48:  I am Disquieted

I passed summer in the garden with my new friends.  I believe they’re the gardener’s kits.  They made garlands of daisies to hang about my neck, and I rode in the little cart.  Good sport for all.

At the Cats’ Field I heard newes but, true to my vow, I told no tales.

None arrkst me to. (Can you credit it?)

I will never cast another pearl before such swine.  

A close-up of a ginger and white cat meowing.

At our last assembly, Linkin the Law Cat sayt that his master has come from the city, and all the household were joyed to see him. His master is in health, but there is sickness in London.

There has long been pestered [crowded-together] houses in the city.  And many folk from strange lands, and ships too.  All are known to cause sickness, but Linkin’s master fears this may prove to be the worst in his lifetime.

A collection of items on a table which demonstrate the transience of life: a candle, a letter, a quill pen, a pocket watch, a plucked flower, and a human skull.
– by Pieter Claesz (c1597-1660). Held in the Franz Hals Museum.

Some arrkst the Mad Cat if the pestilence were sent by the Queen Cat of Heaven to punish those who abuse us poor cats and all Creation.

But the Mad Cat sayt that dreadful day is yet to come.

To cheer us, I gave newes from my household, with embellishments.

Viz. that Her Majestie – she that the common sort call Queen Puss [Bess] – having ate all there was in her own house, set forth to devour other folks’ food.  As is her custom.

I sayt, “Small wonder that so many of her friends have given up the ghost.  Our Countess’s old father never has been well since the Queen was at his house last year.”

“The ghost?  What ghost?” came a call.  And then, “May we hear a tale of ghosts?”

I could scarce believe my ears.  Now the lackwits want a tale from me.

“No!” I cried.

But even as I spake, the poetick maggot in my head whispered a ghostly word to me.  That word was: Revenge.

I saw Nero prick his ears, too.  What might his maggot have said of ghosts?

To hush my maggot, Nero, and all, I told how Her Majestie had been entertained in the learned town of Ox-Foot [Oxford].  Our Earl was in her company.

The scholars made many speeches in Greek and Latin, and Her Majestie replied in like manner.  And she called for a stool so old Lord Purrlie [Burghley] might sit, he being too lame to stand whilst she spake.

He’s like to die soon.

And I do not doubt that, with so many rich folks in Ox-foot, starveling poets came creeping ghost-like after them, singing their praises in hopes of a reward.

Not long after our assembly, I had a horrid thought.  Her Majestie might come here again. Would my lord be fool enough to invite her?  There has been much bustle about the house and yard, as happened before.

And then I saw a wash-wench [laundry maid] wearing a riband.  One that was stole from my basket when first I came hither.

I kept my countenance, though I was disquieted.  I stepped into the garden to find a place of safety whence I might watch all while none saw me.

Instead, I heared a whisper, “There he is!”

And what do I see but my three little playfellows, all as wary as I.  Two had the gardener’s cart, and one a wreath of ivy.

What happened after, I shall set down in my next little book.

Elizabeth, gorgeously dressed, seated with her hand on a globe, and two panels behind her - one of ships on a calm sea, the other of shipwrecks.
The image of power.  Elizabeth at her most regal, in the portrait to commemorate the defeat of the Armada in 1588. The dark panel behind her left shoulder shows the wrecking of the Spanish ships in heavy seas. Or, as the Mad Cat had it, by the Queen Cat of Heaven lashing her tail.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorQueen Elizabeth and her court were in Oxford in late September 1592.  Gib’s dark remarks about her dead friends have a grain of truth in them.

Elizabeth had reached that melancholy time of life when many of her oldest and most trusted companions and advisers were dying.  However, Lord Burghley, 72 at the time of the Oxford visit, lived until 1598.

The young courtiers who surrounded the Queen were probably wondering when she too would die.  Bewigged, bejewelled, black-toothed, and caked with make-up, she must have seemed (at 59) ancient.

The Oxford locals, kept some way off, were probably dazzled.

And as for Gib’s “starveling poets”: in his biography of the Earl of Southampton, G P V Akrigg refers to a poem in Latin by John Sanford who describes him at Oxford as “…a lord of lofty line whom rich Southampton claims…as a great hero.  There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning, though his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down.”

From this we may assume that Gib’s young Earl, almost 19, was not what we would call an early developer.  But, poets being what they are, that’s all we can believe.

In her biography of the Earl, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes attributes the poem to Philip Stringer. I couldn’t track down an online copy of the poem, but I’d be interested in what it had to say about the 26 year old Earl of Essex.  As Elizabeth’s favourite nobleman, he was the one to curry favour with.


17: A Gloomie Crew

Yesternight a cat came calling, “Newes, newes,” very soft beneath the windows.

This evening, I saw three cats come from divers parts of the house, cross the big courtyard, and go through the gate.  The brinded rascal that I fought was one.

I followed them.  We went over the bridge and into a field where others were gathered.  Being new, I sat myself a small way off, most respective.

First a stone-cat who’d ranged wide in search of hot queens gave newes of all the horrid murders of us poor cats he’d learned of on his travels.

Nowt to cheer me there.

A DevilOne young cat sayt he heared tell that the devil do keep a good fire, and he wondered if we might warm ourselves thereby while the wicked folk who wrong us burn.

But another told him not to lend his ears to such talk, for we cats know nowt of the devil.  Nor he of us, despite those fools who say we are his creatures.  His business is with men and women.  And most with women, who do nowt but lure men to mischief.

I thought, what a gloomie crew I am come amongst.

Then a little queen cat sayt she was troubled by a fox who did not know his place but came about hers, leaving his marks and his excrements.  Right nastie.

A Fox, from a Franz Snyders paintingShe feared for her life and that of her tender little kitling who, she made haste to tell us, was left that evening in the good care of her mistress.  And she called upon all well-grown cats to be so kind as to chase off any fox that they might see.

Several cats rose up to say they would.  I stood too, for I had seen my uncle chase foxes many a time, and I knowed there was no great art to it.

She thanked us all most courteous.  Then she sayt to me, “Sir, you are new here, and I bid you welcome.  Will you not tell us something of yourself?”

I spake a little large, I do confess.  I sayt I was poet to my lord the young Earl of Southampton, but did serve his sister here while he was schooled in the house of the great Lord Purrlie [William Cecil, Lord Burghley].

I sayt Lord Purrlie also wished to have me, but were I to take a place in his household another cat might lose his.  And that I could not countenance.

The little queen thanked me again, then begged me for a pretty tale.

That set me about.  I could not tell my Bevis tale hereabouts, for it slandered our Countess.  And with my witty maggot gone and the door of the book room closed to me, what else had I to say?

Then I bethought me of a schoolroom tale about a fool dog that carried off a choice piece of meat, onlie to lose it in a pond when he oped his mouth to seize the meat that he saw in his image in the water.

I had told this tale out of courtesie to the two little house dogs that accompanied me hither after they came to my aid when a dog here had at me.  (Though truly, it was I who made the ruffian squeal with a blow to his nose.  They did but nip his legs as he ran away.)

And even as all the cats pricked their ears and turned to me, I saw a way to make this dog tale most pleasing to them.  I will set it down when next I write my diurnal account [journal].