Master Christopher on the High Seas again

Master Christopher has recently returned from a stint as a ship’s surgeon. Fellow passengers were treated to his peculiar brand of ‘cure’. From trepanning to tooth-extraction, enema to amputation, nothing is too must for our intrepid surgeon. He is now a land lubber once again and free to treat all-comers. Contact us to book a consultation.

189 3 October 2019 Surgery.jpg

Also on board was Mistress Agnes; probably wise not to let Master Christopher venture aboard unaccompanied. It was fortunate she was there, as various cruise-goers were found to be inappropriately attired and Mistress Agnes was able to demonstrate how a modest woman should disport herself. Mistress Agnes’ knowledge of ‘modest’ womanhood is however largely reliant on hearsay.

If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 6: Mistress May

Mistress May is serving wench to the irascible Sir Francis. ’Tis not an enviable task. Her time is spent fetching and carrying, supplying him with vittals and fortified wines. She brews, she bakes; ensuring that Sir Francis is at all times the recipient of the upper crust. She is skilled in the use of herbs, particular those that can beautify and enhance womanly charm. Ofttimes those from her village will turn to Mistress May for advice on how to pamper and primp, in order to secure the attentions of a young man, or to retain the interest of a spouse with a roving eye. Her unguents and ointments can restore firmness to the flesh and youth to the features. Mistress Agnes has been applying them faithfully for nigh on 400 years – ’tis a shame that in her case they are yet to be effective. Nonetheless, let that not deter you. Head to stand 167 to seek Mistress May’s advice.

Mistress MayIn twenty-first century life, Mistress May is the talented and versatile actor Imogen Moone. She has been living in the seventeenth century intermittently since childhood.


Cinnamon and Catteren Cakes

Though ’tis rare that Mistress Agnes can afford spices, she does have to enliven Sir Francis’ food with such exotic items, so she thought it was timely to share her thoughts on cinnamon. In our time, it is the Dutch who have the monopoly on cinnamon and the Dutch are not our greatest friends. In truth we will be going to blame them for the gurt fire that we hear will take place in London afore long.

Pestle and MortarThe leaves and the bark can be used. Oft times Mistress Agnes will sprinkle cinnamon in her jumble mixture and it is also added to Catteren cakes. Down in Darkest Devon, where Mistress Agnes doth abide, there are ladies who do weave the threads with bone to make lace. St Catherine’s Day is 25th November and on this day the lace makers cease their labours and Catteren cakes are distributed. These small fruit cakes are flavoured with caraway and with cinnamon. If truth be told, Mistress Agnes prefers the accompanying “Hot Pot”, a mixture of rum, beer and raw egg. ’Tis believed that King Henry’s Queen Catherine was the first to show kindness to the lace makers of Bedfordshire, by giving them both cakes and work.

Cinnamon can also aid those who ail. It makes a wonderously healing tea for those who suffer from the noxious wind of the belly. It also encourages the flow of blood to the extremities and can be used to swill the mouth after imbibing too much fortified wine. ’Tis a gentle herb for use in cases of debility.

Mistress Martha extols the benefits of Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet has many other names, including Bridewort, as it was traditional in bridal bouquets. It was also strewn at weddings and handfastings for the bride to walk on,  creating a strong aroma. It has been used in love spells and to promote happiness. The smell was said to cheer the heart and keep peace. Meadowsweet also overcame infections. Strewing it about the house allowed the aroma to spread.

MeadowsweetThe scent was said to have the power to induce a deep, sleep from which one would never wake. Conversely, Meadowsweet tea was drunk to heighten energy and merriment, although excessive consumption can produce a narcotic affect. Meadowsweet can be infused into an oil and inhaled, allegedly making women more attractive.

The plant is associated with the warrior Cuchulainn, who took Meadowsweet baths to cure rage and fevers. Regarding fevers, Gerard comments that ‘the floures boiled in wine and drunke do take away the fits of a quartaine ague’ (fever). Gerard also talks of the benefits to the eyes, saying that dropping distilled water of Meadowsweet flowers would reduce burning and itching. Culpeper mentions Meadowsweet and its effectiveness for kidney problems and benefits to the lungs and to ease sore throats.

So that is what the folk of our time believe. Some of these traditional uses have been backed up by scientific research. Meadowsweet has been shown to have adaptogenic qualities, helping the body and mind to deal with stress. This could manifest itself as the ‘cheering the heart, keeping peace and promotion of happiness’ as these are things which can happen when stress is reduced and the body learns to adapt to stress. It could also be said that the heightened energy and merriment and increased attractiveness of women might occur as stress is reduced.

Meadowsweet can control fever, allowing healing to occur, therefore research shows that Cuchulainn’s fever could indeed have been eased by the taking of Meadowsweet. His rage would be calmed due to the aforementioned adaptogenic qualities. This also confirms Gerard’s assertion regarding fevers. There has been research to show that Meadowsweet has antimicrobial properties. This shows that the traditional strewing on the floor could indeed help to overcome infections. Research shows that Meadowsweet is particularly effective in regulating the digestive mucos. This supports Culpeper’s assertion regarding its benefits to the throat, as Meadowsweet has an expectorant effect. Culpeper’s claim that Meadowsweet helps to treat kidney problems, is also substantiated by research. The anti-inflammatory properties of Meadowsweet could be the reason why Gerard observes that the plant has benefits to stinging eyes.

No evidence has been found to indicate that the ‘fatal sleep’ or ‘narcotic effect’ had any basis in fact.

Some Handy Cures for those who Ail

Mistress Agnes decided that she would share a few receipts from goodwives of her acquaintance in case any do be ailing.

Ground IvyDr Wadenfield’s Remedy for Lunacy, as penned by the inestimable Mrs Kettilby. Take of ground-ivy three large handfuls shred small, boil it in two quarts of white wine, till two parts in three be consumed. Strain and add to it six ounces of the best sallad oil, boil it up to an ointment; let the patient’s head be shaved, rub and chafe it with the ointment made warm. Then take fresh herbs, bruised and applied plaisterwise, tying it on the top of the head very hard. Repeat this every other day, ten or twelve times, give the patient three spoonfuls of the juice of ground-ivy every morning fasting, in a glass of beer for the first ten days.

Mrs Kettliby’s own receipt for an ointment for the back of a ricketty child. Pick snails clean out of the shells and prick them full of holes, hang them up in a cloth and put a bason to catch what drops from them; which you must boil up with speracity and blades of mace, of each one ounce. Rub this ointment along the back-bone, round the neck, wrists and ancles. Use this constantly night and morning and chase it in by the fire. This with the drink that follows has recovered many weak children from sickness, lameness and deformity.

To make the Ricketty Drink: Put an ounce of rhubarb, three hundred live wood-lice, sassafras, china and eringo roots of each three ounces; roots of Ismond-royal, two ounces, raisins of the sun ston’d two ounces; Hart’s Tongue, two handfuls. Put these into six quarts of small ale and drink spring and fall, no other drink; tis almost infallible for weak children.

Mistress Agnes be gathering wood-lice this very minute.

Of Frogs and Foreign Parts

Mistress Agnes has not put quill to keyboard lately but rest assured we have not been idle. Armour is being polished, shifts are being darned, herb gardens are being tended, research is being done. The diary is looking very full for 2018, those who are responsible for the education of young folks are advised to book early to be assured of enjoying the ministrations of our wonderous characters in the forthcoming school year. Our presence amongst older folks has also been requested in places near and far.

DSCF3080In preparation for next year’s voyaging to continents unknown, Mistress Agnes has been looking out some new cures. We need to be in good health to be travelling hither and yon. We will therefore be concocting a mouthwash by boiling frogs in vinegar. Should we become jaundiced we will be eating the fresh dung of a grass-fed goose or cutting open a live trout and laying it on our stomachs. Other ailments will be suitably ‘cured’ by the deployment of items in Master Christopher’s surgeon’s kit.

* With grateful thanks to Evans, Jennifer and Read, Sara Maladies and Medicine: exploring health and healing 1540-1740 (Pen and Sword 2017)

A Page from the Herbal of Mistress Agnes – Lavender’s Blue – or indeed Purple


Mistress Agnes hath been harvesting her lavender, a most useful plant. Autumn is coming and ’tis time to sweep out the earthen floor of her kitchen, remove the soiled straw that hath been held within her threshold and re-lay fresh. With winds freshening and temperatures dropping she will be bringing the chickens in to the kitchen at night. Not being one to toilet train chickens (any advice on this matter will be gratefully received), the straw therefore doth be a touch noisome. Strewing lavender upon the straw wilt improve the aroma. She will also lay lavender in her coffer where her spare linen be stored and hang sprigs in the cottage to dispel the flies. Lavender can be added to the sallets or used to flavour the pottage, tarts or cheese.

Lavender be most effective for those that doth be troubled with the snoring. A drop of lavender oil (we do call it Oil of Spike) on the bolster at night wilt aid the sleeping and relieve the snoring. If the good master persists in disturbing your rest ladies, then observe the shape of the flowers, they be just right for inserting into the master’s nostrils. It makes an excellent herb for the Tuzzy Muzzy, to hold to your nose to prevent inhalation of the miasmas and thus protecting one from the pestilence that abounds. ’Tis also efficacious for the palsy or falling sickness and stills the palpitations. Oil of lavender wilt sooth burns or sores and applied to the temples doth ease the megrims.

Please note that Mistress Agnes is an historian, not a qualified medical herbalist. You would be well advised not to try her cures at home! She does offer talks on the herbal cures of her time. Come and meet the Swords and Spindles team.