Sweet Bag

A beautiful embroidered purse.

Sweet Bag, dating from the late 1500s

The bag is made from satin, silk and metal thread, with embroidered decoration and silver spangles. A long,  drawstring allowed it to be carried around the wrist but its delicate nature meant it was unlikely to have been used every day. It is more likely to have been worn on special occasions, when there were plenty of others to admire it.

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice is ill with a cold in one scene. Her friends, suspecting she is actually lovesick, jokingly suggest the plant ‘carduus benedictus’- meaning Benedick- is the cure. Bags like this one probably carried sweet-smelling herbs believed to guard against illness. Such bags also sometimes held dried flowers or perfumed powder. They were probably held to the nose so the wearer could inhale as required.

To find out more about the Sweet Bag, see the ‘Shakespeare’s World in 100 objects’ blog: http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-world-in-100-objects-number-59-a-sweet-bag