Our Book

Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors

By Dr Janet Few aka Swords and Spindles’ ‘Mistress Agnes’

CCCC front cover

Our seventeenth century ancestors may be people that we can identify, or they may be lurking, nameless, waiting to be discovered. In either case they existed, therefore we owe it to them to find out more about their way of life. This book sets out to provide an all-important context for these ancestors, ancestors whose detailed biographies probably elude us. Dr Janet Few has made good use of contemporary documents to put together an overview of life in the time of the Stuarts, concentrating on the lives of ‘ordinary’ folk, rather than the aristocracy.

Here you can discover what those Jacobean ancestors would have worn, what they would have eaten and how they would have lived. There is a chapter on medical practices and one on the medicinal use of herbs, complete with handy ‘cures’. Next time you are suffering from plague or a pain in the head you will know where to turn. Other sections cover gardens, crime and punishment, witchcraft, leisure and festivals.

The book is fully indexed and lavishly illustrated with photographs and contemporary engravings. There are also extracts from seventeenth century books offering recipes and household hints.

Throughout the book are explanations of phrases such as ‘humble pie’ or ‘sleep tight’. You can learn who was straight laced and why, how to roast a calf’s head and how to bleach linen. Having read this book, it is possible to appreciate the mental and physical demands of the housewife’s role. What also comes across is how hardworking and versatile our Jacobean ancestors had to be.

All schools booking Swords and Spindles’ services have the opportunity to purchase a copy at a reduced rate.

Paperback 247mm x 173mm 136 pages Published by The Family History Partnership 2012 Price £12.95. Copies are available from the publisher, on Amazon or at events where Swords and Spindles appear. Please contact us swordsandspindles@outlook.com for details of how to obtain a signed copy.

‘The Family History Partnership’s latest publication is Janet Few’s Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs, and it’s a bit of a gem. … Each [chapter] is packed with anecdotes and moments to make you think ‘Oh that’s where that comes from!’ – the window originally being the ‘wind-eye’, to allow air and light in, the ‘chairman of the board’ originally being the person who sat at the chair on the end of the table or ‘board’, and so on. … This is the first book I’ve read to tell me about the role of the ‘piss prophet’, a job that makes me extremely grateful that I have taken the career route that I have! Each chapter is not only beautifully illustrated in colour throughout, but also ends with a further reading list to take your understanding of the topic in question further.’ Chris Paton – British Genes

‘It is a book that can be dipped into for reference or read cover to cover: a most enjoyable and interesting read and a must for the family historian.’ Cornwall Family History Society Journal

‘Janet’s book, as to be expected, is exceptionally well researched, easy to read, yet packed with information. It is nicely illustrated with modern colour photographs and black and white woodcuts. A nice touch is the use of inset quotes from contemporary sources, which add so much to the book without interrupting the flow of the text. If you’ve ever wondered what a ‘Bilbo’ is, wanted to make fritters of sheep’s feet or puzzled over that dried stag’s penis that has been handed down through the generations, then this is, most definitely, the book for you.’ Isle of Wight Family History Society Journal

‘For those of us fortunate enough to have traced our ancestors back to the 1600s, this book is a “must have”. …. The subjects covered range from household furniture and equipment to cooking, clothing, childbirth, crime and cures for all ills. The alliterative chapter headings make you want to reach for a dictionary – until you realise that all is revealed within the detailed text. How many of you have heard of clysters, jumbles, bum rolls or bilbos?’ Devon Family Historian

‘Whether you like to read a book cover to cover, or dip into random chapters, this book presents a rich flavour and a well balanced portrait of seventeenth century life. You will find yourself stepping into the boots or clogs of our Stuart ancestors and walking in their footsteps. Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs is a book that has been well written from an amazing wealth and depth of research and knowledge. It is easy and pleasurable to read and I whole-heartedly recommend it to all readers, male and female, of any age. It will both entertain you and leave you feeling well-informed.’ C.E.

‘This is a book that works on several levels. It is a good read if you wish to sit and immerse yourself in the day to day experiences, chores, and challenges that faced our ancestors in the seventeenth century. It wears its scholarly research lightly and manages to impart information in a lively and interesting way. It is also a good reference book; use the contents page in conjunction with the index. From birthing to cause of death, via crime and punishment, food and clothing and the never ending cycle of a woman’s work; it is all here. As a book to dip into it also scores. Found a will listing medical paraphernalia? Look at Chapter 6 – and never complain again about the modern NHS! Visiting a seventeenth century building – how did they live here? Chapters 1 and 5 (homes and furnishings & gardens and gardening) provide the answers.’ D.G.