From the Bookshelf of Mistress Agnes

CCCC front coverBookshelf? I hear you cry. Surely Mistress Agnes hath insufficient groats for such a thing? To say nothing of the fact that she cannot read. Well ’tis true, books are not for the likes of her but she knows that folk like to learn of her time, so she has made a list of just a few that might enlighten those who wish to study the written word. So good folk, travel up the Amazon (is that not a River in the New World?), consult thy Kindle (nowt to do with kindling we’re told) or visit the independent bookseller of your choice and avail yourself of these wonderous treasures. Of course if you wish to peruse the tome that Mistress Agnes herself advised upon then do get in touch. That way you will receive a copy inscribed with her mark.

And Now We Are Two

That would be two years old, not two of us. It is now two years since a small band of experienced historical interpreters decided we weren’t quite ready to retire, despite our venerable ages and that we were willing to sword and spindle our way into our sunset years.

What have we achieved in just two short years? Numerous presentations at home, abroad and at sea; some for young people, others for more mature audiences. We have recruited and trained new team members; mad fools who are willing to join in our chaotic and somewhat random existence. We have acquired many artefacts and bizarre items of equipment from rats to medical syringes. The bowing ceilings of my upstairs rooms bear testament to the weight of armour, cauldrons and instruments of torture. Master Christopher has found room for pikes, swords and muskets and we have all continued to learn more about the period that we love. We’ve run workshops, written articles and shared our knowledge with enthusiasm. We have received some amazing feedback and have had many re-bookings, so we must be doing something right. We are not complacent and continue to add new sessions to our repertoire and to improve those that we perform regularly. With a full calendar, what will the next two years bring? There are some very exciting future bookings on the horizon, which we hope we can reveal later in the year.

It has been great fun. If you have experienced and enjoyed our particular brand of entertainment, do spread the word. If this is a pleasure (and I use the word advisedly) that is yet to come, I hope that we will be presenting at a venue near you in the future. So charge your tankard with a suitable beverage, mead mayhap and join us in celebrating our birthday.

To Make Fritters of Sheep’s Feet

Mistress Agnes has been sharing receipts for various delicacies that she connects for Sir Francis and his guests from time to time. This one seemed too good not to pass on.

cookingTake your sheep’s feet, slit them and set them a stewing in a silver dish with a little strong broth and salt, with a stick of cinnamon, two or three cloves, and a piece of an orange pill. When they are stewed, take them from the liquor and lay them upon a pye-plate cooling. When they are cold, have some good fritter-batter made with sack, and dip them therein. Then have ready to fry them, some excellent clarified butter very hot in a pan, and fry them therein. When they are fryed wring in the juyce of three or four oranges, and toss them once or twice in a dish, and so serve them to the table.

From W. M’s The Compleat Cook

Swords and Spindles give presentations about the food and drink of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Swords and Spindles Hither and Yon

Car magnet.JPGOver the next couple of weeks we will be round and about entertaining folk from various shires. Last week and this we are in Somerset, Dorset and all corners of Devon. Next week it will be Yorkshire, the great metropolis of London and back to Devon. Our audiences have been regaled with accounts of crime, of punishment, of witchcraft, of the culinary arts, as well as general tales of our time. In preparation for our travels, Master Christopher has been sharpening his knives and renewing his supply of leeches. Mistress Agnes is packing manchet bread, marchpanes and a flagon or two of best ale. Do our prospective audiences know what they be in for? We think not.

Swords and Spindles deliver interactive presentations about life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to any who will cross their palms with sufficient groats. Distance be no object, as long as we do have enough hay to feed the horses. We are already taking bookings for 2018, so do get in touch promptly to avoid disappointment.

Mistress Agnes Wields a Quill

CCCC front coverWhat’s this? I hear you cry, Mistress Agnes? She knows not how to write. Ah, so you might think but let me share with you a well kept secret. Mistress Agnes has another life! Who would have known it? There is even a rumour that she had a hand in that wonderous tome Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors.

This very week the other Mistress Agnes has been hobnobbing with those who do wield a quill, whilst the real Mistress Agnes learned of a local rival to Master Christopher. I give you the fascinating tale of Richard Vines, early seventeenth century physician of Biddeford Town; though in truth he was more likely to have been a barber surgeon. Master Christopher need not fear the competition, as Vines, we hear tell, is off to explore the New World and little chance he has of survival. Here be an extract from a fictional tale of Master Vines but we will not be saying which Mistress Agnes was responsible and the full story may never be told, so holding of the breath is not advised. Oh, unless you do become insensible as a result and need Master Christopher’s ministrations – he could do with the business.

Blood spurted across the sawdust-strewn floor of The Ship  tavern and a chilling groan emerged from the young seaman. He was lying on the scarred and sticky table, limbs firmly pinioned by four of his crew-mates, a leather strap held between his gritted teeth. Standing over the writhing man, Vines drew the back of his grimy hand across his sweaty brow and sniffed hard, so that the droplet of moisture did not descend from the end of his pock-marked nose. He urged his assistants to tighten their grip on the patient. One of the anxious onlookers took a black leather flask from his belt and swilled a slug of usquebaugh down the hapless victim’s throat, hoping to dull the pain as Vine’s rusty saw inexorably drew back and forth, with a rasping sound.

                “Not seen a barrel make that much mess o’ a foot since I left Glasgee, these two years gone, poor gille”. The speaker shook his head slowly and fingered his ginger beard. The surgeon’s discarded blade reflected the light from the guttering tallow candle on The Swan’s warped oak mantel-shelf. He working swiftly, knowing that he had no more than three minutes to sever his patient’s shattered foot before the boy bled to death. He’d heard tales of some new French ideas, where the blood vessels were tied individually after amputation but such fanciful notions were not for the pragmatic Vines. His cautery irons were glowing cherry red in the roaring fire and a small iron pot of hot tar stood on the hearth stone, ready to encase the stump.

Richard Vines, barber surgeon to the forthcoming Gorges expedition to Maine had not expected to spend his last evening ashore operating. He’d been sat comfortably on the curved, high-backed wooden settle in front of The Ship’s welcoming fire, woollen encased lags apart, supping his ale. Four men had rushed in, half-carrying, half dragging their young crew-mate, whose foot had been crushed as he worked to load dried goods onto the Pride of Albion. The vessel could be seen through the scratched window glass, rolling and bobbing on river in the stiffening breeze, wet ropes slapping against the mast in the wind, as it was being made ready for its voyage on the morrow. Young Glover had been in The Ship earlier, downing a mug of ale and boasting to all-comers, excited to be part of the expedition, oblivious to the fact that previous ventures had failed. This would have been his first time on the cod run. His dreams of adventure were now cruelly curtailed, his ambitions dust. If he was lucky enough to survive Vine’s ministrations he was now condemned to the life of a supplicant, dependent on parish relief.

Swords and Spindles offer interactive presentations about the medicine of the seventeenth century, suitable for audiences from the ages of 9 – 99.

A Page from the Herbal of Mistress Agnes – Pilewort

The end of January is nigh and Mistress Agnes’ thoughts turn to her garden in springtime. The Pilewort will soon be showing its yellow blooms. ’Tis a beauteous ground covering plant, giving much cheer in the dark days of February. Some do know it as Lesser Celandine (ranunculus ficaria), though it bears little resemblance to its greater brother. ‘Wort’ be an old English word for ‘plant ’ or ‘herb’, so to be termed a wort means that the plant hath been here many hundreds of years, even in Mistress Agnes’ time.

pilewortFor what might she use such a wonderous plant? Well, if I do tell you that the clue is in the first part of the name mahap some can guess. Mistress Agnes will be bruising the plant, mixing it with a little animal fat and offering it as an ointment for treatment of the affected part. Safe to say she will not be volunteering to assist with the application. The Doctrine of Signatures, upon which Mistress Agnes doth base many of her cures, suggests that God hath given folk a clue as to how a plant might be used by its appearance. If you should dig up the Pilewort, do observe its roots good gentles, for they doth resemble the haemorrhoids.

Swords and Spindles offer presentations on the history of medicine, gardening history and the medicinal use of herbs in past times

Stand by London, Mistress Agnes Cometh

Jo Rutherford Photography_-7 2
Jo Rutherford Photography

Mistress Agnes will soon be wending her way towards the capital in order to instruct folk in the matters of her time. There will advice on attire, recipes and all manner of handy hints on personal grooming and how to run your seventeenth century household. ’Tis ideal for those who do be tracing their family tree and wish to know more about the lives and times of their ancestors. If you wish to part with groats in order to be so delightfully informed then you do need to click here.

Swords and Spindles run short sessions, workshops and day courses about their life and times, suitable for history groups, heritage sites and schools.