Lady Fanshawe: Small spaces and Ale

Ann, Lady Fanshawe
Ann, Lady Fanshawe

In comparison to other 17th-century women, there are more written traces of Ann, Lady Fanshawe and her life. However, we know little about her day-to-day activities and the extent to which she personally managed her household’s poultry flocks is not known. Despite this, she seems to have impressed Sir Kenelm Digby, (a courtier and intellectual) enough to merit mention in one of his books. Her method of keeping the chickens drunk on liquor or strong ale in order to encourage them to eat and put on weight was in use through the late Victorian period (see Mrs E. Feather), though in a less intensive form. What seems most out of step with current welfare expectations is the very small space allotted to the chickens. Later writers, including Isabella Beeton (who published on household management), would rail against the practice of keeping chickens shut up in tiny spaces and insist that they be let out to scratch.

Although Sir Digby’s passage on Lady Fanshawe’s technique is mainly about fattening (a focus of his book was meat cookery), it seems likely that an increase in egg-laying would result from using artificial light during hours of darkness. There seems little doubt that Lady Fanshawe could have used the technique for reasons of productivity apart from increasing the weight of her birds, but alas, The Closet is not forthcoming on other aspects of poultry husbandry.

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Sir Kenelm Digby
Sir Kenelm Digby

Sir Kenelm Digby was born in 1603 at Gayhurst in Buckinghamshire. Raised as a Roman Catholic, he won renown in a variety of scholarly fields and was knighted by King James I despite his father’s role in the Gunpowder Plot.

Digby, K. 1669, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, London: H. Brome. Page 275.