Our #FamilyTreeLive Adventures

It has been some days since the good folk of Swords and Spindles ventured to the bright lights of the big city to entertain all comers at Family Tree Live. Truth be told it has taken us some time to walk home, not having the aid of horseless carriages as modern folk do.

We had a wonderous time sharing details of our lives. We recruited an army for the king, equipping volunteers with armour and sword. There were many shameless women sporting the britches of a man but we were swift to advise them on modest dress, not that the goodwives amongst our company know aught of modesty.

Mistress May whiled away the time with toys and other frivolities.

Master Christopher cured a few ailments and none returned for a second ‘cure’. He claims that this is because of the efficacy of his treatments but in truth methinks it may be more to do with the invasive nature of his interventions.

Sir William and Sir Francis deigned to associate with the peasantry. Mayhap they had their eyes out for the witches amongst us. Passers-by were challenged to solve the puzzle of the horseshoes and a few glasses of ale were earned by the gentlemen, as visitors failed to rise to the challenge.

We were grateful to the disreputable Goody Begum, who helped us whilst Mistress Agnes had to travel to the twenty-first century.

There were many enquiries for our services so mayhap you will encounter us out and about afore long.

Swords and Spindles and friends


If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 6: Mistress May

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.

Mistress MayIn 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.


If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 5: Goody Begum

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.

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Trevor Burrows Photography

Seen here in her twenty-first century guise, ‘Goody Begum’ is well known in the family history world, having been a mainstay of Devon Family History Society for many years; she has deservedly been honoured for this work. She is currently involved in planning events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 4: Sir Francis Holyoake

witchfinderSir Francis is a casualty of the Battle of Naseby and great friend of Samuel Pepys. We hear tell he was in London Town during times of plague and fire. He wields a sword with relish and will demonstrate the niceties of sword etiquette to all-comers. It is Sir Francis’ role to deal with miscreants with aplomb. If you need anyone hanged, drawn and quartered, Sir Francis is your man. Gossips will be ducked and scolds bridled. If there are witches amongst you, Sir Francs will seek them out.

In his 21st century life Sir Francis spends time, storytelling, acting and helping to run a North Devon Arts Centre. In another role, he will soon be spending 15 hours watching paint dry, whilst invigilating A level art exams.

If you go Down to #FamilyTreeLive on 26 & 27 April ………. Part 3: Sir William Tyrell

Tyrell 2 resizeSir William Tyrell lives at Pentargon Hall with his wife, the Lady Kateryn. He is the local landowner magistrate, having taken on the role from his father-in-law, the late Sir Edward Cardew. Whilst many of his cases are run of the mill village disputes, occasionally a case comes along with more wide-reaching significance…

In the 21st Century, Sir William is a character from the acclaimed play WITCH, written by Tracey Norman and performed by Circle of Spears Productions. He is portrayed by Tracey’s husband, folklore author and researcher Mark Norman. Mark is the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast and writes books, articles and a newspaper column on folklore and its interaction with our family and social history.



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.