74:  High Talk of Spain

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.Another sorry harvest, and poor folks are starving.  We cats keep well hid lest we be ate.

I did not see Nero this winter past, but my niece showed her saucie face again.

She told me that Nero’s old master has been ill.  Linkin’s mistress wearied all by taking him healthful broths, and forbidding him strong liquors and tobacco.

A drawing of a 16th century man smoking a pipe.Nero did his best to help.  He supped the broths to spare his master from drinking owt that lacked savour.  And their friends came dropping by with bottles under their coats and tobacco in their pockets.

One night when my niece was creeping around Nero’s house (is there anywhere she don’t go?) she heared Nero’s master say to Linkin’s mistress, “I fear I’m breaking up fast.  Should I die, take care of my old Blackie.”

My niece arrkst Nero who was Blackie.

“Damned if I know,” sayt Nero.  “But never would I lodge with a prating puritan.”

I told my niece that Nero’s old master calls him Blackie.  He calls hisself Nero, because he claims he was born in Fence [Venice].  Other cats say he first oped his eyes in Portsmouth and has never sailed further than France.  I believe the truth may lie between.

“And now,” sayt I to my niece, “what of your kitlings?”

“There was but two.  One black, one black and white, very handsome.  I birthed them at Nero’s house, and they was took by sailors.  Now I wish to continue my education.”

I arrkst myself, How long can this wish last with spring to come and more kits to follow?

I fear my niece may only be a winter skoller. 

When next we met at our Field, Nero brought hot newes.

He sayt there is to be a great expedition against the Spanish, whose insolencie has no bounds. “All know they have been readying another great fleet to come against us, and fighting with the French too.  Now they’ve attacked Calley [Calais].”

“True,” sayt Linkin.  “Many in London heared their shot against Calley’s walls.”

The siege of Calais, by an unknown artist. Held in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The siege of Calais, by an unknown artist. Held in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

“And would Her Majestie permit the Earl of Essicks to embark his soldiers and sail to Calley’s aid?” arrkst Nero.

All screeched, “She would not!”

“The Spanish took the place,” sayt Nero.  “Today they’re in Calley, tomorrow where?”

“Here!” came a call.

Head and shoulders picture of Sir Walter Ralegh, wearing a large pearl earring.
Sir Water Rawly, better known as Sir Walter Ralegh (c1554-1618)

“The Lord Admiral – a most excellent man, with the Earl of Essicks and Sir Water Rawly, is making readie to have at them,” sayt Nero.  “But that’s a secret.”

Linkin sayt, “Not very secret.  So many ships and men are sought.  And the Lord Admiral don’t like Essicks, and Essicks don’t like Sir Water.  They’ll have at each other before they have at Spain.”

“The Lord Admiral will hold all together,” sayt Nero.  “But where will they strike at the Spanish?  That’s secret.”

“I know where,” sayt Linkin.

“And I,” sayt Nero.

But neither would tell us.  Then Nero sayt, “I would think shame to abandon my old captain – no true sea cat ever could.  But should he go from this world, I’ll join their expedition.”

“How will you do that?” arrkst my niece.

“Certes, our Earl will not stay behind,” sayt Nero.  “This is his chance to prove his valour.  I shall sail with him.”

It was ever Nero’s custom to talk very high.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorKing Philip of Spain (1527-1598) was rebuilding his navy, and by 1595 there were English fears of a second Armada.  Opinions were divided over how best to deal with this.  The Earl of Essex favoured a direct attack on Spain.

An alternative option was to cut off Philip’s supply of funds by attacking Spanish treasure ships as they left the coast of Panama.  The ever-cautious Queen Elizabeth eventually approved a small expedition of 27 ships to be led by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins.  A disaster:  Drake and Hawkins quarrelled; first Hawkins and then Drake died; around half the ships were lost.

In spring 1596, before the survivors had struggled back to England, the Spanish took Calais.  A counter-attack on Spain became a matter of urgency.

The Lord Admiral that Nero so admires is Charles Howard, who commanded the English fleet that saw off the Armada of 1588.  Afterwards Lord Howard went to considerable lengths to help his sick and wounded sailors, risking Queen Elizabeth’s displeasure after she’d made it clear that she had no interest in their welfare.

Sir Walter Ralegh (or Raleigh) and the Earl of Essex were long-term rivals.  Ralegh was remarkably talented: a poet and author, explorer, navigator, soldier, and courtier.  He was also a favourite of Elizabeth’s, but his secret marriage to one of her gentlewomen, Bess Throckmorton, saw him and Bess imprisoned in the Tower in 1592.  Bess was banished from the Court; Sir Walter spent some time living in the country or travelling, and then began working his way back into the Queen’s favour.

37: The Spanish Are Coming

With winter upon us, we cats ceased to meet.  Nero the Sea Cat has yet to conclude his tale of shipwreck on the Spanish Main.  The horses I spake with must believe he is swimming still.

Came spring, a time for joy, but we have not time for fictions.  Linkin the Law Cat gives hot newes or war.  I have learnt much.

Linkin’s master writ from London that the Spanish Admiral was dead, and this newes gave hope to some.  But another has his place, though he does not desire it and knows nowt of war at sea.

Pope Sixtus V, by an anonymous artist.
Pope Sixtus V, by an anonymous artist.

The Pope praises our Queen mightily, even though he calls her an error-tick, and worse.  The Pope does not love the King of Spain.

That did maze me, I confess.

Item:  The King of Spain sends not only his ships against us, but also a great army.  None knows where they may land.  Many ports have been told to make ready their defences, and to provide ships for the Queen’s service.  But some merchants are loathe to send their ships and lose trade.

Nero leapt up and called that Portsmouth was most willing to do all required.  Whereas in Southampton, folk say they spent so much on their fortifications they have not the means to provide a ship.

A black cat looking fierce“And what need have they of fortifications?” arrkst Nero.  “At first sight of a Spanish sail the scoundrels will fling wide their gates and cry: Bienvenidos, amigos.  Which way to Mass?”

Another cat had at him then, and our meeting ended in a brawl.  (I guessed that cat first oped his eyes in Southampton.)

At our next assembly Linkin sayt his master had come from London to take his mother (a prating puritan, my sister says) to a place of safety.  But she is arming her household, and would sooner die at her door than be burnt as an error-tick by the Spanish.

Item:  Siffrans Take [Sir Francis Drake] sayt that we should make sail for Spain, and attack them on their coast.

“Better pickings for that wicked pirate!” called a queen cat.  (Certes, she’s from a Catlick household.)

Lord Howard (1536-1624) painted by Daniel Myrtens c1620.
Lord Howard (1536-1624) by Daniel Myrtens c1620. He was in his 80s when this was painted. At the time of the Armada he was 52.

Linkin sayt it was too late for that.  We must meet them off our coast.  Our Admiral, Lord Howit [Howard] and Siffrans are readying our fleet at Plymouth.  They complain of lack of powder, shot, and vittals for the sailors.

If the Spanish make landing, and our soldiers cannot hold them (which is most like), all who dwell near the coast must burn their crops and run, taking their farm beasts with them so the Spanish will find nowt to eat.

Many cats were fearful then.  To hearten them my sister called that we eat vermin, not crops.

Nero sayt the verminous Spanish would eat us.  Which I thought most unneedful.  For then all ran home to hide theirselves.

But Linkin, Nero, my sister, the Mad Cat and I lingered for more talk.  Being private, we were less seemlie.

Nero sayt our Queen is too niggardly to pay for supplies. He heared that she had sought to pay the Turks to take their war galleys into the Mediterranean and affright the Spanish into staying home.

Linkin sayt many papists dwell in this land.  All fear they will rise up and slaughter us.  (By “us” he means they that I call error-ticks, but which Linkin calls good Protestants.)

The Mad Cat sayt the common people are governed by ignorance, the middling sort (save his good mistress) by avarice, and the nobles by pride.  We should trust none.  The Queen Cat of Heaven told him this.

Linkin did not reprove the Mad Cat for his wild words.  Instead, he gave me the look direct and arrkst, “How stands your young Earl in this matter?”

A pair of dappled cats, Gib and his sister, sitting together and looking self-important“’Tis no great secret,” sayt I, in a manner befitting an Earl’s cat, “that my lord and I were reared in a papistical household, as was my sister here.  But my lord was taken by Lord Purrlie [Burghley] and is at a good Protestant college in Cambridge.  Were my lord grown to a man’s estate, he would fit out a ship and have at those Spanish villains.”

I did not add that should the villains conquer, I, being suttle, might find it in my heart to turn Catlick again.  And I hope my lord will too.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Spanish Admiral who died (February 1588) was the formidable Marquis of Santa Cruz.  He was replaced by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, quite possibly the most unfortunate naval commander in history.

The great army Gib refers to was that of the Duke of Parma, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands.  There were plans for this army to embark from Flanders and, with the support of the Armada, land at Margate (Kent), but all ports along the south coast of England were on alert. 

Sixtus V (1521-1590), Pope from 1585-1590, was given to expressing his admiration for Elizabeth I, despite renewing her excommunication in 1588 and therefore freeing her Catholic subjects from any duty towards her.  He had little faith in Philip II of Spain, and promised financial support for the Armada only if the Spanish succeeded in landing in England.