50:  My Observations

I will be plain.  I am not accustomed to dwelling in a house so pestered with strange folks.  And dogs.  I creep about most careful of my safety, but I see and hear much, you may believe me.

We have not had merriment of late.  All must wear a mask of sorrow, whether they be sad or no, because the old Catlick lord [the Earl’s grandfather] has died.  I hear tell he will have a fine house to lodge in, same as was built for my lord’s maggot-brained father.

The kneeling figure of the Viscount. The bearded figure wears a ruff and the mantle and collar of the Order of the Garter over armour.
The tomb effigy of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague – the Earl’s grandfather, who died in October 1592.  From a photo by Anthony McIntosh.

When I gave newes of this at the Cats’ Field, I arrkst, “Why cannot rich folks have a hole in the ground?”

The Mad Cat sayt, “We come up like flowers and are cut down, and vanish like shadows, and never continue in one state.”

(Fine words.  I may steal them, as he’s been known to steal mine.)

“Rich folks are like robbers,” he went on.  “They cannot bide quiet in a hole; they must have the finest houses, even when they’re dead.”

“To the great annoyance of their heirs,” called Linkin. “Who hoped to get their paws on more money than they do.”

What things they two learn from their mad mistress and her lawyer son.

I entertain myself by watching my lord and his friends play at killing each other.  They stamp up and down the gallery most murderous.  Their claws are not fit for fighting, so they hold a dagger in one hand and a sword in the other.  I count this a comedy, but they take great pride in theirselves.

And I attend upon my lord.  I’m not so familiar with him as I was when we were kits together and he first guided my untutored pen.  But I believe we’re very like.

We was both took from our mothers too soon.  And he makes a great show of hisself (as some say I do). 

He loves his mirror, though not as Narcissus loved his pool of water.  When my lord is content with what his servants have made of him, he comes away from his reflection most cheerful.

But I do not believe he takes that image for his true self.  Or loves what he thinks his true self to be.  Perchance his self is at odds with his soul?  I must think more on it.

My education continues apace.  I’m learning Italian, as the nobilitie do.

And I know of Pie-Takers.  When first I heared that name, I thought they was a pair of thieving dogs or foxes. But no.

Two young foxes - one is snoozing, the other is preparing to nip its ear.This Pie-Takers [Pythagoras] was a flosser [philosopher] in the old time.  He sayt that when you die your soul goes into a new body.

That is called: met in sycosis [metempsychosis].

Today Nero came up in the garden like a black flower (if there can be such a thing) in hopes of a glimpse of our Earl.

When Nero makes haste, he has a strange hopping gait.

A black Manx cat
The Sea Cat Nero

He says this comes from being so long at sea, where he trod the decks in wild weathers.

I believe it is because he has no tail to weight his backside.

“Well met in sycosis, friend,” sayt I, most wittie.

“What flea has bit you now?” arrkst Nero.

We sat a while.  I told him what I’d learnt of the transmigration of souls.

I sayt that when he was last in this world, he was a rabbit.  As his gait proves.  And my lord might have him cooked and tasted, so all might judge how much of a rabbit he is.

Nero vanished like a shadow then.

A detail from Viscount Montague’s tomb – a bull calf (?) at the feet of his wife. (Photo by Simon Burchell CC SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).  If Gib had seen the calf, he may have decided that it represented her next incarnation. There’s a handsome photo of the whole structure by Chris Partridge here.  The tomb was damaged and rebuilt when it was moved in 1851 from the Montague Chapel in the Parish Church at Midhurst to the Church of St Mary at Easebourne.



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 before 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 Leicester’s stepson, the 22 year old Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. He’d been high in her favour since 1587, but no-one ever occupied the place in Elizabeth’s affections held by Robert Dudley, whom she’d known since childhood.