39:  Wicked Tongues and Clean Whiskers

A black and white cat doing a happy danceOh, we’ve been merry of late.

The Spanish have sailed eastward, so will not land near us. Nero brought this newes.  His master has returned from Portsmouth, where he went to aid in the defences.

Our ships fought four times with the Spanish as they came along the narrow sea [the Channel].

We cats heared the fight for our island [Wight].  Then, when the Spanish lay off the coast of France, our ships attacked them there, doing some hurt.

“And would have done more, had they powder enough,” sayt Nero.

All the Mad Cat would say, when arrkst in jest what more the Queen Cat of Heaven has told him, is, “I know what I know.”

Linkin’s master writ from London that he saw the Queen’s Majestie, most richly bejewelled, upon a white horse.  She made a fine speech to hearten her soldiers.

“She’d hearten them more if she paid them,” sayt Linkin.

We screeched at that.  Then we loosed our wicked tongues on Lord Lester [Leicester] who commands the soldiers.  Some arrkst, “When did he ever win a fight?”

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. By Nicholas Hilliard, c1576.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. By Nicholas Hilliard, c1576.

I called, “Pray, friends, be respective.  Lord Lester has a very good place in Her Majestie’s household.  He alone is permitted to seize her by the scruff.”

Another screech.

Linkin sayt, “She has a young Earl now that she keeps very close.”

“She loves them young,” sayt my sister.  “She’ll be calling for our Earl next.”

I liked not that word “our”.  But I made the best of it by showing I know more than my sister does.  I offered scandal, and all pricked their ears.

First, I told of the old Earl and his maggot, as I have writ long since.  Then I sayt, “We need not fear that our young Earl will be as mad as his father.  The old Earl did not put our Earl-kit in his mother’s belly.”

“How know you that?” all cried.

In truth, I heard a whisper when I was a kitling.  But I sayt, very grand, “I discovered this by arithmetickal and astrologickal calculation.

A Full Moon“After our queens hoist their tails, they watch the moon wax fat twice before their kits come forth.

“But women are slow in their doings.  They must watch the moon wax nine times.  Our young Earl was birthed in leaf-fall, not long from that wondrous night when ghosts creep about.

“And where was the old Earl nine moons before?  He had not wit enough to hide his papistry, so was locked in the Tower.”

Oh, what joy it is to spread slander from behind a mask of virtue.

The queen cats were mazed.  “What?” they called.  “Nine fat moons?  To bring forth one yowling little stinkard?”

“But,” sayt the kitchen cat from my household, “were our Countess hot enough, she’d have found a way into the Tower.  Clawed at the door till the gate keeper gave her admittance.  Or leapt onto the leads [roof] and clamb down the chimney.”

“True,” sayt another.  “Women may be slow, but they’re as tricksie as we.”

Then all ran off, saying they hoped to hear more scandal soon.

I arrkst Linkin, “Did your master see my lord with the Queen and her soldiers?”

The Countess's Catlick father, better known as Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague.
The Countess’s Catlick father, better known as Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague (1528-1592).  From a painting by Hans Eworth.

“He sent no report of it.  But your old Catlick lord was there.”

“The Countess’s father?  He that laps up the pap of Error but shows clean whiskers to the Queen?”

“The same.  He came well-armed, with his sons, and brought a troop of horse [cavalry].  He sayt he will hazard all he possesses in Her Majestie’s defence.”

I marvelled at that.  For within the walls of my household, ‘twas whispered that one of the old Catlick lord’s brothers was with the Spanish.

Great folks are suttle, for which I offer thanks.  It come to me that whether the Spanish conquer or no, my household and my place in it are safe.

A Map showing the route the Spanish took around the British Isles. (Augustine Ryther)
A Map showing the route the Spanish took around the British Isles. Engraved by Augustine Ryther (?-1593)

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThere are no real grounds for doubting the legitimacy of Gib’s lord, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.  However, the cats’ lively view of how his mother the Countess conducted her conjugal visits might help explain a myth.

In 1790 the naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) published Some Account of London, which ran through several editions.  In it he writes: “A very remarkable accident befell Henry Wriothsly, earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the Earl of Essex in his fatal insurrection; after he had been confined there [the Tower] a small time, he was surprized by a visit from his favourite cat, which had found its way to the Tower; and, as tradition says, reached its master by descending the chimney of his apartment…”

The 3rd Earl of Southampton, 1603, aged about 29, with a black and white cat.Thomas Pennant is writing about the 3rd Earl, and suggests that his “Tower portrait” with a cat might be the foundation of the tale.

Gib’s memoirs might also be part of the foundation.  It’s unlikely that I’m the only person in over 400 years to have deciphered them.  Even though the cats were talking about a different Earl (the father, not son) and his wife (not cat), they did refer to climbing down a chimney.

Plus, along the way, the Tower cat of tradition seems to have acquired the name Trixie (Tricksie?) though I didn’t see a name in Thomas Pennant’s book.

A few more points:

Elizabeth I delivered her famous speech to the troops in August 1588 at Tilbury, on the north bank of the Thames.  By then the Duke of Medina Sidonia, unable to make any useful connection with the Duke of Parma, was returning to Spain.  The route was to be up the east coast of England, around Scotland, and down the west coast of Ireland.  A combination of fierce winds and unfamiliar seas turned his withdrawal into disaster.

The Duke of Parma, who’d embarked his army at Dunkirk but was threatened by Protestant Dutch ships, never left port.

Viscount Montague’s brother William had sailed with the Armada, as did a number of Englishmen.  There were also Englishmen in the Duke of Parma’s multinational army. William Browne didn’t survive the battle of Gravelines “off the coast of France”.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, died in September 1588, aged about 56.  The Queen’s “young Earl” was the 22 year old Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (and Leicester’s stepson).  He’d been high in her favour since 1587, but no-one occupied the place in Elizabeth’s affections that Robert Dudley, whom she’d known since childhood, had.

38:  The Mad Cat Tells His Dream

With all afeared of the Spanish, we was in need of merriment when next we met at the Cats’ Field.

A black cat looking thoughtful.
Nero the Sea Cat

Nero sayt, “Courage, friends.  They may have an empire on which the sun never sets, but we can muster as many ships as they.  And their ships are sailed by honest mariners, with soldiers to do the fighting.  Whereas our sailors, lacking honest employment, are well used to sea fights in hopes of bringing home a little Spanish silver.”

That newes cheered us.

A drawing showing the design of English ships by master shipwright Mathew Baker (1530-1613). The guns are close to the waterline, not mounted on deck, and he's drawn a fish along the hull to emphasise its shape.
A drawing by master shipwright Mathew Baker (1530-1613) showing the design of English ships.  He’s added a fish, to emphasise the shape of the hull.

Then the Mad Cat rose to say the Queen Cat of Heaven had appeared unto him.

All desired him to speak, then sat ready to make mock of him.

Beautiful black and white cat holding a paw up.He began:  “Last night, after I had drank my milk and eat of my egg, I laid me down to sleep.   And as I slept I dreamed a most fearful dream.”

“That’ll learn you to eat egg,” a cat called.

A screech went up.

“Behold,” sayt the Mad Cat, “I saw the Queen Cat of Heaven treading upon the waters.”

“What colour was she?” came a call.

“She was every colour we have seen, and colours we may never see.”

“If we may not see them, how know you they were colours?” arrkst Linkin the Law Cat.

“I speak not of the colours of this world,” sayt the Mad Cat.  “We need not trouble ourselves with them.”

A bright red poppyAnother cat called, “True.  I care nowt for red, though men and women do praise it most high.”

The Mad Cat did not heed her.  He sayt, “The Queen Cat of Heaven sees all and waxes wroth.”

(I whispered to Nero, “He stole that line from me.”)

“For I saw in my dream that she has laid back her ears, she has brought forward her whiskers, and her eyes are grown so great they will engulf this world.  She is weary of the wickedness of men and women.  And of whom is she most weary?”

“The Spanish!” called some.  (Nero whispered, “He’s winning them.”)

“True, friends,” sayt the Mad Cat. “The Queen Cat of Heaven has sighted their ships.  And what more has she seen?”

None could guess.

“A most papistical painting on the ship that carries their doleful Duke.  And who is in this painting?  A woman, friends.  She that some call the Queen of Heaven.  Our Lady.”

I arrkst, “And do they show a cat with her?”

“They do not.  Instead, they have with them a ship they call The Cat.  Is this a great galleon with painted sails and many cannon?  No. ’Tis but a floating turd with fewer guns than I have claws.  And the Queen Cat of Heaven is offended.”

Many cats called they were offended too.

“Friends, we’ll be avenged.  There is a port in this land that the Queen Cat of Heaven do watch very close.  Its name is Mousehole.  And she has seen a vessel put out of Mousehole, and upon that vessel she bestows her feline favour.  They shall have safe sight of the Spanish and bring warning.

“And I saw in my dream that the Queen Cat of Heaven is snorting.  She will snarl anon, and scatter their ships.  And I saw in my dream that she twitches her tail.  Soon she will lash it and make heavy waves against them.”

“You stole that conceit [idea] from me,” called Nero.

“I know what I know,” sayt the Mad Cat, and walked from the centre of our circle.

There was tumult then.  Many called their liking of his newes.  In a house nearby a child woke and began to yowl, so we hushed lest we be chased off.

Invincible Armada - English School, 16th century - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

I arrkst, “But what of they poor sea cats that sail with the Spanish? Yes, and the dogs and horses too?”

The Mad Cat narrowed his eyes, as is courteous, and turned his face from me.

“Friend,” he sayt. “When I told of the beauteous garden where all was peace and love, was’t not you who wished for his dinner of herbs to be served with gravy?  And can you have gravy without you shed innocent blood?”

Oh, that was cold claws unto my heart.  Were he not crack-brained, I’d have struck him a blow then and there.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe Queen Cat of Heaven was unkind in her estimate of El Gato/The Cat, a cargo or supply ship that the Spanish called an urca and the English a hulk.  (Not a hulk in the usual sense of the word, i.e. a ship afloat but no longer considered seaworthy).

El Gato was one of the Spanish ships that made it back to Spain, so the name must have brought some luck.