Evidence for the continued use of medieval medical prescriptions in the sixteenth century: a fifteenth-century remedy book and its later owner

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Abstract

This article examines a fifteenth-century remedy book, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson c. 299, and describes its collection of 314 medieval medical prescriptions. The recipes are organised broadly from head to toe, and often several remedies are offered for the same complaint. Some individual recipes are transcribed with modern English translations. The few non-recipe texts are also noted. The difference between a remedy book and a leechbook is explained, and this manuscript is situated in relation to other known examples of late medieval medical anthologies. The particular feature that distinguishes Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson c. 299 from other similar volumes is the evidence that it continued to be used during the sixteenth century. This usage was of two kinds. Firstly, the London lawyer who owned it not only inscribed his name but annotated the original recipe collection in various ways, providing finding-aids that made it much more user-friendly. Secondly, he, and other members of his family, added another 43 recipes to the original collection (some examples of these are also transcribed). These two layers of readerly engagement with the manuscript are interrogated in detail in order to reveal what ailments may have troubled this family most, and to judge how much faith they placed in the old remedies contained in this old book. It is argued that the knowledge preserved in medieval books enjoyed a longevity that extended beyond the period of the manuscript book, and that manuscripts were read and valued long after the advent of printing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-154
Number of pages22
JournalMedical History
Volume60
Issue number2
Early online date14 Mar 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Keywords

  • Remedy book
  • Medieval recipes
  • Bodley Rawlinson c. 299
  • Thomas Roberts
  • Plague
  • Phlegm
  • Charms
  • Manuscripts

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