Swords and Spindles are proud to announce that their very own Mistress Agnes has been nominated for an award. Should any good folk who have heard her wax lyrical on matters historical wish to cast a vote in her favour then though dost need the witchcraft that some do call t’internet and to press just about here to express your appreciation for what she doth do. She will most graciously thank you.
Nicholas Culpeper 1616-1654
Nicholas Culpeper was born in 1616, the son of a clergyman who died before his son was born. He grew up in Sussex within the home of his Puritan grandfather. He studied at Cambridge before being forced to leave the university. He then became an apprentice to an apothecary in Bishopsgate, London.
He married 15 year old Alice and due to her wealth was able to set up as an astrologer and herbalist in Spitalfields. He was able to charge nothing or very little for his services. Here he began translating medical books into English, thus making them more accessible to those who could not read Latin. He used local ingredients in his treatments, many from his own herb garden.
As a Parliamentarian, he performed surgery during the English Civil War and during the First Battle of Newbury in 1643 he received a bullet wound from which he never fully recovered. In 1649 he published his Physical Directory beforeissuing his most important work, The English Physician in 1653. He died aged 37 in 1654. Culpeper was described as a radical, witty and eloquent as well as being prone to melancholy.
Culpeper contributed much to the corpus of knowledge. He was an early proponent of the importance of caring for the sick and the poor. He was of the opinion that all people who required it should be treated and social status should not prevent necessary care from being given. In his book The English Physician (now Culpeper’s Complete Herbal) he integrated astrological ideas as well as ideas from the Doctrine of Signatures (a ‘like for like’ theory that the medical use of a herb could be ascertained from its appearance) into herbal medicine. This book is an index of illnesses and herbal remedies has never been out of print.
Mistress Agnes decided that she would share a few receipts from goodwives of her acquaintance in case any do be ailing.
Dr 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.
The summer is a time for polishing armour and honing our swords. Actually we don’t do a lot of honing. True, we have Master Christopher to re-attach severed appendages but it plays havoc with the public liability insurance premiums and doesn’t go down too well with our audiences. Our latest acquisition for our armoury is a halberd, acquired by armourer in chief Master Christopher (multi-tasking you see) at a local farm auction. Allegedly ’tis a garden tool but what do farm auctioneers know? Fortunately Master Christopher was the only one in the crowd who recognised its true purpose, or indeed had a use for it, so very few groats changed hands. The many talented Master Arthur fashioned a new haft for it and Sir Francis, as the officer within our ranks, will be wielding it to good purpose.
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.
In 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)
Well, 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.
Rumour has it that 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).