Swords and Spindles in the land of the New Zeas

!cid_8BB0B30A-7501-4E5C-B486-E2FCAD3D036B@lanWell, the news is out. In June next year Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be wending their way to the land of the New Zeas. They do have a problem with this because in their time, this land is unknown to the folk of Darkest Devon. The old Zea Land be far enough and wet and flat they hear. How will they find their way to this mysterious New Zea Land? How long will it take the horses to traverse mountain and moor? There’s a rumour that they need to cross the high seas. Mistress Agnes is searching her herbal for a cure for seasickness. Master Christopher is preparing to accost excise men in the interests of getting clyster and head saw into this strange land. As barber surgeon on a voyage or two he at least is used to a life on the waves. Do we believe these new fangled scientists who tell us that the earth be round – ’tis a strange notion. If the world be flat, will our intrepid pair fall off the edge? ’Tis a pity they cannot fly like the birds of the air. Folk flying, what a ridiculous concept.

Tripping the Light Fantastic Sixteenth Century Style: advice for dancers

Rumour has it thaimage0013t certain members of the Swords and Spindles entourage may be going to tread a measure at Poundstock Gildhouse next week. Mistress Agnes has sought out some advice for Master Christopher. Will he heed the words of wisdom one wonders?

“You must always be garbed to perfection and your codpiece must be well tied. We sometimes see codpieces slip to the ground during the basse dance so you must tie them well. Furthermore never fart when you are dancing; grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart. Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth.

No woman desires a man with rabies. And refrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach. If you spit or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm; and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers; do it properly with a white handkerchief. Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth.”

Antonius Arena, Leges Dansandi (1530).



Shooting Children and a Chance to Save Groats

Wadebridge 2017Well the Swords and Spindles folk managed to escape from Cornwall, though their route home was a somewhat tortuous one. Given the title of this post, mayhap we should point out that no children were harmed in the course of our visit. ’Tis possible they even felt better as a result of one of Master Christopher’s ‘cures’.

The good folk of Devon Rural Archive treated us right royally as usual, even though they be of a Parliamentary persuasion down that way.

Now we be gearing up for the busiest time of year. For some reason many good masters and mistresses seem to want us to entertain their pupils in the summer term. Loins girded, packhorses saddled and armour polished; we are ready for almost anything, including the delights of engaging with teenagers.

Hard though it is to believe, it is five years this week since Mistress Agnes’ tome Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors first reached the booksellers. It is the May choice as ‘book of the month’ by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies and can therefore be purchased for fewer groats than normal. Even the carrier pigeon to deliver it to your UK home is free. A wonderous opportunity not to be missed.

Swords and Spindles Venture South

Truth be told they be venturing west as well – fording the Tamar no less to spend two days in a school in (whisper it quietly) Cornwall! Will they be let back across the border one is moved to wonder?

DSCF2355Assuming they escape the clutches of the pesky Cornish, on Thursday 4 May Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be found addressing all comers on the topic of The Civil War in the South West at Devon Rural Archive. Take a look, come along. It may not be quite what you are expecting – seldom is when the good folk of Swords and Spindles are about. Rumour has it that Master Christopher will be amassing an army for the king. He will not be gainsaid and will have swords and guns to aid him in his cause. Let us just say, if you require long tales of battles fought, stay at home and read a book. If you want a flavour of what it was really like for the ordinary folk down here in the bottom left hand corner of England in the 1640s, Devon Rural Archive is the place to be on the evening of 4 May.

Swords and Spindles provide presentations for audiences of all ages on life and conflict in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We use replica artefacts to enhance the experience. Once seen, never forgotten.

A Page from the Herbal of Mistress Agnes – Dung and its Uses

Dung – that most useful substance, second only to urine and of course free. Well there be too many uses to write of them all here but Mistress Agnes thought she would just mentions a few in case you had an excess of the same to be disposed of. Manure, both animal and human is of course most efficacious when cast upon the soil to make the plants grow. ’Tis strewn around Mistress A’s herb garden with abandon.

Lords and Ladies Cuckoo Pint

The berries of the cuckoo–pint can be mixed with hot ox dung and spread on bread as a cure for gout. Fortunately, some may say, thou doth not eat it. Instead this be applied as a poultice. Powdered peacock dung be recommended for the falling sickness that now be called epilepsy (first catch your peacock).

The dried cow pat not only makes an excellent fuel but also purifies the air. It also be a wonderous ingredient in the cob from which the houses of Swords and Spindles folk are fashioned. The dried cow pat can be rubbed upon the face to exfoliate dead skin and scabs. Master Christopher’s colleagues in Ireland are recommending blowing dried human excrement in the eyes for curing of the cataracts.

Swords and Spindles are willing to share their knowledge of the medicine and herbal lore of their time but we do recommend that you do not try any of their ‘cures’ at home.

Mistress Agnes in the News

You really can’t leave Mistress Agnes alone for five minutes. First she was spied banging her drum in a most unseemly fashion as she traipsed across Bideford Bridge in company with the mayor and corporation. This was in honour of the commemorations that have been taking place across the county to mark the historical associations between Devon and Newfoundland. Truth be told, Mistress A did once have her eye on a Newfoundland fisherman. Set off to sea for the cod banks and decided to stay there he did. Not that that’s any reflection on Mistress A – or probably not. Someone even stole her soul and put her image on the internet. She is listed as Medieval. Well I know she is a little old fashioned but really! Still, she hopes it means no one will realise it is her.


Jo Rutherford Photography_-6 2
Photograph by Jo Rutherford

Next we know, her name is in a news sheet known as the Tavistock Times. Not long since, she ventured south  to tell the good folk of that town of her role as a housewife and behold and low ’tis there for all to see in a news sheet. She will have to take a rest soon as the Swords and Spindles team are embarking on their busiest school term of the year, with visits to young folk in four counties, as well as addressing those of more mature years.


Mistress Agnes and her colleagues are available to participate in heritage days and give presentations to groups of all ages. They are currently taking bookings for the 2017-18 school year and beyond.

Becoming an Advert or having our Souls Stolen

17884682_1139533172843090_8797792402979460651_n’Tis passing strange but the good folk of The Halsted Trust did decide that Master Christopher and Mistress Agnes should be the poster persons for a forthcoming conference. In their best attire therefore Mistress A and Master C did pose in various ways for that strange witchcraft known as a camera. Time will tell whether their likenesses will encourage or discourage but so far the portrait has caused comment. For those that be interested in family history then keep an eye out for details of The Secret Lives conference. In the meantime we are wondering what secret Master C is imparting to a shocked looking Mistress A.