92:  We Honour My Uncle

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.There was much ado yesterday.

His Harryship rose before dawn, and all ran hither and yon to do his bidding.

He goes to join Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] on ambassage to the King of France.  They’ll beg him not to friend Spain.

All I can say is, Queen Puss should have sent that King the aid he sought.

What will Mr Secretary get for his pains?  Wet fur and no fish.  (As my mother would have sayt.)

His Harryship’s chamber was in disarray.  The kitchen cat and I made a good breakfast from his leavings.  Then I found paper, dipped his pen, and writ:

Touch not the basket of my Cat, nor the papers therein.  Burn this when you have read it.

H. Southampton.

I would be a poor skoller if I could not write as well as an Earl can.

Then I stepped out to where his horses waited, snorting and stamping.  They’ll not be so haughtie after being ridden through mire.

Our Earl was standing apart.  He was talking to a gardener.

“Most willingly, your lordship,” sayt the fellow, cap in hand, though he’d scarce enough hair to keep his brain warm.  “I’ll call my son.  He’ll count it an honour.”  And added in haste, lest he be thought insolent,Our childern loved that Gib.  Specially our poor Puss [Bess].

Then a strange thing happened.  A drop of water came from his eye and left a glistering trail upon his cheek.  He begged forgiveness, saying, “She’s in Heaven now.”

Our Earl placed a hand upon his shoulder.  “I well recall your daughter,” sayt he in his softest voice.  And how he praised her!  The pretty curtsey she had made him, her fair speech, her smile.

Yes, your Harryship, thought I.  Now I know why many love you.  But when your bum’s in the saddle and the world lies before you, will you spare a thought for my uncle or your gardener’s daughter?

Perchance I wrong him.

The horses moved off slow.  I walked a way behind them.

All saw a boy and girl come by with a small cart.  We heard the gardener call, “Do nowt blasphemious, mind.”

One of our Earl’s gentlemen sayt, “A funeral?  For a cat?”

He replied, “The first lesson that cat taught me was worth the learning.  I took him up, and he shat on me.

A lesson in warefulness?  I doubt he’s learnt it.

I went to find Linkin and Nero.  They told me a cat from our stable had been by, inviting all to farewell my uncle at our Field on the morrow.

Nero offered a song in his honour.

“What have you in mind?” I arrkst.  (I’ve not forgot how he contrived to insult me in the verse he made upon my late mother.)

“An excellent song,” sayt he.  “I heared it at our Earl’s house one summer eve as I sat ’neath a window.  Come again sweet love etcetera.”

“That’s a song about a wicked woman,” sayt Linkin.

John Dowland’s First Book of Songs and Airs, printed in 1597.

“True,” sayt Nero.  “She hoist her tail, and then distained the gentleman.”

“She brake his heart” sayt Linkin. “And made mock of him.”

“One fool deserves another,” sayt Nero. “I’ll amend the words.”

I feared the worst.

But what a throng of cats came to our assembly!

Most could not believe my uncle was gone from this world.  He was with us for so long he seemed immortal.

“He was not of an age,” sayt one, “but for all time.”

Then Nero rose up.  He sang:

Come again, all cats do now invite
Friend Gib, who came so oft to bring us true delight.

To sit, to whurr, to hear, to sing, to sigh
with him again in sweetest sympathy.

Come again, that we may cease to mourn
because he did depart, and leave us all forlorn.

We wait, we weep, we wail, we waul, we cry
to ease our grief in feline harmony.

Poor verse.  But all gave Nero great applauds.

Some cats (readie to woo us queens, and fire-hot to show theirselves) joined with him to sing the song again.

Brats began to yowl in the cottages nearby.  One dog barked, then another.

“Once more!” cried Nero.  And all gave voice.

How we sang!  Even the youngest cats let out a waul or two, though they could scarce have known my uncle.  Nor heard his tales, save from mothers wishing to affright them with monsters and wicked witches.

A cottage door oped, and a woman came at us with a broom.  We fled away like shadows.

A fit end to my uncle’s funeral.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorI’m taking a break from blogging, so this will be the last post for a month or so.

Gib’s niece (who would have written it early in February 1598) might not have liked Nero’s verse, but at least Gib had a poetick send off.  Unlike William Shakespeare, whose death seems to have gone unremarked by his fellow poets in 1616.

I hate to think what the “feline harmony” sounded like, but there are many modern renditions of John Dowland’s melancholy song that’s usually referred to as Come Again.  My favourites are by counter tenor/alto Daniel Taylor, and by tenor William Ferguson.

The Earl of Southampton had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to remain overseas for two years, and take with him 10 servants, 6 horses, and £200.  He also purchased a letter of credit for 1,000 crowns, payable to him in Rouen (Akrigg, p.69).

He must have been delighted to be on the move.  But he did take a fond farewell of Elizabeth Vernon shortly before he sailed.

 

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 then ran squealing to her.

What a cowbaby.

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 Howit [Frances Howard], but she has another name because she has a husband.

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 heared 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 visited Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Sir Robert hoped to dissuade Henri IV from making peace with Spain.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Frances Howard (1578-1639) – then Prannell, next 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.  Forman assured her she wasn’t.  But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  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 spoke to them again, threatening 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?  Had Willoughby told Elizabeth Vernon about it, or made some other remark that annoyed her?

Rowland Whyte 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”.  He hints that her reputation could be 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?

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.