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“Here Is a Good Boke to Lerne”: Practical Books, the Coming of the Press, and the Search for Knowledge, ca. 1400–1560

  • Melissa Reynolds


This article compares the circulation and reception of useful knowledge—from medical and craft recipes to prognostications and agricultural treatises—in late medieval English manuscripts and early printed practical books. It first surveys the contents and composition of eighty-eight fifteenth-century vernacular practical manuscripts identified in significant collections in the United States and United Kingdom. Close analysis of four of these late medieval practical miscellanies reveals that their compilers saw these manuscripts as repositories for the collection of an established body of useful knowledge. The article then traces the transmission of these medieval practical texts in early printed books. As the pressures of a commercial book market gradually transformed how these practical texts were presented, readers became conditioned to discover “new” knowledge in the pages of printed books. The introduction to England of the “book of secrets” in 1558 encouraged readers to hunt for “secrets” in unpublished medieval manuscripts, ensuring that these century-old sources would remain important sites for useful knowledge well into the early modern era.



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1 Griffiths, Jeremy, Edwards, A. S. G., and Barker, Nicholas, eds., The Tollemache Book of Secrets: A Descriptive Index and Complete Facsimile with an Introduction and Transcriptions Together with Catherine Tollemache's ‘Receipts of Pastery, Confectionary & c’ (London, 2001), 69, 7694.

2 Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 114.

3 Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, xviii.

4 For example, see Leong, Elaine, “Making Medicines in the Early Modern Household,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 145–68; Jennifer Kay Stine, “Opening Closets: The Discovery of Household Medicine in Early Modern England” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 1996); Pennell, Sara, “‘Pots and Pans History’: The Material Culture of the Kitchen in Early Modern England,” Journal of Design History 11, no. 3 (January 1998): 201–16; Fissell, Mary, “Women in Healing Spaces,” in The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women's Writing, ed. Knoppers, Laura Lunger (Cambridge, 2009), 153–65.

5 For example, see Field, Catherine, “‘Many Hands Hands’: Writing the Self in Early Modern Women's Recipe Books,” in Genre and Women's Life Writing in Early Modern England (Aldershot, 2007), 4963; Ezell, Margaret J. M., “Cooking the Books, or, the Three Faces of Hannah Woolley,” in Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550–1800, ed. Pennell, Sara and DiMeo, Michelle (Manchester, 2013), 159–78.

6 The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective may be accessed at For more on these collaborative research projects, visit The Making and Knowing Project ( and BeforeFarm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures (

7 Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 2n5.

8 On early modern women reading popular medical print, see Leong, Elaine, “‘Herbals She Peruseth’: Reading Medicine in Early Modern England,” Renaissance Studies 28, no. 4 (September 2014): 556–78. On networks of knowledge exchange among friends and family, see Leong, , “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household,” Centaurus; International Magazine of the History of Science and Medicine 55, no. 2 (May 2013): 81103.

9 On Anglo-Norman practical texts, see Hunt, Tony, Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England: Introduction and Texts (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1990); Hunt, Tony, Anglo-Norman Medicine I: Roger Frugard's Chirurgia, The Practica Brevis of Platearius (Woodbridge, 1994); Hunt, , Anglo-Norman Medicine II: Shorter Treatises (Woodbridge, 1994); Hunt, Tony, “Early Anglo-Norman Receipts for Colours,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 58 (1995): 203–9; Oschinsky, Dorothea, Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting (Oxford, 1971). See also Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B. M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, 210–11, 220, 223, 229, 231, 235–37, for the very few fifteenth-century manuscripts containing Anglo-Norman “practical texts.” I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer of this article for this reference.

10 Linda Ehrsam Voigts gives 1375 as the earliest date for the translation of medical and scientific treatises into Middle English; see Voigts, Linda Ehrsam, “Scientific and Medical Books,” in Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375–1475, ed. Pearsall, Derek and Griffiths, Jeremy (Cambridge, 1989), 345402, at 352.

11 Parkes, M. B., Scribes, Scripts, and Reader: Studies in the Communication, Presentation, and Dissemination of Medieval Texts (London, 1991), 284–86.

12 A quire was twenty-five sheets of paper, whereas the average skin would only produce about three leaves of parchment of equivalent size. See R. J. Lyall, “Materials: The Paper Revolution,” in Griffiths and Pearsall, Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375–1475, 11–29, at 11–13; Kwakkel, Erik, “Commercial Organization and Economic Innovation,” in The Production of Books in England, 1350–1500, ed. Gillespie, Alexandra and Wakelin, Daniel (Cambridge, 2011), 173–91, at 190–91.

13 Bühler, Curt F., The Fifteenth-Century Book: The Scribes, the Printers, the Decorators (Philadelphia, 1960), 2223.

14 For more on the compilation of miscellanies by individual users, see Margaret Connolly, “Compiling the Book,” in Gillespie and Wakelin, The Production of Books in England, 1350–1500, 129–49, at 141–46.

15 For example, see Dawson, W. A., ed., A Leechbook or Collection of Medical Recipes of the Fifteenth Century (London, 1934); Ogden, M. S., ed., The “Liber de Diversis Medicinis” in the Thornton Manuscript (MS Lincoln Cathedral A.5.2) (London, 1938); Bennett, H. S., “Science and Information in English Writings of the Fifteenth Century,” Modern Language Review 39, no. 1 (January 1944): 18; Robbins, Rossell Hope, “Medical Manuscripts in Middle English,” Speculum 45, no. 3 (July 1970): 393415; Linne Mooney, “Practical Didactic Works in Middle English: Edition and Analysis of the Class of Short Middle English Works Containing Useful Information” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1981); Eamon, William, ed., Studies on Medieval Fachliteratur: Proceedings of the Special Session on Medieval Fachliteratur of the Sixteenth International Congress on Medieval Studies (Brussels, 1982); Braswell, Laurel, “Utilitarian and Scientific Prose,” in Middle English Prose: A Critical Guide to Major Authors and Genres, ed. Edwards, A. S. G. (New Brunswick, 1984), 337–88; Clarke, Mark, The Craft of Lymmyng and the Maner of Steynyng: Middle English Recipes for Painters, Stainers, Scribes, and Illuminators (Oxford, 2016); Hieatt, Constance B., Nutter, J. Terry, and Holloway, Johnna H., eds., Concordance of English Recipes: Thirteenth through Fifteenth Centuries (Tempe, 2006); Getz, Faye M., ed., Healing and Society in Medieval England: A Middle English Translation of the Pharmaceutical Writings of Gilbertus Anglicus (Madison, 2010); Almeida, Francisco Alonso, ed., A Middle English Medical Remedy Book (Heidelberg, 2014).

16 Keiser, George R., A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500, vol. 10, Works of Science and Education (New Haven, 1998); Linda Ehrsam Voigts and Patricia Deery Kurtz, Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English: An Electronic Reference, accessed 4 January 2019, Other reference works and indexes relating to practical writing in Middle English include Linne R. Mooney et al., eds., The DIMEV: An Open-Access, Digital Edition of the Index of Middle English Verse, accessed 4 January 2019,; Taavitsainen, Irma and Pahta, Päivi, eds., Medical and Scientific Writing in Late Medieval English (Cambridge, 2004).

17 See Keiser, George R., “Vernacular Herbals: A Growth Industry in Late Medieval England,” in Design and Distribution of Late Medieval Manuscripts in England, ed. Connolly, Margaret and Mooney, Linne R. (Woodbridge, 2008), 292307; Keiser, George, “Two Medieval Plague Treatises and Their Afterlife in Early Modern England,” Journal of the History of Medicine 58, no. 3 (July 2003): 292324; Keiser, George, “Practical Books for the Gentleman,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 3, 1400–1557, ed. Hellinga, Lotte and Trapp, J. B. (Cambridge, 1999), 470–94; Griffin, Carrie, “Instruction and Information from Manuscript to Print: Some English Literature, 1400–1650,” Literature Compass 10, no. 9 (September 2013): 667–76; Mooney, Linne, “English Almanacs from Script to Print,” in Texts and Their Contexts: Papers from the Early Book Society, ed. Scattergood, V. J. and Boffey, Julia (Dublin, 1997), 1125.

18 Mary Fissell writes that English medical print was “structured by deep continuities with manuscript medicine of the Middle Ages,” and Paul Slack concurs that in popular printed medical books, “old remedies by far outnumbered new, and the lists of complaints had changed scarcely at all” from medieval-era medical writing; but neither examines these medieval sources. See Fissell, Mary, “Popular Medical Writing,” in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 1, Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, ed. Raymond, Joad (Oxford, 2011), 417; Slack, Paul, “Mirrors of Health and Treasures of Poor Men: The Uses of the Vernacular Medical Literature of Tudor England,” in Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Webster, Charles (Cambridge, 1979), 237–73, at 251.

19 For an excellent analysis of one late medieval recipe collection used by early modern readers, see Connolly, Margaret, “Evidence for the Continued Use of Medieval Medical Prescriptions in the Sixteenth Century: A Fifteenth-Century Remedy Book and Its Later Owner,” Medical History 60, no. 2 (April 2016): 133–54.

20 See the appendix for a table listing the shelfmarks of the eighty-eight manuscripts, as well as their format and contents.

21 The appendix details which manuscripts contain which of these categories.

22 The manuscript remains in the private possession of the Tollemache family at Helmingham Hall, Suffolk. All references to The Tollemache Book in this article are to the facsimile edition; see Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 1–2. Troublingly, the editors do not include the exact dimensions of the manuscript in their edition.

23 For example, a recipe to make invisible letters appear, “Ad faciendum litteras non apparentes appar[er]e accipe sepum rubeum,” (“To make letters not appearing to appear take red tallow”) uses an imperative of the verb (appare) instead of the infinitive (apparere). Note that the transcription in Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker reads the passage as “apparientes” and “appari[r]e.” I am not convinced of this transcription, but if it is correct, then the recipe's syntax even more clearly indicates the scribe's unfamiliarity with Latin, as apparire is not a recognized verb in medieval Latin. See Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 48, 124.

24 Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, xviii, 2.

25 Silk braiding was a traditionally female craft in late medieval England. On the women who practiced this craft, see Dale, Marian K., “The London Silkwomen of the Fifteenth Century,” Economic History Review 4, no. 3 (October 1933): 324–35, at 324, 329–30; see also Kowaleski, Maryanne and Bennett, Judith M., “Crafts, Guilds, and Women in the Middle Ages: Fifty Years after Marian K. Dale,” Signs 14, no. 2 (Winter 1989): 474501.

26 The British Library's catalogue entry gives a composition date of the first quarter of the fifteenth century, but in his edition of the silk braiding instructions in the Harley miscellany, E. G. Stanley gives a composition date of between 1421 and 1483. See, Stanley, E. G., “Directions for Making Many Sorts of Laces,” in Chaucer and Middle English Studies in Honour of Rossell Hope Robbins, ed. Rowland, Beryl (Kent, 1974), 89103, at 90.

27 Though the gist of these nativities is similar to the nativities frequently found accompanying the Middle English cosmological treatise “The Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy,” it is not the same text. For more on this genre, see Griffin, Carrie, ed., The Middle English “Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy”: A Parallel-Text Edition. Edited from London, British Library, MS Sloane 2453 with a Parallel Text from New York, Columbia University, MA Plimpton 260 (Heidelberg, 2013).

28 The calendar at the opening of the Harley miscellany appears to have been created separately from the rest of the manuscript and is missing its first two leaves (January–April). The existing first leaf is badly damaged, suggesting that it acted as the cover of the manuscript for some time, which makes it likely that it was bound together with the rest of the manuscript in the medieval era.

29 When manuscripts were professionally copied, the scribe or scribes would break the work up into sections by quires, which were typically four to eight leaves of parchment folded together. These quires would then be sewn together to make the manuscript. To keep the quires in order, the scribe might write a catchword, or the first word of the following quire, on the bottom of the last leaf of the preceding quire.

30 The dominical letter was used to calculate the date of Easter and other moveable feasts. If January 1 was a Sunday, the dominical letter was A; if January 1 were Monday, the letter was B; and so on through G, when the cycle starts over.

31 The first originally independent manuscript is now folios 2–15 of BL MS Sloane 1315. It is on smaller paper leaves than the second manuscript and also contains a practical text, the “Book of Kervyng & Nortur,” a verse on the appropriate conduct and manners of household servants. It is copied in a book hand rather than the cursive hand(s) of the remainder of the manuscript.

32 There is some question as to whether BL MS Sloane 1315 is actually three manuscripts, with the second and third (fols. 16–152) originating with the same scribe. What looks like a contemporary hand has paginated folios 68–152 separately, supporting the argument that there are three manuscripts in total bound together. However, on closer examination, the number 1 written in the center of the upper margin of folio 68 is mirrored on the upper margin of folio 67 verso, suggesting that the wet ink transferred when the pagination was done and thus that the two manuscripts were always bound together. One possibility for this separate pagination is that folios 68–152 contain mostly recipes, and thus the pagination may have been designed to facilitate an index.

33 I will cite the foliation numbers for BL MS Sloane 1315 in its entirety, meaning that the manuscript under study here begins on folio 16.

34 Several different storiae lunae, in verse and prose, circulated in late medieval England, all of them closely related. See Taavitsainen, Irma, “‘Storia Lune’ and Its Paraphrase in Prose: Two Versions of a Middle English Lunary,” in Neophilologica Fennica: Société Néophilologique 100 ans/Neuphilologischer Verein 100 Jahre /Modern Language Society 100 years, ed. Kahlas-Tarkka, Leena (Helsinki, 1987), 521–55.

35 For example, one charm's heading reads “To habere mulierem amorem” (fol. 93r), which both combines English and Latin (“To” and “habere”) and mistakenly uses the accusative singular “mulierem” (woman) instead of the genitive plural “mulierum” (of women), so that the passage literally translates as “To to have woman love.” Numerous other love charms are sprinkled throughout the recipe section of Sloane 1315: folios 94r, 97r, 104–5v, 106v–110v, 111r–12r. See similar versions in Griffiths, Edwards, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 48–51. For more on love magic in fifteenth-century English manuscripts, see Laura Theresa Mitchell, “Cultural Uses of Magic in Fifteenth-Century England” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2011), 76; Rider, Catherine, “Women, Men, and Love Magic in Late Medieval English Pastoral Manuals,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 7, no. 2 (Winter 2012): 190211.

36 Mooney is likewise unsure of whether BL MS Sloane 1315 is the product of one or several very similar hands. See Mooney, “Practical Didactic Works in Middle English,” 506.

37 Like the Sloane miscellany, the second manuscript of Bodleian MS Ashmole 1389 contains “practical texts,” including a glossary of Latin herbal terms and a treatise on weights and measures, but there is no evidence of the two manuscripts having been bound together before their purchase by the library in 1692–93. Special thanks to Andrew Honey, book conservator at the Bodleian Library, for providing references to the Bodleian's purchase and for sharing his expertise on the two manuscripts’ binding history.

38 See The National Archives, C 1/140/13. Aderston is not listed in either Talbot, C. H. and Hammond, E. A., eds., Medical Practitioners in Medieval England: A Biographical Register (London, 1965), or Getz's, Faye supplement, “Medical Practitioners in Medieval England,” Social History of Medicine 3, no. 2 (August 1, 1990): 245–83.

39 The sweating sickness first appeared in England in 1485.

40 See the appendix for a breakdown of those categories by manuscript.

41 For example, Cambridge University Library MS Ee.1.15 contains two different and contradictory treatises on the lucky and unlucky days of the month (fols. 6r–v and 12r–14v).

42 Pamela Smith has argued that this sort of repetition encouraged habits of thinking about recipes as “something to work through” in “trial-and-error testing.” I do not find evidence for this kind of practice within English practical manuscripts. See Smith, Pamela H., “What Is a Secret? Secrets and Craft Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” in Secrets and Knowledge in Medicine and Science, 1500–1800, ed. Leong, Elaine Yuen Tien and Rankin, Alisha Michelle (Farnham, 2011), 4766, at 64.

43 In addition to The Tollemache Book and BL MS Sloane 1315, discussed above, the recipe also appears in three slightly different versions in Bodleian MS Ashmole 1378, fols. 4r, 32r, 41r, and in BL MS Sloane 372, fol. 66v.

44 BL Royal MS 17 A.xxxii, fol. 43. Very similar versions of this prologue are found in BL Add. MSS Royal 18, fol. 1, and BL MS Sloane 393, fol. 13r.

45 BL MS Royal 17 A.xxxii, fol. 8r; the same prologue appears in Bodleian MS Ashmole 1477, pt. 3, fol. 1v.

46 Aderston records a recipe for “A goode experiment for þe frenche pox & well provyd by gefferye barbar of exceter” in Bodleian MS Ashmole 1389, fol. 73v.

47 As noted above, Anglo-Norman practical texts date from as early as the thirteenth century. See Hunt, “Early Anglo-Norman Receipts for Colours,” 203–9; Hunt, Popular Medicine; Oschinsky, Walter of Henley; Dean and Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature, 179–237.

48 All cited publication information for early English print comes from Pollard, A. W. and Redgrave, G. R., A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640, ed. Jackson, W. A., Ferguson, F. S., and Pantzer, Katherine F., 2nd ed., rev. and enl., 3 vols. (London, 1976–1991) (hereafter STC), via the English Short Title Catalogue, accessed 8 November 2018, (note that the items are accessed in the search function by title, not STC number); Here begynneth a litill boke necessarye & behouefull a[g]enst the pestilence (London, 1485), STC 4590.

49 Here in thys boke afore ar contenyt the bokys of haukyng and huntyng (St. Albans, 1486), STC 3308; In this tretyse that is cleped Gouernayle of helthe (Westminster, 1490), STC 12138.

50 Kastan, David Scott, “Print, Literary Culture and the Book Trade,” in The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature, ed. Loewenstein, David and Mueller, Janel (Cambridge, 2002), 81116, at 86–88.

51 This present boke shewyth the manere of hawkynge & huntynge (Westminster, 1496), STC 3309; Proprytees & medicynes of hors (Westminster, 1497), STC 20439.5.

52 This is the boke of cokery (London, 1500), STC 3297.

53 This is the boke of cokery (London, 1510), STC 3297.5; Here begynneth a lytell treatyse called the gouernall of helthe (London, 1506), STC 12139; Here begynneth a treatyse agaynst pestele[n]ce (London, 1509, 1511), STC 4592, 4592.5; Here begynneth the boke of keruynge (London, 1508, 1513), STC 3289, 3290; Walter de Henley, Boke of Husbandry (London, 1508), STC 25007; The crafte of graffynge & plantynge of trees (London, 1518), STC 5953.

54 Dorne sold two copies each of the Proprytees & medicynes of hors, The boke of keruynge, and The boke of cokery, and one copy of The boke of husbandry. Madan, F., “Day-Book of John Dorne, Bookseller in Oxford, A.D. 1520,” in Collecteana, ed. Fletcher, Charles Robert Leslie, vol. 5 (Oxford, 1885), 72177.

55 F. Madan, “Day-Book of John Dorne,” 130. According to figures compiled by Jan Luiten van Zanden, an Oxford day-laborer would have earned four pence per day and a London laborer five pence per day in 1520. See Jan Luiten van Zanden, “Wages and the Cost of Living in Southern England (London), 1450–1700,” International Institute of Social History, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, accessed 3 November 2018,

56 For more on the publication history of Machlinia's treatise, see Keiser, “Two Medieval Plague Treatises,” 318–19.

57 Here begynneth a litil boke the whiche traytied and reherced many gode thinges necessaries for the infirmite & grete sekenesse called pestilence (London, 1485), STC 4589; Here begynneth a litill boke necessarye & behouefull a[g]enst the pestilence; A passing gode lityll boke necessarye & behouefull a[g]enst the pestilence (London, 1485), STC 4591. These books and others were accessed through the database Early English Books Online, available by subscription only.

58 For more on de Worde's use of images and iconography, see Driver, Martha W., “Ideas of Order: Wynkyn de Worde and the Title Page,” in Texts and Their Contexts: Papers from the Early Book Society, ed. Scattergood, V. J. and Boffey, Julia (Dublin, 1997), 87149; Driver, Martha W., “The Illustrated De Worde: An Overview,” Studies in Iconography, no. 17 (January 1996): 349403.

59 On the illustrated title page of de Worde's 1497 edition of Proprytees & medicyne of hors, see Ford, Margaret Lane, “A New Addition to the Corpus of English Incunabula: Wynkyn de Worde's Proprytees & Medicynes of Hors (c. 1497–98),” Library 2, no. 1 (March 2001): 39, at 3n1.

60 De Henley, Boke of husbandry, sig. A.i.

61 Here begynneth the boke of keruynge (STC 3289), sig. A.i.

62 Dorne was careful to mark which books were sold “ligatum,” or bound, but none of the practical works he sold were marked as such. See Madan, “Day-Book of John Dorne,” 72–177.

63 Winger, Howard W., “Regulations Relating to the Book Trade in London from 1357 to 1586,” Library 26, no. 3 (July 1956): 157–95, at 164.

64 Jasper Laet, The p[ro]nostication of Maister Jasp[er] Laet, practised in the towne of Antuerpe, for the yere of Our Lorde, M.D.XX, trans. Richard Pynson (London, 1520), STC 470.6, sig. A.ii b; Fitzherbert, John, Here begynneth a newe tracte or treatyse moost profytable for all husbandmen: and very frutefull for all other persons to rede (London, 1523), STC 10994, sig. M.iv b.

65 Books printed prior to 1518 that claim novelty are Leteltun tenuris new correcte (London, 1510, 1516), STC 1510, 15724; Here begynneth the kalendre of the newe legende of Englande (London, 1516), STC 4602. Two other single-sheet publications announced themselves as “newe”: the first, a royal proclamation published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1509 (STC 7761.7), and the second, a papal indulgence printed by Richard Pynson in 1517 (STC 14077c.58).

66 Books printed in English in the 1520s with titles that advertise novelty are Here foloweth a lytell treatyse of the beaute of women newly translated out of Frenshe in to Englishe (London, 1525), STC 1696; Geoffrey Chaucer, Here begynneth the boke of Canterbury tales, dilygently & truly corrected & newly printed (London, 1526), STC 5086; Chaucer, Here begynneth the boke of Troylus and Creseyde newly printed by a trewe copye (London, 1526), STC 5096; Here begynneth a lytyll new treatyse or mater intytuled & called the .ix. drunkardes (London, 1523), STC 7260; Here begynnith the hole abrygeme[n]t of al the statut[es] as wel the olde as the new with diuers other tytles & statutes whiche were neuer impryntyd before in englysshe (London, 1528), STC 9519; Here begynneth a lytell prosses or matter called the Chauce of the dolorous louer newely compyled or made by Crystofer Goodwyn (London, 1520), STC 12046; Here begynnyth a newe mater, the whiche sheweth and treateth of ye vertues & proprytes of herbes (London, 1525, 1526), STC 13175.1, 13175.2; The vertuose boke of distyllacyon of the waters of all maner of herbes with the fygures of the styllatoryes [ … ] now newly translate out of Duyche into Englysshe (London, 1527), STC 13435, 13436; The boke of the iustyce of peas the charge with all the proces of the cessyons neuly correctyd and amendyd with dyuers new addycyons put to the same (London, 1526–1530?), STC 14871; Lyttylton tenures newly and moost truly correctyd [et] amendyd (London, 1522, 1525, 1528), STC 15725.5, 15726, 15727, 15728; Natura brevin[m] newly and moost trewly corrected (London, 1525, 1528, 1529), STC 18389, 18390, 18391; A new commodye in englysh [in] maner [of an enterl]ude ryght elygant & full of craft of rethoryk (London, 1525), STC 20721; A new iuterlude [sic] and a mery of the nature of the .iiii. element declarynge many proper poynt of phylosophy natural (London, 1520), STC 20722; Olde teners newly corrected (London, 1525, 1528), STC 23880, 23880.5; Here begynneth a newe boke of medecynes intytulyd or callyd the Treasure of pore men (London, 1526), STC 24199; Here begynneth a propre newe interlude of the worlde and the chylde, otherwyse called Mundus a[nd] infans (London, 1522), STC 25982.

67 Recall the incipit to the medical recipe collection that claims to originate in the “bookes of Galyen and Ypocras and Socrates and Ascopus” found in BL Royal MS 17 A.xxxii, fol. 43; BL Royal MS 18, fol. 1; BL MS Sloane 393, fol. 13r.

68 De Henley, Boke of husbandry, sig. A.iv–A.iv b; Fitzherbert, Here begynneth a newe tracte or treatyse moost profytable for all husbandmen, sig. A.v.

69 Slack, “Mirrors of Health and Treasures of Poor Men,” 251; Fissell, “Popular Medical Writing,” 417.

70 Treasure of pore men, STC 24199, Cambridge University Library Sel.5.175, sig. A.i; Ye vertues & proprytes of herbes, STC 13175.2, Cambridge University Library Sel.5.175, sig. A.i.

71 BL MS Arundel 272, fols. 36r–62v; BL Royal MS 18, fols. 64r–88v; BL MS Sloane 1315, fols. 70–81; BL MS Sloane 2460, fols. 2r–33v; BL MS Sloane 3489 fols. 12r–28r; Wellcome Library MS 409 fols. 109r–144v.

72 Versions ending in S are BL MSS Arundel 272, fol. 62v; Sloane 2460, fol. 33v; and Sloane 3489, fol. 28r. BL MS Sloane 1315 ends at Q at fol. 87v; BL MS Royal 18 ends in P at fol. 87v; and Wellcome Library MS 409 ends with L at fol. 144v.

73 Ann Blair has argued that organizational innovations like the index or table of contents were responses to readers’ desires for easy access to the ever-growing wealth of information appearing in print. See Ann Blair, “Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550–1700,” Journal of the History of Ideas 64, no. 1 (January 2003): 11–28, at 18–19.

74 Seventeen of the eighty-eight manuscripts surveyed for this article contain a table of contents, calendar of recipes, or index of some kind. See the appendix for the list of manuscripts. For William Aderston's aborted attempt at a table of contents, see Bodleian MS Ashmole 1389, fols. 2r–8v.

75 Duff, Edward Gordon, The Printers, Stationers, and Bookbinders of Westminster and London from 1476 to 1535 (Cambridge, 1906), 154–55.

76 A boke of the propertyes of herbes the whiche is called an herbal (London, 1537, 1539, 1541, 1546, 1547, 1548), STC 13175.4, 13175.5, 13175.7, 13175.8, 13175.10, 13175.11, 13175.12; Hereafter foloweth the knowledge, properties, and the vertues of herbes (London, 1540), STC 13175.6; A newe herbal of Macer, translated out of Laten in to Englysshe (London, 1543, 1552), STC 13175.8c, 13175.13c; A lytel herbal of the properties of herbes newly amended and corrected (London, 1550, 1561), STC 13175.13, 13175.19; A boke of the preopreties of herbes called an herbal (London, 1552, 1555, 1559), STC 13175.15, 13175.16, 13175.17, 13175.18.

77 Here beginneth a good boke of medecines called the treasure of pore men (London, 1539, 1540, 1544, 1547, 1548, 1556, 1560, 1565, 1575), STC 24200, 24201, 24202, 24202.5, 24203, 24203.5, 24203.7, 24205, 24206a, 24206a.5, 24207; Here begynnethe a newe booke of medecines called the treasure of poore men (London, 1546), STC 24203.3; Treasure of poor men (London, 1601), STC 24207.3.

78 In addition to seven editions of the Treasure of pore men, there were sixteen editions of Thomas Moulton's This is the myrour or glasse of helth (London, 1531, 1536, 1540, 1541, 1545, 1546, 1547, 1548), STC 18214a, 18214a.3, 18214a.5, 18214a.7, 18216, 18219, 18220, 18221, 18221a, 18221.3, 18221.5, 18221.7, 18222.5, 18225.2, 18225.4, 18225.6; and four editions of The antidotharius, in the whiche thou mayst lerne howe thou shalte make plasters, salues, oyntme[n]t, powders, bawmes, oyles & wound drynkes (London, 1535, 1542, 1548), STC 675.3, 675.7, 675a, 675a.3. In addition to eleven editions of Banckes's herbal, there were four editions of The grete herball: whiche geueth parfyt knowledge and vnderstandyng of all maner of herbes (London, 1526, 1529, 1539), STC 13176, 13177, 13177.5, 13178.

79 On the use of authorial attributions to establish the authority of a text, see Blair, Ann, “Authorship in the Popular ‘Problemata Aristotelis,’Early Science and Medicine 4, no. 3 (1999): 189227.

80 A lytel herbal of the propreties of herbes […] by A. Askham (London, 1550 [?]). Askham's name in the title stumped even the editors of the revised Short-Title Catalogue, who list this edition of Banckes's herbal under Askham's name. See STC 42.

81 Macers herbal: Practysyd by Doctor Lynacro (London, 1552 [?]), STC 13175.13c.

82 Arrer, Edward, ed., A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London. Electronic Reproduction., vol. 1, 1554–1640 (New York, 2007), accessed 8 November 2108,, xxiv.

83 Blayney, Peter W. M., “The Publication of Playbooks,” in A New History of Early English Drama, ed. Cox, John D. and Kastan, David Scott (New York, 1977), 383422, 398–99.

84 Arrer, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, fols. 24, 61.

85 Ruscelli, Girolamo, The secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis of Piemount, trans. Ward, William (London, 1558), STC 293.

86 For example, see Partridge, John, The treasurie of commodious conceits, & hidden secrets and may be called, the huswiues closet (London, 1573), STC 19425.5; Partridge, The widowes treasure, plentifully furnished with secretes in phisicke: & chirurgery. Hereunto adioyned, sundrie prety practises of cookerie (London, 1582), STC 19433.2; Hill, Thomas, The proffitable arte of gardening: now the third tyme set fourth: to whiche is added muche necessary matter, and a number of secrettes with the phisick helpes belonging to eche herbe, and that easie prepared (London, 1568), STC 13491; Markham, Gervase, How to chuse, ride, traine, and diet, both hunting-horses and running horses. With all the secrets thereto belonging discouered (London, 1595), STC 17347.

87 Ruscelli, Secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis, sig. *.ii.

88 Ruscelli.

89 Elyot, Thomas, The castel of helth gathered and made by Syr Thomas Elyot knyghte (London, 1539), STC 7643; Boorde, Andrew, A compendyous regyment or a dietary of healthe: made in Mountpyllyer, by Andrew Boorde of physycke doctor (London, 1547), STC 3380.

90 Ruscelli, Secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis, sig., +.iv.

91 Eamon, William, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton, 1994), 11, 93133, 234–66, 353. On sixteenth-century English books of secrets and changing attitudes toward the natural world, see Kavey, Allison, Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550–1600 (Urbana, 2007), 58, 156–58.

92 Ruscelli, Secretes of the reverend Maister Alexis, sig. *.ii. These tropes of authorial modesty were not unique to books of secrets, and Harold Love has argued that they illustrate an awareness of a “stigma of print.” See Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1993), 35–90.

93 Ruscelli, Secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis, sig. +.iv b. See also Hill, The proffitable arte of gardening, sig. A.vii b; Partridge, Treasurie of commodious conceits, sig. A.iii.

94 Hill, The proffitable arte of gardening, sig. A.vii b.

95 BL MS Sloane 1315, fols.149r–150r; Treasure of pore men, sig. B.i b–B.ii.

96 Of the sixty-eight modern shelf marks listed in the appendix, seventeen of these manuscripts are actually composites of multiple medieval-era miscellanies. Thus, the sixty-eight shelf marks yield eighty-eight originally separate fifteenth-century vernacular practical miscellanies. See the appendix for those practical manuscripts that are now bound in composite volumes.

97 Trinity College Cambridge MS O.9.39, fol. 9v; Griffiths, Edward, and Barker, Tollemache Book, 114.

98 See the appendix for which manuscripts contain charms. On deemphasizing esotericism in the study of magic, see Mitchell, “Cultural Uses of Magic in Fifteenth-Century England,” 7–12, 243–48.

99 For medieval English church policies on charms and medical magic, see Rider, Catherine, “Medical Magic and the Church in Thirteenth-Century England,” Social History of Medicine: The Journal of the Society for the Social History of Medicine 24, no. 1 (1 April 2011): 92–107; Rider, “Women, Men, and Love Magic in Late Medieval English Pastoral Manuals.” Karen Jones and Michael Zell conclude that, despite an official stance against magic, ecclesiastical prosecutions for magic were “negligible” when compared to prosecutions for minor sexual offenses in the ecclesiastical court records of Canterbury from 1396 to 1543; see Jones, Karen and Zell, Michael, “‘The Divels Special Instruments’: Women and Witchcraft before the ‘Great Witch-Hunt,’Social History 30, no. 1 (February 2005): 4563, at 50–1.


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