A hand­writ­ten 17th-cen­tury book of recipes, house­hold tips and medic­i­nal po­tions gave his­to­rian a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the life of the woman be­hind it

The Mail on Sunday - You - - LIFE STORY -

If you had to leave your home with no more than a few hours’ no­tice, forced out by war or the risk of fire, what would you take with you? Nowa­days, we can carry ad­dresses, fam­ily pho­tos, love let­ters (or texts) and favourite mu­sic and books with us any­where on our smart­phones, but in the 17th cen­tury – and up un­til only a decade ago – peo­ple es­cap­ing im­pend­ing dis­as­ter would have had to choose: a wed­ding pic­ture, their aunt’s cake recipe, a scrap­book or book of po­ems; those pre­cious re­minders of our lives and the se­cret selves that make up who we are.

When Ann Har­ri­son (later Fan­shawe) was 17, in early 1643, her fa­ther sent for her and her younger sis­ter Mar­garet to join him at Charles I’s court-in-ex­ile at Ox­ford. The king had fled Lon­don the pre­vi­ous year, declar­ing war against his un­ruly Par­lia­ment, and the first in­con­clu­sive bat­tle of what would be­come the English Civil War was fought at Edge­hill, in ru­ral War­wick­shire, that Oc­to­ber. Ann’s el­der brother Si­mon was al­ready with the king’s army, and her fa­ther had man­aged to evade ar­rest at his Lon­don house, slip­ping away from the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans by promis­ing to fetch them im­por­tant papers they wanted per­tain­ing to the royal fi­nances.

Ann and Mar­garet had re­mained at Balls Park, the beau­ti­ful house their fa­ther had re­cently built out­side Hert­ford, paid for with the for­tune he’d amassed dur­ing more than 20 years as a cus­toms of­fi­cer in the king’s ser­vice. There, their fa­ther hoped, the sis­ters would be safe. But times were chang­ing; bands of men op­posed to the king be­gan roam­ing the coun­try­side, search­ing houses for weapons and money they could con­fis­cate in Par­lia­ment’s name. Two young girls were too vul­ner­a­ble to be left alone. So Ann and Mar­garet rode 70 miles on horse­back through a chill Fe­bru­ary into the un­known. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing them were two male ser­vants who car­ried their few pos­ses­sions in cloak bags.

Their lodg­ings at the makeshift royal cap­i­tal of Ox­ford were noth­ing like the com­forts of Balls Park. ‘From as good a house as any gen­tle­man of Eng­land had, we came to lie in a very bad bed in a gar­ret, to one dish of meat, and that not the best or­dered, no money,’ wrote Ann, years later, ‘for we were as poor

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