65:  Nero Gives Newes

Yes.  That braggart Nero gave newes to spite me.  He guessed there was much about our scandal that I was keeping secret.

Black Cat (Nero) peeking over a plank.

He boasted of his investigations, and of all he’d seen.  (I marvel that he did not bombast it out in blank verse.)

 But I must set this down more orderly.

The morning after I last writ, my lord came home to breakfast.  He arrkst me why I stared so, and called me a fat owl.  In truth, I’d passed the night waking, so I slept that day.

My onlie trouble was a noise like sudden thunder.  I could scent no coming storm, nor was my fur a-prickle.

Later, I visited the stable cats.  They’d heared that the brothers Linkin called murderers had fled across the river Hammel [Hamble].  They did not think the brothers had gone far, because a boy had been sent to the kitchen to fetch food for them.

Cat with basketThe kitchen cat told me that my lady Moll’s cook had filled a basket with roast meats and a pie.

She nosed beef and mutton before the knave thrust her away.

A stable boy took the basket, and she has not seen it since.

For a time all seemed quiet.  Then strangers came to my house in the dead of night.  I arrkst myself what this meant.  I did not see them, but I heared them and I nosed them.   

Next came Nero, calling, “Hot newes.”  Here is the tale he told when we assembled at the Cats’ Field.

“My master goes no more to sea,” sayt Nero, “but he and a friend have a boat.  We, being curious, set forth to Hammel haven.  There came cannon shot from the near castle [St Andrews], which stung mine ears and affrighted many who were fishing.

“I espied upon the water a vessel that my master sayt was not on lawful business.  I saw it put ashore at the far castle all call Calshot.  Some men went to the castle gates for admittance.

“Then my master and his friend complained they could see nowt, and we came home.

A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Titchfield House (Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went, with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.
A section of a 17th century map of Hampshire, showing the locations Nero refers to. Marked are Southampton, Titchfield House (i.e. Place House, where Gib lives), Hamble Haven (where Nero claims he went) with St Andrews castle nearby, and Calshot castle across the water.

“When next we visited the haven, my master spake with a woman selling fish.  She’d heard that the Captain of Calshot was in Southampton, and his deputy too.  The master gunner at the castle had confined the men, and taken their weapons.

“Later (sayt she) the deputy brought word that they were the Captain’s friends, on their way to service in Brittany.  The deputy dined with them.  Two men seemed very sad, though all ate well of beef, mutton, and the venison pasty they had with them.”

When Nero sayt that, a great screech went up.  Many turned to me and our kitchen cat.

“What know you of this?” called one.  And another, “None sells such fodder on the keys [quays].”

Closeup Portrait of ginger and white cat

“My lord is ever willing to aid his friends,” I sayt.  “As I hope we all are.”

“What?” cried Linkin.  “Do you seek to explain or to justify our Earl’s behaviour?”

I sayt, “I did not come hither to be examined by any who fancies hisself a lawyer because he’s set his bum on a law book or two.”

Linkin bristled up, but other cats called for peace.

They wished to hear more from Nero.

He sayt, “I was with my master at the key [Hamble Quay] when one of the Captain’s men came from Southampton.  He was full of beer and woe, for he knowed he did wrong.  He brought warning from the Captain that the men should flee the castle, because the Captain had received letters that left him no choice but to send orders for their capture.

“Next came a gentleman from Southampton, who also hired a boat to carry him to Calshot.  I slipt aboard, and none sayt me nay.  All know a black cat brings good fortune.

“We crossed the water, and the gentleman entered the castle.  After sunset he and a dozen men made haste into the boat, so weighting it we was scarce above the water.  My luck held, and we came safe to our shore.  I heared one enquire of a Mr Timmick [Dymock] if he knew the way to Titchfield.  He replied that he would know it at midnight.

“I stayed in the boat and was carried back to Hammel, where my master was still drinking with his friends.”   

Then Nero eyed me. “Where are they miscreants now?” he arrkst.  “Not yet in France – the weather’s foul, and the wind unfavourable.”

Nero was toying with me.  He knows full well where they are.  As do I, now.

I called, “Friends, I can tell you.  They’re hid in my house.  I would have told you sooner, but wished to hear our friend’s newes first.”

That took the wind from Nero’s sail.  And I care not if Linkin runs to tell his mistress.  She will not take his meaning.

Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.
Calshot Castle, one of a number of forts Henry VIII had constructed for coastal defence.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorIt’s not surprising that Nero should have been so well-informed.  His old sea-captain master would have had many contacts around the coast.

It seems the Danvers brothers’ escape plan meant keeping ahead of the hue and cry until they could get a passage to France.

Pretending they and their helpers were soldiers bound for Brittany, and hiding at Calshot castle (with the Captain’s connivance), was a bold move.  The plan fell through after official word of the killing reached Southampton, and the Captain had to take action.  The brothers fled back to Place House.  They’re next heard of in France.

There was a formal examination into the matter in early January 1595.  Statements from a stable boy, several Hamble locals, soldiers at Calshot, etc. are recorded in the Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury (“the Cecil papers”) Vol V pp 84-90, available on line.

Then the inquiry fizzled out, presumably because the Earl of Southampton’s involvement was so obvious.  Some of his closest servants and attendants  – his steward, the keeper of his wardrobe, his barber, his gentleman of horse (stables manager) – were mentioned in the statements, though none appears to have been interviewed.

An interesting example of the extraordinary influence an Elizabethan Earl could wield in his home territory.

41: My Sister Sees Queen Puss

An idealised portrait of Elizabeth, the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. At the time of her visit In 1591 she was 56
An idealised portrait of Elizabeth, by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, painted around 1595-1600.  At the time of her visit in 1591 Elizabeth was 58.

We was taking the sun at the barn door when the church bells rang.  Then came the sound of horses, and wild musick.

My sister, swivel-eared, sayt the Queen was near and ran off. 

She did not stagger home until night, very merry, with rich sauces on her breath.  Shameless.  Though I will say she carried a half-eat fowl that her poor neglected kitlings fell on.

My sister sayt she never had such a time in all her life, but would tell me little more.  I must wait for her report at the Cats’ Field.  She did say that, when all was quiet, the kitchen cat led her by back ways to a room where many savoury plates were heaped, and there they supped. 

(I myself felt faint from hunger, but when I presented myself at the kitchen door a boy sayt, “You’ll get nowt else.  I glimpsed you running off with half a fowl not long since.”)

The report my sister and the kitchen cat made was good, but oh, it set me about.  As I will tell.

My sister did not enter the house, lest she be molested by strange dogs.  Instead, she ran up a tree, whence she could see all.  She sayt the Queen and her friends had ridden from Portsmouth, and were bid welcome to the house by the Countess and our young Earl.

Our young Earl.

Cowdray House, from a painting by S.H. Grimm.
Gib’s “other house”, Cowdray, owned by Viscount Montague, the young Earl’s grandfather.

I never knowed my lord was here.  Then it come to me that he may have accompanied the Queen from her own place, and been at my other house [Cowdray] too.

And I hear this at our Field, like a common cat.

I kept my countenance.  I arrkst, “How know you it was our Earl?”

“I saw him many times when he was a kit,” sayt she. “And I heared his voice, scarce changed.”

“How seemed he?” I arrkst.

“The same,” she sayt, “but longer.”  Then she took my meaning, and added, “He were all smirks and smiles when he knew he was observed.  When not, he’d the air of a froward [naughty] kitling struck on the nose for insolencie.”

The kitchen cat told of great tables where many gentlemen and ladies gathered for refreshment.  And of the meats served forth.  And how she hoped the boys who wash the greasy plates would thank her for cleansing them.   “I’m not too proud,” sayt she, “for such foul work.”

All screeched at that.

My sister sayt ’twas comick to see the Queen trifle with the gentlemen around her, giving great notice first to one and then another.  “By that, we may know her for a true queen, worthy of the name Puss [Bess].  She toys with them as we toy with the stone-cats who pay court to us.”

“That they may prove their worth!” called a lusty stone-cat.

That they may vie with each other, and cause her no annoyance, thought I.  But I sayt, “Our Earl will not trouble hisself with such nonsense.”

“He will,” sayt Linkin, “if he hopes for employment and a good place in her household.”

“What?” I cried.  “Why needs he employment?  He has his own household.”

“He hopes to seize her by the scruff,” came a lewd call.

Place House, one of the young Earl's houses, from an 18th century print held in the Hampshire Record Office
Place House, one of the young Earl’s houses and the venue for the 1591 visit.  From an 18th century print held in the Hampshire Record Office

Linkin sayt, “All wish to sit in high places, as we cats know.  Ladies, lords, and gentlemen seek employment in the Queen’s household.  Gentlemen and yeomen seek employment in a lord’s household, and the kits of yeomen and husbandmen seek employment with a gentleman.  It’s the way of the world.”

A stone-cat arrkst, “Did the Queen hoist her tail for any?”

“No,” sayt my sister.  “And I do not believe she ever hoist her tail in her life.”

“True,” came a call.  “For women have no tails to hoist.  That don’t mean that none has ever scruffed her.”

My sister seemed confused.  “Men don’t have tails,” she sayt.  “In this matter they are like to our friend Nero.  But why do women wear petticoats if not to house their tails?”

Some called that women, having no tails, hoist their petticoats to show willing.

A pair of dappled cats sitting together.
Gib and his sister.

One cat named my sister “Know-Nowt”.

I was not having that.

I may make mock of her if I choose (as she makes mock of me), but I will not stay silent when other cats do.  My sister is a barn queen who was born in a stable.  Small wonder she’s never seen a lady bare-arst.

A woman stands before a mirror, with a devil flashing his bum behind her. His bum (not her face) is reflected in the mirror.
Albrecht Dürer’s Woman at the Mirror. Her true self is revealed in the glass.

“Peace,” I called.  “We cats are accustomed to speak of women hoisting their tails, whether they have them or not. 

“And while it may be true that they lack tails on their corporeal bodies, they have them on their spiritual bodies.  For why?  Because women are devils.”

“Not my good mistress,” called the Mad Cat.

“Friend,” I sayt.  “I’ve read that women are of two sorts.  Some are wiser, better learned, discreeter, and more constant than a number of men. 

“But another and worse sort are fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs, tattlers, triflers, wavering, witless, without council, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty, tale-bearers, eavesdroppers, rumour-raisers, evil-tongued, worse-minded, and in every way doltified with the dregs of the devil’s dunghill.”

Hungrie Lion Rampant, from the Earl of Southampton's coat of arms. An image Gib just can't let go of.
Hungrie Lion Rampant, from the Earl’s coat of arms. An image Gib can’t let go.

Then I leapt up on my legs like Hungrie Lion Rampant and trod a few paces.  I cried, “Behold a true representation of a woman’s soul!”

Two young black cats standing in devil pose.Many screeched at that, and leapt up too.  In truth, they were a fearsome sight.

Prick-eared dark devils against the light, lashing their tails and clawing the air.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.The Earl had reason to look like a “kitling struck…for insolencie.”  He was almost eighteen, and under heavy pressure from his grandfather Viscount Montague, and his mother the Countess of Southampton, to marry Lord Burghley’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth de Vere.

His grandfather and mother would have seen the marriage as a desirable strategic alliance.  The Queen’s regard for Lord Burghley may have caused her to drop a word or two in the young Earl’s ear, or perhaps he feared she might.  The Earl was not “of full age” until twenty-one, so they still had time to lean on him.  However, the older children got the harder it was to push them into marriages that weren’t to their liking.

I’ve no idea how Gib could have read the extract about women he quotes almost verbatim from Bishop John Aylmer.  He’s unlikely to have come across anything written by Aylmer in the Catholic households he lived in.  John Aylmer (c1521-1594) was a scholar, political thinker, and later Bishop of London.  And a supporter of a woman’s right to rule.  Or at least of Elizabeth’s right – obviously, she was one of the better sort of women.