Life in the time of Elizabeth I
by Pamela Hartshorne
The House in Little Wood Street, 1590
“Come in, come in …. You are welcome indeed to the house at the sign of the three swans in Little Wood Street. We are but a step up from Cheapside, but it has been raining all day and for all you may have ducked under the jetties, you will be wet through. And your shoes … they will be sodden. The mid part of the street is running like a river! I assure you, the servants clean the gutters at the front door and the back to stop them blocking with rubbish, and we keep our paving in good repair also, but not all our neighbours do the same, I fear.
Still, I must not keep you standing at the door, dripping onto the tiles. Let Sarah take your cloak. She will hang it to dry while you warm yourself by the fire. A ship from Hamburg docked last night, and my husband is at his warehouses, but he will be home to dine and I hope that you will eat with us? He will want to meet you. He has travelled much and seen many marvels, and he is interested in always in those who come from places afar. There is some veal pie left over from yesterday, and I have boiled some pigeons in the manner my husband likes, with cinnamon and ginger. We will have a custard, too, and a tart with apples …
|From Thomas Dawson, The Good Housewife’s Jewel, with an introduction by Maggie Black, 2002.|
You will stay? Good! My husband will be pleased. Do you come up to the parlour, then, until he returns. Sarah, bring wine and cakes! And then you may set the table with a tablecloth and damask napkins, and bowls to wash our hands … and do not forget the pepper box and the salt as you did last night.
Forgive me, Sarah is newly a maid and clumsy still, and I must remind her of everything. She has come to London from the country and misses her mother, I think, but what can she do? She must make her way in the world as we all do.
Ah, I see you are noticing the staircase: it is very fine, is it not? Do you see the carving, how clever it is? I coaxed my husband into having it built. There is not another like it in the street! I like to imagine it when the wood has darkened and the smell of seasoned oak has mellowed and generations have smoothed their hands over the banister, just as I do every time I go up and down the stairs and thank God for my good fortune.
|The staircase at Burton Agnes Hall.|
And here is the parlour! It is cosy in here with wainscot on the walls and the painted hangings to make it cheerful. You may sit on a stool and rest your wet feet near the fire while I tidy up the sheets of music that are scattered carelessly on the table. That is supposed to be my daughter, Cecily’s, task. I have told her above a hundred times to keep the chamber neat after we have sung together, but her mind flits like a butterfly. She will make a poor housewife, I fear - not that she worries for that! She thinks it is enough to be fair, to be wealthy, to play the virginals … and, well, we are not as strict with her as we should be, it is true. No matter how my husband and I try to be stern, our daughter has but to smile to make our eyes soften. She brings sunshine into the household on the dreariest of days.
What is that on the cupboard? Why, the usual plate, that I make Sarah polish every day so that it gleams. Oh, this … this is a shell. It was a gift from Jacopo, the servant of a sea captain. He brought it on a day as wet as this. I had never seen anything like it. Is it not strange? It is a fragile thing, curved like a snail’s shell but twenty times the size. Do you see the curious red stripes as it curls in on itself? But that is not the strangest thing about it. Hold it to your ear, as Jacopo told me to do. He says that rushing and roaring that you hear is the sound of the sea that I have never seen.
|A nautilus shell.|
And this next to it? That is Peg, my wooden baby. I have had her since I was a child. Yes, she has only one arm … ah, that is a long story and a bitter one, how I was cursed and yet I have survived. God has seen fit to break the curse. I am a fortunate woman indeed. I have a wealthy and affectionate husband, a daughter and sons who are dear to me. I am mistress of this fine house. I have a good reputation with neighbours.
And not long since, Cat has returned, who was once as close as a sister to me, who was, I thought, lost to me. A maidservant and yet not one. She is a poor servant, if truth be told. She wrinkles her nose when set to plucking chickens or to filling a scuttle for the midden or sweeping out cobwebs. Her seams are sewn crookedly. She is careless in the kitchen, forgetful in the market. All she wants to do is to sing and make music, as if that were enough to put food on the table and keep the house clean and give us all clean linen to wear.
That is Cat you can hear now in the Great Chamber, playing the lute. Playing that tune that haunts me. Everything I have, I owe to her. She is the only one who knows the truth of me, as I know the truth of her. And now we are trapped together with our secrets and our lies, and I am afraid, so very afraid, that my world is cracking, and it will take but a finger flick to shatter it, and bring it crashing down around me.”
The house at the sign of the three swans in Little Wood Street features in The Cursed Wife, published by Pan Macmillan in March 2018.
After a haphazard career working and travelling around the world, Pamela first stumbled into writing as a way to fund a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of York. Twenty years, 60 romances and one Ph.D. later, she stepped out of her comfort zone and began writing 'time slip' novels that drew on her research into the Elizabethan street and her fascination with the relationship between the past and the present.
Pamela’s latest book, The Cursed Wife, is a psychological thriller set in Elizabethan London.
Pamela lives in York and now writes non-fiction as well as fiction.
More information about Pamela can be found on her: Website Facebook and Twitter. She is always glad to hear from readers and fellow history enthusiasts.
The Cursed Wife
Curses cannot be silenced
Mary lives a contented life as wife to a wealthy merchant in Elizabethan London. But there's a part of her past she can’t forget . . . As a small girl she was cursed for causing the death of a vagrant child, a curse that predicts that she will hang.
Sometimes the happiest households are not what they seem, and Mary's carefully curated world begins to falter. Mary’s whole life is based on a lie. Is she the woman her husband believes her to be?
One rainy day she ventures to London's Cheapside, where her past catches up with her . . . Suddenly the lies and deception she has so fought to hide begin to claw to the surface.
The Cursed Wife is a page-turning, psychological thriller set in Elizabethan London.