153:  A Turn of Fortune’s Wheel

As spring came on I was shamed to think that I, an Instrument and a Miscreant, might end my days as a common cat with no Earl to speak of.

We heard that his mother and Puss Fur-None had writ to Sir Rabbit begging for his life.  But had not Lady Essex begged for her husband’s?

“Thus does Fortune raise us up, and cast us down again,” sayt Luvvie the player cat, feigning sorrow.

Fortune with her Wheel, from La Danse aux Aveugles by 15th century poet Pierre Michault.  Artist unknown. (Wikimedia Commons.)

“Fortune favours fools,” sayt Linkin.  “As you would know.”

Luvvie had heard (I know not how) that his old companie were at White-Hall the day before Essex lost his head.  They’d enacted a play for Queen Puss.

“I hope she kept her claws on her pancake,” sayt I.  “Else they’d have snapped it like they snapped forty shillings from Essex’s poor friends.  Two of whom have been hanged, so I hear tell.”

“No players came to harm,” sayt Luvvie.  “So mayhap I’ll join with them again.”

“Pray do,” sayt I.  “Then you can akwaynt me with that villain Snakes-Purr who stole my uncle’s verses and sayt they were his own.”

But I was so vexed I could find no pleasure in thoughts of revenge.  Instead I went to Essex House, half hoping Lady Essex might be there and Puss Fur-None with her.

I saw none but another fool favoured by Fortune.  Scabface.

He wisht to know when we would have a Revel, so he could tell of his heroick doings at White-Hall.  Else all the fame for affrighting Queen Puss would go to Essex and not him.

“Queen Puss was not affrighted,” sayt I.  “Sir Rabbit hisself sayt that she was no more troubled by newes of Essex’s doings than she would have been by word of a fray in Fleet Street.”

“The preachers gave out that she might have been affrighted,” sayt Scabface.  “If Essex had gone to White-Hall and caused bloodshed.  But I alone went there and clawed a few faces, so it follows that she was affrighted by me.”

I told him Picker and Stealer would wish to give newes at our Revel of the heads they’d seen cut off, and they were not like to return from the Tower before the end of Fasting Time [Lent].

That quieted him.

Then he sayt he believed Paws, their mother, was not long for this world.  Picker and Stealer should be making readie to take her place. 

A silvery-grey tabby sitting by a stone wall.
Paws, the cat of St Paul’s Cathedral.

“Paws,” sayt Scabface, “never has been right in her mind since she met with a horse on her roof.”

“A horse?” cried I. “On her roof?”

“You didn’t hear of it?” arrkst Scabface, right pleased with hisself.  “Most like you was hid away plotting with your fine friends.  And where are they now?”

“I was led into plottings,” sayt I, “because of my love to my Earl.  I was more like a dog to him than a cat.”

“I do not doubt it,” sayt Scabface.

I was tempted to strike him a blow, but I forbore.  Instead I sayt, “Do not many fine folks dwell in your manor?  Know you where my Earl’s poor lady Puss Fur-None is?”

“I might,” sayt Scabface, settling hisself upon the wall.

I had no choice but to wait with him.  I guessed that once I seemed sufficient humble he would lead me there. 

A large tabby cat attacks a dog, clinging to its neck and chest and biting its ear, while two other cats - one dark tabby and one ginger - steal the game birds the dog was guarding.
Scabface’s world, as portrayed by the Flemish artist Jan Fyt (1611-1661).

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorIt wasn’t only Tricks who had to seem sufficient humble.  Her Earl’s wife, Bess Vernon, had written twice to Sir Robert Cecil.  Bess’s first letter (undated, but before the trial) laments the fact that she’s so out of favour with the Queen she’s unable to perform the wifely duty of pleading for her husband.

The second, written after Bess knew the trial verdict, asks Sir Robert to use his influence with the Queen so that “I may … be permitted … to prostrate myself at her feet to beg for mercy to my lord.

Humility didn’t come so naturally to Southampton’s distraught mother.  She fired off one of her impassioned letters attributing her son’s “doleful discontented behavior” to his inability to recover the Queen’s favour, and suggested that despair led him to evil company.

However, Southampton (who also had to humble himself by writing submissive letters) was probably safe from execution by the time Tricks met Scabface.

Essex’s secretary Henry Cuffe and steward Sir Gelly Meyrick were executed at Tyburn on 13 March 1601.

Southampton’s friend Sir Charles Danvers and Essex’s stepfather Sir Christopher Blount were publicly beheaded on Tower Hill five days later.  Sir Robert Cecil had professed sympathy for both Southampton and Danvers, but was only able or willing to intercede for Southampton.

There’s no record of what play the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed on Shrove Tuesday at Whitehall Palace, but their earlier performance of Richard II at the Globe had obviously done them no harm.

And the horse on the roof of St Paul’s?  That had happened on 3 February, five days before the Essex rebellion.  According to the letter writer John Chamberlain, someone managed to get his horse up the steps inside St Paul’s steeple and rode around its (flat) roof.  Just another city stunt.