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).

Exploring CPP 10a214: The Compiler and the Countess

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

Last month, Rebecca Laroche (12/03/2013) examined the first recipe in a manuscript owned by Anne Layfielde and dated 1640, housed at the Medical Historical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  The section of the manuscript compiled by one “Cal: Downing” contains a remarkable number of attributions, many to Elizabeth Downing – a woman who, Rebecca suggested, could be the “Mistress Downing” whose recipes appear in the printed Natura Exenterata: Or Nature Unbowelled (1655).

I’d like to consider another woman whose name appears repeatedly in the Layfielde manuscript as well as in printed medical manuals: the Countess of Exeter.  Seven references to the Countess of Exeter appear in CPP 10a214.  While the manuscript never says so specifically, this is most likely Frances Cecil (1580-1663), who married Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter in 1610.[1]  The Countess’s reputation in matters of health proved weighty enough that she is named in the dedications to a number of early modern printed books, though, curiously, her recipes are not part of those books (and male physicians’ are). Thomas Bonham dedicates The Chyrurgians Closet to the Countess because he finds “amongst men (to me known) none so much affecting this noble Science as I could wish.”[2] Her reputation as a model household manager led Gervase Markham to dedicate the 1623 edition of Country Contentments, or The English Huswife to her; his assertion that the Countess’s endorsement could make his “weak and disable[d]” book “strong in the world” underscores her long-standing reputation as a practitioner of household medicine.[3]  Thus, even though the Countess’s recipes themselves are not included, or at least not credited, in these books, their authors rely on her popular reputation as a medical practitioner to situate their writings.

Downing’s manuscript section calls on the Countess’s authority as well, naming her as a source for recipes for ailments ranging from “looseness of the body” to sudden swellings.  And even more interestingly, the manuscript labels four recipes as “probatum per Countess of Exeter.”  A recipe for “the Ulcer or stone in the bladder” goes so far as to specify that the medicine was “made by Mr Whatton apothecary of Stamford, probatum per Countess Exeter.” This endorsement carries a personal ring, suggesting that the compiler’s contact with the Countess is more immediate than with the apothecary.  The manuscript, as a result, conjures images of the compiler and the Countess in personal conversation about their medical work.

While written testimonials could certainly follow along with well-travelled recipes, the Layfielde manuscript’s many references to the Countess raise tantalizing questions about the compiler’s medical connections.  How closely did the compiler know the Countess?  Did they exchange recipes in person?  If not, how did her recipes end up in the CPP manuscript?  The answers to these tantalizing questions could offer us a greater understanding not just of how recipes travel, but of how manuscript and print worked together to lend practitioners like the Countess a reputation for medical prowess.

[1] Alastair Bellany, ‘Cecil , Frances, countess of Exeter (1580–1663)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/70625, accessed 23 March 2013]

[2]  Thomas Bonhman, The Chyrurgians Closet (London, 1630).

[3]  Gervase Markham, Country Contentments, or The English Huswife (London, 1623).

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

Exploring CPP 10a214: The Angel (not) in the Recipe

By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn

Last month, Hillary Nunn (20/02/21013) introduced our series of entries that are considering an exceptional manuscript owned by one Anne Layfielde and dated 1640 housed at the Medical Historical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  Our interest in the manuscript stems largely from the remarkable number of attributions the section compiled by one “Cal: Downing” records.  Over 100 of the 134 recipes written in that hand have some version of a “probatum per” or “proven by” attached to them.  The first recipe, “To make an excellent Salue called Flos vnguentorum,” along with 41 others, is attributed to a woman named Elizabeth Downing.

Recipes for “Flos Unguentorum” or “The Flower of Ointments” are ubiquitous in various versions throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The version in The College of Physicians manuscript begins “Take Rosen & Perosen of each / halfe a pound.”  The reader is thereafter instructed to heat together several gums and powders with “virgin wax,” which are cooled “till [the mixture] be bloode warme.”[1] The page following these directions is dedicated completely to “the vertues of this salue,” which include, among many others, the curing of “old wounds,” head aches, and hemorrhoids.

Now I mentioned briefly back in October (18/10/2012) that the Elizabeth Downing who is the source of so many recipes in this manuscript may have some connection to the “Mistress Downing” named thirteen times throughout the print collection Natura Exenterata: Or Nature Unbowelled (1655), and a couple of the print recipes do have suggestive overlapping ingredients and wording with recipes from the Layfielde collection. Natura Exenterata, which is clearly connected to the House of Arundel through its front matter, also includes a recipe for “Flos Vnguentorum” (but one not attributed to Mistress Downing) in which the virtues and directions are reversed, but the directions are almost exactly the same, starting with like ingredients, including an allusion to blood temperature, and ending with the directions to put the salve into rolls for the later use of the practitioner.

The Arundel example, however, includes one detail in its list of virtues not found in Layfielde manuscript: “it cometh of Jesu Christi by an Angell to a house of Religion at the red hill in Almayn [Germany], which wrought there many marvails.”[2] A third manuscript, an anonymous one found at Bryn Mawr dated 1649 (before the print text) also includes the recipe for the flower of ointments, one which almost exactly corresponds to the recipe in Natura Exenterata and includes the origin myth. The Bryn Mawr manuscript also includes several recipes from the Countess of Arundel, Anne Dacre Howard (1557–1630), mother-in-law to Aletheia Talbot Howard (d. 1654), whose portrait graces the front matter of Natura Exenterata.[3]  The inclusion of Mistress Downing in the Natura and the naming of the Countess of Arundel in the Bryn Mawr manuscript, along with the overlap in the Flos Unguentorum recipes, suggest a triangle of relations, at least in the generation before the decade of compilation around the 1640s.

The correspondences in the recipes may imply a fourth outside source, but if this is the case, somewhere in transmission the origin myth was omitted from the list of virtues in the Downing example. What, if anything, can the mythic origin of this recipe, its inclusion or exclusion, tell us about a recipe’s more immediate historical source, particularly of collections compiled in years of religious conflict? The Countesses of Arundel were known Catholics, and the inclusion of divine intercessors in manuscripts and books of their circle would not have been unexpected.  All signs (including his mother’s name, Elizabeth), however, point to the “Cal: Downing” of the Layfielde manuscript being Calybute Downing (1606–44), Protestant minister (as also possibly Anne Layfielde’s husband) and Parliamentarian, whose doctrine would be less likely to include such intercessors. Was this omission then made for expediency’s sake or was it indicative of the beliefs of the compilers?

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


[1] College of Physicians Manuscript 10a214, page 1.

[2] Natura Exenterata, 332. Another Elizabethan print source which, like the Downing recipe includes the directions first then lists the virtues, recounts the origin in Germany, but not the angel, Thomas Lupton, A thousand notable things of sundry sortes (London, 1579), 104.

[3] Bryn Mawr College Special Collections MS 19, fol. 5.

Exploring CPP MS 10a214: Looking for Anne Layfielde

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

In an earlier post (18/10/2012), blog readers were introduced to a recipe book found at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  The volume’s ownership inscription reads, “Anne Layfielde / her booke of /Physicke & / Surgery / 1640,” and the entries within it appear in a wide array of hands and link recipes with the names of well over fifty contributors.  Rebecca Laroche noted that the name “Elizabeth Downing” appears in conjunction with many of the collection’s recipes.  I had worked with the same manuscript, MS 10a214, during my visit to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 2010, and Rebecca and I soon began discussing the challenges of situating this particular volume in time and place.  We realized that this forum offers an ideal venue for discussing those challenges, and we are embarking on a series of posting about our work with the manuscript.

A logical place to start seemed to be with the woman who claims ownership, Anne Layfielde. Who might she be?  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lists several Layfieldes living in the mid-seventeenth century, but all of them are male; no entries mention wives or daughters named Anne.  Working on the theory that Anne’s book might be part of a larger web of domestic texts, we conducted a full text search in the Wellcome Library’s online catalog, which indexes the names mentioned in many of its recipe books.

The search reveals four hits on the name “Layfield,” all appearing in M.S. 8575.  That volume’s opening pages feature the inscription “Mr Richard Holland his booke 1648,” providing a likely historical overlap with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia volume, dated 1640.  The Holland book attributes three recipes to a Mrs. Layfield – one for a “Brimstone Drink for Shortness of Breath,” another for “a very good poltice for a sore breast or any swelling,” and another for a “Seesing Powder” meant to relieve lightheadedness.

But it is the fourth return in the “Layfield” search that offers the most tempting – perhaps dangerously tempting – possibilities.  The recipe for “a sore breast which was feard might turn to a cancer” reflects a different tone from the other three Layfield recipes, perhaps because it comes from a “Mr Layfield,” not the earlier-named Mrs.  The questions this invites are far reaching:  are the manuscript’s Mr and Mrs Layfield husband and wife?  It is easy to assume they are at least members of the same family, if not of the same household.  Did Mrs. Layfield suffer from breast cancer, a condition whose treatment Mr. Layfield might have overseen, or at least witnessed?  The unusual opening line – “The surgeon saide the chief cure was in a good Diet” – introduces the entry as more of an anecdote than a recipe, one where medical authority comes from an unnamed professional.  And, just as importantly, the manuscript offers no clue as to who this Mr. Layfield might be, or where or when he lived.  It only seduces us into envisioning a potentially tragic story involving his household’s medical woes.

The possibility of such a family narrative makes the reference enticing, though its dramatic allure may be misleading.  But, as our ongoing work with the manuscript will show, these searches can unearth intriguing stories, even if they are unrelated to the projects that helped bring them to the surface.

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