If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 1: Mistress Agnes

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Photograph by Jo Rutherford

Just who might good folk encounter should they dare to venture to stand 167 at Family Tree Live? So that you might be suitably forewarned, we will be preparing you for all eventualities over the next few weeks. Should you need advice on suitable attire, then Mistress Agnes will be on hand. Goodwives and young folk may have the chance of what you folk from our future might call ‘the make over’. Under the guidance of Mistress Agnes, this will include advice on attracting stray soldiers, as well as adopting appropriate styles of bodice lacing.

Should you wish to heed the words of Bartholomew Dowe (Dairy Book for Housewives 1588), then Mistress Agnes will assist you to ‘Arise early, serve God devoutly, then to thy work busily. To thy meat joyfully, to thy bed merrily, and though thou fare poorly and thy lodging homely, yet thank God devoutly.’ To follow the instructions of Gervase Markham (The English Housewife 1615) might be somewhat more challenging: ‘Our English housewife must be of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchful, diligent, witty, pleasant, constant in friendship. Full of good neighbourhood, wise in discourse, but not frequent therein, sharp and quick of speech, but not bitter or talkative, secret in her affairs, comfortable in her counsel, and generally skilfull in all the worthy knowledges which do belong to her vocation.’ Be not daunted. Mistress Agnes will be on hand to ensure that you are well drilled in all matters of housewifery.

CCCC front coverIn real life, Mistress Agnes (aka Janet Few) is an historian and author; indeed it is she who has penned the account of our seventeenth century lives Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors. This worthy tome will be available to you, in exchange for good coin of the realm, on stand 167, along with Mistress Agnes’ other works, including her recent historical novel Barefoot on the Cobbles. As her twenty-first century self, Mistress Agnes will also be presenting a session Early Twentieth Century Family History: some sources for tracing English families and leading a workshop on deciphering Victorian handwriting.

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Swords and Spindles offer a wide range of presentations and living history experiences, based on life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries


Swords and Spindles’ Roadshow is Going Live

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The news is out. The good folk of Swords and Spindles will be heading to London in full force with our living history display. We will be on show at the Family Tree Live genealogical fair on April 26 and 27. There will be opportunities for make-overs seventeenth century style, to equip yourself for battle, to hone your Tudor household skills and to have your constipation cured but probably not all at once! It is a wonderous opportunity to understand how your sixteenth and seventeenth century ancestors would have lived. Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring those you might meet during the show. The good folk of Swords and Spindles are looking forward to greeting you and taking the big city by storm.

Swords and Spindles Entertain and Inform in Schools

DSCF0565Our busy term is now drawing to a close and we have graced parched playing fields across the south-west. Wearing our woollen, seventeenth century costume has been a little cosy of late but at least it ensured that we brought the smells of the time to our audience. More visits await us in September. In addition to our a presentations to suit young people across the age range, we have updated our revision sessions to reflect the recent changes in the syllabus for GCSE. We can offer help with, Elizabethan England, Restoration England, the History of Medicine and Conflict during the seventeenth century as well as providing background information for those studying Shakespeare. We are already taking bookings for the 2018-19 academic year and as usual, the summer term is filling up fast, so please book early to avoid disappointment. We are offering 2019 bookings at 2015 prices. We also have a full programme of events booked with history societies, U3As, WIs and other social groups.

Meet Swords and Spindles at Buckland Brewer Fete 14 July

Chris in Armour 1Some of the Swords and Spindles team will be at Buckland Brewer fete, North Devon on Saturday afternoon, with musket, pike and drum. In the afternoon, there will be an opportunity to try on costume or armour. Then, just after six o’clock, we will be mustering an army for the king on the amenities field. Pikemen (or women) of all ages required, no experience necessary, training will be given.

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.

Mistress Agnes goes Spinning – Distaff Day

Spinning WheelWhat? I hear you exclaim. Hath the good mistress taken up some form of extreme gymnastic activity? Those who do know Mistress Agnes well, will realise that strenuous pursuits are not normally associated with this dear lady. No, despite the attempts of the rascally Puritans to put a damper on Yuletide proceedings, Mistress Agnes did receive a most thrilling gift. This wonderous spinning wheel now graces her cottage and the good lady is awaiting instruction in the use of the same. Really she should have been hard at work last Sunday, which is designated Distaff Day, the day when all good spinsters resume their duties after Twelfth Night. ’Tis also known as Rock Day, as those with the less glamorous drop spindles were said to be spinning on the rock.

Folklore states that young masters might set fire to the flax and tow of the maidens, who would then retaliate by throwing a pail of water. The good masters, by custom, returned to work on Plough Monday, after the blessing of the plough the previous day. This year Plough Monday was on 8 January, so the goodfellows only had one extra day of leisure.

A little ditty from Robert Herrick

Partly work and partly play
Ye must, on St. Distaff’s day;
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them;
If the maids a spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation