106:  Hints of Trouble

Nutmegs and powdered nutmegWell, I write of such hints now, but in truth the hints I nosed that autumn were the herbs and spices heralding the advance of Onix.

And the stinks of the rotten meats in the river we crossed on our way to the wall of Essex House.  Then I was glad that I was accompanied by a walking nosegay.

We oft went to Essex House in hopes of a glimpse of the Earl of Essex, but his house was always so pestered with fine gentlemen we agreed that if he were there he’d be lost amid the throng. 

An engraving of Essex House viewed from the Thames, showing the river wall and gate to the landing stairs.And I do not believe we could ever have foreseen the trouble we would witness after we had gained admittance to that house.

Linkin never accompanied us beyond the citie’s wall.  Now he was a Member for Parlement he spake only of his committy.

“But your comitty was in Paws Yard,” sayt I.  “You’ve sat nowhere since but on our roof with two fat cats I do not know.”

“That’s my committy,” sayt Linkin.  “We may sit where we choose, and when we are done sitting we’ll make a report to parlement.”

“On what?” I arrkst.  “Sitting?”

“On the Unlawful Persecution of Cats.”

“And when will that be?”

“First,” sayt he, “we must agree on what we mean by Unlawful.  And on what we mean by Persecution.  And whether or not Persecution may ever be Lawful.”

“I marvel,” sayt I, “that you see no need to agree on what you mean by Cats.”

“True!” cried Linkin.  “For are there not lions confined in the Tower?  Are they also cats?  We must resolve it.”

And away he went, most happy.  I feared I might not live long enough to hear any report on the matter.

Next, there was talk in our household that His Harryship’s mother, the old Countess, had taken another husband.  Swillem Harfie [Sir William Hervey].

This was not the first time I’d heard that name.  Swillem went with Essex to Cadiz.  And to the Asores as captain of the Bonaventure.

I guessed he lacked for money, and hoped to get his living from the Countess.  And she wished to enjoy a young husband.

No harm in that.  Her first husband used her ill, and I doubt her second ever seized her by the scruff.  Certes, she got no kits from him.

An attractive young woman with a long, pale face. The resemblance between her and her son (face shape, hairline, nose and mouth) is striking.
Mary Browne, later the Countess of Southampton, aged 13. This was probably painted before her first marriage to the 2nd Earl of Southampton, His Harryship’s father.

But now ’twas bruited [rumoured] that His Harryship was mightily displeased with his mother when he learnt of her marrying again.

And she was mightily displeased with His Harryship because he’d married Puss Fur-None [Elizabeth Vernon] without telling her.

The Earl of Essex sought to end these troubles and restore kindness between them.  He also hoped to perswayde the Countess to welcome her new daughter, Puss Fur-None.

First he sent a friend to discover whether the Countess had married or no.  And if she had not, then to warn her it would cause scandal if she were to wed while her son was in disgrace.

She swore she was not married yet, but sayt she was at liberty to dispose of herself when and where she chose.  And that her son could expect no account from her in the matter of her marriage, because he’d made her a stranger to his.

And that parents were not bound to be dutiful to their children.  It was their children who ought to be dutiful to them.

And much more besides.

So Essex’ friend came away with wet fur and no fish, as my mother would have sayt.

Next, the Countess told Essex that she would welcome Puss Fur-None for his sake (Puss Fur-None being Essex’ cousin), but she would find it more agreeable if Puss were not the wife of her unkind and undutiful son.

Oh, she was fightsome.  I swear she would have made as good a queen cat as a Countess.  How she must have wished to strike His Harryship a blow on the nose!


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe dowager Countess of Southampton (1552-1607) was about 45 when rumours began to circulate about her and Sir William Hervey (c.1565-1642).

Sir William’s exact birth year is unknown, but he was probably around 13 years younger than the Countess.  

Her previous husband was Sir Thomas Heneage, 20 years her senior and in poor health when they married in 1594.  He died less than eighteen months later.  He left her some heavy debts to clear immediately after his death, but she was well-provided for in the longer term.

The young Earl of Southampton’s objection to his mother’s marrying Sir William Hervey was almost certainly financial.

Sir William wouldn’t have been able to touch the Earl’s estates that his mother derived her income from.  However, an ill-drafted marriage settlement might have meant he would have access to her inheritance from Sir Thomas Heneage.

Anyway, marriage was a serious business, particularly among the “better sort”.   Family and friends expected to be consulted, even when both parties were of an age “to dispose of” themselves.

But, as the Countess pointed out, her son hadn’t told her of his marriage, so what had hers to do with him?

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