This article discusses the following:
Trixie, The Cat Who Broke Into the Tower of London
Few cats make it into the history books, likewise humans. However, there is one cat that broke historical records in an exceptional way and made himself into the history books. Do you know his name?
“Trixie” was the favorite cat of a guy so fashionable that he was one of the earliest boosters of Shakespeare. Then he committed a big treason.
Today we will be establishing the niceness of a historical cat named Trixie Wriotheseley, reputed to be the “favorite” cat of Lord Henry Wriotheseley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. First, the case against: the 3rd Earl of Southampton’s other “favorite” things weren’t really very nice at all!
They included the following:
Having an arrogant hairstyle and fighting with other Lords. (“Southampton’s hair was extremely provocative. In an altercation at court he struck Ambrose Willoughby, who, in reply, “puld of some of his locke.” Clearly, the earl’s “locke” conveyed his arrogant stance.” — Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Indians and English: Facing off in Early America”)
Being super into Shakespeare, but, like, “before he got big.”
But we are not here to talk about Lord Henry Wriotheseley’s incredible hair, or to re-litigate the circumstances surrounding his role in the Essex Rebellion. We are here to talk about a nice cat of history. Trixie.
So Trixie’s dad was in the Tower of London, and things were looking fairly bleak. The man had just done what by any accounting can only be described as a very big treason, and he was suffering from something extremely unpleasant called a “quartern ague” which caused swelling in his legs and also in “other parts,” unspecified but probably not where you want swelling. Here’s what his doctor told the queen:
“Without some exercise, and more air than is convenient for me to allow without knowledge from your honours of her Majesty’s pleasure, I do much doubt of his recovery.”
It was at this point, according to legend, that Trixie stepped in. This is what Thomas Pennant writes in Some Account of London (1793):
“A very remarkable accident befell Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the earl of Essex, in his fatal insurrection: After he had been confined there a small time, he was surprised 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.”
Now consider the niceness of this cat. This is a guy who — well before he got mixed up with all the bad treason boys in court — was known for skipping out on his courtly duties and (according to Rowland White in 1599), “pass[ing] away the time in London merely in going to plays every day.” He’s a typical Elizabethan Fuckboi, with his sullen eyes and his bad attitude and his “provocative” hair and his well-documented habit of brawling with the other Earls about stupid shit like who the Queen liked best.
But despite that long list of cringingly obnoxious fuckery, he was loved. Loved honestly and with prejudice, by this fierce, furry, brave, stubborn lady. He is redeemed by this nice cat, by her quizzical, protective expression, which says, “I don’t care if he once sucker-punched the Queen’s Esquire of the Body while he was playing primero in the Presence Chamber because of some misunderstanding about a mistress.
I don’t care if he neglects his courtly duties to watch whatever the latest Shakespeare is with Lord Rutland and the Burbage Bros. I don’t care if he did a very big treason with the now headless ex-Fuckboi the 2nd Earl of Essex. All that matters is that I am his favorite and I will look after him because I am his good girl.”
And she padded her perfect little paws out the window and across the roofs and down the chimney of the Tower of London and cuddled with the fully undeserving but admittedly quite handsome Treasonboi the 3rd Earl of Southampton until his swelling died down and his ague went away and Queen Elizabeth died and the new king came and got him out. Possibly for a torrid and scandalous affair.
That’s another story, and beside the point, which is that Trixie Wriotheseley is a very nice cat of history, and none of us deserve her. Least of all Lord Henry Wriotheseley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, who went on to live a full and prosperous life thanks to her ministrations, right up until he caught another, fatal ague whilst trying to murder some Spaniards.
This article first appeared here