86: The Fates of Nero

Our ships came safe home.  The Spanish rogues were coming to attack Fowl Mouth, but (as we hoped) the immortal wrath of the Queen Cat of Heaven wrought against them.  She would not suffer the rascals near our fowl.

A delicately coloured drawing of a small harbour with several ships, but only a small human settlement.
A section from a map of Fowl Mouth (better known as Falmouth, on the coast of Cornwall). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Our heroick Essicks has also fled.  He went to the country to scape the mortal wrath of Queen Puss [Bess].

The voyage yielded small profit for her, and she blames him for it.  But Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] found her taking the air in her garden at White Hall, and spake so loud in defence of Essicks that many standing by heared all.

A black and white drawing of a palce in semi-rural surrounds, fronting on to the river.
A 16th century sketch of the palace of Whitehall from the Thames, by Antony van den Wyngaerde. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I do not know if my lord is condoling with Essicks, or in London.  I dare say the Queen’s young Pusses think him heroick.

Some here say he sunk one of the King of Spain’s ships.  I know not the truth of that.

But, in the matter of truth, I reproved my niece for telling the stable cats that Linkin had murdered Nero.

“That was no lie,” sayt she.  “It was a poetick fiction.  Is it my fault they believed me?”

She told me her tale.  Too tedious to set down here, save that a cat named Lankin sought revenge on one called Miro, who had seemed his friend.

Then Lankin nosed Miro’s scents in his mistress’ bed.  So he waited in a secret place where none could witness what he did.  When Miro came by, Lankin leapt out and seized him by the throat, and made an end to him.

Next, Lankin took revenge on his false mistress.  He caught a mouse and dropped it by her petticoats.  The mouse ran under them.  Lankin did the like and, feigning hot pursuit of the mouse, he gave his mistress’ legs and bum a mighty clawing.

“Now, uncle,” sayt my niece, “if there were none to witness Lankin’s wicked murder, how could my report of it be true?”

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She gave me the look direct.

I struck her on her saucie face, and she crept off.

Then I made my way to Linkin’s house, for I feared word of her slanders may have reached him.

But Linkin had his own tale to tell.

He sayt that a friend of Nero’s late master, knowing the Spanish were coming, went to Portsmouth to give what aid he could.  When all danger was passed, he lingered there rejoicing.

Then (sayt this man) what did he see but a black cat eating a crust in the gutter.  This cat was so thin, scabbed, and rusted, he knew him only by his lack of tail. 

He offered the cat a morsel of cheese, and captured him.  Once aboard the boat, the cat started whurring.  (The man shared this boat with Nero’s old master.)

And the man told Linkin’s mistress he believes that when last he went to Portsmouth, poor old Blackie (as he called him) lay hidden on the boat.  And slipt ashore, perchance to seek his master, then but recently deceased.

And he (the man), not knowing Blackie had been aboard, returned without him.

This cat now lies at Linkin’s house, where his mistress tends him.  Then he’ll go to lodge with the man who found him.

“So all’s well that ends well,” sayt I to Linkin.

Linkin knew not what to think.  He feared an imposture.  “He may well gull my poor mistress and that old pirate,” he sayt. “He shall not trump me.”

But whene’er Linkin goes to nose him and take what scents might lie beneath the stinks of gutter, this cat swears at him most horrible.

Linkin led me to the impostor, who lay resting in a scrap of winter sun.

A rusty-furred black cat. lying on his side.

I troubled not to nose him.  I arrkst, poetickal, “How now, you secret, black, and midnight cat?”

And he replied:

I held the Fates clamped tight betwixt my teeth,

And with my paw turned Fortune’s wheel about.

“What mean you by that, you clown?” arrkst Linkin.

“I mean my luck held,” sayt Nero.  “And with it the Garland’s.  But none heeded my advice, so we lost the King of Spain’s treasure by a whisker.  I will say no more.”

Certes, he’ll have much to say when he’s made his verses.  I hope I may live to hear them, true or false.

When I was private in my house again, I counted the winters I’ve seen.  I believe this to be my seventeenth.

I am of sound mind and in good heart, though my joints ake.  I have not lost my personal attractions.  Unlike Queen Puss who has few teeth remaining.  Or Nero, who Linkin’s mistress sayt should be new-named Rustie.

But sometimes I’m troubled by sharp pains in my loins, the like of which I never felt before.  Ask for me in spring, and you may find me a grave cat.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorA few quick points:

The Spanish hadn’t mustered the 30,000 men King Philip of Spain deemed necessary for an invasion, but they hoped to use Falmouth Harbour as a base from which to destroy the English navy.

The Earl of Essex, having little to show for his voyage, withdrew to his house at Wanstead.  A bad move, because it gave his enemies at Court a chance to work against him.

Sir Francis Vere seems to have been an honourable man.  He left a brief and business-like account of the Islands Voyage in his Commentaries, where he mentions his argument with the Queen.  Despite his annoyance with Essex over the level of command he was given, he didn’t want to see him unfairly blamed for the failure.

Gib’s niece has a lighter taste in her reading than her uncle does.  The ‘mouse under the petticoats’ incident is a steal from Beware the Cat.

84: Contrary Winds

Linkin and I were private when we spake of my lady Moll’s troubles.  He gave other newes at our Field.

He sayt our ships that will go against Spain left the Thames and came along our coast, slowed only by ill winds.  Along the way they took on soldiers.  All good men, not rogues and vagabonds.

Our Dutch friends who helped us in our victory at Cadiz have brought their ships to join us.

A black and white photo; head and shoulders profile of a soldier in his thirties.
Sir Francis Vere (1561-1609), from a portrait reproduced in ‘The Fighting Veres” by Clements R. Markham (1888).

“And,” sayt Linkin, “Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] came with one thousand or more of his soldiers from the Low Countries, where they aid the Dutch against the Spanish.  But here’s scandal for you.”

We pricked our ears.

“Essicks and Siffrans once were friends.  And though Essicks strives to keep all sweet, there’s a coolness come betwixt them.

“Essicks commands this expedition.  Below him, Lord Thoms Howit and Sir Water Rawly have command at sea.

“Siffrans Fear thought to command on land, as he did at Cadiz.  But no.  Lord Mountjoy has that honour, though he knows scarce more of war than what he’s read in books.

Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, painted c1594 by an unknown artist. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, 1563-1606, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Essicks sayt ’twas not his choice, but Her Majestie’s.  And he made Siffrans a Marshall, and told him that’s a better place than Mountjoy has. 

“Siffrans was not appeased.  He sayt that Queen Puss would not force Essicks to do owt that was not of his choosing.  

“But who thinks Queen Puss does all that Essicks wills?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal. “Not I, though I wish she would.”

“Who is this Mount Joy?” came a call.

“A friend to our Earl,” sayt I.  “And to Essicks.”

My saucie niece whispered, “Say rather, who is Joy?  His horse or Her Majestie?”

Linkin heared her.  He sayt, “Neither.  Better that Mountjoy were named Mount Penny.  She’s own sister to Essicks.”

The lady Penelope is also a friend to my lord.  Linkin grows too bold in his slanders.

A rather dark portrait of two expensively, but relatively simply dressed young Elizabethan women.
A portrait said to be of Dorothy (left) and Penelope Devereux.  Penelope was married to Robert, Lord Rich in 1581, but by 1597 her relationship with Lord Mountjoy was well-established.

I sayt, “Queen Puss likes Lord Mountjoy.  Who knows if Essicks spake true when he sayt the choice was hers?  But small wonder Siffrans Fear is offended.  Who would not be?”

Our kitchen cat arrkst, “When shall they quarrel with the Spanish rather than each other?  And our Earl prove his valour?”

“When all are readie at Plymouth,” sayt Linkin. “But the winds are contrary.”

Many looked for Nero then.  Linkin hears the town talk, but ’tis Nero who knows of the sea.

He was not among us.  None could nose him.  We was mazed.

Then Linkin sayt that Nero, ill-humoured when last we met, had kept away to spite us.

My niece feared he’d made away with hisself.  “He may have drank poison,” sayt she.  “Or leapt from a most high place and not arranged hisself upon the air to make safe landing.  Perchance he fell upon a sword.”

detail-from-a-painting-by-abraham-willaerts-17th-century(The chit has read too many plays.)

“Self-murder is forbid us by the Queen Cat of Heaven,” sayt I.

“True,” called an old cat.  “But when we know our days are done we may refuse all meat and drink, and so haste our end.”

Our kitchen cat sayt, “Perchance our black and melancolick friend has died for grief.”

(She has heared too many woeful ballads.)

I sayt, “Cats have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them.  But not for grief.”

But now I’m troubled, too.  And I pray there are no winds so contrary that they trouble my lord’s ship Garland.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorGib probably wrote this in June/July 1597, around the same time as the fleet finally left Plymouth.  The historian Paul E. J. Hammer describes it as “…the best prepared Elizabethan expeditionary force – even better than that of 1596…”

Their first action was to be the destruction of the Spanish fleet preparing at the port of Ferrol for yet another attempt on England.

The force consisted of 17 of Queen Elizabeth’s ships (including two Spanish galleons, captured the previous year at Cadiz) plus armed merchantmen, transport and supply ships, and the Dutch squadron of around 24 ships.  Probably 120 to 170 ships in all.

The English ships were divided into three squadrons, one commanded by the Earl of Essex, one by Lord Thomas Howard (Vice Admiral), and one by Sir Walter Ralegh (Rear Admiral).

The transports carried around 5,000-6,000 soldiers.  England had no standing army that could be sent abroad, but relied on professionals who’d served overseas, volunteers, and “rogues and vagabonds” scooped off the streets.  Essex had no use for the last group.

He’d therefore put in place a system that drew on and developed the structure of the local militias to provide territorial forces.  The militias’ role had been to defend their counties if the need arose.  How did the men from along the south coast feel about being taken when harvest time was approaching?  Reactions were probably mixed.  The London levies might have been happy; Londoners loved Essex.

While Queen Elizabeth had been loathe to approve much overseas service for Lord Mountjoy, he was not as inexperienced as Linkin suggests.

There was also Sir Francis Vere (grimly resolved to do his duty) with his veterans from the Netherlands, and the gentlemen “voluntaries” who equipped themselves and went for adventure, loot, and even a knighthood.

At Cadiz the Lord Admiral and the Earl of Essex had knighted about 60 men, and “Cadiz knights” became something of a joke.  One man remarked that some had done no more than march into Cadiz’ marketplace on a hot day, wearing back and breastplates and carrying their pikes.