Category Archives: Libraries, Archives & Museums

Exploring CPP 10a214: A Map of the Neighborhood

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

Since last March, Rebecca Laroche and I have been using this forum to test out our various theories about one mid-seventeenth-century manuscript held at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia owned by Anne Layfield and dated 1640. Last month, Rebecca continued to explore religious and social networks that could have connected Anne’s presumed husband Edmund Layfield to the Wilmer family – connections that my posting on 8/10/2013 began to trace.

Church affiliations – specifically to Stratford-le-Bow and St. Leonard-of-Bromley – underlie many of our assertions about social networks. I posited that the “Mrs. Wilmer” mentioned in the CPP manuscript could be connected to George Wilmer of Stratford-le-Bowe, whose will, dated 1626, includes an E. “Layfield” of St. Leonard-of-Bromley as witness. Rebecca’s research revealed that one of Layfield’s published sermons is dedicated to a widow Wilmer of Bowe.

In the CPP manuscript, a number of recipes crystalize around the location Stratford-le-Bowe. Of the five recipes filling pages 61 and 62, three feature attributions to women associated with Bowe. Mistress Egglesfield of Bowe contributes a cure “For a weake backe or consumption,” while Mistress Wilmer of Bowe’s name appears after recipes formulated “To cause to avoyde grauell” and “To driue away small pocks or measles.” Interestingly, only a recipe featuring a probatum per “Eliza: Downing” separates the two recipes identified with Mistress Wilmer’s name.

This cluster within the manuscript raises tempting questions about the compiler’s relationship with the environs of Bowe. As the map indicates, Stratford le Bowe directly borders on Bromley, suggesting that the recipe manuscript mirrors the relationship between the Layfields at St. Leonard-of-Bromley and the Wilmers of Bowe indicated by George Wilmer’s will.

1805 Ordnance Survey First Series

While this map – a section of the 1805 Ordnance Survey, First Series – post-dates the CPP manuscript by more than a century, it provides a clear sense of a neighborhood that influences the recipe book’s compiler. We know, for example, that a Mrs. Twayne of Hackney, a town just to the northwest, provided a cough syrup recipe recorded on page 54. The proximity of the two towns also reinforces the likelihood of a connection between Calybute Downing’s family in Hackney and the Layfields in Bromley.

But why the clustering of the Stratford-le-Bowe recipes? Tempting as it is to see this concentration of recipes from the same place as evidence of a travel pattern – whether it be a visit or an outright relocation – such conclusions remain speculative. Yet the possibility remains that further research, whether in church documents or other domestic texts, might yield more concrete notations of date and location that run parallel to this cluster, allowing us to come to forge more solid conclusions of the communication patterns reflected in the CPP manuscript.

This continues an ongoing blog conversation about the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Manuscript 10a214.

The Adventure of the Vanished Recipes

By Anke Timmermann

One of the great perks of a fellowship relating to specific manuscript collections is dedicated archive time. One is at leisure to look at manuscripts from cover to cover, stroll through the pages and discover new things – an experience akin to an unguided walk through a foreign city, as opposed to an organised guided tour of its best features. So I keep coming across scores of little or unknown alchemical recipes on a daily basis!

But no good research experience goes unpunished.

My journey through Cambridge manuscripts is goal-oriented; in addition to case studies, I am drawing up a catalogue of alchemy in Cambridge collections. Most of the recipes I now find myself in the need of documenting have never been recorded before. Like those who have gone before me,[1] I find that recipes in particular slow down my progress… And though comprehensiveness and sanity seem to be incompatible, one fact remains: if the bibliography is to be both consistent and useful, it must be based on the complex task of simplification.

A model for the cataloguing of recipes is difficult to identify. Many existing catalogues do not capture recipes at all, while others record them collectively and generically (e.g. as ‘ff. 50r-76v: Recipes’), but do not recognise or describe them individually. On their journey from manuscript to catalogue, recipes often perform a disappearing act. Many await scholarly rescue from obscurity. Who knows what recipes we will find in the manuscripts themselves? One is almost (almost!) reminded of the now-famous fourteenth century cookbook rediscovered in the British Library (Geoffrey Fule’s cookbook, England, mid-14th century), from which the following image is taken.

London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, here f. 138r: The remains of a grilled unicorn. Click the image to get to the related BL Medieval Manuscripts Blog post. Republished with the permission of the British Library.
London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, here f. 138r: The remains of a grilled unicorn, a reminder of the fate of lost recipes? Click on the image to get to the related BL Medieval Manuscripts Blog post (mind the date…).
Republished with the permission of the British Library.

It would be easy to criticise the mentioned type of bibliographies for their treatment of recipes, but that would be both historically insensitive and uncharitable. Their practices often developed in a bibliographical tradition focused on names and titles (and thus oblivious to texts perceived to be minor, including recipes), or were born out of common sense in service of the reader. Given the constraints of time, money and space that apply to most cataloguing projects, it is by far better to produce a wide-ranging resource on time than to spend the same amount of time to describe selected items in much detail, perhaps even risking the appearance of the resource altogether.

For new bibliographies there is always scope for reflection and improvement. As a historian of alchemy working on Cambridge manuscripts I may look towards some excellent recent developments. Several bibliographies in the history of science in print and digital form have made successful attempts to grasp recipes and other anonymous, practical texts.[2] There have also been fresh bibliographical accounts of Cambridge manuscript collections, with different foci on individual repositories, collections or aspects of manuscripts.[3]

And finally, this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of a seminal article on the cataloguing of recipes by one of the editors of the Index of Middle English Prose, Kari Anne Rand.[4] Rand mentions that, due to the editorial procedure enforced for the IMEP, Elredge’s 1992 volume on the Bodleian Library’s Ashmole Collection[5] was unable to record approximately 4,480 recipes. The implications of this large number of silent recipe witnesses for unknown material in other archives are staggering. I refer the interested reader to the article for further information. For finishing today’s post, however, I will borrow from its conclusion, with a hopeful outlook for the future as pertinent today as it was two decades ago:

On the basis of the experience of the last fifteen years and given all the possibilities inherent in electronic publishing, it should be possible to produce an even better […] [bibliography] – one which is more inclusive and caters for more needs.[6]


[1] See bibliographies relating to Cambridge University Library manuscript collections are introduced here; further noteworthy are M.R. James’s catalogues for college libraries e.g. for St Johns’s and Trinity College.

[2] A fairly recent example in this subject area is the expanded and revised version of Linda Ehrsam Voigts and Patricia Deery Kurtz, Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000) (eVK2).

[3] Most notable in recent years for images in Cambridge manuscripts are P. Binski, P N. R. Zutshi, and S. Panayotova, Western Illuminated Manuscripts: A Catalogue of the Collection in Cambridge University Library (Cambridge: CUP, 2011); K.L. Scott, and A.E. Nichols, An Index of Images in English Manuscripts from the Time of Chaucer to Henry Viii, C. 1380-C. 1509: I (London: Miller, 2008).

[4] K.A. Rand Schmidt, ‘The index of Middle English prose and late medieval English recipes’, English Studies, 75:5 (1994): 423-429.

[5] L.M. Eldredge, A Handlist of Manuscripts Containing Middle English Prose in the Ashmole Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1990).

[6] Rand, p. 429.

Following a Recipe through Different Manuscripts

By Catherine Rider

Recently I’ve been looking through medieval recipe collections for remedies and tests relating to infertility, the subject of my new research project.  At first I was looking for any remedies, from the fairly mundane (mares’ milk) to the ones that look more exotic, at least to modern eyes (numerous animal testicles and a few charms) but recently I’ve taken a more targeted approach, comparing the different manuscripts of a single recipe collection to see if the infertility recipes change as the collections were copied.  I’m hoping that these changes will tell me something about the priorities of the various different copyists and owners of the manuscripts, and so shed light on how infertility remedies may have been used in practice – or at least, how the scribes who were paid to copy collections of recipes thought they might be used.  Monica Green has taken a similar approach to manuscripts of gynaecological texts in her book Making Women’s Medicine Masculine.[1]

I started this when I noticed that a few collections included recipes which assumed the man would take a role in seeking or administering a cure for infertility.  For example one recipe to aid conception in the Liber de Diversis Medicinis (Book of Diverse Medicines), an English recipe collection published by Margaret Ogden from a fifteenth-century manuscript, opens with the heading ‘If a man will that a woman conceive a child soon.’[2]  This interested me because it’s often assumed that in the Middle Ages infertility was seen as a female condition and women therefore bore much of the responsibility for seeking treatment, and yet here we have the suggestion that a man might take the initiative in seeking a remedy.  I wondered how typical it was.  One way to find out was to look at the other manuscripts and see if they kept the same heading, or substituted a different one.

The Liber de Diversis Medicinis was a good collection to start with because it was quite widely copied: the volume of the Manual of the Writings in Middle English dedicated to scientific and medical texts listed sixteen manuscripts, and several were in London or Cambridge and so fairly easily accessible for me.  I spent some time in the British Library and a couple of Cambridge college libraries, checking their copies against Ogden’s edition; I still need to get to Oxford, Durham and Manchester for the rest.  Many of them look a bit like this – a 15th-century recipe book in the Wellcome Library:

L0000832 Receipts for cataract and teeth whitening
15h-century leechbook. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London

The first thing I noticed was the sheer amount of difference between manuscripts.  Scholars have often noted that medieval recipe collections display significant variations between manuscripts and in the case of the Liber de Diversis Medicinis the differences were very large. One fifteenth-century manuscript in the British Library (Egerton MS 833) omitted a large section of the collection, including the infertility recipes – although this may have been because pages had been lost from the manuscript, or from the exemplar copied by the scribe, rather than because the scribe had decided not to copy them.  Another British Library manuscript (Royal MS 17.A.VIII) included only a few remedies for each ailment, rather than the much greater number of possibilities recorded in the manuscript used by Ogden.  Moreover, the infertility remedies it gave were very different, as were the headings used to introduce them.  Gone was the recipe for a man who wanted a woman to conceive soon, and instead there was a heading which encompassed both sexes: ‘To do a man gete child and a woman bere child.’[3]

Another manuscript again (British Library MS Sloane 962) included a recipe for conception in Latin alongside the English ones.  Switching between languages is not unusual in medieval recipe manuscripts but it still tells us something about the scribe and the person who owned it – both had at least a basic knowledge of Latin, the language of university medicine, which suggests this manuscript is more likely to have been aimed at a male medical practitioner than an interested amateur.

So far, though, I haven’t found another manuscript which includes Ogden’s heading, aimed at a man who wants a woman to conceive, so perhaps the idea that a man might take the initiative was unusual after all.

I’m still thinking about what all this means and how significant these variations are.  In some cases variations may be the result of missing pages in a manuscript, or simple miscopying.  Even when they are not, it is difficult to tell how far scribes were consciously making these changes in order to adapt the text to the needs of a new reader – one who could read Latin, for example, or one who imagined that men would come seeking help to make their wives conceive.  However, in most cases these manuscripts do show us scribes who did not copy blindly, but rather were familiar enough with recipes to change things in ways that made sense to them.   By tracking these variations I’m hoping to uncover as many medieval attitudes to infertility and its treatment as possible.


[1] Monica Green, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[2] The Liber de Diversis Medicinis in the Thornton Manuscript (MS Lincoln Cathedral A.5.2)¸ ed. Margaret Sinclair Ogden, Early English Texts Society original series 207 (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), p. 56.

[3] London, British Library MS Royal 17.A.VIII, f. 63v.

An early modern Portuguese recipe book of pharmaceutical “secrets”

By Amy Buono

Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil compostas e experimentadas pelos melhores medicos e Boticarios mais celebres que tem havido nestas partes aumentada com alguns indices, e noticias muito curiozas, e necessarias para a boa direcção e acerto contra as enfermidades. En Roma, An.M.DCC.LXVI, com todas as licenças necessarias, 20 X 13, 5 cm, 603 p.  [1766]

Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil...1766 [Manuscript Opp. NN. 17, ARSI, Rome]
Colleçção de varias receitas de segredos particulares des principaes boticas da nossa companhia de Portugal, da Índia, de Macao e do Brasil…1766 [Manuscript Opp. NN. 17, ARSI, Rome]
The Collection of various recipes of unique secrets from the most important pharmacies of our Society in Portugal, India, Macao, and Brazil, 1766, also known as Opp. NN. 17  is a Jesuit manuscript of medical recipes today housed in the Archivum Romanus Societatis Iesu (ARSI), the central Jesuit archive in Rome. Of interest to scholars of the Society of Jesus and to historians of colonial medicine alike, the 603-page compilation of recipes offers scholars a glimpse into the process of gathering medicinal knowledge from local healers in missionary settings, and then disseminating it via a systematized volume of indexed recipes for the Jesuit’s Portuguese-speaking unit. Among the highlights of the collection are its various recipes for compounding theriacs, medicaments against snake-bites and other poisons.

Though dated to 1766, the volume probably collates recipes collected over the previous two centuries within the “Portuguese Assistancy,” ­­ the oldest of the four territorial and linguistic administrative units of the Jesuit Order, and its most powerful in the early modern period due to strong patronage by the Portuguese Crown. In principle, the Society of Jesus was organized as a centralized command structure in which all data flowed to and from Rome. In practice, however, information and objects  from the Portuguese missions in Brazil, India, Macao (including letters detailing local life, medicinal recipes, natural historical knowledge, maps, and indigenous art) circulated semi-autonomously units, often bypassing the hub of Rome.[1] These internal, Portuguese-language based networks thus offer scholars fascinating insight into how locally-specific medical knowledge moved into wider, global circuits of the early modern world, and how the Jesuit Order’s Portuguese Assistancy acted as a surrogate to the Portuguese Empire.

I am at work on a translation and critical edition of Opp. NN. 17, which will be published with an Introduction, and three accompanying contextual essays by historians of medicine of early modern India, Brazil, and Macao. The aim is to make available to historians of the early modern period not just the particular recipes, but also an exemplary case study of how botanical ingredients entered the market, and how technical and experimental knowledge shaped medical practice within the ambit of the Portuguese Assistancy. Of particular interest to me personally is the discussion within the manuscript about profit-making, which reminds us that materia medica and pharmacies were very much seen as money-making concerns for the Jesuit order.  These issues show up in suggestions about omitting particularly effective but very costly ingredients from recipes and the necessity for protecting pharmaceutical secrets so as to maximize the revenue stream. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

In these blog postings I hope to provide some musings on both the process of creating a translation and critical edition, and on the Jesuit process of “building” a Portuguese-language recipe book of secrets.

[1] Ines G. Zupanov, Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India, 16th-17th Centuries, History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 4.