Our 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.
Some 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
What? 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
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.