Exploring CPP 10a214: Pages from Gerard’s Herbal

By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn

In recent months, as part of our continuing exploration of the unique and marvelous manuscript at the College of Physicians, Hillary Nunn and I have been examining the nature of sources as they are or are not delineated in the collection. Whether divine (12/03/2013) or noble (09/04/2013) in origin, each recipe has revealed something about the nature of the overall collection at the same time it makes connections to other manuscripts in other repositories. This month, I have chosen to focus on two entries that leave no doubt to their origin, and, in naming their origin, point to the larger cultural practice by women in the period.

On folios 26 and 27 the compiler, “Cal: Downing,” records two wound remedies “probatum per” [proved by] Elizabeth Downing. The first is an oil made from St. John’s wort, the second a salve from English tobacco or henbane. Such wound recipes are common in seventeenth-century collections, but what is unusual is the addenda attached to the end of the recipes by either the compiler or by the source Elizabeth Downing. On page 26, the compiler writes, “Master Gerrard saith folio, 433, that it is good as any balsom and there is not a better oyle in the world”, and on page 27, “this Master Gerrard saith folio 285, hath gotten him both Crownes and Credit”. Upon investigation, I indeed found the recipes in the entries for the corresponding herbs on page 433 and 285 of the 1597 edition of John Gerard’s Herball, the most popular treatise on plants and their medicinal uses from the time.

I have shown elsewhere that women from the sixteenth and seventeenth century regularly owned/read large authoritative herbals. This instance and two others found since 2009 bring the total up to 28.[1] Recipe books provide regular evidence of this reading. Indeed, Elizabeth Digby’s “Receipts Approved by Persons of qualitie and iudgment” (1650) even contains the same directions for St. John’s Wort Oil as the CPP manuscript, as well as another “To make Gerrards excellent Balsome” made from Peruvian Henbane, or Tobacco proper.[2] Elaine Leong has analyzed Elizabeth Freke’s extensive copying of Gerard in the British Library collection.[3] The Wellcome Library, so often invoked in the Recipe Project, also has a “Booke of Hearbes and Receipts” (Wellcome MS 169), owned by Elizabeth Bulkeley and dated 1627, that begins with 23 Gerardian entries on common English plants.

The reasons for this general practice of copying could be indicative of thrift, a gift, or a means of rote memorization, but the Downing entries stand out in the way they cite the source, revealing the text behind the text. In citing Gerard’s authority, the compiler adds evidence to Elizabeth Downing’s “probatum,” or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Elizabeth Downing’s “probatum” adds proof to Gerard’s published assertion.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly posts on the topic.

[1] This blog entry extends the work of my introductory chapter in Medical Authority and Englishwomen’s Herbal Texts, 1550–1650 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2009) into our discoveries about CPP 10a214.
[2] British Library MS Egerton 2197, Images 38 and 25 in the database Defining Gender (Adam Matthews), Online.
[3] Elaine Leong, “Medical Recipe Collections in Seventeenth-Century England: Knowledge, Gender, and Text” (Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 2005/06). See also Elizabeth Freke, The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, 1671-1714, ed. Raymond A. Anselment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the Royal Historical Society, 2001).


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