Tag Archives: early print

Old Cookbooks, New Audiences

By Sarah Peters Kernan

In my last post I mentioned that relatively few medieval cookbooks included menus for actual events. The ones that did were typically included in cookeries originally composed for noble households; by the fifteenth century, these cookeries were being used by gentry and professional households as aspirational texts. That is, readers would use these cookbooks to learn about the foods served in the social class to which they aspired.[1] This continued into the early years of printing. In England, Richard Pynson printed the first vernacular cookery in 1500, based on recipes originally circulated in manuscript form.[2] Despite being a printed book, the Book of Cookery is very similar to typical medieval cookeries. The size of the book and appearance of the text mirrors many fifteenth-century manuscript cookeries. The black gothic typeface is unadorned, nary a decorated capital or border in sight. Clearly differentiating the printed text from a manuscript one is the lack of rubrication, which speckles so many handwritten recipes.

Printer's mark of Richard Pynson.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Printer’s mark of Richard Pynson. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Book of Cookery begins with the menus of several fourteenth and fifteenth-century noble feasts: one hosted by Henry IV at a Smithfield joust, the coronation feast of Henry V, a feast of the Earl of Huntingdon at Calais, a feast held for the king in London by the Earl of Warwick, the installation feast of Bishop Clifford in London, and an installation feast for the Archbishop of York in 1465.[3] The author describes several other untitled feasts before discussing dishes appropriate for various seasons. Following this calendar, which also serves as a recipe index, the author provides 275 recipes for dishes familiar to late medieval nobles. The text is filled with high status birds and fish fit for noble tables.

Longleat House. John Edward Jackson, The History of Longleat (Devizes, 1857), 10. Source: The British Library.

The Book of Cookery now exists as a unique copy in the library of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House. It is bound with a fragment of a tract, also printed by Pynson in 1500.[4] This text, Remembraunce for the traduction of the Princesse Kateryne, lists noblemen and women assigned to escort Catherine of Aragon through England upon her arrival from Spain in 1501 for her marriage to Prince Arthur. Only two leaves of the tract are bound with the Book of Cookery. This tract presents an interesting counterpoint to the cookbook, as the list of nobles seems an appropriate way to conclude a book which begins with descriptions of feasts for or hosted by specific nobles in the preceding century.

I have located a reference to one other copy of the 1500 edition of the Book of Cookery in a list of books in the possession of James Morice, a gentleman in the service of Lady Margaret Beaufort.[5] Morice recorded a list of his twenty-three books in his copy of Cicero’s De senectute. His copy was bound with seven other texts, including books on courtesy, carving, and verse.[6] Morice’s books appealed to nobles and gentry refining their manners and intelligence.

Shortly after he printed the Book of Cookery, Pynson moved his printing shop inside the city of London and became the royal printer.[7] He printed a variety of texts and genres within the reading preferences of professionals, gentry, and nobles. His wholesale book prices reflected this range, priced between 20 d and 10 s, with most valued at 2 s.[8] The Book of Cookery was probably priced at 2 s. Given that 2 s was the equivalent of four days wages for a master craftsmen, the Book of Cookery was an expensive book, though still more affordable than manuscript cookeries.[9]

Once printed, the Book of Cookery made a noble manuscript cookery available to a larger number of people. Such a book would appeal to noble households as a tool for planning meals, as well as gentlemen aspiring to be more like their social superiors. The cookery’s incipit specifically targets these higher status readers rather than reaching out to a broad audience. Neither Pynson nor any other hand involved in the printing changed the incipit to reflect a desire to reach a new audience. Pynson’s output also targeted a higher status audience, one that encompassed professionals, gentry, and nobles. The tract fragment bound with the extant Book of Cookery also suggests a gentry or noble reader who wanted or needed information about Catherine of Aragon’s travels. Additionally, the two known copies of the book were housed in the private libraries of noble estates. It is notable that the extant copy of the book was consistently preserved in an estate library, passed down through several generations.

The Book of Cookery is an excellent example of the way readers used cookbooks at the turn of the sixteenth century, devouring menus and recipes to learn how to imitate higher social classes.



[1] Sarah Peters Kernan, “‘For al them that delight in Cookery’: The Production and Use of Cookery Books in England, 1300–1600” (PhD diss., The Ohio State University, 2016).

[2] Here begynneth a noble boke of festes ryalle and Cokery (London: Richard Pynson, 1500). Henceforth I will refer to this book as the Book of Cookery. For the book’s manuscript sources, see Constance Hieatt, “Richard Pynson’s Noble Boke of Festes Ryalle and Cokery and its Relationship to Two Analogous Manuscripts,” Journal of the Early Book Society 1 (1997), 78–95; Robina Napier, ed., A Noble Boke off Cookry ffor a Prynce Houssolde or eny other Estately Houssolde; Reprinted Verbatim from a Rare MS. in the Holkham Collection (Elliot Stock, 1882).

[3] Book of Cookery, fols. aiir–avir.

[4] Kate Harris, “Richard Pynson’s Remembraunce for the Traduction of the Princesse Kateryne: the Printer’s Contribution to the Reception of Catharine of Aragon,” The Library XII, no. 2 (June 1990): 99.

[5] J. C. T. Oates, “English Bokes Concernyng to James Morice,” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 3, no. 2 (1960), 124–32.

[6] Oates, 130–31.

[7] Frank Burgoyne, “Printers of England, I.—Richard Pynson,” The Library Assistant: The Official Organ of the Library Assistants’ Association IV (1905): 148.

[8] Henry Plomer, “Two Lawsuits of Richard Pynson,” The Library X, no. 38 (April 1909): 126–27. The “d” is an abbreviation for pence. There were twelve pence in one shilling (s), and twenty shillings in one pound.

[9] “Prices & Wages (Munro),” MEMDB: Medieval and Early Modern Data Bank, http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/memdb/.

Renewing Old Text: A Recipe in The Art of Limming (1573)

By Carrie Griffin

The anonymously-authored treatise entitled The Art of Limming (STC 24252), first printed in London in 1573 (‘In Flete strete … at the signe of the Hande & starre by Richard Tottill’)[1] is comprised of just twelve leaves. It purports to appeal specifically to the gentrified reader: the title-page advertises the book and its contents as ‘verye meete and necessary to be knowne to all such all gentlemen, and other persons as doe delight in limming, painting or in tricking of armes in their colours, and therefore a woorke very meete to be adioyning to the bookes of armes’. The Art of Limming, then, identifies its target audience as the gentleman reader, or all those who ‘delight’ in the arts of book-decoration or colouration, specifically mentioning those readers who wish to trick, or tint, their own heraldic devices; indeed the treatise self-advertises as a companion volume to book of arms. The preface also points to the creation of books (or, at least, retains that as a possibility) rather than the decoration of existing books that may or may not be printed, stating that the work to follow on the mixing of colours and metals ‘to write or to limme withall vppon velym, parchment or paper, and how to lay them vppon the worke which thou intendest to make’.

My interest in the treatise is connected to its retrospective quality: how it imagines the manuscript text or book, or features of the manuscript book or document. Books, and in particular well-thumbed household volumes, miscellanies and commonplace books, must have been particularly in need of restoration and care, or renewal. Several of the recipes in this treatise facilitate not just the creation of new books in the old style, but they acknowledge the practice of renewing and regeneration of older books and aspects of manuscript books and documents that may have been more susceptible to the ravages of time. One recipe promises ‘To renew olde and worne letters’:

Take of [th]e best galles[2] you can get & bruse them grosly then lay them to steepe one day in good whyte wine. This done distill them with the wyne, and with the distilled water that commeth of them, you shal wet handsomly the olde letters with a little cotton or a small pencel, & they will shewe freshe & newe again in suche wyse as you may easely reade them [Sig. C3].

some gall nuts ...
some gall nuts …

The rendering of this type of instruction in print and, more specifically, in blackletter, indicates a material interest in the preservation of the methods by which manuscript books are newly-created but also conserved and recovered. It also indicates the debt owed by the printed book to the text in manuscript: in the relatively early days of this new technology, the older material that circulated in manuscript was the bread and butter of the print trade. Printed texts depended on texts in manuscript, and this reality finds wonderful expression in tracts like The Art of Limming. The recipe quoted here is evocative not just of the stresses to which some material in manuscript was subject (we know that pages or text – especially in devotional MSS – were sometimes rubbed, stroked or kissed, but also that everyday use led to wear and fading) but concerns for the stability and integrity of the handwritten text.

Worn Text from London, BL Add. 39636, f. 1v (www.bl.uk). Used under creative commons licence.
Worn Text from London, BL Add. 39636, f. 1v (www.bl.uk).

Manuscript conservation methods have undoubtedly moved on in leaps and bounds since the 1500s; I would be keen to hear from anyone who is brave enough to try this recipe on a manuscript … !

Carrie Griffin, Univeristy of Bristol. Carrie is currently collaborating with Dr Michael Johnston, Purdue University, on a project to catalogue codicological recipes in manuscript. See her last post for the Recipes Project, which was on ink, here


[1] The text went through at least five editions, being reprinted in 1581, 1583, 1588 and 1596.

[2] Probably gall-nuts, which were commonly used in the production of ink.