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 turned cowbaby and ran squealing to her.

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 Prannill.

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 heard 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 made a quick visit to Titchfield before he and Sir Robert Cecil left for France.  Henri IV of France intended to make peace with Spain – a matter of concern to the English.

Now for an Elizabethan soap opera.

Mistress Prannell (nee Frances Howard) 1578-1639 – later 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.  Simon Forman assured her she wasn’t.

But where was Mr Prannell, a wealthy vinter?  In London or away on business?  Did she think he was the father?  Or did she suspect someone else might be?  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 threatened 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?  Or was it something to do with what Willoughby had told Elizabeth Vernon that annoyed or upset her?

Rowland Whyte also 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” at the prospect of the Earl’s departure.  He hints that her reputation is 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 from France?

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.


89: Nero Sees Action

Head of a ginger, black and white cat, looking stern.
Gib’s Niece

My uncle was wearie, so I, from the generosity in my heart, offered to set down the last of Nero’s lies.

I told him no more sailors’ talk that none else can comprehend.

Nero knows outlandish words.  My poor uncle had to pause his pen to seek their meaning.  He wisht to set all down plain for ease of reading.

I have not the patience.

And I told Nero ’twere well that he made a brisk end.  We was not like to find ink and cut quills on the morrow.  He believed me.

“We made haste (sayt he) toward the sound of shot.  At dawn we saw the Rainbow.  But nearer was a Spanish frigget [frigate] that did not know we was English.  When we put out our flags she, hoping to escape, sprang her luff.”

(Here Nero brake off and scratched hisself.  I sayt nowt.)

“We seized her,” sayt Nero.  “She carried no silver, but we rejoyced to find kitchen eel.”

An 18th century watercoloured sketch of a a man brushing cochineal scale from a cactus.
Collecting what Gib’s niece heard as ‘kitchen eel’ from a prickly pear cactus. Cochineal was much in demand as a dye.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

(I did not enquire why eels were a matter for joy.)

“While our men were rummaging her, a boat came from the Rainbow to say the treasure fleet was but two or three miles ahead, and we must follow.

“Then through the mist we glimpsed two sail astern.  My nose told me they was ours.  I begged that we pursue the fleet.

“Our prisoners from the frigget swore they ships were Spanish.  Proof they were not.  So came our Mary Rose and Dreadnowt.

“Then all gave chase with wet canvas.  The fleet ran to Tercera.  None of our ships was standing in their way.

“The port’s great guns gave fire when we of the Garland and the Rainbow sought to enter – first under sail, then sly by boat to cut some cables.

“My friend on the Rainbow told me that yesternight they’d come upon more ships than she had claws.  She knowed by their stinks they was Spanish.  Her captain thought they may be ours.

“The sea was calm (sayt she).  He ordered the boat lowered and went to hail them.  They told him they were of Civil [Seville].  When they learnt he was of the Queen’s navy, they was most uncivil, and made mock of him.  We hung out our lights and fired our ordnance to show we’d found the knaves.

“We harked you (sayt I).  But how was we to know their ships were all ahead of us, and none astern?  And to leave that frigget unmolested would have caused great heart-burnings among our company.

“My friend marvelled that so few English ships were nigh.  Certes, she and I were not at fault.  

“’Twas a day or more before Essicks and some others joined us.  Along the way they’d took a great ship coming late with two more friggets.  Enough to pay the costs of this voyage.

“And we learnt that after we’d sailed westward, Essicks had newes that the sail sighted there was ours, not Spanish.  He sent word that we didn’t receive, and he and the rest of our ships left their places near Tercera to go to Saint Mikel [San Miguel].

“Had they stayed, the King of Spain’s treasure were ours.

A modern drawing of the map in the previous post, showing Essex’ route to and from the Azores. From ‘The Successors of Drake’ by J. S. Corbett – Internet Archive.

“Frustrate in our hopes, all sailed for Saint Mikel.  I did not go ashore, but I heared that Essicks, going in a boat, was armed only with his sword and a collar to protect his throat.

“When our Rear-Admiral called that he should wear back and breast plates, Essicks answered that he would not go so advantaged above the men who rowed him.

“Who could not love Essicks?  Though some sayt a General should not be careless of hisself.

“I also heared that in one town (I know not where) some women were slow to flee.  Essicks sayt he would punish any man who insulted them.  He put them in a house well-guarded, and sent them food from his own table.

“We set sail for home.  The Spanish navy, knowing we came weak and weatherbeaten, was waiting to have at us.  We readied ourselves for fight, but the Queen Cat of Heaven punished them for their insolencie. 

“In harbour all sailors’ fingers are limed twigs – there’s nowt that doesn’t stick to them.  Who was not loathe to part with goods so hard-gotten?  Sir Water Rawly sold sugar to pay hisself and all his company.  What more was kept from Her Majestie’s cold claws, I cannot tell.”

My uncle arrkst Nero, “What of the question to the learned doctor that touched upon our Earl?  Some matter of kitchen eel?”

“It was,” sayt Nero, “put by a lady on the matter of his marriage.”

A black and white photo of the portrait of a young Elizabethan woman, formally dressed and holding a fan.
A very young and anxious-looking Puss Fur-None, better known as Elizabeth (Bess) Vernon (1573-1655).  From Charlotte Carmichael Stopes’ biography of the Earl of Southampton, via the Internet Archive.

“To Puss Fur-None?” arrkst my uncle.

“No,” sayt Nero. “I believe this lady has hopes of her own.”

I scented scandal, but my uncle sayt he would write what Nero told us next.

He fears I may set down something slanderous of His Harryship.

My uncle may be old, but he is cute [sharp].

 Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorNero and the Rainbow’s cat were eager to declare they weren’t to blame for anything.

So was the Rainbow’s captain, Sir William Monson.  He claims he sought to delay the treasure fleet by inviting them to try and capture his ship.  That sounds foolhardy, but at the time he wouldn’t have known that almost all the English fleet were elsewhere.

Sir William then faults the Earl of Southampton for the Garland’s staying to take the Spanish frigate and identify the Mary Rose and Dreadnought.  And also Sir Francis Vere (on the Mary Rose) for bringing a soldier’s caution to the pursuit of the fleet into the port of Angra.  But mainly the Earl of Essex, for taking advice from the wrong people.

Had the English fleet maintained its position in the vicinity of Graciosa and Terceira, the treasure would have been theirs.  Hindsight, of course.

The “great ship” escorted by two frigates that was taken belonged to the Governor of Havana.  She was unloaded at Dartmouth and reported to be carrying cochineal and indigo.  A good haul, though there are hints in letters to Sir Robert Cecil that sticky fingers may have been busy before she reached Dartmouth.