Mistress May is serving wench to the irascible Sir Francis. ’Tis not an enviable task. Her time is spent fetching and carrying, supplying him with vittals and fortified wines. She brews, she bakes; ensuring that Sir Francis is at all times the recipient of the upper crust. She is skilled in the use of herbs, particular those that can beautify and enhance womanly charm. Ofttimes those from her village will turn to Mistress May for advice on how to pamper and primp, in order to secure the attentions of a young man, or to retain the interest of a spouse with a roving eye. Her unguents and ointments can restore firmness to the flesh and youth to the features. Mistress Agnes has been applying them faithfully for nigh on 400 years – ’tis a shame that in her case they are yet to be effective. Nonetheless, let that not deter you. Head to stand 167 to seek Mistress May’s advice.
In twenty-first century life, Mistress May is the talented and versatile actor Imogen Moone. She has been living in the seventeenth century intermittently since childhood.
Should you dare to venture towards stand 167, you may encounter Goody Begum. She is a goodwife of disreputable character and an inveterate gossip but always on hand to aid with the delivery when women be with child. We use the term ‘goodwife’ advisedly, as none have set eyes on Master Begum for many a year, though tis rumoured he may have been a sea-going man who, regretting having married a scold, did depart from whence he came on the first available vessel. He was last seen heading for the New World. Goody Begum, spends her time mixing a herbal brew or three and avoiding ducking-stool and witchfinder.
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.
In 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.
Swords and Spindles offer a wide range of presentations and living history experiences, based on life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
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.
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.
Truth be told they be venturing west as well – fording the Tamar no less to spend two days in a school in (whisper it quietly) Cornwall! Will they be let back across the border one is moved to wonder?
Assuming they escape the clutches of the pesky Cornish, on Thursday 4 May Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be found addressing all comers on the topic of The Civil War in the South West at Devon Rural Archive. Take a look, come along. It may not be quite what you are expecting – seldom is when the good folk of Swords and Spindles are about. Rumour has it that Master Christopher will be amassing an army for the king. He will not be gainsaid and will have swords and guns to aid him in his cause. Let us just say, if you require long tales of battles fought, stay at home and read a book. If you want a flavour of what it was really like for the ordinary folk down here in the bottom left hand corner of England in the 1640s, Devon Rural Archive is the place to be on the evening of 4 May.
Swords and Spindles provide presentations for audiences of all ages on life and conflict in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We use replica artefacts to enhance the experience. Once seen, never forgotten.
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 feedbackand 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.