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18 September 2014
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The Virtual Trail of Sir Kenelm Digby

A historical research adventure
By Dr John Arnold

Wine bottles, plus signature of Sir Kenelm Digby
Cook up your own history trail by gathering historical evidence, and using it to answer questions that you have set for yourself.

We'll help you with some clues to get you going, and there's a link to our own report to look at when you have finished.

All the sources in this particular historical trail are websites, so there's no need to leave your desk. As you explore the sources, you may also learn some interesting things about 17th-century history which you didn't even know were there.

Our starting point is the recipe shown below, from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, published in 1669.

The book is a collection of Digby's favourite recipes, covering dishes from stews and roasts to pies and jams, and including instructions for making more than 80 varieties of mead - a strong brew fermented from honey.


'Cut pieces of quick, fat, rich well tasted cheese (as the best of Brye, Cheshire or sharp thick Cream-Cheese) into a dish of thick beaten melted Butter, that hath served for Sparages or the like, or pease, or other boiled Sallet, or ragout of meat, or gravy of Mutton:

'and, if you will, Chop some of the Asparages among it, or slices of Gambon of Bacon, or fresh-collops, or Onions; or Sibboulets, or Anchovis, and set all this to melt upon a Chafing-dish of Coals, and stir all well together, to Incorporate them; and when all is of an equal consistence, stew some gross White-Pepper on it, and eat it with tosts or crusts of White-bread.

'You may scorch it at the top with a hot Fire-Shovel.'

The challenge

Who exactly was this 17th-century Jamie Oliver?

Your challenge is to find the key facts about Sir Kenelm Digby, using information from the websites suggested below. Make a note or two about what seem to you the most significant or interesting facts. Compare what you find at one site with what you found at another. Weigh up the facts you've learned. Are they reliable?

Finally, pull your findings together into a short report - no more than half a dozen bullet points - about Sir Kenelm's life and times.

The links below show some recommended websites - but do look at others if you want to. Before you set off it would be a good idea to add this page to your browser's list of favourites or bookmarks, so you can get back here quickly.

At each site, make sure you don't just look at the first page you come to. Follow links to any other pages that look promising. Take your time and browse, keep your wits about you. If you want to see what we found out, look at the report.

Biography of Sir Kenelm Digby

Portraits of Sir Kenelm Digby in the National Portrait Gallery

Biography of Sir Everard Digby

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Uncovering Sources
Historian's Role
Testing the Evidence
Oral History

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