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


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

Shooting Children and a Chance to Save Groats

Wadebridge 2017Well the Swords and Spindles folk managed to escape from Cornwall, though their route home was a somewhat tortuous one. Given the title of this post, mayhap we should point out that no children were harmed in the course of our visit. ’Tis possible they even felt better as a result of one of Master Christopher’s ‘cures’.

The good folk of Devon Rural Archive treated us right royally as usual, even though they be of a Parliamentary persuasion down that way.

Now we be gearing up for the busiest time of year. For some reason many good masters and mistresses seem to want us to entertain their pupils in the summer term. Loins girded, packhorses saddled and armour polished; we are ready for almost anything, including the delights of engaging with teenagers.

Hard though it is to believe, it is five years this week since Mistress Agnes’ tome Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors first reached the booksellers. It is the May choice as ‘book of the month’ by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies and can therefore be purchased for fewer groats than normal. Even the carrier pigeon to deliver it to your UK home is free. A wonderous opportunity not to be missed.

Swords and Spindles Hither and Yon

Car magnet.JPGOver the next couple of weeks we will be round and about entertaining folk from various shires. Last week and this we are in Somerset, Dorset and all corners of Devon. Next week it will be Yorkshire, the great metropolis of London and back to Devon. Our audiences have been regaled with accounts of crime, of punishment, of witchcraft, of the culinary arts, as well as general tales of our time. In preparation for our travels, Master Christopher has been sharpening his knives and renewing his supply of leeches. Mistress Agnes is packing manchet bread, marchpanes and a flagon or two of best ale. Do our prospective audiences know what they be in for? We think not.

Swords and Spindles deliver interactive presentations about life in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to any who will cross their palms with sufficient groats. Distance be no object, as long as we do have enough hay to feed the horses. We are already taking bookings for 2018, so do get in touch promptly to avoid disappointment.

Stand by London, Mistress Agnes Cometh

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Jo Rutherford Photography

Mistress Agnes will soon be wending her way towards the capital in order to instruct folk in the matters of her time. There will advice on attire, recipes and all manner of handy hints on personal grooming and how to run your seventeenth century household. ’Tis ideal for those who do be tracing their family tree and wish to know more about the lives and times of their ancestors. If you wish to part with groats in order to be so delightfully informed then you do need to click here.

Swords and Spindles run short sessions, workshops and day courses about their life and times, suitable for history groups, heritage sites and schools.

Who Do You Think Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher Are?

Look out world, Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher will be heading northwards again in April to put in an appearance at Who Do You Think You Are Live? On Thursday 7 April Mistress Agnes will be holding forth (or third) on the life of the Tudor Housewife – book now to avoid disappointment. She is also to be an expert, whatever that is. You won’t yet see Master Christopher on the programme but rumours that he will be curing all comers on 8 April have not been exaggerated. Whether you have a headache, broken bones or noxious wind of the belly, he has the means of relieving your symptoms. Keep your eye on the programme and book a consultation. Despite not being educated folk, they will be putting their marks in copies of Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs, which we hear tell Mistress Agnes had a hand in. If you want them to reserve you a copy to collect during the event, let us know.