Dr. Sloane’s Advice in the Recipe Manuscripts of Henrietta Harley

By Lucy-Anne Judd

As part of my research exploring regional examples of receipt book manuscripts, I was intrigued and excited to discover here in Nottinghamshire further evidence of individuals recording the advice of Dr. Hans Sloane in local manuscripts such as those of Henrietta Harley (1694-1755), Countess of Oxford and Mortimer.

Henrietta Harley was the daughter of John Holles (1662-1711), 1st Duke of Newcastle (of the second creation) and Margaret Cavendish (1661-1716). In 1713, she rebelled against the wishes of her mother to marry Edward Harley (1689-1741), who later became Earl of Oxford. As a result of three generations of female inheritance along the Cavendish line in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, she became an heiress to great wealth, including the estate of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire.

Welbeck Abbey was significant in her life; she spent much of her childhood there, retired to it after the death of her husband, and then began restoring and preserving the estate she fondly regarded as ‘the Ancient Seat of the Cavendishe Family’.[i]  As part of this endeavour to restore Welbeck, Harley embarked upon her very own recipes project, and in 1743 set about compiling three ornate, separately-bound manuscript recipe volumes, with a total of 254 individual receipts. Amongst them, there are three medicinal recipes attributed to Sloane; one for a cold, another for a ‘Violent Cough’ and one described as ‘A Copy of S[i]r: Hans Sloans p[re]scription for a Tetterish Humour’.[ii]

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was a London doctor (of Irish birth) and botanist, as well as a prolific collector and compiler of recipes. Upon discovering recipes attributed to him in the Harley receipts, I began to explore his connection to the household in more detail and to question how Lady Harley came to adopt them into her own collection.

It might have been easy to identify this as an example of fluidity of recipes between print and manuscript, but further investigation highlighted that there were direct social interactions between Sloane and the Harley household, which would have facilitated the sharing of recipes between the two and which, I felt, warranted further exploration.

Subsequent local archival research uncovered evidence of at least three possible mediums for recipe transmission from Sloane to Harley:

  1. Sir Humfrey Wanley worked for the Harley’s establishing the Harleian Library, and had also previously worked for Hans Sloane. As a result of this mutual connection, there survives written correspondence from Wanley to Sloane which thanks him on behalf of Lord Oxford for sending a selection of his manuscripts. These donated manuscripts offer one possible source of the three Sloane-attributed receipts which appear in Henrietta’s medical volume.[iii]
  2. Evidence indicates Sloane was also directly involved in the medical treatment of members of the Harley family with a surviving document dated 1726 recording a fee of 30 guineas paid for inoculations performed.[iv] This supports a view that, in particular, the receipt highlighted as ‘A Copy of S[i]r Hans Sloans p[re]scription for a Tetterish Humour’, which has the initials ‘HS’ copied below and a date of May 1716, would have been copied directly from a prescription issued by Sloane. This theory is also in line with the recipe in question being more chemical in nature than is commonly found in the rest of the content.Hans Sloane - Tetterish Humour
  3. In 1741, correspondence from Henrietta Harley’s daughter, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, to her husband’s tutor, John Achard, indicates a visit to Sloane’s home with the specific intention of Achard ‘rummag[ing]’ Sloane’s collection in the hope ‘that [hers] will be much the better for it’.[v] As this only slightly predates the instigation of the Harley volumes, this attempt to rifle Sloane’s collections is a very likely source of the three highly prized recipes; two of which feature in the opening three folios of her volume of medical recipes.

In exploring correspondence and household documents in greater detail, we therefore find that there are a range of possible explanations for the presence of the Sloane-Harley recipe sharing connection which has been found in the recipe manuscripts of Henrietta Harley.

A connection via Edward Harley’s librarian, Sir Humfrey Wanley, subsequently led to the direct employment of Sloane in the treatment of the Harley household, and instigated a relationship that extended to subsequent generations through Henrietta’s daughter, who continued to actively seek and revere the expertise of Sloane. By exploring regional receipt book examples, we find we are able to gain increasing insight into the way that the advice of notable individuals such as Sloane, was disseminated into the domestic manuscripts and practices of provincial areas such as Nottingham, in the early modern period.

[i] [N]ottinghamshire [A]rchives, DD.5P.6/1/1

[ii] [U]niversity of [N]ottingham [M]anuscripts [A]nd [S]pecial [C]ollections, Pw V 123-125

[iii] British Library, Sloane MS 4044, ff. 178-179 (June 23, 1716)

[iv] UNMASC, Pl F1/3/2/13

[v] UNMASC, Pw C 47


One thought on “Dr. Sloane’s Advice in the Recipe Manuscripts of Henrietta Harley”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *