104:  My First Parlement

And what a strange thing it was!

When Paws called for order, a fierce stone-cat [tom-cat] leapt onto the wall to serve as our watch.  Though whether he were there to keep us in or others out I knew not.

Another cat rose and arrkst the Queen Cat of Heaven to look with favour on our parlement.

Then Paws sayt, “Are there new members here?”  (Though I swear she saw us enter.)

A black and white cat posed against a wooden bench with copper, brass and eathernware vessels and a pile of cinnamon quills.
Onix, who has employment in an apothecary’s shop.

Onix begged permission to speak.  He sayt he wished to present two that were in the service of the Earl of Southampton.

That caused a stir.  Linkin and I were called to show ourselves.

Paws arrkst who was the member for our household.

I knew not what she meant by that, but Linkin sayt he was.  And that I lodged with him against our Earl’s return from France.

“Which,” added Linkin, “our Earl says he cannot do, because he lacks for money.”

That set all screeching.  “An Earl with no money?” called some.

“Come he must, if Her Majestie commands it,” sayt Paws. “And take his punishment like a lord.  His cat has no place of her own, and his wife and her cousin the Earl of Essex must bear all Her Majestie’s wrath.”

Some cats called, “Shame!”

Then Linkin was arrkst to give an account of hisself.

Linkin, Law-Cat and Member of Parlement.

He boasted so well of his learning that he was welcomed by other law-cats, and invited to sit on their committy.

I was left at the back with the likes of Picker and Stealer.

Then came the reports, as ordered by Paws.  Most tedious, save when a cat told of the funeral of old Lord Purrlie [Burghley].

She sayt that the Earl of Essex had come from his hiding place in the country, and wore the sorriest face of all.

“Sorry for hisself, most like,” she added.  “He’ll get nowt by Lord Purrlie’s death.  All the good places old Purrlie held are taken by Sir Rabbit [Sir Robert Cecil] and his friends.”

Another arrkst if it were true that Essex was in hiding because Her Majestie had struck him a blow, and he’d wauled most fierce at her.

I pricked my ears, for I knew nowt of that.

But Paws sayt that we’d had no report of any fight, and our parlement was not for gossips’ talk nor slander.

I could scarce keep from yawning.

Then Paws invited talk of Ireland, where ’twas said that the Irishes had been attacking the English mightily, and won a glorious victory.

Some cats sayt that if the English were taking their places, the Irishes did well to chase them out.

A dark-haired young man with a spade-shaped beard, He's wearing a glossy white satin doublet.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.

Linkin (getting the nod from Paws) sayt, “But if Her Majestie wishes to punish the Irishes, who can she send against them but the Earl of Essex?”

That brought applauds.

“Certes,” sayt Paws, “many hope Essex will return to Her Majestie’s household, but he lies sick a-bed in his house beyond the citie.”

“Sick of old Queen Puss,” sayt I, not soft enough.  Picker and Stealer turned to give me looks.

Then Picker or Stealer – I knew not which – sought to speak.

I feared she meant to have me chased off, and readied myself for flight.

Instead she sayt, “I slander none, but I hear Essex has sayt that even princes can err, and wrong their subjects.  And that no earthly power is infinite.  Can such wild words be true?  Or has fever enflamed his brains?”

Oh, that was suttle.

“I fear,” sayt Linkin (having the nod again) “that the most noble and heroick Essex has stepped forth upon a slender branch.  We must pray it bears his weight, lest he should fall and look fool.”

That brought great applauds.

How well Linkin could play at politicks.  And Picker and Stealer too.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe fight between Queen Elizabeth and Essex occurred at a meeting on 30 June or 1 July 1598.  Sir Robert Cecil and the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, were also there, and the Clerk of the Signet.

In the absence of a record by anyone present, modern historians rely on the brief account written some years later by William Camden (1551-1623) in his history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Camden calls it a “sharp dissention”.

Queen Elizabeth, from the first volume of Camden’s Annales (1625 edition).

The Lord Deputy of Ireland had recently died, and there was an argument (apparently driven by rivalry between Essex and Sir Robert Cecil) over who should replace him.

When Queen Elizabeth dismissed Essex’ suggestion, he turned his back on her.  She gave him “a cuff on the ear and bade him be gone…”.  He placed his hand on his sword hilt.  The Lord Admiral stepped between them.

Essex announced that he couldn’t swallow such treatment, nor would he have taken it from King Henry VIII – Elizabeth’s father, with whom she liked to be compared.

He left the Court and went to his house at Wanstead (now part of greater London).  He remained there throughout July and August resisting his friends’ and allies’ advice to make peace with Queen Elizabeth, and appearing only at Lord Burghley’s funeral on 30 August.

Essex seems to have been prone to bouts of depression, but after Lord Burghley’s funeral he became dangerously ill.  He was then forgiven by Queen Elizabeth.

The story of the “dissention” has grown in the telling.  Essex was later reported to have also said that the Queen’s conditions (disposition) were as crooked as her carcass – or words to that effect.  He may well have made this remark at some stage, but I find it hard to believe that even he would have said it in her hearing.


101:  More of our Earl and his Mistress

A black, white and orange cat against a background of flames.My aromatickal friend accompanied me to my lodging in Black-Fryes [Blackfriars].  I told him I did but bide there against my lord’s return.

“Which will be soon, I trust,” sayt he, virtuous.  “I hear poor Mistress Fur-None [Vernon] is grown so fat she feigned illness and fled the Court for fear of Her Majestie’s displeasure.”

I was vexed that I’d not known this.  “To hell with Her Majestie,” sayt I.

His eyes grew round. “That’s wicked talk.”

“I mean,” I sayt, to smooth him, “that my lord has done no wrong.  Before he set forth for France ’twas sayt he and Mistress Fur-None would marry.”

“Then it matters not how hard upon the wedding their kit comes,” sayt he.  “There’s little shame to speak of.”

“Were they cats,” I sayt, “there’d be no shame nor no wedding.”

“True,” sayt he.

We sat a while longer.

I arrkst him if he went to Paws’ yard [St Paul’s churchyard].  I’d seen cats gather there, and guessed they met for newes or merriment as we’d done in our Field at home.

A reconstructed image of Old St Pauls, via Wikimedia Commons. Neither Tricks nor the Earl of Southampton would have ever seen its spire, which was destroyed by fire in 1561, and never rebuilt.
The cathedral itself was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666.

He told me he had scant leisure, so necessary was he in his employment.  “But if the night’s fair when my mistress and her maid set forth on women’s work,” he sayt, “I slip out too.”

He offered to call for me when next he went to Paws.

I was of a mind to tell him he had no need to call, for I could nose him a mile off.  But I forebore.

I told him my name was Tricks.  He sayt London cats go by many names, but in his household all called him Onix.

(A fool name for a cat.)

And so we parted friends, though I arrkst myself if Picker and Stealer might prove better company.

“What?” called Linkin, when he saw me at our window.  “Back so soon?  And not yet Lord Mayor?”

A black, white and orange cat peering through a leaded window-pane.

“How is it,” I arrkst, “that Mistress Fur-None has a kit in her belly, and I must hear it from an up-puffed pomander?”

“I know nowt of that,” sayt Linkin.  “The night’s talk here was of Lord Purrlie.  He’s on his deathbed.  Queen Puss [Bess] went to visit him, and fed him broth with her own hands.  She won’t know herself without him.  His first son Thoms [Thomas] will have the name Lord Purrlie, but his clever son Rabbit [Robert] will have his place at the Queen’s elbow.”

“I care nowt for politicks,” sayt I.  “This cat sayt Puss Fur-None is hiding from the Queen.  And where’s his Harryship?  In hiding from Puss Fur-None?”

“Our Earl’s not one to forsake his friends,” sayt Linkin.  “He helped the Daffers [Danvers] brothers flee, and now they’ll have their pardon.  And did not our sea-friend Nero say that when the Mathew lay stricken in the water, our Earl’s Garland stood by to give aid?  Certes, if he and Puss Fur-None are not wed, they soon will be.” 

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWilliam Cecil, Lord Burghley, died in London in early August 1598, aged 77.  He’d been at Queen Elizabeth’s side throughout her reign, and I suspect she would have been too distressed to give any thought to Elizabeth Vernon’s departure from Court.

Tricks may have been unimpressed by Onix, but he seems well up on city gossip.

It wasn’t unusual for Elizabethan brides to be pregnant on their wedding day; I’ve read that around 25% were.

Social historians attribute this to the custom variously referred to as betrothal, espousal, contracting, or hand-fasting.  A couple exchanged vows to marry de presenti (in the present), or de futuro (in the future).  The vows were usually made before witnesses, and often involved the exchange of little gifts or rings.

As far as both the church and the law were concerned, people weren’t legally married until a ceremony had been performed by a priest or minister.  A preliminary exchange of vows wasn’t necessary.

However, a betrothal de presenti was binding, if not strictly legal.  Many betrothed couples considered themselves to be as good as married, with predictable results.

The church may not have approved but the wider community was less concerned, provided the wedding took place before the baby was born.  Otherwise the child’s legal status was compromised.  However, a percentage of the poor probably never bothered with a wedding.  As they had little or nothing to leave their children, rights of inheritance would have been irrelevant.  

A betrothal de futuro could be broken off by mutual consent, but if the couple had sexual intercourse then it became binding, too.