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.
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.
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 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, who was 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.