16. Margaret Cavendish and Hannah Woolley: Wine, Restoratives, and Gendered Drinking


Bolsover Beer Cellar 2015
Beer Cellar at Bolsover Castle, Photo: Blog Author

In the first part of Margaret Cavendish’s comedy The Wits’ Cabal (1662), four waiting ladies, Surfeit, Excess, Wanton, and Idle, discuss the ways in which men and women from the gentry drink.  Men, these ladies say, drink in large gulps but women can become as inebriated by repeatedly sipping in small amounts.  Mistress Excess sums up the situation thus.

“I love to be drunk by spoonfuls, for then I am drunk by degrees, and not at one draught, as a pinte, or a quart at a draught, as men do.  Besides, though it be allowable for the sobrest noblest Women to be drunk with Wine-caudles, Sullybubs, Sack-possets, and the like, so it be by spoonfuls, yet it were abominable and most dishonourable for Women to be drunk with plain Wine.”

The waiting ladies would have been in their teens or twenties and these four wait upon Lady Pleasure, an aristocrat with whom they live while exploring opportunities for marriage at social events like balls and masques.  Excess lets the audience for the play in on a more or less open secret —  it was possible for women to become inebriated while drinking restoratives.   The waiting ladies in Margaret’s plays often have a gently adversarial relationship with the older woman who looks after them, their matron.  The matron is generally conservative while they are a little rebellious.  In the second part of The Wit’s Cabal, a waiting lady relates a story that shows the differing practices of drinking that existed between the matron and her charges.

Wine Spoon BM
Spoon, Possibly for Restoratives, 17th c. British Museum Number 1978,1002.789

“Why Mother Matron had a spic’d pot of Ale in her hand.  So she set it to her mouth, and drank a hearty draught of it, and, finding it very good and refreshing, drank another draught.  ‘By my faith,’ said she, ‘This is a cheery cup indeed, and a comfortable drink,’ and with that drank another draught, and so long-winded she was, as she drank up all the Ale therein.”

The waiting ladies and Mother Matron are comic figures whose drinking habits say a great deal about their approaches to social class.  Mother Matron might have come from the gentry, but she has little by way of aspiration to aristocratic manners.  She is shown to be drinking like the famous Oxfordshire innkeeper Mother Louise, who is depicted in the print below and to the right.  No spoonfuls of wine caudles for Mother Matron.  Still, Mother Matron is forthright and open about her drinking, while the young women she supervises are given to a mild, though presumably common, form of aristocratic duplicity.

Tankard Motern Louise English 17th c BM
English woman with Tankard, British Museum Number 1870,0514.1940

In a play within a play in Convent of Pleasure (1668), Margaret Cavendish demonstrates that her approach to drinking is not always purely comic.  A group of waiting ladies in the framing play view a set of scenes in which alcohol-based abuse of wives by lower-class men is explored.  An unnamed woman speaks to another in the following scene.

“I would to heaven my husband would run away with Goody Shred, the botcher’s wife, for he lies all day drinking in an ale house, like a drunken rogue as he is, and when he comes home he beats me all black and blue, when I and my children are almost starved for want.”

There is perhaps a bit of comedy in the woman wishing that her husband would run off with a clothes mender’s wife called Goody Shred, but the woman’s anger about being starved for lack of money reflects a serious problem, one echoed by a second woman.  The two women decide to attack the men’s tavern, breaking its lattices (window shutters) — probably to applause from the stage audience and Cavendish’s family and household viewers.  (I expect that the play was performed within one of the family homes — either Welbeck Abbey or Bolsover Castle.)

From a modern perspective, what is missing from the scenes is any criticism of upper-class men where alcohol is concerned.  In the final scene, however, there is a threat by a young gentleman that he will take the woman he loves by force.  She only saves herself by becoming a nun.  This scene, though it does not involve alcohol, would have provided a sombre conclusion to the play within the play.

Excessive drinking among upper-class men is linked by Margaret in other plays to wenching and gambling.  Wives are not physically abused but suffer emotionally as their husbands’ vices are attributed, according to gossip, to failings in themselves.   It is a case of that horrible old understanding of marriage — if the husband is debauched, the wife must be to blame.  The safest way for women, says Margaret in various places in her writing, is not to marry.  If a woman does marry, she should take care to protect herself from possible exploitation, especially if she is a wealthy widow as is the case with Madam Passionate from Bell in Campo (part II, 1662).

“For this idle young fellow which I have married first seized on all my goods  .   .   .   and sells all my Lands of Inheritance, which I foolishly and fondly delivered by deed of gift, the first day I married, devesting my self of all power, which power had I kept in my own hands I might have been used better, whereas now when he comes home drunk, he swears and storms, and [ejects me] from my warm Bed  .   .   .    whilst my Maid takes my place.”

English Tankard 16th c BM
English Tankard, 16th Century, British Museum Number 1987,0702.2

Cavendish uses a basically comic character, Lady Passionate, to make a serious point:  women need to take care with legal documents when they decide to marry.  Indeed, women and legal documents form key themes  in the novella The Contract and the short story The “Matrimonial Agreement,” both printed in Nature’s Pictures (1656).

Margaret’s character Lady Wagtale offers the following recipe for a restorative to treat melancholia (i.e., depression) in the comedy Love’s Adventures (1662).

“If you are troubled with melancholly vapours arising from crude humours, you must take as soon as you wake after your first sleep a draught of Wormwood-wine.  Then lye to sleep again, and then half an hour before you rise drink a draught of Jelly-broth, and, after you have been up an hour and half, eate a White-wine-caudle.  Then a little before a dinner, take a Toste and Sack, and at your meals two or three good glasses of Clarret-wine.”

I am inclined to think that Margaret is engaging in a comic parody of her own advice concerning restoratives, advice that may  be found in Sociable Letters.  Lady Wagtale begins by recommending a reasonable sleeping aid but then adds in restorative after restorative, ending with the astonishing two or three glasses of claret per meal.  Is Wagtale really recommending increasing amounts of alcohol for those suffering from melancholia?

I would say that she begins with genuine advice and ends in a joke based on gross exaggeration.  I also would suggest that the dramatic situation may be a bit like what we find with Falstaff and Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s history play I Henry IV.  Falstaff begins with a reasonable story of a fight and ends with a huge exaggeration.  In each play, the dramatic effect is that individual members of the audience catch on to the exaggeration at differing points, but by the end of the scene the whole of the audience is laughing.

Hannah Woolley in The Queen-like Closet (1670) lists among her restoratives Number XXVII, “The Melancholy Water.”    I have edited the entry for length, but suffice it to say that this recipe used to counter melancholia contains a great many petals from flowers.

“Take of the Flowers of Gilliflowers, four handfuls, Rosemary flowers three handfuls, Damask Rose leaves, Burrage and Bugloss fiowers .   .   .   .  two Nutmegs beaten, Anniseeds beaten, one ounce, three peniworth of Saffron; put them all into a Pottle [half gallon] of Sack [sherry]  .   .   .   .    then distil them in an ordinary Still  .   .   .   .    take of this Water three times in a week fasting, two spoonfuls at a time.”

Two spoonfuls, three times a week is unlikely to bring on intoxication, and  it is doubtful that the women to whom Lady Wagtale speaks would want to endure the fasting involved in Woolley’s regimen.

Wine glass 17th c Venice BM 1987 0702.2
Wine Glass, 17th, Century Venice, British Museum Number 1987,0702.2

This is not to suggest that Hannah Woolley only wrote for people who were moderate drinkers.  She includes four different recipies for surfeit — i.e., hangover — in The Accompolish’d Ladies Delight (1670) and the same number in The Queen-like Closet (1670).  Surfeit, of course, is mentioned as the name of one of Cavendish’s characters (a waiting lady) in the first paragraph of this blog, and the word, itself, figures largely in her plays, though it often pertains to overeating rather than to excessive drinking.

Hannah Woolley presents her readers with literally dozens of recipes for such alcoholic restoratives as possets, syllabubs, and caudles.  Indeed, the word wine appears in The Queen-like Closet 116 times, sack 47, claret 25, brandy 8, and ale 19.  The conclusion to draw, I expect, is that cooking with wine and creating restorative drinks with wine and ale was commonplace.  In some cases, the food or medicinal drink thereby created was not terribly intoxicating, as much of the alcohol would have been lost in cooking or boiling.   In others, the alcohol content would have been quite high.

From Margaret Cavendish, we might learn that drinking, at the very least, was associated with certain male and female stereotypes of the upper classes.    In working with these stereotypes for comic effect, she was much like other Restoration dramatists.  Her serious look at physical abuse  by men of women in the lower classes, on the other hand, is not likely to find a correlative in commercial theater of the time.

Three final observations:  1)  It may be something of an irony that beer, such as was stored in the cellar at Bolsover Castle, contained very little alcohol and was drunk instead of water because drinking unboiled water was dangerous.  These days, of course, beer tends to have a higher alcohol content.  2)  Robert May mentions wine 648 times in the Accomplisht Cook (1660).  Claret appears 190 times, sack 81, brandy 0, beer 24, and ale 14.  3)  In the painting  below that some say is of Margaret and her husband in the garden at the Rubens House, there is a very small depiction of a couple seated in the background, perhaps sharing a bottle of wine.  The tiny pair, seen above the dog’s head and through the arch, suggests, at least to me, innocent pleasure in the context of drinking.  The two are dressed like the principal figures in the painting. The presence of the dog tells us that Margaret and husband William (if it is she and he) are faithful to one another.

Cavendish gemaldegallerie Berlin WordPress
Margaret and William Cavendish? Gonzales Cocques, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Photo: Blog Author






15. Margaret Cavendish and Hannah Woolley: Kitchen Work, Fancy Food, and Social Class

kitchen Scullery Bolsover 2015
Scullery in Bolsover Castle Kitchens

In  Sociable Letters (1664), Margaret Cavendish wrote that she and her waiting ladies did not spend their time in

“Baking and Cooking-works, as making Cakes, Pyes, Puddings , and the like, all which I am ignorant of.”  (Preface to the Marquis of Newcastle)

She goes on to say that she is as ignorant of cooking as of “Gaming, Dancing, and Revelling,” apparently suggesting that the culinary arts constitute a frivolous  activity for aristocratic ladies.

I am always suspicious of Margaret when she seems to admit to ignorance, as in her repeated claim to not be able to speak French.   Certainly, she has detailed knowledge of what went on in her kitchens, and she draws on it for the comedy The Matrimonial Trouble (1662). The steward Thrifty chides Bridget Greasy, a kitchen maid, in the following lines.

“Because you have not the profit of the Kitchin-stuff, you will never scrape the Dresser-board, nor Dripping-pans, nor lick the Platters, Trays, or Scummers, Frying-pans, Skillets, Gridirons, Spits, Ladles, Kettles, or any of the Kitchin-vessels, as you should doe, but wash them all with hot water at first, without taking off the grease beforehand.”

It appears that poor Bridget is berated for wasting grease as well as for being uneconomical with hot water.  In the process of his small lecture, the steward Thrifty  a employs a vivid metaphor in the verb “lick.”   I certainly hope he does not expect her to actually lick the cutting boards, dishes, and such clean before she washes them in hot water.  Bridget’s appearance takes us back to blog post 11, in which a version of greasy Joan from Love’s Labours Lost makes an appearance.

Woolley Maids image
Hannah Wooley, Compleat Maid-Servant, 1677

Hannah Woolley does not adhere to the comic stereotype that is found in Cavendish’s depiction of Bridget Greasy.  Woolley, in a book that includes advice for women servants in great houses, tells kitchen staff to attend to personal hygiene and wear clean clothing — which staff are to launder themselves.   For scullery maids like Bridget, she holds out hope for modest social advancement.

“You must wash and scowr all the plates and dishes that are used in the kitchin, likewise the dressers and cupboards, also all kettles, pots, pans, chamberpots, with all other iron, brass, tin, and pewter materials, that belong to the Chambers and Kitchin.

“You must wash your own Linen, keeping your self sweet and clean, remembring always, so soon as you have made an end of your dirty work, to wash and dress your self neatly, titely and cleanly.

“Now if you be careful and diligent, and cleanly in performing this place, you will have notice taken of you, and you will be advanced to a higher and more profitable employment.” (The Compleat Maid-Servant, 1677)

In Sociable Letters, a kitchen maid (discussed in blog post 11) ascends socially to  become the lady of the house.   However, Margaret is describing, again comically, an unusual turn of events much like what happened when a laundress named Nan Clarges married the famed Civil War general George Monck.  Nan, so elevated, went on to become the Duchess of Albemarle.  Hannah Woolley no doubt expects that the kitchen maid she describes would only advance within the ranks of servants.

Margaret includes a set of poems on how Nature orders human life in Poems and Fancies (1653).     In “The Dissert,” for instance, the kisses of a newly establish couple are like marmalade and youth is like marzipan.

SWeet Marmalade of Kisses new gathered,
Preserv’d Children that are not Fathered:
Sugar of Beauty which melts away soon,
Marchpane of Youth, and Childish Macaroon.
Sugar Plum-words most sweet on the Lips,
And wafer Promises, which wast into Chips.

I especially like the preserved children who have no father.  I expect that these children are foundlings of the orchard, cherries and peaches which cannot be connected to any particular tree or grove.  There is, of course, a suggestion of actual illegitimate children.  Margaret’s oldest brother was one of these, but completely accepted by the family.

Hannah Wolley Ladies Directory 1662
Hannah Wolley’s The Ladies Directory, 1662


As Margaret’s poem may suggest, aristocratic ladies, and not just kitchen staff, took an active interest in preserving summer fruits.   With the advent of cheap and readily available sugar, it made sense to keep ones’s abundance of berries and peaches from simply rotting away.   At the same time, such wealth of fruit offered an opportunity to try out or create new recipes, as is implied in the title of Hannah Woolley’s The Ladies Directory in choice Experiments and Curiosities (1662).

The word “experiment” is still used today, often as a joke by amateur cooks to describe new culinary creations.  The joke derives from the fact that what is created in modern kitchens is not normally what we think of scientific experiment.  In Cavedish’s and Woolley’s day, however, an “experiment” in the kitchen might be simply a testing out of a new recipe.  That said, herbs were often used medicinally and simples grown in gardens were compounded together, according to John Evelyn, in “laboratories” also found in gardens.  William Cavendish, Margaret’s husband, apparently had some sort of laboratory in one of the niches in the garden wall at Bolsover Castle, though it was probably more oriented towards what we would call “hard science” than kitchen remedies.  Evelyn, by the way, was perhaps a bit ahead of his time in suggesting, as he does, that kitchens should be kept well away from the main house.

Bolsover wall niche with top window
Possible Location for Bolsover Castle Experiments

The following poem printed by Hannah Woolley as a preface to The Queen-like Closet (1670) extends the connection between cooking and medicine to include virtuoso science.  A closet was a small room in which amateur scientists (virtuosos) kept oddities and curiosities — often a mish-mash of objects with genuine scientific importance and conversation pieces.   Woolley’s title clearly attempts a connection to the highly successful Queen’s Closet Opened (1655), which purported to contain recipes from the dowager queen Henrietta Maria. Woolley knew how to situate her books for maximum sales, which is by no means to diminish these books themselves in any way.

LAdies, I do here present you
That which sure will well content you
A Queen-like Closet rich and brave;
Such not many Ladies have:
Or Cabinet in which doth set
Jems richer than in carcanet.
They only Eyes and Francies please,
These keep your Bodies in good ease.
They please the Taste, also the Eye.
Would I might be a stander by,
Yet rather I would wish to eat,
Since ’bout them I my Brains do beat.
And ’tis but Reason you may say,
If that I come within your way.
I sit here sad while you are merry,
Eating Dainties, drinking Perry.
But I’m content you should so feed,
So I may have to serve my need.

Margaret Cavendish also says that she “beats her brains,” which she does while engaged in writing and, I would guess, revision.  In the company of the Dutch virtuoso scientist Constantijn  Huygens, she conducted what may have been actual chemical experiments, and she was a woman who liked to create medicinal juleps.  Still,  Margaret was not a committed experimenter and preferred her science to derive from something like what Einstein called “thought experiments.”  That is, work in the laboratory of the mind.   I will confess that I am not quite sure how much time she spent cooking or supervising cooking, since her cooking references are so often either metaphorical or part of comic narratives.

Robert May Image largea
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1660

I will conclude this blog post with a consideration of two farcical fight scenes that  involve food.   In Letter 32 of Sociable Letters, a couple gives a dinner party but countermands each other’s orders to the cook. The husband asks the cook to deliver a “solid” English roast beef, but when it arrives the the wife cannot not abide its presence on the table because of its odor.  In a bid to elevate herself socially, she demands that the beef be replaced with a fancy French “quelquechose.”  Margaret tells us that the wife did not want to appear as a “country -Lady” but as a “courtier.”   The narrator finds the ensuing battle, in which dishes are thrown back and forth, enormously amusing, and the story makes one wonder if this sort of thing happened very often in actual life.

The second fight is one that is recommended (or perhaps imagined) by Robert May in The Accomplisht Cook (1660).  As prefatory matter for the book, he describes how a pastry sailing ship, a man of war, can  be made.

“MAke the likeness of a Ship in pasteboard, with flags and streamers, the guns belonging to it of Kickses.  Binde them about with pack thred, and cover them with course paste proportionable to the fashion of a Cannon with Carriages.  Lay them in places convenient as you see them in Ships of War, with such holes and trains of powder that they may all take fire.  Place your Ship firm in a great Charger.  Then make a salt round about it, and stick therein egg-shells full of sweet water.”

May goes on to suggest (perhaps as part of a male fantasy) that the ladies present should pelt one another with with the egg shells.

“The Ladies take the egg shells full of sweet waters and throw them at each other. All dangers being seemed over, by this time you may suppose they will desire to see what is in the pies, where lifting first the lid off one pie, out skips some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek.  Next after the other pie, whence comes out the Birds, who by a natural instinct flying at the light will put out the candles, so that what with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company.”

I wonder if this kind of hilarity ever transpired or if it was thought up by May and printed in his preface to secure purchases from people browsing in booksellers’ stalls. The publication date of the volume does mark the beginning of the Restoration and the reign of the “merry monarch,” Charles II, so May, like Woolley, appears to have known how to fit in with current trends.   By the way — the “Kickses” mentioned in the building of the pastry ship are probably “kickshaws,” which in turn derive their name from the word “quelquechose” — mentioned by Margaret in Sociable Letters.  It does look like she knew a bit of French.  Perry, mentioned in Woolley’s poem, was pear cider.

Queen's Closet Opened image
The Queen’s Closet Opened, First Edition 1655