Sisters of the Scabards

The Sisters of the Scabards
The Sisters of the Scabards

The Sisters of the Scabards Holiday is the title of a short pamphlet which was published in 1641 [SGC RBK S.372]. It was one of several satirical pamphlets which circulated in the summer of 1641 after Dr William Roane was disgraced and exiled from Doctors’ Commons (a college of lawyers who practised civil law). The charges of corruption and extortion brought by the Long Parliament against Roane and his fellow civil lawyers, John Lambe, John Farmery, Edmund Peirce and Clement Corbett, destroyed not only their own reputations but also undermined the authority of Doctors’ Commons itself.

The title employs a catchphrase, ‘Sister of the Scabard’, taken from a popular contemporary comedic play about a lawless gang self-styled the ‘Brothers and Sisters of…The Blade and the Scabberd’. The term quickly became a euphemism for a prostitute.

The pamphlet features two brothel-keepers named after areas of London – Mrs Bloomsbury and Mrs Long-acre. They are portrayed as good-humoured characters who tease one another about the size of their bellies after drinking lots of “fat-feeding ale”. They complain about the treatment they have received at the hands of the ‘Gentlemen Clarkes’. Mrs Long-acre describes how these men would get drunk, throw the brothel’s residents out on the street, leave without paying and then summon her  “to appeare in Pauls the next Court day, to answere for keeping a common bawdy-house”.  Forced to pay the officer of the court and the ‘Gentlemen Clarkes’ a hefty fine, she suggests that these actions were merely a money-making scam for the Doctors’ Commons lawyers in the long vacation.

The women conclude their conversation by planning to build a “Hospitall for all of our societie that are old and not able to keepe up trade” with the money they have saved now that they are no longer paying fines to corrupt lawyers.

Kelda Roe (Archives Assistant)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.