Category Archives: Family

Etiquette Family

Put not your sickle into another mans corne

These snippets come from The last advice of Mr. Ben. Alexander (late minister of West-Markham, in the county of Nottingham) to his children (1659). Its charm, for me, lies in the certainty of the advice, and in the author’s employment of the odd curious metaphor.

Take heed of wantonnesse, in word or deed, for the snuffe of lust goeth out with the stinke of loathing.

The Cordiall woundings of a faithfull friend will keep thee from the wounding cordialls of a flattering foe.

Regard not vaine talke, they are light leaves that do wagge with every winde.

Put not your sickle into another mans corne, least you cut your fingers.

Weare your cloathes neat, but suitable to your fortune, least on the one hand you be accounted a sloven, or on the other, proud, and vain glorious.

Ride not hastily through a Town, men do think that either the horse, or your braines are not your own.

Make not Musicke your study, for, besides the unprofitableness of it, it rendreth a man suspected of Levity.

Eate not so long as you are able, meates in England, which do most inveagle the stomach, are stewed up in great houses.

Provide not roome in your breast for the passion of feares, by a tedious expectation of what may come; ill fortune, it is as unconstant as good, and a wet day may be as short, as a faire day is pleasant.

Marry not for beauty or unendowed handsomeness, lest you bury your judgement in sensuall affection.

© 2009-20123 All Rights Reserved

Arte of Gardening Family Household Medicine

How to Write Secretly

These snippets are from a charming little pamphlet entitled A New BOOK of Knowledge, written anonymously, and printed in 1697. A sort of proto-Mrs Beeton, the selected household advice runs from drawing out splinters, to how to write your name on a knife. What follows are some of the more intriguing entries:

How to Write Secretly: Take Alum, and beat it into a Pouder; then put some into a Sawcer of clean Water, till it dissolve: write with this, and dry it by the fire; so you may dispose of it how you please: but when you would read it, wet the Paper in clean Water, and it will appear of a Blewish Colour. There are divers ways of Writing privately, as with the Juice of Limons or Onions; but this exceeds all in my opinion, by reason the others may be seen before the Light, when dry; but this may not, if thoroughly dry.

To help a Chimney that is dangerously on Fire: Let two or three Persons take a Blanket or Coverlet, and hold it close to the Mouth of the Chimney that no Air may enter, and with a close Board, cover the Top of the Chimney; and the Fire, for want of Air, will soon be Extinguished.

Turkies will become very Fat in a short time, and prosper exceedingly, with bruised Acorns.

To keep Apparel, Hangings &c. from Moths: Brush them several times in the Year with a Brush made of Wormwood Tops, and you may rub them with Wormwood, especially when you discern Moths to haunt amongst the Hangings.

An Ointment to kill the ITCH: Take a pennyworth of Black Soap, and a pennyworth of Boars-grease, beat them together in Water, and anoint therewith when it itcheth.

To destroy Caterpillars: Besmear all the bottom of the Tree with Tar, then get a great store of Ants; put them into a Bag, and draw the same with a Cord unto the Tree, and let it hang there, so that it touch the Body of the Tree; and the Ants being prevented to go from the Tree by reason of the Tar, will want for Food, eat and destroy the Caterpillars, without hurting any of the Fruit or Leaves.

To take Fish: Set a Candle in a piece of Cork, as even as may be with the Water, which will stupify and attract the Fishes to it, so that with a little Hoop Not, upon the end of a Cane or Staff, you may take them with much facility.

To get Ink-Spots out of Linnen: Lay it in Urine immediately after the Ink has dropped on it, and there let it lye all night, and the next day wash it out again; and in so doing two or three times, you will find the Spots and Stains quite out.

To catch CROWS: Take white Pease, steep them eight or nine days in the Gall of an Ox, and lay them in some place where they use to come.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Family Medicine Women

His little cheeks are wet

Today’s snippets focus on childbirth in early modern England. The traditional assumption is that for most women, childbirth at this time posed a high risk of death to both mother and child, but recent research suggests that the risk of a woman dying during childbirth at this time was only about 6 or 7%. However there were other risks facing pregnant women, many of which were faced by unmarried and single mothers.

Unmarried women were stigmatised as ‘bastard bearers’ and punished as whores. In 1639, the clerk of an unknown London parish recorded money paid out to ‘the whore and her bastard’, and in some cases single pregnant women were subjected to physical punishment or ordered to spend a year in a house of correction, with or without their babies. In 1599, the Essex justices ordered a Frances Barker to be carted and whipped until her blood flowed for bearing a bastard. Often the authorities tried to force single women in labour to reveal the names of the father, threatening to remove the services of a midwife if she failed to comply. Confronted with this threat, one woman swore that ‘although she should be torn in pieces with wild horses she could accuse none other’, while another woman, abandoned by her wealthy lover, ‘cried woe to the bones of him that ever she knew him, but if he had kept promise with her she would never have betrayed him though she had been racked to death.’

Whether single or married, for most women childbirth took place in a separate, darkened room. Only adult women were permitted to attend. In addition to the midwife, the woman’s female relatives often played a significant role, although an unmarried girl was not allowed to be present. There were many remedies and folkloric treatments available for women to choose from, but essentially the woman underwent the birth of her child with no pain relief of any kind, relying solely on the expertise of the midwife. The midwife was usually a respected member of the community, one whose religion had to satisfy the Church, because should the newborn die before a member of the clergy could arrive, it was the midwife who would be expected to perform a baptism.

Once the baby had safely arrived, there was general celebration, and the midwife was rewarded with presents or payment in cash. The baby was washed and wrapped in swaddling clothes. In aristocratic circles a wet-nurse would be employed to feed the baby, but in most ordinary households, the mother would feed the baby herself. The following is a description of a fortunate aristocratic mother greeting her newborn child:

unswaddle him, undo his swaddling bands, give him his breakfast while I am here… wash him before me, have you clean water?  O my little heart! God bless thee, rub the crown of his head, wash his ears…wash his face; lift up a little his hairs, is that not some dirt I see upon his forehead? His little cheeks are wet, I believe you did leave him alone to cry and weep… How many teeth hath he? Pull off his shirt, thou are pretty and fat my little darling. His thumb and little finger are flea bitten… is there any fleas in your chamber?’

After the birth, mother and child would remain in the birthing room for up to a month, until they attended the churching ceremony organised by the father.  This was a Protestant thanksgiving for a safe delivery; signalling the woman’s status within the community as a mother, and allowing her and her family to celebrate both the birth of a new child and her own survival.

Sources & further reading, Mendleson & Crawford, Women in Early Modern England, Clarenden Press (1998); Liza Picard, Elizabeth’s London, Phoenix (2003)

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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