when one of the Captain’s men came from Southampton.  He was full of beer and woe, for he knowed he did wrong.  He brought warning from the Captain that the men should flee the castle, because the Captain had received letters that left him no choice but to send orders for their capture.

“Next came a gentleman from Southampton, who also hired a boat to carry him to Calshot.  I slipt aboard, and none sayt me nay.  All know a black cat brings good fortune.

“We crossed the water, and the gentleman entered the castle.  After sunset he and a dozen men made haste into the boat, so weighting it we was scarce above the water.  My luck held, and we came safe to our shore.  I heared one enquire of a Mr Timmick [Dymock] if he knew the way to Titchfield.  He replied that he would know it at midnight.

“I stayed in the boat and was carried back to Hammel, where my master was still drinking with his friends.”   

Then Nero eyed me. “Where are they miscreants now?” he arrkst.  “Not yet in France – the weather’s foul, and the wind unfavourable.”

Nero was toying with me.  He knows full well where they are.  As do I, now.

I called, “Friends, I can tell you.  They’re hid in my house.  I would have told you sooner, but wished to hear our friend’s newes first.”

That took the wind from Nero’s sail.  And I care not if Linkin runs to tell his mistress.  She will not take his meaning.

Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.
Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorIt’s not surprising that Nero should have been so well-informed.  His old sea-captain master would have had many contacts around the coast.

It seems the Danvers brothers’ escape plan meant keeping ahead of the hue and cry until they could get a passage to France.

Pretending they and their helpers were soldiers bound for Brittany, and hiding at Calshot castle (with the Captain’s connivance), was a bold move.  The plan fell through after official word of the killing reached Southampton, and the Captain had to take action.  The brothers fled back to Place House.  They’re next heard of in France.

There was a formal examination into the matter in early January 1595.  Statements from a stable boy, several Hamble locals, soldiers at Calshot, etc. are recorded in the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury (“the Cecil papers”) Vol V pp 84-90, available on line.

Then the inquiry fizzled out, presumably because the Earl of Southampton’s involvement was so obvious.  Some of his closest servants and attendants  – his steward, the keeper of his wardrobe, his barber, his gentleman of horse (stables manager) – were mentioned in the statements, though none appears to have been interviewed.

An interesting example of the extraordinary influence an Elizabethan Earl could wield in his home territory.