On her death bed, Jane Dudley, the widowed Duchess of Northumberland and mother of Robert Dudley, remembered her recently acquired friends from Spain who had helped secure the freedom of her sons. Among the Spanish grandees mentioned in her will, the only woman was to have a rare bird: “I give to the duchess of Alva my green parrot; I have nothing worthy for her else”.
Psittacula krameri, or the green rose-ringed parakeet from India, while an exotic enough animal, was regularly found in European households as a status symbol. The sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Navarre, had herself portrayed by Jean Clouet holding a green parrot. And as she was not only a princess and queen, but a writer as well, the bird was a fitting allusion. Parrots were seen as symbolizing eloquence; after all they could talk.
In November 1539, Lady Lisle, the wife of the king’s Lord Deputy at Calais and another woman owner of parrots, received yet another bird from a French gentleman:
Madame, I send you a parrot … beseeching you to be willing to accept it in as good part as I right heartily offer it to you. It grieveth me that it is no better and more worthy of your honour, in which I hold it well employed.
Madame, it cannot yet talk, but this is because it hath yet learnt nothing and it is young. As you have one that doth speak it will learn with yours.
The Green Parrot
Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.
St. Clare Byrne, Muriel (ed.) (1983): The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement. Secker & Warburg.
Walker-Meikle, Kathleen (2012): Medieval Pets. Boydell Press.