The previous chapter showed how seventeenth-century figures like Robert Burton and Elizabeth Isham believed that viewing ornate woodcuts of plants was a form of healthy recreation. The robust contemporary trade in botanical images cut from the pages of antique books indicates that these printed illustrations of plants continue to attract and fascinate our gaze. Yet one of the most regularly reprinted books in sixteenth-century England was a short, anonymous herbal that contained no illustrations at all. As I have outlined in the Introduction, in 1525 the London printer Richard Bankes issued from his shop a quarto “whiche sheweth and treateth of [the] vertues & proprytes of herbes” (STC 13175.1), and he saw fit to republish the book in the following year. By 1567, the text and variations upon it had been reprinted at least eighteen times by at least fifteen other publishers, testifying to the value that both booksellers and readers saw in this profitable little book.Footnote 1 Despite an influx of recent scholarship on the influence of printed botanical texts on early modern authors and readers, scholars have largely dismissed these early books as being of little interest to those concerned with issues of textual or intellectual authority. If the little Herball publications are mentioned at all, they are generally noted only to display the comparatively “authoritative” status of William Turner and then quickly dismissed. Leah Knight, for instance, finds that “[Turner’s] work is implicitly contrasted with that of his medieval predecessors, and even with slightly earlier sixteenth-century works like Banckes’ herbal, a book conventionally named for its printer instead of its author and one which is more of a translation and compilation than a recognizably ‘authored’ work.”Footnote 2 In a similar vein, Rebecca Laroche notes that “[t]hose herbals printed before [William Turner’s] in England, namely Bancke’s Herbal (1525) and the Grete Herball (1526), though interesting in their own right, are not infused with issues of textual authority that we find in Turner and post-Turner publications.”Footnote 3
While the little Herball does not fit with modern expectations of the genre, the surviving evidence of the text in print testifies that sixteenth-century readers found much to like in the book. This chapter will demonstrate how and why the little Herball became such an amazing commercial success, and it will raise the possibility that the audience for English herbals did not rise and fall with the expensive texts preferred by elite scholarly readers or gentry. The publishing history of the little Herball reveals that the purchasing preferences of Tudor London’s middling readers, as well as the regulatory constraints upon bookmaking and bookselling, created the economic conditions that later enabled the large, illustrated folio herbals of Turner, Gerard, and Parkinson to come into being. In other words, these large books with named authors on their title pages were a secondary development in the tradition of the printed English herbal, suggesting that the “author-function” that governed a text’s authoritative value was initially irrelevant to English readers. The association between herbals and particular botanical authorities did not result from readers’ perceptions of their accuracy but can be traced to commercial concerns: their publishers’ desire to sell an old and profitable text in innovative new ways.
The curious case of the little Herball demonstrates that, to uncover the origin and evolution of the printed English herbal, historians need to be attentive to the economic and material circumstances governing the production and circulation of books. My Introduction explained how, in printing the first edition of the little Herball in 1525, the publisher Richard Bankes sought to exploit the popularity of a late medieval manuscript work that had circulated widely, capitalizing on its existing familiarity with readers to sell many more copies of the text in a new medium. The evidence of Bankes’s immediate reprinting of his herbal the following year reveals his accurate reading of the marketplace for print in the mid-1520s, while the investment of other publishers in their own editions during the latter half of the 1530s confirms that the little Herball continued to be a vendible and valuable commodity – and was widely recognized as one. The evidence shows that, throughout the 1540s and 1550s, publishers continued to print new editions of this book. Even as the regulations and the market forces governing the English book trade shifted with the incorporation of the Stationers’ Company in 1557, the little Herball continued to be seen as worth publishing and protecting: John King sought a license for “the little herball” and thereby entered it into the Stationers’ Company Registers between November 30, 1560 and March 8, 1561, effectively removing the work from the public domain.Footnote 4 The license was an insurance policy in more ways than one. By entering the title, King both secured his right to profit indefinitely from any number of his future editions of the book free from the threat of piracy and eliminated the possibility that the little Herball could return to compete with any other botanical books he wished to publish in the future. (That King entered the rights to copy The Grete Herball at the same time suggests that he was thinking in exactly these terms.)
Taken as a whole, the efforts of the little Herball’s many publishers confirm that, once in print, this little book was in unusually high demand among Tudor book purchasers. The use of quantitative analytics helps to determine the relative popularity of books in the London book trade and prove, categorically, that the little Herball was a runaway bestseller. Only 1.8 percent of speculative books first printed between 1473 and 1580 reached eighteen editions by 1640; less than 1 percent of speculative books first printed between 1473 and 1580 reached eighteen editions within forty years.Footnote 5
The little Herball thus raises the same issues as those examined by Andy Kesson and Emma Smith in their study of print popularity in early modern England.Footnote 6 As it is an unqualified “best-seller” by any measure, interest in the little Herball in its many editions surpassed that of the three-volume New Herbal of William Turner, which was published in its entirety only once (1568), and the three editions of John Gerard’s commodious Herball or Generall Historie of Plants (1597; rev. 1633, 1636). As I noted in Chapter 3, Gerard’s Herball regularly appears in the notes of editions of Shakespeare, and Turner’s New Herbal is used by A. C. Hamilton to explain Edmund Spenser’s account of “the Poplar never dry” in book 1 of The Faerie Queene.Footnote 7 Yet while both Turner’s and Gerard’s herbals are often used as resources by scholars seeking to uncover Shakespeare’s or Spenser’s botanical understanding, the little Herball is virtually ignored as a viable botanical resource to explain an author’s use of plants like rosemary, borage, catmint, or wormwood. Unlike its much longer descendants, the little Herball lacks a clear author to demarcate its botanical authority, and scholars writing commentaries for literary texts evidently prefer to rely on, or default to, impressive-looking illustrated works with these more legible pedigrees. Gerard’s Herball or Historie of Plants has been found in the libraries of John Milton, Anne Clifford, and John Donne,Footnote 8 but it is hard to argue that it was anywhere near as popular as its smaller forebear. It is quite possible that more copies of the little Herball were circulating in sixteenth-century London than of all the other “authoritative” herbals combined, yet this little volume remains relatively unknown. The most popular early modern texts, in other words, were not always the largest and most imposing ones that have had a better chance of survival in famous libraries or notable collections.
Such obscurity in the face of quantity is characteristic of the paradoxical notion of print popularity. As Kesson and Smith note, the phrase “best-selling” can thus be at odds with “other, less quantifiable indices of value, or, to put it another way, the hyphenated term ‘best-selling’ is under some strain, as ‘best’ starts to serve less as an adjectival modifier to ‘selling’ and more its ideological opposite.”Footnote 9 In some respects, then, the popularity of the little Herball with Tudor readers seemingly justifies scholars’ lack of attention to it. Kesson and Smith remark that the very notion of popularity, particularly in its focus on the preferences of “non-elite” readers, “has odd and unexpected implications for the canon.” This too can be seen in the little Herball’s publication history. Richard Bankes’s decision to draw an old manuscript text forward into the new medium of print calls into question the typical “protocols of periodisation” that separate examinations of natural history in the medieval and Renaissance periods. An examination of the evidence of public demand can show that traditional literary and historical categories are much more complicated than they may initially seem.Footnote 10
This chapter attends to the publication history of the little Herball as a series of calculated investments by London booksellers as they navigated the dynamic English economy in printed books between 1525 and 1567. I first explain how the regulatory practice of generic privilege influenced Richard Bankes’s choice to print and then reprint the little Herball, as well as the influence that Bankes’s privilege had on the behavior of the other Tudor publishers who were the first to reprint the book. As part of that discussion, I explain how Bankes’s publication of the little Herball was one of several texts that he was issuing concurrently that readers could bind and sell together in a single, composite volume. I then explore how the editions of printer-publisher Robert Wyer changed the functionality of the little Herball, which has subjected Wyer to accusations of piracy. My analysis will show that these accusations are both anachronistic and unfounded. Finally, I examine another marketing innovation that booksellers hoped would attract new customers to the little Herball: the addition of a named author on its title page.
Richard Bankes and Generic Print Privileges
The colophon of Here begynnyth a newe mater / the whiche sheweth and treateth of [the] vertues & proprytes of herbes / the whiche is called an Herball, the first printed herbal in English, is dated March 25, 1525. The quarto’s title page also features the words “Cum gratia & priuilegio a rege induito,” a Latin phrase of such importance to its publisher, stationer Richard Bankes, that he also repeated it on the final page of the volume: “Cum priuilegio. Imprynted by me Rycharde Banckes / dwellynge in Lo[n]do[n] / a lytel fro [the] Stockes in [the] Pultry / [the].xxv.day of Marche. The yere of our lorde. M.LLLLL.&.xxv.”Footnote 11 Bankes reprinted the text the following year with an updated colophon but shortened his title page declaration: both the first and the last page of the 1526 text simply read “Cum priuilegio.”Footnote 12
In previous chapters, I outlined the forms of ecclesiastical, royal, and civic authority that adjudicated English publishers’ rights to make, distribute, and sell copies of printed works in the first half of the sixteenth century. In particular, I explained the system of ad hoc privileges that temporarily removed texts from the public domain for a specified number of years, a system that was in use prior to the incorporation of the Stationers’ Company in 1557, along with the subsequent economic protections that were created by the new company’s regulatory systems. As an earlier form of pre-incorporation economic insurance, the cum privilegio patent was a crown dispensation that granted a publisher a chance to earn back their return on an investment by preventing another publisher from printing their privileged texts for a set period. On occasion, these patents secured a privilege over specific titles, but more common were what Peter W. M. Blayney calls “generic” privileges that granted the recipient “temporary protection for any book (legally) printed at his costs and charges.”Footnote 13 In the case of some patents, such as those held by the King’s Printer, the term of the privilege was usually for the king’s life, but the patents granted to most booksellers were for a shorter and limited period of time up to seven years. In 1525, this is the sort of privilege that Bankes appears to have held and to have indicated with “Cum priuilegio” on the title page and colophon of his 1525 and 1526 herbals.Bankes’s time as a printer is split between two periods, 1523–1526 and 1539–1545, but he published books throughout his career. The exact terms of Bankes’s privilege in 1525 are difficult to ascertain because no record of it from his earlier printing period survives outside of the claims he makes on his title pages and colophons; however, in accordance with King Henry’s 1538 proclamation that books published with the protection of the king’s privilege must also print “the effect” of that privilege in the text of the protected book, Bankes dutifully printed his privilege in full in a number of his works after 1538, and these instances provide a guide to what his earlier privilege may have looked like.Footnote 14 The text printed in his 1540 edition of the summer gospels (STC 2968) indicates that Bankes had been granted a seven-year monopoly on any work he chose to print at his own expense:
While it is prudent to note that it is possible that the 1540 privilege outlined here may be a different or shorter privilege than the one that is actually referenced by the cum privilegio of Bankes’s prior publications, assuming that he had a similarly termed, seven-year patent as early as 1525 may explain why more than a decade passed between Bankes’s second edition of the little Herball in 1526 and its first reprinting by another publisher sometime around 1537.Footnote 15 It is not clear how Bankes managed to acquire a crown privilege to protect his works, but unlike his contemporary privilege holder and fellow printer-publisher John Rastell (who was the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas More), there is no clear indication that Bankes was connected to the court. Bankes’s motivation for publishing the little Herball in 1525 must therefore be found through an examination of the other books he printed and published during his twenty-four-year bookselling career, as well as by putting Bankes in the wider context of the early English book trade in the 1520s and 1530s. Blayney identifies Bankes as one of the first English publishers to give up printing to concentrate their efforts on the more lucrative activity of publishing, and this shift suggests that he was a particularly astute reader of the marketplace for printed books in Tudor London.Footnote 16
At the time of Bishop Tunstall’s October 1526 meeting with London’s booksellers to forbid them from printing the works of English authors without first showing the books to a group of civic and ecclesiastical censors (a permission to publish later known as allowance), Bankes was operating his printing house at the Long Shop in the Poultry beside St. Mildred’s Church, just a few doors away from the bustling Stocks Market. Bankes’s first printed book, a short anonymous tract translated from Dutch, was issued from the Long Shop on October 5, 1523: Here begynneth a lytyll new treatse or mater intytuled & called The.ix.Drunkardes (STC 7260).Footnote 17 Playing on the established tradition of the Nine Worthies, Bankes’s quarto retells a selection of biblical stories and apocrypha illustrated with seventeen unique woodcuts.Footnote 18 Featured stories include Noah and the Ark, Cham espying his father’s drunken nakedness, Lot and his daughters, Judith beheading Holofernes, the banquet of Absalom, the foolish refusal of Nabal, and Belshazzar’s feast with the writing on the wall. Despite its novel illustrations, The. ix. Drunkardes likely did not sell particularly well, as Bankes himself never found cause to reprint it, nor did any of his fellow stationers see fit to copy the book. Would-be competitors considering reprinting Bankes’s text may have been deterred more by the work’s copious illustrations than by the cum gracia et privilegio appended to the colophon, since reprinting the illustrations would have required another publisher either to borrow the figures from Bankes or to copy and recut the wood blocks at a considerable expense. By contrast, the “cum priuilegio” declaration on Bankes’s twice-printed and unillustrated little Herball ably served its purpose, warning off other publishers to wait to reprint the book until after Bankes’s seven-year privilege expired. Nonetheless, the simultaneous and quick emergence of new editions after its expiration testifies to the vendibility that early printers saw in this particular work. Once the little Herball returned to the public domain, editions soon issued undated from the presses of John Skot, Robert Redman, and Robert Wyer towards the end of the 1530s, and another appeared from the press of Thomas Petyt in 1541. Though bibliographers have sometimes accounted these editions “piracies” (particularly those published by Wyer), these Tudor booksellers were making rational and perfectly legal choices in response to the regulatory and material circumstances in which they produced books. The latest terms of the patent held by the little Herball’s first printer would have expired in 1532 or (counting seven years from Bankes’s second edition) in 1533, when the text would have returned to the public domain. Skot, Redman, and Wyer were well within their rights to print the text.The popularity of the little Herball may also have had something to do with characteristics of the verbal text itself. Later described by its twentieth-century editors Sanford Larkey and Thomas Pyles as being in manner “quaint, old-fashioned, yet racy and vigorous,” the texts offer brief descriptions of plants listed under their Latin names, coupled with details of their virtues or medical import.Footnote 19 For the most part, the medical information contained in the pages of the little Herball is slight, but the “racy and vigorous” charm that Larkey and Pyles find remarkable can be found in the specific wording of remedies, as in this cure for gout:
Take the rote of wylde Neppe & the rote of of [sic] wylde docke sothen by it selfe & cutte them in thynne pyces & pare a waye the utter rynde and cut them in quarters / than boyle them in clene water ii. or iii houres / than stampe them in a morter as small as thou can / than put therto a quantyte of sote of a chymnaye / than tempre the[m] vp with the mylke of a cowe that the heere is of one coloure / than take the vryne of a man that is fastynge & put thereo & make a playster therof & boyle it and laye it to the sore as hote as the seke maye suffre it / & let it ly styll a day and a nyght / & do so.ix.tymes & thou shall be hole on warantyse, by [the] grace of god.Footnote 20
Some of the little Herball’s plant therapies are mystical as well as practical. If Herba Joannis, or Saint John’s Wort (still prescribed by naturopaths to treat mild depression), is “putte in a mannes howse / there shall come no wycked sprite therin.”Footnote 21 Other remedies demonstrate evidence more of folk belief than of medicine, such as the recommendation that supplicants carry “veruayne,” or verbena, because “they that bere Veruayne vpon the[m] / they shall haue loue and grace of great maysters / & they shall graunte hym his asking / if his askynge be good and ryghtfull.”Footnote 22 By bearing motherworte, or mugwort, a man will avoid being grieved by venomous beasts, while he who “frots” his hands with Dragantia “without doubte he may take Adders they shall not venyme hym,” but only in the month of May.Footnote 23
Editions of the Little Herball Post Bankes
Because many of the editions of the little Herball printed by other publishers did not include dates in their imprints, providing a precise sequence of editions that allows a scholar to determine with certainty who copied whom is difficult. Though Blanche Henrey speculates that Robert Wyer was the first printer to copy the little Herball the year after Bankes’s seven-year royal privilege would have expired, in the revised Short-Title Catalogue (STC) Katharine Pantzer gives Wyer’s edition a queried date of 1543, positioning printer John Skot as the little Herball’s first copyist sometime around 1537.Footnote 24
Little is known about Skot, whose career, based on colophon evidence, spanned the period 1521 to 1537. He rarely dated his works and often failed even to append his name to his books. In his early career, he lived in St. Sepulchre without Newgate parish before moving, sometime before 1528, to St. Paul’s Churchyard. Present at Tunstall’s second meeting with the booksellers in October 1526, Skot was a hesitant printer-publisher, choosing to supplement the profits he made printing his own publications by also printing works for others. Early in his career, Skot sometimes printed for Wynkyn de Worde, presumably when the house of Caxton’s former assistant was too busy with other publications and wanted to rush into print an edition of a work like the second edition of Here begynneth a treatyse of this galaunt with the maryage of the bosse of Byllyngesgate. vnto London stone (1521?; STC 24242).Footnote 25 Skot printed his edition of A boke of the propertyes of herbes the which is called an Herball for himself, issued undated from his last recorded address, Foster Lane in St. Leonard’s parish. Having already been twice-printed by Bankes, it was reasonable for Skot to have assumed that the little Herball posed no ecclesiastical hazard and, once Bankes’s privilege expired, could easily be copied and sold throughout London without fear of ecclesiastical or chancery reprisal. Such concern with penal appropriation may have been rather important to Skot’s decision-making, as he, like many of his contemporaries, had recently run afoul of Thomas Cromwell. Skot had been one of the publishers of a work about Elizabeth Barton, the Maid of Kent, who was notorious for having opposed Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and was convicted of treason.Footnote 26 After 1537, Skot disappears from the records of early English printing.
Scholars have been preoccupied with accounts of piratical activity in the publication history of the little Herball in part because of Bankes’s fellow stationer Robert Redman, whose aggressive and often illegal behaviors towards Richard Pynson and other booksellers left behind a number of records. Listed as being another attendant at Tunstall’s October 1526 meeting, Redman printed his own edition of the little Herball from his shop at the sign of “The George” (St. George) in Fleet Street in or around 1539. Like Bankes, Redman had begun his career in 1523, when he set up his first shop in St. Clement’s parish just outside of Temple Bar and began to produce copies of works printed by Richard Pynson, then both the King’s Printer and the Printer for the City of London. Pynson, a native of Normandy, had paid a fee to join the Stationers sometime before 1500. After that, Pynson was technically a citizen of the City of London and was able to practice his trade within the City limits, so in 1500 he moved his shop at the sign of the George from St. Clement Danes parish in Middlesex to just inside Temple Bar in St. Dunstan’s parish. By copying Pynson’s sign and address from his very beginnings, Redman seems to have deliberately targeted Pynson’s career as a model for his own, and his copying of Pynson’s books was so overt that Pynson began to issue attacks on this “Rude-man” in his addresses to the reader.Footnote 27 When Pynson died in 1530, Redman moved shops, taking over Pynson’s inside Temple Bar in St. Dunstan’s, where he remained until his own death in 1540.
Redman’s piratical activities were not limited to his attacks on the lawful material of Richard Pynson. Shortly after Pynson’s death, Redman was ordered in 1533 not to sell copies of his edition of Christopher St. Germain’s The Division of the Spirituality and Temporalty, the rights of which had been granted to Thomas Berthelet, who had succeeded Pynson as King’s Printer. Berthelet had issued his edition of The Division of the Spirituality and Temporalty (STC 21587) cum privilegio in 1532, and an illegal edition pirated by Redman had appeared around the same time. The Star Chamber forbade Redman to sell his copies of the work and barred him from reissuing it or any other book that had been printed with the king’s privilege, binding him with the threat of a 500-mark penalty.Footnote 28
Bankes’s own dealings with Redman seem not to have differed greatly from those of Pynson and Berthelet. In 1540, when he was brought before the Privy Council to account for printing a series of broadsides alternately condemning and defending Thomas Cromwell, Bankes blamed the late Redman, along with Richard Grafton (who later confessed his part in the publications), with deliberately falsifying Bankes’s imprint.Footnote 29 The Council found both the authors of the broadsides, Thomas Smyth and William Gray, and the publisher Grafton guilty of sedition and sentenced all three to a prison term in the Fleet.Footnote 30 Here again, as early as the reign of Henry VIII in England, the “penal appropriation” that Foucault asserts is crucial to the “author-function” was linked as much to stationers as to authors, to the practical distribution of textual materials as well as their imaginative origins. By virtue of their ability to make information public, the bookselling publishers, those agents who initiated the production and oversaw the distribution of printed books, were seen by civic and royal authorities as being just as responsible as authors. Conversely, such punitive measures made previously circulated and uncontroversial works in print or manuscript more attractive for would-be publishers because they had already been publicly tested and had not found controversy.
Redman’s explicit acts of violation of others’ privileged texts do not necessarily mean that all of his activities should be seen as suspicious or that his behaviors were always objectionable. Like that of his contemporary Richard Bankes, Redman’s extant output demonstrates that he had an especially keen eye for books that were likely to sell well, and he exploited the market to his advantage. All bibliographers have agreed that Redman’s undated edition of the little Herball appeared after Bankes’s privilege for the book had expired, when the work was once again a part of the public domain. Early reprints of the little Herball by other stationers thus are testimony not to criminality but to the marketability that savvy sixteenth-century publishers saw in this particular text. Redman’s edition was later copied and reprinted by his widow Elizabeth and by her successors in the shop at the George, William Middleton and William Powell.Footnote 31
One of Redman’s final projects before he died was printing Thomas Berthelet’s 1540 edition of the Great Bible (STC 2069) with Thomas Petyt.Footnote 32 Petyt had been hired by Berthelet to print editions of the New Testament twice in the previous year, and Redman’s shop may have been contracted for the 1540 edition because Petyt’s shop in St. Paul’s Churchyard at the sign of the Maiden’s Head was already working at maximum capacity. Petyt issued his own A boke of the propertyes of herbes the whiche is called an Harbal in an edition dated 1541, using Elizabeth Redman’s edition as his copy-text. A group of other stationers thereafter took turns reprinting their own editions of the work until a new means of establishing a text’s value emerged in 1557: the title was finally licensed and entered into the Stationers’ Registers by John King in late 1560 or early 1561.
By 1541, then, the work that most scholars know as “Bankes’s Herball” existed in seven distinct editions: two printed by Richard Bankes dated 1525 and 1526 and one each from the presses of John Skot (1537?), Robert Redman (1539?), Robert Wyer (1539?), Elizabeth Redman (1540?), and Thomas Petyt (1541). Such intensive publication of a single, popular title raises numerous questions: Why did the late 1530s and early 1540s create such a run on this particular book? If the little Herball was such a lucrative text with Tudor readers that four other publishers would seek to capitalize on its popularity, why did Bankes only reprint the work once before his privilege expired? The circumstances surrounding early attempts to control the book trade may provide some explanation.
With the exception of Elizabeth Pickering Redman (whose printing house was represented by the attendance of her husband Robert), all five printers had been present at Tunstall’s meeting of October 25, 1526. Shortly thereafter, the same group began to print a selection of octavos on popular topics, seemingly “copying” each other’s works; in addition to the Herball, Bankes’s The Seeing of Urines (1525–6; STC 22153) and Here beginneth a good boke of medicines intytulyed or callyd the treasure of pore men (1526; STC 24199)Footnote 33 appeared from the Redman and Wyer presses, while Wyer’s edition of Thomas Moulton’s This is the myrour or glass of helthe, necessary and nedefull, printed earlier than 1531 (STC 18214), was variously reprinted both by the Redmans and by their successors at the George, as well as by Thomas Petyt and Robert Copland.Footnote 34
As these octavo publications occur shortly after Tunstall’s meeting that highlighted the dangers of unapproved texts, the concurrence of a small group of limited privilege-holding printer-publishers issuing the same short works en masse raises a variety of questions. Did these publishers, seeking to attract English readers to the variety of information available in the new medium, issue these works as part of a larger series? Was such copying between publishers the result of a fear of ecclesiastical reprisal in a turbulent age? Many miscellaneous bound collections were broken up by nineteenth-century book collectors, but Crynes 873, a composite octavo volume held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, provides an indication of the ways that book buyers approached these texts as a group. The bound volume features the single surviving copy of Thomas Petyt’s edition of the little Herball alongside Petyt’s 1540 edition of Medicines (STC 24202) and his 1545 Glass of Health (STC 18225.4). It also includes editions of John Gough’s Regiment or Dietary of Health (STC 3378.5, printed by Wyer) and Elizabeth Pickering Redman’s 1541 edition of Seeing of Urines (STC 22155). While the Crynes 873 volume might suggest that such often-reprinted works all had a health-related theme, the stationers’ recursive reprinting of legal works – such as Anthony Fitzherbert’s The newe boke of iustices of the peas (1538; STC 10969), translated from the French and originally printed by Robert Redman, or his Offices of sheryffes, bailliffes [and]coroners (1538; STC 10984) – suggests that the driving similarity may have been more broadly practical: small reference books with a high use value rather than books around a particular subject. Unfortunately, the rebinding habits of nineteenth-century book collectors make it difficult to do more than speculate. What such convergences in publication history do offer, however, is a cogent caveat to the inclination of print historians to see each new issue of a printed work as necessarily in competition with its precursors. Especially in an era preceding the Stationers’ Company’s control over the English book trade, booksellers occasionally worked together to increase consumer demand for their products, and Crynes 873 demonstrates that that form of collaboration could be recognized by readers and book purchasers.Footnote 35
There is also a material feature of the first edition of the little Herball that is worth further attention. Bankes appears for the first time in any extant records in the lay subsidy rolls of 1523, where he is described as a bookbinder, a detail that informed his approach to both printing and marketing his editions of the book.Footnote 36 Like many of the English books printed in the early decades of the sixteenth century, Bankes’s edition of the little Herball lacks both pagination and catchwords, leaving only the signatures that appear beneath the text in the right-hand corner of the first three recto pages of each quire to instruct a binder in the correct way to assemble the little Herball’s pages. In both the 1525 and the 1526 herbals, however, Bankes has set the abbreviated word “Her.” in the gutter opposite the signature, signifying that the quarto pages marked with each signature refer to his book’s title. If the little Herball was printed to be bound alone, Bankes’s use of this abbreviated title in the signature line would serve no purpose; however, if Bankes conceived of his little Herball as part of a series of quartos designed to be sold and bound together, a bookbinder would need to be able to distinguish the individual quires of the little Herball from those of another book in order to avoid mis-sewing. Two other contemporaneous Bankes publications share this signature-line title feature: Here begynneth the seynge of uryns, dated May 28, 1525, (STC 22153, with a signature-line title of “Seyng of wa.”) and Here begynneth a new boke of medecynes intytulyd or callyd the treasure of pore men (STC 24199, with a signature-line title of “Me.”), printed in or around 1526. Both books were printed for Bankes by John Rastell. Later in the 1530s, editions of The Seynge of Uryns came from the presses of Robert Wyer, as well as Robert and Elizabeth Redman and their successors at the George. Many of the same stationers also reprinted A New Boke of Medecynes. It was not just Bankes, then, but his fellow Tudor booksellers who conceived of the little Herball as one in a series of short informative volumes that could be bound with others. The material form of the little Herball first printed by Richard Bankes, along with its capacity to be linked with other, related texts, was thus a fundamental part of its popularity with Tudor readers.
Robert Wyer and His Readers
Like his contemporary Robert Redman, Robert Wyer is often credited as being a notorious pirate of other printers’ copy, but in the context of the English book trade prior to 1557, his three editions of Bankes’s Herball were perfectly legitimate. Though by the time Wyer started printing in 1529 London had had several foreign-born printers, he was the only citizen printer active at the time who was not a member of the Stationers’ Company. Wyer was free of the Salters’ Company (which ranked ninth in London’s “Great Twelve” livery companies from which the mayor was selected), a position that gave him considerable protection. As a bookseller, City custom decreed that Wyer had to obey the policies and standards of the Stationers’ Company; however, until 1557 the Stationers’ Company did not have authority over printing. What this meant was that, as a printer, Wyer had no specific governing customs and could do almost anything he wanted. What Wyer clearly wanted to do was print and wholesale as many books as possible; over the course of his career between 1529 and 1556, he published at least 140 items, many of which were reprints of works that had already established themselves in the marketplace. Yet Wyer was also willing to risk his capital on new works: of the 140 works he printed for himself, 74 titles were first editions. His biographer notes that he preferred to publish “small octavos dealing with subjects of a popular nature, and therefore readily saleable.”Footnote 37 Such a prolific output, which included works that had been first printed by others, has sometimes led scholars to view Wyer as a pirate of other stationers’ copy. In moralizing the legality of their subjects’ activities, narratives of the book trade sometimes miss the fact that stationers who copied others’ books were simply well-attuned to the best means of making money, and not all of these means of copying were necessarily illegal.Wyer’s enthusiasm for popular books, coupled with his rather sloppy output (as bibliographer P. B. Tracy notes of Wyer’s copies, “founts are used to death, re-castings are of poor quality, presswork is uneven”), has led to accounts of his career as a printer and publisher that echo the derisive attitudes scholars have expressed about “rogue” herbalist John Gerard.Footnote 38 In an article titled “Some Rogueries of Robert Wyer,” H. B. Lathrop accuses him of publishing “dingy octavos” for the “uneducated” multitudes,Footnote 39 while Francis L. Johnson subjects Wyer to a more direct attack:
Robert Wyer’s methods of obtaining the copy for his handbooks stands revealed to the full measure of its unapologetic knavery. Neither the hiring of competent authors and translators nor respect for the rights of his fellow printers had any place in his system.Footnote 40
Johnson supposes that Wyer’s reprinting Bankes’s Herball in a trio of modified editions is sufficient evidence to label him a “knave,” but, given the willingness of other printers to enter into business relationships with Wyer, the animosity modern scholars surmise that early printers felt for his supposedly illicit trade practices is overstated. Everything Wyer was doing was completely legal within the terms of early Tudor printing and bookselling. That Bankes himself believed his privilege for the little Herball expired in the mid-1530s is confirmed by Bankes having hired Wyer to print for him after Bankes abandoned his own press at the Long Shop.Footnote 41 Neither Wyer’s inferior press nor his supposed knavery was enough to prevent his colleagues in the book trade from entrusting him to manufacture their products.
As I suggested in the Introduction, the editions of the little Herball published by John Skot, Robert Redman, Elizabeth Pickering Redman, and Thomas Petyt have few variations between them. Wyer’s reprints of the little Herball followed an entirely different approach,Footnote 42 one that has not endeared him to history. In a detailed analysis of the differences between Wyer’s three editions of the little Herball and Bankes’s two, Johnson suggests that Wyer’s changes were part of a fundamentally dishonest approach to bookmaking and bookselling. Johnson maintains that Wyer edited and reorganized the text of the little Herball in order to deliberately “gloss over his theft,” which was supposedly intended to thwart any attempt by Bankes to “obtain redress” for Wyer’s usurpation of his royal privilege.Footnote 43 Yet Johnson’s argument is muted by his misunderstanding both the nature and the terms of Bankes’s privilege. Once that knowledge is returned to the equation, Wyer’s status as a rogue pirate dissolves. Wyer had no offense to mask because there was no offense committed.When Wyer reprinted the little Herball, he chose to identify the work not with the title favored by most of its earlier printers, Boke of the propertyes of herbes the which is called an Herball,Footnote 44 but as Hereafter foloweth the knowledge, properties, and the virtues of herbes (STC 13175.6).Footnote 45 Because he was working from the assumption that “enterprising” printers like Wyer engaged in outright piracy, Johnson makes several unqualified assertions about book production in an era preceding the regulatory effects of the Stationers’ Company Registers and licensing system:
by changing the title of the work and making a few minor alterations in the arrangement and wording of the text, the injured party, notwithstanding his royal privilege, would find it very difficult to obtain redress. The pirate need only maintain that his was a new book; then the Renaissance approval of free literary borrowing would force the complainant to rest his case on the debatable distinction between outright plagiarism and an unskillful, but not reprehensible, imitation.Footnote 46
Johnson’s account of Wyer’s production of the Herball is curiously inconsistent with his scholarly treatment of its other editions after Bankes. Though he notes that the largest group of these herbals (which includes the Redmans, Skot, and Copland editions) are essentially “page for page reprint[s]” of each other, Johnson nonetheless singles out Wyer’s editions as emblematic of printing villainy.Footnote 47 Yet none of these three post-Bankes editions of the Herball had any more or less legal right to the title than Wyer himself did in 1539. The first change in Bankes’s title came from Skot, not from Wyer. Johnson’s illogical claim that Wyer’s alteration of Bankes’s text was the “easiest and least expensive way of obtaining the text for a new herbal” is an argument that strains against both the systems of privilege at work in the period and the work’s extant publication history. For a sixteenth-century publisher like Wyer (as for the Redmans, Skot, Copland, and everyone else who followed Bankes, up to and including John King), by far the easiest way to obtain the text of an English herbal was simply to reprint something that had already been printed and that was no longer protected by an earlier privilege.Footnote 48 In 1539, Wyer could have legally printed Bankes’s Herball verbatim, but he chose not to do so. By changing the title of the work and by reorganizing the text of the Herball to improve its functionality for readers (which served no regulatory or nefarious purpose), Wyer’s alterations demonstrated not his roguery but his capacity for textual innovation.Johnson supports his view of Wyer’s “unapologetic knavery” by itemizing other examples of where the printer “extracted,” “altered,” “corrected,” “augmented,” “abridged,” “compiled,” or “paraphrased” – all activities that Johnson believes should be undertaken only by “competent authors and translators.”Footnote 49 Though a selective collation, Johnson demonstrates that Wyer’s edition of the Herball introduced substantive changes in Bankes’s text by subtracting 27 of Bankes’s 207 chapters and adding 3 others, as well as by altering the wording of those chapters that he did include. Johnson surmises that, in order to create his edition, Wyer
himself, or some hack writer in his employ, goes through Bankes’s Herball, revising it, with the object of bringing it out under Wyer’s imprint. He adds supplementary material now and then from other sources … he omits sections that prove too difficult or seem of minor importance. When the text seems to him faulty or obscure, he makes a crude attempt to correct it … when a casual reference to these works fails to solve a problem, he makes a clumsy guess, and since he has no knowledge of botany to aid him in his task, his corrections, though they often replace an obsolete term with a seemingly familiar one, usually leave the meaning of the passage as obscure as it was before.Footnote 50
To make a case, a prosecution must establish motive, and Johnson incorrectly surmises that Wyer made alterations to the Herball primarily to “make a crude attempt at covering up his tracks” while violating Bankes’s privilege.Footnote 51 Yet in his desire to vilify Wyer, Johnson also makes an egregious claim about Wyer’s (or his compiler’s) lack of botanical knowledge. In doing so, he judges its botany by later standards, anachronistically turning to the evidence of later printed works such as William Turner’s herbal of 1568, Henry Lyte’s translation of Dodoens (1578), John Gerard’s Herball, or Historie of Plants (1597), and John Parkinson’s Theatrum botanicum (1640). Unsurprisingly, Wyer’s short compilation is unable to demonstrate the detail of many of these celebrated folio texts. Wyer should have, Johnson argues, been more careful in his consultation of contemporary English works like De proprietatibus rerum (de Worde, 1495; Berthelet, 1535) or The Grete Herbal (Treveris, 1526, 1529), because “these books and manuscripts would in most cases have sufficed for his task had he been a conscientious and intelligent workman. As it was, they only abetted his ignorance, so that his text as a rule merely introduced new errors in place of old confusion.”Footnote 52
Johnson characterizes Wyer’s use of compilation, his cross-referencing between various source texts, and his smoothing of elements that may prove confusing to his customers as “typical of Wyer’s notorious system of compiling popular handbooks by appropriating as much as he found useful of other men’s works and disguising them as his own.”Footnote 53 That such behavior seems to be perfectly in keeping with the “Renaissance approval of free literary borrowing” that Johnson elsewhere asserts exists does not dissuade him from calling Wyer’s herbal “a clumsy revision and augmentation of Bankes’s text, made with the intent of misleading the prospective purchaser.”Footnote 54 Johnson does not appear to know that the revising and augmenting that Wyer does to the Herball is a considerable effort, one that, given the expiration of Bankes’s original privilege, was also completely unnecessary to justify his activities with the text. After Bankes’s privilege expired, Wyer was in no more danger from Bankes’s royally sanctioned claim to the title than was Skot, Petyt, or Redman. Further, as the holder of his own royal privilege for books he’d created, if Wyer could have demonstrated to the king’s council that he had spent money in creating his new adaptation of the Herball, he could have claimed protection for it – but he didn’t.Footnote 55
Wyer was one of many early English printer-publishers who recognized that the increased availability of printed texts shifted contemporary debates about experimental knowledge making, and his changes to the text demonstrate Wyer’s investment in making the Herball more appealing to contemporary readers. In retitling the herbal Hereafter foloweth the knowledge, properties, and the virtues of herbes, Wyer ignored the stress on its status as a “boke” that other publishers were eager to emphasize in favor of an account of the text’s “knowledge” or use value. The OED offers a fifteenth-century use of “knowledge” specifically denoting “the fact or condition of being instructed, or of having information acquired by study or research” (n.11). Just such a usage of the word appears in a popular work first printed by Caxton in 1477 that was reprinted in 1528, one that seems to have accorded with Wyer’s similar handling of the term in 1539: “Knowlege is better than ignoraunce.”Footnote 56 Wyer’s addition to Bankes’s title thus served to illustrate the effort that the printer put into producing the text of his new volume by adding supplementary material available in other manuscript and printed works. As Martha Driver notes in an article on Wyer’s printing of Christine de Pisan’s The.C.Hystoryes of Troye (an edition that is sometimes accused of “suppressing” de Pisan’s authorship because of Wyer’s anti-feminist agenda), “in the first hundred years of printing, the printer, the new maker, superseded the author, in the transmission of texts, similar to the way Hollywood overwrites literary authors today.”Footnote 57 Driver’s account of Wyer and his contemporaries’ “active self-promotion” easily explains Wyer’s motivations in changing the title of Bankes’s text to emphasize the “fact or condition of having information acquired by study or research.” The changes that Wyer makes to the Herball suggest that there may be something more than the usual custom in Wyer’s deliberate emphasis on his role as the maker of this particular book, which had been “Imprynted by me Robert Wyer.”Footnote 58 Wyer’s colophon simultaneously highlights his work as a publisher and printer as well as his labor in reorganizing and supplementing the work through activities that we now chiefly associate with authors and editors.
Even if in 1541 Wyer’s original intent was to “deceive” potential customers with the uniqueness of Hereafter foloweth the knowledge, properties, and the virtues of herbes, the similarities between it and the products of other publishers may still have been too obvious to early modern readers to convince them that it was in fact a different version of the work, and in 1544, Wyer determined to reprint his text under a completely different scheme. Wyer’s second edition of the work was published as A newe herball of Macer, translated out of Laten into Englysshe (STC 13175.8c)Footnote 59 and sought to capitalize on booksellers’ familiarity with a medieval manuscript poem on plants known as the “Macer Floridus,” often erroneously attributed to the classical poet Aemilius Macer (Figure 4.1).Footnote 60 Wyer’s addition of Macer’s name was wholly spurious and designed as an advertising feature – there was nothing added of Aemilius Macer or Macer Floridus that could justify the new title page claim. The improvements to Wyer’s new edition did not end with the title, however; he also supplied an important new textual affordance that shows Wyer’s understanding of the way readers engaged with such little books. Wyer added marginal notations alongside the body of his text, highlighting key words for readers scanning to locate plants appropriate to various ailments (Figure 4.2).
In the period before indexes were regularly keyed to either pagination or foliation, such marginal notations meant that readers searching for remedies for “wormes” or a means by which to “delyuereth a woman of a dead childe” needed only to scrutinize the margins of a herbal’s pages. Wyer’s New Herbal of Macer of 1544 was the first English herbal to recognize that such an edifying compendium might better serve its readers if it were accompanied by organizational markers in the margins that could quickly point readers towards the information they sought. Wyer’s innovation has hitherto gone unnoticed by those seeking to vilify Wyer’s contributions to the herbal genre.Footnote 61 Except for its new title and these marginal annotations, the 1544 work was otherwise a reprint of Wyer’s 1539 edition.
Wyer may have gotten the idea for his Macer marketing ploy from the misprint in the title of Bankes’s second edition of the text, which contained the error marer for mater in Here bygynnyth a newe mater (Figure 4.3). Such an error may have been the result either of poor composition (it was certainly an error in proof correction) or of an incorrectly distributed piece of type caused by a compositor’s misreading. If the lay of Bankes’s type case was anything similar to that illustrated in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, in which the t and r sorts are at sufficient distance from each other that a compositor’s grabbing one for the other by mistake seems unlikely, the error likely resulted from a compositor’s error of the type as he redistributed it.Footnote 62 However the error occurred, it provided a suggestive opportunity. In the black letter typeface used throughout Bankes’s Herball, a lowercase r looks similar to a lowercase c. Wyer’s initial misreading of a copy of the 1526 Bankes may have ultimately proved fortuitous.
Wyer’s New Herbal of Macer was at least somewhat successful with customers, as he reprinted the text as Macers Herbal again in 1552 (STC 13175.13c), this time so confident in his marketing ploy that he splashed the title of his work across the running head of each page (Figure 4.4). In addition to Macer, Wyer seems to have wanted his book to advertise an endorsement from a more local authority; on his 1550 title page, he added that Macers Herbal is presented as “practysyd by Dr Lynacro,” or Thomas Linacre, founder of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1518 (Figure 4.5). Linacre was instrumental in translating selections of Galen’s work into Latin in a series of editions that were published by Richard Pynson in the 1520s, making Wyer’s claimed endorsement particularly clever since none of Linacre’s writings, including a Latin grammar, were yet available in English. Wyer’s marginal annotations also return in his 1550 text, this time as an affordance he considered worthy enough to advertise on his book’s title page.
Though Rebecca Laroche finds that early herbals “are not infused with issues of textual authority that we find in Turner and post-Turner publications,” the artifacts produced by Wyer demonstrate that named authorities did find their way onto the title pages and running titles even of the small-format herbals available for sale prior to William Turner’s New Herbal of 1551.Footnote 63
The Little Herball Variations of William Powell and William Copland
Wyer’s success between 1539 and 1550 with his versions of the little Herball later provided the publishers William Powell and William Copland with a model for their own “Askham’s Herbal” (STC 13175.13) and “W.C. Herbal” (STC 13175. 18) versions of the text, which were printed between 1550 and 1567. Anthony Askham was a patronage-seeking Yorkshire physician known to would-be readers as the brother of humanist Roger Askham, Cambridge fellow and tutor to the young princess Elizabeth. Given that Powell was the publisher of a series of Askham’s astrological octavos, his choice to supplement his 1550 edition of the little Herball with Askham’s work to compete with Wyer’s Macer variations was a reasonable one. Powell had little competition to fear from the remnants of the Redman or Middleton editions, if those were still circulating in London’s retail book market; as the husband of Elizabeth Middleton, William Middleton’s widow, Powell would have succeeded to all of Middleton’s remaining stock at the time of his death, including all the unsold copies of various editions of the little Herball that Middleton may ultimately have acquired from his forerunner at the George, Elizabeth Pickering Redman.
Like the Macer herbals, Powell’s motivation in creating his Askham herbal was to offer readers something apparently novel. His herbal’s full title also promised additional astronomical information with the seeming imprimatur of an expert physician, and the title’s length left some ambiguity about who was responsible for its botanical information: A lytel herball of the properties of herbes newely amended and corrected, with certayne addicions at the end of the boke [as] appointed in the almanacke, made in M.D.L. the xii. Day of February by A. Askham. The ambiguity of the squinting modifier “made and gathered” left dangling at the end of the title when this edition was reprinted by John King in 1561 (STC 13175.19) led to some confusion in the first edition of the STC (which is organized by author name) as well as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) (which still insists that Askham wrote the 1550 herbal). However, a collation of Powell’s edition with its most likely copy text, William Middleton’s edition of 1546, reveals that there is so very little change offered by Powell in 1550 that even Powell’s use of the phrase “newely amended and corrected” on the title page is suspect. The STC notes that “the additions mentioned were presumably to be a reissue of 857a.5,” or A lytel treatyse of astrouomy [sic], very necessary for physyke and surgerye, which was also published by Powell; however, no extant editions of Powell’s herbal survive that are bound with any Askham material, and it seems possible that the chief distinction of the text of the Askham herbal in the marketplace of Tudor London was located primarily on its title page. Powell’s retail customers may have been encouraged to bind their copies of his herbal with A lytel treatise; however, if readers who bought their texts elsewhere wished to read “Askham’s herbal” without the text of STC 857a.5, they were free to do so.
Such is not the case for the fourth variant in the Bankes’s Herball canon, those texts known as the W. C. herbals, which came first from the press of William Copland printing on behalf of the Draper John Wight and the stationer Richard Kele in 1552.Footnote 64 The title of Wight’s book in full is A boke of the proprerties [sic] of Herbes called an herball, wherunto is added the time [the] herbes, floures and Sedes shold be gathered to be kept the whole yere, with the vertue of [the] Herbes when they are stilled. Also a generall rule of all manner of Herbes drawen out of an auncyent booke of Phisyck by W.C. (STC 13175.15). As in the case of Powell’s Askham herbal, a squinting modifier comes into play in the title to confuse scholars desperately seeking title page authorship in the absence of clearer textual authority. The first edition of the STC originally listed this book under the name of Walter Cary, creator of such medical works as The Hammer for the Stone (1580, STC 4733) and A Briefe Treatise Called Cary’s Farewell to Physic (1583, STC 4730); however, this Walter Cary was still a child in 1552. The W. C. who drew a general rule of all manner of herbs from some unidentified “Ancient Book of Physic,” was likely someone else, possibly the work’s printer, William Copland, doing exactly what Wyer had done with his reorganization of the little Herball the decade before. Such a division in responsibility for the book’s manufacture likewise demonstrates the emergence of non-printing publishers like Wight and Kele, as well as the common occurrence of shared labor or expense in the printing of an edition.
The printer-translator Copland displayed his continued interest in the text by reprinting an edition for himself in 1559 (STC 13175.18), while in 1555, John Walley and Abraham Veale (another of Petyt’s former apprentices) hired John King to print for them a shared edition of the W. C. herbal of their own (13175.16, Walley; 13175.17, Veale).Footnote 65 In deciding upon an edition of the little Herball to print for himself in 1561 (STC 13175.19), King chose the Askham version of William Powell. King was also the first stationer to seek a Company license for the text, as is recorded in the Registers along with the licensing of two other titles sometime between November 20, 1560, and March 8, 1561. (Notably, the entry does not mention Askham’s name.) King’s death in August of that year meant that his records in the Registers didn’t prevent Antony Kytson from later printing another edition of the W. C. herbal circa 1567, which was at least the eighteenth and the last edition of the phenomenally popular work first printed by Richard Bankes in 1525.Footnote 66 The remedies the little Herball depicted, however, would resurface half a century later in another bestseller: Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1615).Footnote 67
Once we disaggregate the provenance of the work’s many editions, the publication history of Bankes’s Herball reveals that early English stationers were operating within a complex and dynamic marketplace that complicates a simple narrative of copyright ownership and competition. The combination of ecclesiastic control over seditious printing and the system of royal privilege during the pre-charter period actually did the opposite: it encouraged the spread of popular titles through the 1550s when the supply of printed books was outpaced by an increasing demand. Yet as England’s officials struggled to keep tabs on religious controversies, the solutions they used to control printed books had a knock-on effect upon nonreligious titles. The incorporation of the Stationers’ Company and their attendant regulations eventually pushed such early popular works out of the market: by the late sixteenth century, new editions of the little Herball were no longer available for sale to early modern readers. Despite its disappearance, however, the Herball in its multiple editions later served to convince cautious stationers that there was a sufficient English demand for printed botanical books in the vernacular to risk publishing much larger and more expensive editions. As a result, the London publisher Steven Mierdman could, in 1551, be assured that producing the illustrated folio of William Turner’s A New Herball in English was a good economic risk – after all, lay English readers were still buying copies of a 25-year-old, unillustrated octavo on a similar subject. Before accounting for the publication of this “authoritative English herbal” authored by the “Father of British botany,” however, I first need to discuss The Grete Herbal, another anonymous English herbal that helps us better understand how Tudor readers responded to printed works of natural history and medicine.
Sometime in spring 1526, Peter Treveris squinted over a page, red pencil in hand. He was correcting pages of his latest publication, an English translation of a French herbal that had been in print on the continent since 1487.Footnote 1 With nearly 500 woodcuts, Treveris’s illustrated folio herbal was an expensive and complicated undertaking, especially for a new printer who’d published only a handful of works before.Footnote 2 The new herbal was designed to supplement another illustrated folio that Treveris had published immediately upon settling in Southwark the prior year, Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Noble Experyence of the Vertuous Handy Warke of Surgeri (STC 13434). This work, too, was a substantive investment for Treveris, and he had gone to some trouble in printing its strikingly illustrated title page in both red and black ink. Treveris intended to use a similarly eye-catching design for the title page of his herbal, and he even planned to reference the surgery book on the title page of this new volume to reinforce how the two books were designed to complement each other (Figure 5.1).Footnote 3 He further planned to add to the title that the remedies in his volume were “practysed by many expert and wyse maysters/ as Auicenna & other. &c.,” an endorsement that suggested there was more to these titles than what was available for sale elsewhere.Footnote 4 As the unillustrated quarto herbal that Richard Bankes had printed the previous year was only a fraction the size of his own, Treveris may have been especially pleased to title his new work The Grete Herball (STC 13176, emphasis added).Footnote 5
Before Treveris could attend to the printing of his herbal’s preliminaries, however, he had to print the remainder of the volume, and something was amiss in his chapter on juniper. As he checked the newly printed pages against his manuscript copy, Treveris noticed that a few clarifying words were missing from the instructions on how to make juniper oil, a remedy for quartan fevers caused by melancholy. With his red pencil, Treveris made a note in the margin. To accommodate the new words, he would need to reorient a few lines and respell some of the surrounding text. No matter: “the” could easily be shortened to “ye” and “with” abbreviated to “wt” to provide the necessary space. Treveris likewise marked for correction a misspelled and incoherent word, “pacyon,” a dittography error likely caused by the compositor’s inadvertently echoing the ending of a word in the chapter’s subheader. In the margins, he noted that the ending needed to be revised so that the word read “pacient.” Most of Treveris’s corrections assured the accuracy of his translation of the verbal text from a manuscript into print, but as a craftsman he was also concerned with the technical errors that marred the aesthetics of his page with unsightly blotches, conspicuous errors that might preclude his being hired by another publisher as a trade printer sometime in the future. At one point, a space had risen to take ink; a few lines later, the kerning of one form of lowercase r in his textura type pushed against a long-st ligature in “first,” creating another blemish. The r would need to be replaced with the other sort of the letter. Treveris marked these errors for correction, too.Footnote 6
We know the specifics of Treveris’s activities as a corrector of his text of The Grete Herball because his proof-sheet for leaves N2–N5 survived in the binding of a 1526 indenture held at Queen’s College, Oxford.Footnote 7 Scrap papers and other forms of printers’ waste were regularly recycled into the paste downs and board bindings in Renaissance books, and as Strickland Gibson observes in his account of the proof-sheets, these “tiny pearls” can provide insight into the mechanics of textual transmission.Footnote 8 In the case of the first edition of The Grete Herball, the proof corrector’s notes testify to Treveris’s careful attention both to his copy-text and to the aesthetics of his printed page, demonstrating his awareness that errors could easily creep into the documents he offered for sale. Both forms of correction were relevant to Treveris’s livelihood: as a bookseller who may have commissioned the translations of the works he published, Treveris had a vested interest in ensuring that his texts were sufficiently accurate and free from nonsensical errors that readers (and fellow booksellers) would value their verbal content enough to purchase them; as a printer whose press and type might be hired by another publisher, he likewise had a vested interest in ensuring that his printed pages were clean and legible. More than four centuries later, Jerome McGann would need to remind scholars that “texts … are embodied phenomena, and the body of the text is not exclusively linguistic,” but for a Renaissance printer-publisher like Treveris, such concerns were perfectly obvious and wholly commonplace.Footnote 9
Treveris’s (and McGann’s) attention to the embodiment of texts as material documents results from their awareness that the interaction between verbal and illustrative texts produces meaning. The Grete Herball lacks even the basic descriptions of plant morphology found in the editions of the little Herball, and in many cases, Treveris’s woodcut illustrations, flawed and stylized as they were, provided the only evidence that could enable a user of the text to identify an unfamiliar plant. Along with the volume’s preface, his woodcuts had been copied from those in a continental herbal, the German Herbarius, which purported to be the product of a wealthy traveler to the east who’d commissioned an artist to accompany him on his travels and illustrate plants firsthand.Footnote 10 Recognizing that some of the utility of his product depended on this precise coordination of text and image, Treveris’s press-correcting efforts therefore extended to making sure that his copious woodcuts matched up with the correct chapter. Here, too, there was a problem. Treveris noticed only as he was perfecting sheet D3–4 that the illustration accompanying chapter 58 on borage had been switched with the illustration for an earlier, unnumbered chapter on bombax, or cotton, which he had already printed on the outer side of the same sheet (Figure 5.2). Treveris made the only correction available to him short of scrapping the page entirely and starting over: he inserted a vertical note running alongside the inaccurate cotton illustration that was now heading the borage chapter, noting “Nota [the] pictour of bo[m]bax & borago [the] one is put for [the] other.”Footnote 11 The illustrations were restored to their proper places in Treveris’s second edition of The Grete Herball in 1529, which Treveris printed as a joint investment with his fellow London printer Lawrence Andrewe.Footnote 12 The remaining two sixteenth-century editions of The Grete Herball, by Thomas Gibson in 1539 (STC 13178) and John King in 1561 (STC 13179), were largely unillustrated.Footnote 13
Treveris’s careful attention in ensuring the quality of his printed books was justifiable because errors of textual transmission not only promulgate themselves in future editions; they also lead to readers taking matters of correction into their own hands.Footnote 14 The manuscript annotations early modern readers left in their books testify that they too were aware of the possibility that errors could appear anywhere in their printed books. The popularization of “Faults Escaped” or errata lists in sixteenth-century European books helped readers normalize difficulties in textual transmission when they encountered them, and as William Sherman and Seth Lerer have demonstrated, readers regularly corrected by hand both those errors listed in printers’ errata lists and those they found on their own.Footnote 15 A reader of Thomas Petyt’s 1545 edition of Thomas Moulton’s Mirror, or Glass of Health (STC 18225.4), for instance, confronted in the table of contents with the nonsense chapter heading “yf one womysshe to moche,” correctly surmised that “womysshe” must mean “vomiteth.”Footnote 16 John Locke’s copy of the 1526 edition of The Grete Herball, now held in the Bodleian Library, features manuscript notes detailing an error in that particular copy’s binding, while John Donne’s copy of John Gerard’s 1597 Herball contains a series of corrections to that edition’s errors in page numbering. Other readers corrected a printer’s technical omissions, such as a note furnishing a missing chapter number in Treveris and Andrewe’s 1529 edition of The Grete Herball,Footnote 17 or a dutiful attempt to supply pagination throughout Robert Redman’s 1539 reprint of Bankes’s little Herball.Footnote 18 Yet sometimes readers’ attempts at correction could make matters worse. A reader of Treveris and Andrewe’s 1529 edition realized that two items on sig. O5r were not given chapter numbers and added them, also correcting the numbers in the register of chapters; however, the inattentive reader seems not to have realized that doing so would necessitate advancing all the other chapter numbers in the volume by two.Footnote 19 Nonetheless, readers’ marks such as these testify to moments when readers found fault in their books, and as producers of the printed artifacts in question, booksellers had a vested interest in offering products for sale that were as correct as it was possible to make them.
As Treveris realized, though, just as readers recognizing the vicissitudes of textual transmission could correct printers’ errors in the construction of the book artifact, so too could they correct the content of the verbal and illustrative texts that such books contained. The evidence of contemporary marginalia left in Renaissance books likewise indicates that early modern readers, much like modern scholars, were capable of using books as authorities over knowledge domains only inasmuch as it suited them to do so. Readers who took their pens to printed works could express their disagreement with the verbal text at hand, as did one reader of The Secrets of Alexis (London, 1580) who, upon altering several recipes, wrote “All theas receipts ar verye falsly written, but being corrected heer they ar trew.”Footnote 20 Manuscript evidence contained in several extant printed herbals likewise reveals that, when sixteenth-century readers sought medical advice from their pages, they did so with an evaluative and utilitarian eye, changing the physical artifact of the book to better suit their individual needs as book users and consumers. Wyer’s Macer editions, discussed in the previous chapter, offered readers printed marginal annotations that quickly highlighted key terms to facilitate the scanning of its pages, but the clear margins of the Bankes and Copland editions (and their successors) allowed readers to do such annotating for themselves.Footnote 21 The single surviving copy of Thomas Petyt’s 1541 edition (STC 13175.8) contains manuscript notations from a sixteenth-century reader who found some plant names too Latinate to be helpful, and after reading their vernacular monikers in the text that follows the Latinate heading, they added the English names in the margin. Sig. A3v’s “Absinthium” is thus annotated with “Wormewoode,” and on the following leaf, “Arthemesia” is renamed “mugworte.” A British Library copy of the “W.C. herbal” (published by John Wight in 1552) was read by someone particularly vested in the remedies for flatulence contained in the text, as this document is annotated to highlight those simples that alleviate “wycked wynd.”Footnote 22 A Folger Library copy of Ram’s Litle Dodeon (1606; STC 6988) features heavy annotation in both red and black inks; as Katarzyna Lecky has noted, several of the receipts “are distinguished with sketches of the body part that they treat; others reveal a reader’s reactions to the sugarcoated language referring to women’s health issues.”Footnote 23
Attuned to his customers’ use of books to catalogue and note their own reading experiences, Treveris supplied The Grete Herball with sophisticated finding aids to provide readers with opportunities for using – and marking up – the book in a variety of different ways. Both the 1526 and 1529 editions feature a “registre of the chapytres in latyn and in Englysshe,” which provide each entry in the volume with its own chapter heading and number.Footnote 24 The chapters are alphabetized by the first letter of the entry’s Latinate name, usually immediately followed by the corresponding name for the plant or substance in the English vernacular.Footnote 25 In addition to the initial “registre,” Treveris’s editions of The Grete Herball conclude with “a table very necessary and prouffytable for them that desyre to fynde quyckely a remedy agaynst all maner of dyseases.”Footnote 26 Organized into ailments affecting body parts from the head to the feet, remedies in the table are “marked by [the] letters of the.A.B.C. in euery chaptyre.” Those readers interested in, for example, remedies “Agaynst a balde heed” are instructed to seek out section A in chapter cccclxxxi (481) where they learn that Abrotanum powder muddled with “oyle of Rafanus” and anointed on the head will cause hairs to grow.Footnote 27 Freed from the tyranny of consecutive reading, consumers of The Grete Herball could either use the work as a pharmacological guide, by seeking out individual remedies in the initial register and learning what ailments each could treat, or use the herbal’s concluding table to read the work as a book of cures, organized by complaint.Footnote 28 Later publishers of The Grete Herball like Thomas Gibson would clarify the organization still further by splitting the register to provide separate lists of Latin and English names.Footnote 29 These pharmacologically inflected affordances pioneered by Treveris and Gibson would eventually be adopted and modified by publishers of later “authoritative” herbals like John Gerard’s of 1597, whose considerable size made discontinuous reading preferable. Reading such a massive tome straight through would be nearly impossible.Footnote 30
Most of the British Library copies of The Grete Herball contain annotations that suggest readers engaged with the book for specific purposes. A reader of John King’s 1561 edition was particularly concerned with women’s health, noting that chamomile is useful “for to provoke the flowers,” and inserting a manicule (☞) alongside the same effect of calendula.Footnote 31 On sig. N2r, under “to lose the wombe,” this same tactful reader has noted “to cause the flowers to flowe,” while later they opine that a recipe to “cause you to be laxe and go too the Stole” is “a good purgation.”Footnote 32 A reader of a British Library copy of William Copland’s 1559 little Herball (STC 13175.11) has numbered its pages from one to seventy-eight but there gave up the enterprise. They did not correspond to the numbered pages to the work’s ending table (which offers nothing more than an alphabetical listing of the plants contained), but it is clear that the reader was attempting to organize and annotate their reading. On sig. A5r, the word “wormes” is inserted into the margin at “destroyeth wormes,” while on the facing page they repeat “morphew” and offer three hasty manicules. Worms continue to preoccupy the reader on the following page, while “palsey” and “dropsy” appear to annotate lavender and wormwood respectively.
Because readers of herbals turned to these books as tools that helped them solve problems, these volumes also provided readers with an occasion for recording their own receipts or modifications of verbal details. The same abovementioned British Library copy of Copland’s little Herball is bound with handwritten lists of recipes “For purgation,” written on three pieces of smaller format paper that had presumably been tucked into the volume for safekeeping.Footnote 33 That they are recipes is not in question: “For purgation” is clearly legible, as are the words “take,” “boyle,” “oz,” and “draught.” A handwritten recipe for a distillation contains marigolds and roses and advises that the concoction should only be used in May and June. Such use of herbals as locations for early modern readers to store their own or acquired remedies was widespread, as was the tendency of readers to modify the recipes to suit their own particular religious or geographic affiliations. R. T. Gunther found a copy of Gerard’s 1597 Herbal with notes that indicate the work’s contemporary usage, while a Protestant reader of Treveris and Andrewe’s 1529 edition of The Grete Herball removed the work’s Catholic sentiments.Footnote 34 In a remedy “for the byting of a madde dog,” where the text reads “go to the chyrche and make thy offrynge to our lady and pray her to helpe and hele thee,” the reader has crossed out “our lady” and inserted the word “God.”Footnote 35
This kind of readerly alteration was made possible by a verbal text’s incarnation in a book, whose physical manipulability enabled readers to highlight certain details and ignore others. As Lorraine Daston has observed, “[t]aking notes entails taking note – that is, riveting the attention on this or that particular.” Note-taking, whether it occurs as a result of reading or of observation, “imparts a distinctive economy of attention to practitioners, sharpening their senses and whetting their curiosity for certain domains of phenomena at the expense of others.”Footnote 36 The surviving annotations of Renaissance readers thus indicate that they were not passive agents of the advice that they received from books but rather active mediators who evaluated the diverse claims of written advisors against the body of their own knowledge and experience.Footnote 37 Though some scholars of early printed books conclude that the shift from script to print ultimately resulted in the creation of a passive reader who largely agreed with a text, William Sherman finds that “Renaissance marginalia usually offer clues not just about the context in which books were circulated and read, but about how they were used; indications of the kinds of training that readers brought to bear on their encounters with texts, and the kinds of needs they could be made to serve.”Footnote 38
The Use Value of Herbals
This evidence of reading and note-taking habits contained within extant books is crucial to challenge accounts of herbals that assume contemporary readers simply treated these books as authoritative sources of medical and botanical information in the absence of professional authorities. In so doing, these scholarly accounts support not objective facts about early moderns’ credulity or epistemology but the subjective advertising strategies deployed by publishers as they sought to differentiate their books in the marketplace. For example, H. S. Bennett’s influential work English Books & Readers, 1475 to 1557 identifies herbals as “invaluable first-aid books of reference, and to those far from medical care, often served as the only means whereby a patient’s ailments might be treated. Of course, they were far from scientific in many particulars; but, expressed in simple language, and at times adorned with crude woodcuts of the plants, they met an obvious need.”Footnote 39Bennett’s interpretation takes The Grete Herball’s own preface as a model in describing the book’s utility for readers. In his preface to the work in 1526 and 1529, Treveris claimed that the herbal provided readers with
fortune as well in vilages where as nother surgeons nor phisicians be dwellyng nygh by many a myle/as it dooth in good townes where they be redy at hande. Wherfore brotherly loue compelleth me to wryte thrugh [the] gyftes of the holy gost shewynge and enformynge how man may be holpen w[ith] grene herbes of the gardyn and wedys of [the] feldys as well as by costly receptes of [the] potycarys prepayred.Footnote 40
Putting his book to press within a year of Bankes’s little Herball being offered for sale (and its being popular enough to quickly merit a second edition), Treveris sought to differentiate his more expensive work from the unillustrated little quarto. To do so, he explicitly presented his herbal as a surrogate for medical care in the absence of knowing professionals, and he likewise positioned himself not merely as a broker in printed commodities but as a thoughtful would-be Englishman engaging in dedicated Catholic service.Footnote 41In English Books & Readers, Bennett takes Treveris at his word. Yet, as Paul Slack notes, such introductory or title page appeals to “brotherly love” or the good of the “common weale” were routine in the vernacular medical literature of Tudor England.Footnote 42 Though they are compelling evidence for a publisher’s motivations in putting a particular text to print at a particular time, these remarks function more as
pious hopes or calculated advertisements rather than statements of fact. Such works can scarcely have reached the illiterate poor, and the extent of their diffusion even among the literate may well be questioned … they were one small and specialized part of a medical world in which there were several alternative sources of knowledge and advice, from the educated practitioners to the more numerous “cunning” men and women who represented a well-worn and well-known tradition of magical and folk medicine.Footnote 43
Slack concludes that, while works such as The Grete Herball may have offered ancillary help to literate lay readers, they were not primarily viewed as replacements for the myriad forms of professional and “cunning” medicine available for purchase. Yet books such as herbals did serve as a supplement to medicine, a means for readers to learn about some common tricks of the medical trades and how to avoid being taken in. In addition to the remedies for common ailments contained in its entries on aloe, garlic, honey, and other plants and minerals, The Grete Herball details the methods by which unscrupulous medical practitioners could forge expensive medicaments: “And though in this boke we put the craftynesse or deceyt of medycynes / It is not bycause we wolde not that it shoulde be made / but to eschew [the] frawde of them that selleth it / and thus it is made decytful.”Footnote 44The title pages of herbals indicate that their publishers recognized how these books offered opportunities for readers to exercise their own independent critical judgments, yet, in scholarship, the notion of deferential English readers is nonetheless pervasive. The implicit but usually unacknowledged assumption rests on the notion that the credulous early modern herbal reader accepted anything written down or printed at face value, unquestioningly following the directions depicted in an authoritative book. Readers are often assumed to have attempted anything they encountered in a book’s pages in their desperation to cure. Sometimes scholarly sympathy for the ignorant reader is cited to amplify the misconduct associated with a non-authorial textual agent. For instance, in his extended condemnation of Robert Wyer’s alterations to the little Herball, Francis Johnson bemoans the way that
Wyer makes purely mechanical changes in the wording of sentences that originally were perfectly clear, and thus creates sentences that are either vague or have a different meaning. Note, for example, the condensation of the last part of the section “Anetum.” Bankes’s text was clear, but Wyer, perhaps because his changed order of words led to a mental association of roasting the seed and hotness, directs that the plaster be applied hot to the hemorrhoids. One winces at the agony that many patients must have endured because of this ignorant compiler’s mistake.Footnote 45
Medical doctors and historians evaluating the value of these herbal remedies of printed medical books likewise assume readers’ naïveté when they make a point of emphasizing that seldom did such remedies actually work. In their facsimile edition of the little Herball of 1525, editors Sanford V. Larkey and Thomas Pyles assert that “undoubtedly a number of the prescriptions may have had some efficacy, but in many cases it is difficult to see where they could have been of any value whatsoever. The diseases treated cover a very wide range, and there is little evidence of any rationale.”Footnote 46 Agnes Arber’s approach is similar: in her examination of The Grete Herball, Arber remarks that the work gives “a definite idea of the utilitarian point of view of the herbalist of the period” and that “from the twentieth-century point of view, [it] contains much that is curious, especially in regard to medical matters … the remedies for various ailments strike the modern reader as being violent in a terrifying degree, and adapted to a more robust age than the present.”Footnote 47 Ludmilla Jordanova has identified such presentist accounts as following a “use/abuse model” that “does not challenge historians to unravel the mediating processes involved in the creation of knowledge, leaving the ‘best’ science and medicine as unhistoricized, because true and acceptable, and capable of being used for worthy purposes.”Footnote 48 She advocates instead for the deployment of a social constructivist approach to the history of medicine that can better integrate multiple perspectives and ideologies of healing.
An attention to the materiality of books further aids in the recognition of multiple perspectives. As Jonathan R. Topham observes, the very act of manipulating artifacts enables readers to contest the meaning of verbal texts, which requires rethinking default assumptions about readers’ credulity or innate trust in written objects. “[T]he new history of reading highlights the recalcitrant materiality of the printed works through which readers encounter texts and the hermeneutical significance of that material form,” he writes. “The fact that readers encounter texts in particular material objects – whether books, newspapers, or computer monitors – makes a difference to the meaning they derive from them, because they read more than merely the works.”Footnote 49 Adrian Johns’s work has likewise demonstrated that it took considerable effort for seventeenth-century scientists to make their printed books appear trustworthy, and as we have seen, Renaissance authors themselves were well aware of this phenomenon, using various rhetorical strategies to assert hermeneutic control over their texts.Footnote 50 In Chapter 1, I pointed out how Leonard Fuchs’s praise of Michael Isingrin, the Basel printer and publisher of Fuchs’s De historia stirpium, served to elide Fuchs’s dependency upon Isingrin’s dissemination of printed books as a means of establishing and maintaining Fuchs’s own scholarly authority. Chapter 6 of this study offers an investigation into the way the authority of printed books was broadly understood by early modern Londoners by considering how books were deployed on the popular English stage, while later chapters on William Turner and John Gerard further reveal how these authors’ anxieties over their credibility with readers caused them to attempt to “authorize” themselves through various strategies. The remainder of the present chapter demonstrates that this authorial “authorization” in English herbals, paradoxically, derives from the reprinting of an anonymous work. As The Grete Herball found its way into the hands of Protestant physicians looking to instrumentalize print to suit their professionalizing and evangelical ends, they recognized that books like herbals could reach an audience of self-healers that may have otherwise been resistant to authorized forms of medical care. The books then served as advertisements, not for the services of particular authors or physicians but for the integrity of the emerging practice of professional physic more generally.
Thomas Gibson and the Authoritative Move
I began this chapter with an account of the first illustrated herbal in English, The Grete Herball published by Peter Treveris in 1526, which offered its users innovative affordances like indexes and tables of contents to enable discontinuous reading. Like his contemporary Richard Bankes, Treveris thought of his herbal as part of a sequence of related books about healing, relating it both to his recent handbook on surgery (1525) and later to Lawrence Andrewe’s publication of a book of distillation (1527), which made use of The Grete Herball’s woodcuts. Treveris reprinted The Grete Herball in a joint publication with Andrewe in 1529. My analysis continued by suggesting that the printer Treveris’s concern for the appearance of error in his books indicated his latent anxiety about readers’ expectations for the printed artifacts they purchased and his awareness that readers could do whatever they liked with his books once they took them home from his bookshop. The evidence of annotative reading found in contemporary marginalia indicates that Treveris’s concerns were justified: Renaissance readers were skeptical of the information presented in books, capable of recognizing the limitations of both textual transmission and a verbal text’s authoritative claims. An attentiveness to the materiality of books as repositories for authorized and regularized attitudes towards knowledge establishes a crucial context for what comes next: the third edition of The Grete Herbal published by grocer-printer Thomas Gibson in 1539. This edition included the first appearance in English printed herbals of an authorizing figure who attempts to delimit or mark the interpretive boundaries of his verbal text.
Thomas Gibson, a Morpeth native, made his way to London to apprentice as a grocer in or around 1518. He was made free of his apprenticeship and was a citizen of the City by August 30, 1524, and immediately set up shop as a grocer, successful enough in his trade to bind apprentices in 1526 and 1528.Footnote 51 By 1535, however, Gibson had also begun printing, joining the ranks of several other non-stationers who were engaging in the craft before the Stationers’ Company’s incorporation in 1557 enabled Stationers to have full control over the technology. Gibson’s religious sympathies can be gleaned from his publications: his first known printed book was an edition of Coverdale’s concordance to the Tyndale Bible (STC 3046), and he printed Tyndale’s New Testament (STC 2841) a few years later. Within the next four years, Gibson had printed a total of twelve works, eleven for himself as well as an English primer (STC 15998) that he printed for William Marshall.Footnote 52 In 1537, the bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer, wrote to Thomas Cromwell asking that Gibson (who was the messenger of the letter) be entrusted with the printing of The Institution of a Christian Man (STC 5163–7), a privilege that would normally be granted to the King’s Printer Thomas Berthelet (which it ultimately was). Latimer notes in the letter that he himself is only passingly acquainted with Gibson; he remarks that he is vouching for the printer at the behest of one “Doctor Crome,” probably Edward Crome, a clergyman and fellow of Gonville Hall.Footnote 53 Gibson seems to have done his best to ingratiate himself to the king; Blayney records finding among Cromwell’s papers an eleven-page letter of pro–Henry VIII prophecies that Gibson had collected in the hopes of being useful, as well as a proposed bill to “regulate the use of confiscated monastic property.”Footnote 54
Gibson’s petitions for advancement were not particularly successful, and he appears to have left England around 1543 to acquire a medical degree.Footnote 55 John Bale would later record in a notebook kept between 1548 and 1552 (which had once belonged to Gibson) that Gibson was “olim calcographus, nunc medicus” (“formerly a printer, now a physician”).Footnote 56 Such medical sojourns by Englishmen were themselves not unusual; the physician Thomas Linacre took his MD at the University of Padua in 1496 before forming the College of Physicians of London in 1518.Footnote 57 Linacre’s fellow Oxford graduate Edward Wotton and Cambridge’s William Harvey also took their MDs at Padua, later having their credentials incorporated by their home universities. Archivists have found Gibson practicing medicine in Strasbourg in 1555–1558, and upon his return to England he was granted a license to practice medicine by Cambridge University in 1559.
One of the last books that Gibson printed before he left England testifies to his medical interests: a new and unillustrated 1539 edition of The Grete Herball (now spelled The Great Herball). Given The Grete Herball’s investment in enabling patients to forgo the “costly receipts of the pothecaries prepared” in favor of their own knowledge of “green herbs of the garden and weeds of the fields,” Gibson’s choice to republish Treveris’s text is a curious one. Why would a grocer-apothecary undermine his craft by publishing a book that seeks to expose trade secrets? What seems to have happened is that, by 1539, Gibson had already decided to ally himself with a more professionalized medical calling than that of the apothecary-grocers. Hints of Gibson’s philosophy may be seen in the changes that he made to the text of The Grete Herball, which he chose to advertise as “The great herball newly corrected.” In place of Treveris’s xylographic red and black title page with its illustrated gardens, florals, and a pair of coy mandrakes, Gibson’s title page made use of an architectural window-frame border that had previously belonged to printer William Rastell, who had used it to print Fabyan’s Chronicle and Thomas More’s rebuttals to Tyndale (Figure 5.3).Footnote 58 Unable or unwilling to locate botanical woodcuts to illustrate his text, Gibson may have thought it appropriate to suggest instead that his text of The Great Herball could stand alongside such commanding books. He did not use the border in his other publications.Footnote 59
More telling, however, are Gibson’s editorial changes to the contents of the work that justify his editorial pledge of “newly corrected.” As he reprinted Treveris’s text, the Protestant Gibson stripped The Grete Herball of its inherent Catholicism, removing the advice to pray to “our Lady” from the account of what to do for a bite from a “wood” or mad dog.Footnote 60 In addition to changing the work’s religious bent, though, Gibson’s text also used his printer’s address to the reader to endorse the professionalization of healing as it was practiced by English physicians, shifting the nature of The Grete Herball’s medical authority from the individual self-healer to the dutiful patient who seeks out the resources of informed practitioners. While Treveris’s preface emphasized the potential of the “gyftes of the holy gost” to enable a man to heal all manner of diseases himself, without the recourse of the “costly receipts of the apothecaries,”Footnote 61 apothecary Gibson’s preface, now headed “The Prenter to the Reder,” is careful to note that the authority of the text’s remedies stems primarily from the professional status of its compilers. Though the 1539 Great Herball’s simples are still those “which God hath ordeyned for our prosperous welfare, & helthe,” their virtues are reframed. Gibson’s readers should take note of the remedies in his volume because they “ware practysed by many experte and wyse masters of physyke who also co[m]pyled this most necessary volume, for the comforte of all those, whiche tender theyr owne helth.”Footnote 62 The volume’s “exposycyon of the wordes obscure and not well knowen” appeared at the end of Treveris’s editions of the book, but Gibson finds the glossary (which defined words like “appoplexie,” “conglutinative,” and “sirop”) worth advertising on his title page. Gibson’s highlighting of the list as a selling feature likewise serves to suggest the professional expertise of those who use such a vocabulary. Gibson’s volume teaches, but it also implicitly sends the message that those who would heal themselves must rely on professionals for instruction. Without the intervening expertise of editorially employed masters of physic, “studies” like The Great Herball would be unable to “te[m]per prosperytye … mytygate aduersytye … kepe vnder the hastye and rashe mocions of yeuth, and make yonge persons semblable and equalle to me[n] of great age.”Footnote 63 Education and scholarship are great equalizers, but as Gibson carefully reframes the work, The Great Herball’s contents are particularly valuable because they originate in professional masters who were motivated by a higher power to share their knowledge with the ignorant. Those compilers who “set forth first this herball, which geueth perfyte knowledge and vnderstandynge of all maner of herbes and theyr gracious vertues,” were inspired by God, “as God is the causer of all good studyes … euen in lyke maner as it hath pleased God to styrre and moue those (whyche no doubte of it ware his elect) to set forth first this herbal.”Footnote 64Gibson claims that printed books of medical remedies authored by learned, Galenic physicians serve the interest of the public, because
sekenesses may be cured & healed by those which knowe the gracyous natures of herbes through the influe[n]ce course of the four eleme[n]tes which God hath set in theyr order, whiche order bryngeth all men to knowledge of all infyrmitees, and to the spedye remedyes therof.Footnote 65
Medical authorities’ education of readers through the distribution of printed books of remedies may be a benefit to the public at large, but as Gibson reframes his argument, it is also one that reaffirms the intellectual superiority of the English medical establishment and its construction of authorized forms of healing. Crucially, there is one exception to the diseases that the listed herbal remedies can cure: “excepte it be a dysease sent of God, as comenly men haue one dysease or other whyche bryngeth all people as the comen saying is, to theyr longe home.”Footnote 66 Gibson’s reworking of The Grete Herball therefore serves to provide his version of the text with a particularly authoritative medical standpoint, repeating the early modern physician’s ultimate excuse that his inability to heal a sick patient results not from his lack of expertise but from the will of God.Gibson likewise removed from his edition a closing address to readers that had previously appeared in Treveris’s and Andrewe’s editions and that would reappear in John King’s 1561 edition. The address suggests that the volume would benefit both readers and “practicyens,” a Middle French word that originally meant a practicer of a particular, usually medical, art, one who operates on the basis of practical rather than theoretical experience.Footnote 67 In equating readers with practicians, The Grete Herball of 1526 offers equal benefit and opportunity to all, regardless of intellectual or authoritative status:
OYe worthy reders or practicyens to whome this noble volume is prese[n]t I beseche yow take intellygence and beholde ye workes & operacyo[n]s of almyghty god which hath endewed his symple creature mankynde with the graces of ye holy goost to haue parfyte knowlege and vn∣derstandynge of the vertue of all maner of herbes and trees in this booke comprehendyd / and eueryche of them chaptred by hymselfe / & in euery chaptre dyuers clauses wherin is shewed dyuers maner of medycynes in one herbe comprehended whiche ought to be notyfyed and marked for the helth of man in whome is repended ye heuenly gyftes by the eternall kynge / to whom be laude and prayse euerlastynge. AMENFootnote 68
Gibson’s edition of 1539 eliminates this closing note. The herbal for Gibson thus confirms a Tudor Reformer’s moral value of the medical arts, one whose practitioners heal the body just as the minister of the Gospel heals the soul. A decade later, in his Summarium of 1548, John Bale would credit Gibson with authorship of a now-lost treatise on unskilled alchemists, suggesting that Gibson was invested in authorizing discourses even beyond what we see in this small printer’s preface.Footnote 69 Though he was trained as an apothecary and a member of the Grocers’ Company, Gibson had his eye on more professional advancement, and he sought preferment both in direct appeals to the crown and in the books that he offered for sale.
As discussed, Peter Treveris’s reading of the print marketplace led him to experiment with marketing his texts in new ways, like offering his innovative “register” to enable different types of reading acts and by declaring his work of particular use to his English readership in the absence of readily accessible medical professionals. Gibson’s edition is largely structured like Treveris’s, but Gibson improves upon the earlier herbal’s multiple articulation systems to offer distinct alphabetized tables for both Latin and English chapter headings, and he expressly uses the space of his new title page to advertise them. Within the border’s corniced columns, The Great Herball’s title page in 1539 offers a careful list of “The contentes of this boke,” which includes “A table after the latyn names of all herbes, / A table after the Englysshe names of all herbes.” Along with the closing index of diseases he provides, Gibson’s opening tables allow his readers to search for individual medicaments in both languages, expanding upon Treveris’s single table that had been organized solely by simples’ Latin names. These, too, are carefully advertised on The Great Herball’s new title page. As we will see in Chapter 7, Gibson’s approving attitudes towards the professionalization of medicine, as well as the utility of the form of the printed book to further these professionalizing ends, will resurface in the writings of William Turner and color the way that scholars have since read English herbals.
John King Plays the Odds
More than two decades after Gibson’s revised The Great Herball appeared, John King suggested his familiarity with Gibson’s “newly corrected” 1539 edition by advertising on the title page of his 1561 publication of The Grete Herball (as The Greate Herball) that the work was not only “newely corrected” but also “diligently ouersene.” King’s highlighting of correction as a feature of his text demonstrated his familiarity with the advertising language of his competitors in the English book trade: William Powell’s 1550 edition of the “Askham” herbal, discussed in Chapter 4, advertised its text as being “newely amended and corrected,” and it was this text that King saw fit to print for himself at the same time that he printed his edition of The Grete Herball. King’s text, however, was not a reprint of Gibson’s but a copy of Treveris’s text that King saw fit to reprint unillustrated, perhaps because he was unable to locate suitable woodcuts or because he was unwilling to pay to have new ones cut at his own expense. Given the increasing demand for botanical accuracy that stemmed from popular continental publications like Otto Brunfels’s Herbarum vivae eicones (Strasbourg, 1530–1536) and Leonard Fuchs’s De historia stirpium (Basel, 1542), King may have surmised that the old illustrations simply would not serve the turn. There was also a new illustrated herbal complicating matters: the first part of William Turner’s illustrated A New Herball had first been issued from John Gybkyn’s shop in Paul’s Churchyard in 1551, and King may have seen this authoritative book’s impressive and detailed woodcuts in the copies that continued to circulate in London’s bookshops. There was therefore good cause for eliminating illustrations entirely, despite their potential utility for readers.
King had started printing in 1554 and was one of the stationers listed in the Company’s charter of incorporation.Footnote 70 Sometime between November 20, 1560, and March 8, 1561, King sought Stationers’ Company licenses for three books: “the one Called the little herball the ijde the grete herball the iijde the medicine for horses.”Footnote 71 King had been fined 2 shillings 6 pence by the Company in 1558–1559 “that he Ded prynte the nutbrowne mayde without lycense,” so perhaps he, once burned, was particularly shy of being subjected to another Company sanction.Footnote 72 It is also possible that King was, like Peter W. M. Blayney’s hypothetical stationer in “The Publication of Playbooks,” either an “optimist (hoping that his [books] would do well enough to attract thoughts of piracy) or a pessimist (anticipating unspecified problems of infringement).”Footnote 73
The calculated nature of John King’s business strategy is confirmed by his choice in 1561 to pay to acquire the rights to two vernacular English herbals. By doing so, King eliminated both books from the public domain so long as he kept them in print, and he dutifully printed the little ten edition-sheet octavo (STC 13175.19) and the much larger, seventy-five edition-sheet double-column folio (STC 13179) immediately.Footnote 74 King’s decision to market simultaneously two different English herbals testifies to the economic diversity he saw in the marketplace for printed books in the first decades of Elizabeth’s reign. The longer, more expensive herbal could provide for users who were able to afford a more comprehensive text, while the smaller octavo could be bound with other related octavo works that King was issuing around the same time, like his new English translation of the book of secrets of Albertus Magnus (STC 258.5), which had been printed by William de Machlinia nearly eight decades before.Footnote 75 It was a clever scheme: by controlling both forms of herbals, King could ensure that the pair of texts were positioned to compete not with each other but within different markets and with different classes of users in mind.
Throughout this chapter, I have argued that, though historians of herbals have often ascribed credulity to early modern English readers, such accounts strain against the evidence of authors’ paratexual explanations for their texts, the evidence of publishers’ paratextual explanations for their books, and finally, the evidence of the marginalia left behind by contemporary readers. A publisher’s decision to print an anonymous herbal text allowed readers to use their copies of books as locations to record their own local knowledge and experience free from authorial anxieties about intellectual influence. Yet, as Thomas Gibson’s edition of the Great Herball shows, publishers’ use of anonymous texts could also provide an opportunity for would-be medical authorities to step into the breach. When William Turner turned his attentions to the genre at the end of the 1530s, the market was primed to christen a new – and named – figure upon the title pages of printed herbals.
As the previous chapter showed, marginalia offer a means for qualifying debates in the history of ideas to show that early modern readers did not automatically trust the information they found in printed books. This chapter uses evidence from the English stage to demonstrate that, for early moderns, the book form was often as important as its content. The material aspect of book knowledge was most pronounced in matters of medicine, where books were especially well-suited as stage properties that could serve characters’ authoritative pretentions. What’s more, an appreciation of books as properties reveals how early modern readers engaged in medical care not exclusively through deference to professional medical authorities but as individualized and idiosyncratic acts of self-healing.
In considering Renaissance English approaches to the marvelous, Madeline Doran sets out “to recapture the spirit of the cultured and adult Elizabethan, who saw his world through his own eyes, not ours” in order “to understand what to them is normal and what strange, in other words, what their standard of reasonable judgment is.”Footnote 1 While post-Enlightenment standards of classification and independent verification of facts were obviously not yet in use in the period, Elizabethans nonetheless “had certain positive principles of reference by which they could judge of the probability of things firsthand,” such as the use of analogies and the doctrine of signatures.Footnote 2 Doran proposes that scholars acknowledge the distinct degrees of “responses to the marvelous” that contemporary individuals might hold about various subjects, degrees that range from complete acceptance, through “entertainment of the possibility,” to “complete rejection … with a willingness for reasons of convention or of symbolism to entertain the fiction imaginatively.”Footnote 3 As she notes, such a range of credulity accounts for the message of John Donne’s popular poem “Go and catch a falling star,” where “it does matter in what state of belief we are in with regard to mandrakes or mermaids, for if we believe in them too thoroughly we shall miss the point of the poem, that a constant woman is as strange as they.”Footnote 4Even by the standards of modern knowledge, humanists may have made their assertions about early modern credulity and the efficacy of medieval and Renaissance herbal remedies too easily. An article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology by scientists examining sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century herbals for evidence of plants that were supposed to effectively treat rheumatoid illness found that more than half so identified by the herbals do work.Footnote 5 The authors have since followed up this study with others on Renaissance herbalists’ remedies for epilepsy and malaria.Footnote 6 While Francis Johnson may have disagreed with Wyer’s assertion of a hot plaster to cure hemorrhoids in 1944, the same remedy was advocated by master barber-surgeon John Gerard in his herbal of 1597 and may have been a common treatment.Footnote 7 The appearance of such remedies suggests that early modern writers who addressed a wide public audience assumed that their readers had a considerable body of personal and common knowledge upon which they could draw to evaluate a book’s claims. Such critiques likewise made their way into popular entertainment. In his mockery of grocers, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), Francis Beaumont could assume that enough early moderns recognized the value of licorice to “maketh a mannes brest / his throte / & his lo[n]ges, moyst and in good tempre” (Bankes 1525, sig. E1v) to squeeze even more of a laugh out of a pushy character’s unnecessary interruptions of the action of a play-within-a-play:
Wife I pray, my pretty youth, is Rafe ready?
Boy He will be presently.
Wife Now, I pray you, make my commendations unto him, and withal carry him this stick of licorice. Tell him his mistress sent it to him, and bid him bite a piece; ’twill open his pipes the better, say. (1.1.69–76)Footnote 8
Just as apprentice Rafe echoes nothing but popular speeches by the likes of Hotspur, Mucedorus, and Hieronimo, his master and his mistress offer their customers nothing but widely known popular remedies. Wife Nell’s disturbance is made the more aggravating (and more humorous) because she assumes her knowledge is specialized whereas it is widely held in common, a usurpation of medical authority that mimics the way she and her grocer-apothecary husband George have usurped the public stage of the fictional play The London Merchant.Footnote 9 In a similar way to Nell and George, the booksellers operating during the first century of print endeavored to commodify much common herbal and medical knowledge for their own profits. Although the resulting books supplemented the information circulating in folklore and public discourse, they did not necessarily supplant it.Footnote 10
Authorizing Stage Medicine
Francis Beaumont’s assumption of his audience’s familiarity with simple remedies in The Knight of the Burning Pestle is a reminder that Renaissance dramatists regularly drew both on common knowledge and on contemporary cultural debates to furnish the worlds of their plays. Here, too, can we find evidence that the material forms of books caused readers to take matters of influence into their own hands. Renaissance dramatists widely recognized that, as props, books could figure synecdochally on stage to endorse and to undermine characters’ authority.Footnote 11 In a number of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, lay healers (that is to say, medical practitioners other than physicians and surgeons) are explicit in their use of written materials to validate their own successful healing acts. Other characters defend their right to self-medicate, which provides a larger context for understanding how herbal authors attempted to assert their dominance over the administration of herbal remedies. Such an interruption in my analysis of the printing history of Renaissance herbals may seem to mistake the symptom for the cause, but this chapter is designed to illuminate the setting in which sixteenth-century publishers, herbalists, and medical authors competed for readers. As Jean E. Howard has remarked in her study of the Elizabethan public theatre’s role in cultural transformations, “the scripts themselves embody social struggle … they enact a contest between and a negotiation among competing ideological positions.”Footnote 12 Only in an environment where readers already assumed that they had a responsibility to heal themselves did it make sense for medical authors to take such pains to position themselves as gifted advisors and specialized counsellors. Such attention also offers a literary payoff: drawing out this lost history of self-medicating as it appeared not only on the Renaissance English stage but also on the extant pages of popular sixteenth-century herbals enables me to account for the curious disappearance of Cordelia’s attendant “Doctor” – a character who exists in the 1608 quarto History of King Lear but whose role is replaced by an indistinct “Gentleman” in the 1623 folio Tragedy of King Lear. Given Shakespeare’s attitudes towards physicians and lay healers elsewhere in his canon, I propose that this famous crux concerning the character’s identity is inflected by debates over who has the right to authorize what should be common knowledge. To understand Beaumont’s joke about George and Nell is thus to understand something of the King’s Men’s revision of King Lear: both cases highlight the ways that English healers tried to assert their scholarly and literary credentials upon resistant subjects.Footnote 13 Printed books played a major part in this jockeying for authority.
In the 1520s, when both the little Herball and The Grete Herball were first published, members of the nascent College of Physicians of London were still struggling to situate themselves within a diverse medical marketplace.Footnote 14 London’s Company of Barber-Surgeons, like the Stationers, had a long history within the City and would soon get a royal charter of their own in 1540. Apothecaries like George and Nell would remain part of the Grocers’ Company until the Society of the Apothecaries would split apart from them (with the physicians’ help) in 1617, but the Grocers’ status as one of London’s great twelve livery companies ensured that such medicament-dispensing grocers were both plentiful and powerful.Footnote 15 When, in 1518, the College of Physicians of London was granted their charter, its members were profoundly outnumbered by London citizens well-equipped to manage the commercial and civic aspects of healing. The handful of physicians could not realistically compete for practical dominance, but members of the College had other, far more important, social goals in mind.
Margaret Pelling has written at length about the College’s struggles during the seventeenth century to differentiate itself from other healers and empirics through a concerted program of professionalization and “aggressive intellectual activity” that sought to demonstrate the ways that physicians’ considerable humanistic training raised them above the menial “body-service” performed mostly by women.Footnote 16 Pelling’s work shows that, while early modern English physicians might have been able to obtain high social status on an individual level, their professional body remained insecure about their intellectual pretensions as a group. “[T]he College seem[ed] to be manifesting a form of self-consciousness unusually well developed for the period,” Pelling writes, “composed of anxieties, insecurities, and a mode of self-righteousness, allied to an entirely anomalous institutional position and lack of effective connection with the political process.”Footnote 17 Seeking to establish physicians not only as healers but more importantly as intellectual counselors with the ear of royal and civic authorities, the College even went so far as to implement a code of elevated dress for its members in 1597, stipulating “scarlet for feast-days and solemn meetings, purple for other occasions.”Footnote 18 Such sumptuary dress signified a distinction between a College physician and any other practitioner of medicine such as a barber-surgeon or an empiric, whose services were not only cheaper but apparently preferred by laity at all levels of status. Francis Bacon was espousing popular opinion when he noted in his Advancement of Learning that “in all times, in the opinion of the multitude, witches and old women and imposters have had a competition with physicians.” It is evident, however, that Bacon didn’t really blame the public for their preferences, as his opinion of the College was not much better: “Medicine is a science which hath been (as we have said) more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured than advanced; the labour having been, in my judgement, rather in circle than in progression. For I find much iteration, but small addition.”Footnote 19Since the granting of their charter of 1518, the College of Physicians had endeavored to “regulate” medical practice in London (and within a seven-mile radius of the city) by prosecuting unlicensed healers who fell outside the civic guilds of Barber-Surgeon and Grocers, such as empirics, mountebanks, and cunning women. This right was granted them by their charter’s patent, which was designed “with a view to the improvement and more orderly exercise of the art of physic, and the repression of irregular, unlearned, and incompetent practitioners of that faculty.”Footnote 20 Such “irregular practitioners” were viewed as a practical threat not only to the physicians’ attempted monopolization of physic but also to the decorum and status of medicine itself, an anxiety that did not go unnoticed by Elizabethan dramatists alert to such moments of social struggle. Throughout Thomas Heywood’s city comedy The Wise Woman of Hoxton (performed 1602–1603), for example, the disguised heroine Luce 2 critiques the eponymous character’s “lawless, indirect and horrid means / For covetous gain!”Footnote 21 Sympathizing with the status quo of professionalized medical authorities, Luce 2 dismisses the Wise Woman’s pretensions, asking “How many unknown trades / Women and men are free of, which they never / Had charter for?” (3.1.43–45) and ultimately concluding that the Wise Woman’s efforts are “no trade, but a mystery” (3.1.68). For her own part, the Wise Woman views herself as a veritable civic polymath:
Let me see how many trades I have to live by: first, I am a wise woman and a fortune-teller, and under that I deal in physic and forespeaking, in palmistry, and recovering of things lost. Next, I undertake to cure mad folks. Then I keep gentlewomen lodgers to furnish such chambers as I let out by the night. Then I am provided for bringing young wenches to bed. And for a need, you see I can play the matchmaker.
She that is but one and professeth so many,
May well be termed a wise woman, if there be any.
The Wise Woman’s bravado, which celebrates not only her healing prowess but also her skills as prophet and bawd, later serves to suggest that the play’s outcome derives less from any inherent cleverness that she might have than it does from the naïve foolishness of her victims.Luce 2 ends Heywood’s play as its unmistakable hero, making clear that the Wise Woman is simply a charlatan; but not all early modern dramatists were quite so sympathetic as Heywood to the cause of the professional medical authorities. William Kerwin points out the ways that the “medical theater” of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi serves to display “how claims to ancient and disinterested tradition can cover up base interests,” ultimately revealing the ways that “medical power legitimates itself.”Footnote 22 At the root of Kerwin’s argument is an association that Webster makes between Malfi’s corrupted court and the tenuous medical authority of the play’s physicians, best illustrated by the Doctor’s overestimation of his ability to intimidate Ferdinand’s madness right out of him:
Let me have some forty urinals filled with rose water: he and I’ll go pelt one another with them; now he begins to fear me. Can you fetch a frisk, sir? Let him go, let him go upon my peril. I find by his eye he stands in awe of me: I’ll make him as tame as a dormouse.
As Pescara and Bosola witness, the Doctor’s bombast fails; instead of submitting to the Doctor’s authority, Ferdinand beats him, adding:
Can you fetch your frisks, sir? I will stamp him into a cullis; flay off his skin, to cover one of the anatomies, this rogue hath set i’th’ cold yonder, in Barber-Chirurgeons’ Hall. Hence, hence! you are all of you like beasts for sacrifice, there’s nothing left of you, but tongue and belly, flattery and lechery.
Adding insult to the injuries he showers upon the Doctor, Ferdinand’s reference to the barber-surgeons’ public anatomies serves to remind audiences that, of the major competitors for medical authority in Jacobean London, it is the surgeons’ skills that were practically and empirically obtained.Footnote 24 Evidence of physicians’ lax morality, as well as their middling success at healing, is presented throughout the play, from a remark about doctors’ overreliance on urine analysis, “which some do call / The physician’s whore, because she cozens him” (1.2.58–59), to their preoccupation with lucrative trivialities like cosmetics, or “scurvy face physic … the very patrimony of the physician” (2.1.25–44).Footnote 25 In her own mistrust of physicians’ practice of raising the expense of medicine to little curative effect, Julia notes that unreactive gold “hath no smell, like cassia or civet, / Nor is it physical, though some fond doctors / Persuade us, seethe’t in cullises” (2.4.64–66). Webster’s play endeavors to remind its audience that physicians’ labored proximity to royal and ecclesiastical authorities so readily corrupts them that, despite their Hippocratic Oath, they are as suspect as any other indentured menial. As Bosola muses, “all our fear, / Nay, all our terror, is lest our physician / Should put us in the ground” (2.1.61–63), an opinion the Duchess shares: “physicians thus, / With their hands full of money, use to give o’er / Their patients” (3.5.7–9).Footnote 26Such dramatic anxiety over devious physicians was also apparent in the works of Webster’s predecessors and contemporaries. In The Jew of Malta, Marlowe’s murderous Barabas (who famously “go[es] about and poison[s] wells”) claims to have learned his trade when
The city comedies of Thomas Dekker, Francis Beaumont, and John Fletcher likewise demonstrate an awareness of popular apprehensions surrounding medical authorities’ access to poison;Footnote 28 and with good reason: the widely publicized trial of Dr. Roderigo Lopez in 1593 and the murder by poison of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613 kept such medical dangers in the forefront of the public imagination. When Ben Jonson’s Corbaccio (himself a would-be poisoner) insists that the sleeping draught he offers Volpone is safe, he admits to having overseen its preparation just to make sure that the untrustworthy physician didn’t slip in anything lethal: “I myself / Stood by, while ’t was made; saw all th’ ingredients” (1.4.14–15).Footnote 29 Later in the play, as Volpone imitates a mountebank, such guile is extended beyond physicians to include anyone engaged in medicating others for profit, and the drama’s humor rests in depicting the absurdity and futility of the commodified medical marketplace of Jacobean London (in its Venetian disguise). Mosca’s repeated claim that “He hath no faith in physic” is sufficiently broad to make a jest of anyone fool enough to hand over coin in exchange for an assurance of health.
As far as the efficacy of medical authorities is concerned, Shakespeare seems to have been more of Webster’s persuasion than either Heywood’s or Jonson’s, seeing medicine as something that could be successfully practiced – but by empirics, lay people, or cunning women, and not by physicians. Of the eight characters in Shakespeare’s plays designated as “doctors” by their speech prefixes, all are men, unsurprising given the exclusively male makeup of the College.Footnote 30 Yet, while Shakespeare’s doctors are universally male professionals, the same cannot be said of his healers both on and off stage. Twelfth Night’s Fabian urges that Malvolio’s urine be carried “to th’ wise woman” for analysis of the cause of his madness (3.4.88), while The Comedy of Errors’ Adriana is dismayed that her wifely duties as caregiver have been usurped by the Abbess’s sheltering of the seemingly mad Antipholus of Ephesus (5.1.99–102).Footnote 31 In explaining these and other medical moments in Shakespeare’s plays, Barbara Howard Traister sees a general movement towards an acceptance of physicians’ authoritative pretensions that they struggled so hard to maintain.Footnote 32 Traister suggests that Shakespeare’s Jacobean doctors function less as healers than as authenticators of offstage action, valued for “their ability to observe and to pronounce judgment, rather than for their therapeutic skills.”Footnote 33 She points out that, despite the prevalence of impotent or inactive medical professionals in the Shakespeare canon, two of his later plays offer lay medical practitioners who ultimately succeed where professional medicine has failed: in All’s Well That Ends Well, Helena cures the French king’s seemingly incurable fistula, while Pericles’ Cerimon raises the entombed Thaisa from death. I will return to Cerimon’s and Helena’s activities in a moment.
Margaret Pelling’s work has shown that one of the “aggressive intellectual activities” employed by the College was an attempt to mirror the religious and intellectual authority the clergy maintained through its elite access to biblical texts. By representing the works of Galen as similarly sacred, choosing only to employ Galenic methodology in treatment and denying the feasibility of alternatives such as Paracelsianism, the College declared its respect for in-depth reading practices and aligned itself with the general humanistic linking of scholarship and gentle status.Footnote 34 Implicitly connected to physicians’ authority over the public practice of physic was a connection to books and learning, an association most clearly emphasized in the distinction made between the elevated theory of medicine as described in books and the hands-on business of practical healing. With their extended university educations, physicians had a vested interest in the social elevation of book learning, while medical practitioners operating in the civic guild tradition such as Barber-Surgeons and Apothecaries, or “empirics” operating without a company affiliation such as Heywood’s eponymous Wise Woman of Hoxton, emphasized the importance of successful practice. Pelling and Webster note that, over the course of the sixteenth century, members of both licensed groups became increasingly invested in authoring works of natural history, mathematics, and medicine as part of a larger effort to demonstrate both their authoritative knowledge and their hands-on experience.Footnote 35Such conflicting values may be seen in the title character’s first scene, where the Wise Woman receives a suite of seven clients at once, all clambering for her attention. Presented with the urine of a Countryman’s ill wife, the Wise Woman claims to diagnose from it the heartbreak and ill stomach from which the wife suffers, eventually crowing her success in a long speech that celebrates the practical expertise of empirics:
I think I can see as far into a millstone as another. You have heard of Mother Nottingham, who, for her time, was prettily well skilled in the casting of waters. And after her, Mother Bomby. And then there is one Hatfield in Pepper Alley; he doth pretty well for a thing that’s lost. There’s another in Coldharbour that’s skilled in the planets. Mother Sturton in Golden Lane is for forespeaking. Mother Philips of the Bankside for the weakness of the back. And then there’s a very reverend matron on Clerkenwell Green, good at many things. Mistress Mary on the Bankside is for ’recting a figure. And one – what do you call her – in Westminster, that practices the book and the key, and the sieve and the shears. And all do well, according to their talent. For myself, let the world speak.
Yet, as the unimpressed Luce 2 notes in an aside, the Wise Woman can actually only see “[j]ust so much as is told her” (2.1.14), and she bemoans that the public’s glorification of novelty overshadows the more important problem of the Wise Woman’s lack of a formal education:
Luce 2 … But, mistress, are you so cunning as you make yourself? You can neither write nor read; what do you with those books you so often turn over?
Wise Woman Why, tell the leaves. For to be ignorant, and seem Ignorant, what greater folly?
Luce 2 [aside] Believe me, this is a cunning woman.
Andrew Sofer has observed that “props are not static symbols but precision tools” that require interaction with an actor in order to achieve meaning.Footnote 37 The acutely performative Wise Woman is well aware of this fact, and she makes the most of the book props at her disposal. Even Luce 2 is sardonically impressed with her performance.While Heywood has an empiric’s (and mountebank’s) view of book learning serve as a mere pretense to supplement her practical skills, both of Shakespeare’s successful lay healers actually read books alongside their hands-on experience in order to construct their medical authority, mirroring the scholarly humanistic shift that the physicians so self-consciously attempted to employ. In scene 14 of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, the Lord Cerimon restores Thaisa, the dead wife of the play’s hero, back to life after she died in childbirth during a Mediterranean voyage and was buried at sea. The wooden box containing Thaisa’s body eventually washes up on the Ephesian shore and is promptly brought to Cerimon to open and investigate. At the start of the scene, Cerimon enters attendant on the servants of two ill masters who have sought out his medical advice. Nothing can be done for the first, but he offers the second a prescription to be filled by an apothecary. Such advice would not be remarkable coming from a real doctor, but as his title suggests, Cerimon is not a trained physician but a lay healer, drawn to medicine through its connection to what he calls “virtue and cunning” (14.25). As a healer, Cerimon is apparently very successful, and the Second Gentleman notes that “hundreds call themselves your creatures, who / By you have been restored” (14.42–43). In order to account for his medical knowledge, Cerimon offers the following explanation:
The “authorities” that Cerimon refers to here are learned writers, not only Galen but also those medical practitioners, like medieval Roger Bacon, whose texts outlining the manufacture of alchemical “blest infusions” were publicly denounced by the College of Physicians.Footnote 38 Cerimon’s books reveal to him “secret arts,” such as the method behind the mystic recoveries of bodies that have “nine hours lien dead” (14.82), or the principles espoused by Paracelsus of alchemical medicine found in metals and stones.
A similar emphasis on the authority of the written word can be seen in Helen’s request to the Countess in All’s Well That Ends Well. Helen’s wish to go to Paris to cure the king by using her father’s “prescriptions / Of rare and proved affects” (1.3.193–194) is well known both to the world of the play and to its critics (such as Lafeu’s dictum to her in the play’s first scene: “you must hold the credit of your father” [1.1.66]), but less critical attention has been paid to the source of her physician father’s knowledge, which comes down to Helen through the reading habits that scholars have observed in the surviving records of actual Renaissance physicians.Footnote 39 As well as his “manifest experience” (1.3.195), Gerard de Narbonne’s remedies, “notes whose faculties inclusive were / More than they were in note” (1.3.198–199), stem from his “reading” (1.3.194) and are conveyed to Helen only because Narbonne in turn “set down” (1.3.200) his knowledge in manuscript. Whether Narbonne’s note-taking was a deliberate transfer of his own knowledge to his daughter (Helen remarks only that they are passively and ambiguously “left” her [1.3.193]) or whether he took notes for his own later benefit is unclear. However, what is crucial in my reading of this passage is the material means by which Helen receives this knowledge, means that are similar to the way her father would have first received his – by reading. Crucial, too, is that Narbonne was, as were the medical practitioners in attendance on the King of France, a physician with a humanist university education – he was neither a surgeon nor an apothecary who learned his trade by apprenticeship in accordance with civic custom. It is the Galenic theoretical underpinnings of physicians’ educations learned by rote that the Countess surmises leaves them too “[e]mbowlled of their doctrine” to truly help their king (1.3.213).
Something more than skill, Helen claims, will allow her to try her receipt out on the King. Critics such as Susan Snyder see that “something more” in Helen’s status as a virgin: in his address to the King, Lafeu “goes on to emphasize Helen herself as the curative application, rather than the prescription she carries.”Footnote 40 Such a reading holds well in Lafeu’s allusive emphasis that Helen will bawdily raise the King to “sprightly fire and motion” (2.1.70). Yet it is in these bawdy puns that we also see confirmation that the mode of authority that Helen carries with her is the written artifact – “to give great Charlemagne a pen in ’s hand / And write to her a love-line” (2.1.72–73).Footnote 41
Contextualizing CordeliaIn contrast with Shakespeare’s other professional healers, King Lear offers an example of an uncharacteristic physician who is at once able to uphold both the intellectual authority espoused by his College and the practical success of the empiric or lay practitioner. In the Quarto of 1608, when Cordelia returns to the story in the fourth act, her attendants include a “Doctor” who counsels her how best to treat her ailing father’s madness by using the Paracelsian method of “like cures like.”Footnote 42 To counteract the mad King Lear’s crown of weeds, the “rank fumitor and furrow-weeds, / With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, / Darnel, and all the idle weeds” (4.4.3–5), the doctor prescribes “many simples operative, whose power / Will close the eye of anguish” (4.4.14–15).Footnote 43 The physician’s exposition of the effects of simples, medicaments so-called for being made from the extracts of a single plant, here serves a dual purpose.Footnote 44 The first offers a practical explanation for Lear’s later difficulty waking in 4.7, a simple having presumably been given him as a sleeping aid in order that he might receive the “repose” denied him in his madness. Yet, in her questioning of the limits of “man’s wisdom / In the restoring of [Lear’s] bereavèd sense” (4.4.8–9), it is Cordelia who derives immediate solace from the physician’s confident explanation of “simples operative,” or the healing powers of plants.Footnote 45 She replies:
On stage, whether performed as an invocation of Nature’s power or of Cordelia’s own palpable relief that herbal medicine can restore her father, the affect of Cordelia’s prayer, and the logic of its image, can mask her otherwise curious statement. By complementing the Doctor’s knowledge as “blest secrets” of the “unpublished virtues of the earth,” Cordelia’s speech implies that flora’s therapeutic properties are so impenetrable that only an expert can decode them.
Scene 4, Act 4 marks Cordelia’s return to the stage after a three-act absence, and her concern with Lear’s overthrow finds its expression in her preoccupation with the material circumstances of her father’s madness. She describes in detail the disparate plants Lear wears in the place of his once unifying golden crown, descrying the “idle weeds” of her sisters that grow in England’s “sustaining corn” (4.4.5–6). The analogy of a neglected garden for a state in turmoil is common to Shakespeare; Hamlet, too, complains of “an unweeded garden / That grows to seed” (1.2.135–136), while the Gardener in Richard II offers the metaphor an extended treatment, espousing a variety of horticultural activities that ensure the health of the estate by the means of preventing harm. The trope continues with an image of the King as a sickly plant fed upon by the weeds he shelters with his leaves, and little room is left for the possibility of Richard’s redemption in gardener Bolingbroke’s plucking up of everything “root and all” (3.4.53). In the case of Lear, however, the metaphor stops short of such drastic husbandry, and through their manipulation into medicaments, the plants in Lear’s crown serve both as the symbol of the King’s sickness and as the source of his cure.
Cordelia’s admission of botanical ignorance is curious, because not only was a knowledge of plants and horticulture sufficiently understood by early moderns as to be a useful and common Shakespearean metaphor but by far the majority of medical care in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was self-administered. While physicians attempted to elevate the practice of physic by fighting unlicensed healers like Heywood’s Wise Woman, their major impediment was the folk traditions that enabled people to take care of themselves. Simples, plant-based medicaments that could be gathered on one’s own, were generally understood to be a part of an average early modern’s personal medical repertoire, and as this study demonstrates, the books about herbs and simples that were a flourishing publishing niche throughout the sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth demonstrated that public interest in the topic was perennial.In light of such material evidence that provides a broader sense of what some scholars call “history from below,”Footnote 46 Friar Laurence’s knowledge of the “powerful grace that lies / In plants, herbs, stones and their true qualities” (2.2.15–16) is thus perhaps not as remarkable as our modern editorial tendency to separate spiritual and physical counsel might suggest:
Though scholars frequently argue that Friar Laurence’s botanical familiarity is highly specialized, the evidence found in extant botanical books suggests that the Friar’s musing is rather a part of the common knowledge easily accessed by the nonmedical laity, a knowledge over which figures like Thomas Gibson were eager to claim authority.Footnote 47 In a similar vein, when Romeo seeks out a poison from the Apothecary, he demonstrates a familiarity with accessing medicine as an independent consumer, recognizing that the Apothecary’s knowledge of the “[c]ulling of simples” (5.1.40) must necessarily include the familiarity with poisons that Friar Laurence had already demonstrated. A curious textual variant makes this interpretation explicit: in the text of the second quarto of the play, Romeo’s entrance is early enough that he hears Friar Lawrence’s talk about poison; in the Folio, he does not.Footnote 48It appears that, in Shakespeare’s own medical ethos, so long as the medicament consumed is a simple, or a plant, such self-medicating is common and acceptable. The simplicity of simples, coupled with the reinforcement of such knowledge in print, enabled early moderns to treat their own illnesses. Buried in Iago and Cleopatra’s references to “drowsy syrups” made from poppy or mandrake (Othello 3.3.324–325; Antony and Cleopatra 1.5.3–5), in King Richard’s efforts to “prescribe, though no physician” (Richard II 1.1.154), and in John of Gaunt’s accusation that the king is guilty of being “careless-patient” (Richard II 2.1.97) is the assumption of the early moderns’ tendency and even their moral obligation to self-medicate. Moreover, though it may have been disputed by the self-appointed medical authorities of the College of Physicians, an individual’s license to minister simple medicaments was entrenched in Tudor law, a boon to sellers of herbals and other books of remedies. A 1543 statute of Henry VIII now known as the “Quacks’ Charter” permitted
every person being the King’s subject, having knowledge and experience of the nature of Herbs, Roots and Waters, or of the operation of the same, by speculation or practice within any part of the Realm of England, or within any other the King’s Dominions, to practice, use and minister in and to any outward sore …, wound, apostemations, outward swelling or disease, any herb or herbs, ointments, baths, poultices and plasters, according to their cunning, experience and knowledge in any of the diseases, sores and maladies beforesaid, and all other like to the same, or drinks for the stone and strangury, or agues, without suit, berations, trouble, penalty or loss of their goods.Footnote 49
The ambiguous wording of the charter permits not only an individual’s right to self-medicate but also the right of the individual to administer simples to any example of an “outward sore … swelling or disease” of another person. The charter’s intent was to protect the poor’s right to receive medical care outside of the professional and costly options offered by the College of Physicians, whose major objection to lay medical practitioners centered on empirics’ potential to cut into the physicians’ sanctioned monopoly on practicing physic. The general knowledge of folk medicine that so concerned physicians was continually bolstered by an ever-increasing library of medical texts and pharmacopeias available in the English vernacular. Yet physicians also saw those texts as an opportunity to use print to bolster their own efforts at professionalization, a particularly effective means of publicly broadcasting their authority over medicine. This is the environment in which Robert Wyer thought it prudent to add the name of the founder of the College of Physicians, Thomas Linacre, to the title page of the third edition of his herbal in 1550.
Throughout the dramatic literature of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, there is evidence that the early modern public reserved the right to heal itself, despite increasing efforts made by licensed healers to control their behavior. It is worth noting that it was not just poor individuals but members of all classes who benefited from printed works of remedies; indeed, reducing dependency on potentially nefarious medical practitioners by medicating oneself could be particularly attractive to nobility concerned for their lives. To keep the Duchess of Malfi’s pregnancy a secret from prying eyes, her steward claims that she was poisoned by one of her doctors, and he claims that she will neutralize such threats by taking care of herself: “She’ll use some prepared’d antidote of her own, / Lest the physicians should repoison her” (2.2.175–176). That such an alibi works to deter doctors, if not the shrewd conniver Bosola, testifies that lay healing was both an established and acceptable early modern practice. The Duchess’s knowledge of practical remedies is evident throughout the play; her last instruction to a servant is to “giv’st my little boy / Some syrup for his cold” (4.2.200–201), while a few lines later she welcomes death’s improvement upon mandrake’s soporific properties (4.2.231).The Duchess of Malfi, like Pericles and All’s Well That Ends Well, demonstrates that the medical knowledge of the play’s characters is gleaned through study and the reading of books. The Duchess’s brother Ferdinand cites Pliny’s Natural History, and elsewhere Pescara admits to seeking out written authority to confirm medical conditions he’d never before heard about:
Pescara Pray thee, what’s his disease?
Doctor A very pestilent disease, my lord,
They call it lycanthropia.
Pescara What’s that?
I need a dictionary to’t. (5.2.4–8)
Though the Doctor offers Pescara an explanation of the term he has used, Pescara’s self-reliance upon easily accessed authorities diminishes a physician’s traditional theoretical acumen, shrinking it down to the repetition of just so many books.Footnote 50
Evidence from both early modern drama and the manuscript notations in printed books of remedies indicates that folk knowledge of basic medicaments was widespread in the period, and the publication history of herbals and other books of recipes testifies that more specialized treatments of plants’ virtues were easily available in print. This raises the question: Why does Cordelia’s prayer maintain that the therapeutic powers of plants are secretive and mysterious? How could they be the “unpublished,” or secret, virtues of the earth? The answer may be found in the Folio revision to the Lear text, which, along with downplaying the French invasion, removes the character of “Doctor” and renames him “Gentleman,” thereby changing the person who cares for Lear from a licensed authority to a lay practitioner like Helena or Cerimon.Footnote 51 The dramatic motivation for the change in the revised text may have been a simple desire for accuracy: by curing Lear though the Paracelsian therapy of like curing like, the healer’s herbal remedy was inconsistent with the Galenic standards employed by Renaissance physicians.Footnote 52 It was, however, consistent with the procedures employed by apothecaries and surgeons as well as the unlicensed practitioners in the medical marketplace of Jacobean London.For audiences, Cordelia’s prayer is dramatically effective; but when I put aside the embedded affect of Cordelia’s pathetic fallacy and read it through Shakespeare’s usage elsewhere, I suspect that the key to understanding her claim of plants’ secrecy lies in the French queen’s use of the imperative mood. Cordelia prays, but she also commands, and it is her queenly assertion of authority over the virtues of the Earth that will ultimately heal her father:
In returning to her English homeland, Cordelia commands the Earth just as another of Shakespeare’s returning English sovereigns had done so before her: in Richard II, the King, returning from Ireland, opens with a long speech of similar pathetic fallacy, ultimately concluding, “This earth shall have a feeling” (3.2.24); and, like Cordelia’s, Richard’s affective invocation to England’s soil prompts the growths of plants: he urges that the earth might “Yield stinging nettles to mine enemies” (3.2.18), a passage that is soon ironically undercut by the Gardener’s later allegorical transference of the King himself into a sick plant (3.4.49–50). Neither Cordelia nor Richard survives until the end of the play; both die in prison, ultimately defeated by events beyond their sovereign control. The botanical usage shared between King Richard and Cordelia is thus dramaturgically, narratively, and affectively similar, suggesting that, as he revised King Lear, Shakespeare may have had in mind the earlier play about another sovereign who was “careless-patient.”In transforming the Quarto’s Doctor into the Folio’s Gentleman, Shakespeare both eliminates the possibility that Cordelia may be understood to defer to the growing intellectual authority of physicians and sets up the character as a healer in her own right. While it is possible in the Quarto to read the Doctor’s account of “simples operative” as a professional’s answer to Cordelia’s rhetorical question about the limits of “man’s wisdom,” in the Folio those details are provided by an unspecified member of the court. In other words, what had once been specialized knowledge becomes commonplace, able to be spoken by anyone. In the Folio, Lear’s loyal daughter, now turned French queen, savior of England, and general of an invading army, does not submit to taking the council of a physician. Instead, Cordelia, whose name means “heart medicine,” uses this common knowledge to take healing matters into her own hands. When speaking to a Doctor in the Quarto, Cordelia’s “Be governed by your knowledge, and proceed / I’ th’ sway of your own will” (4.7.17–18) defers to a physician’s authority to govern medical care, even when caring for the bodies of kings. Spoken to a Gentleman, however, the phrase serves to elevate the subjectivity that has guided Cordelia’s actions throughout the play. Once Lear is brought onto the stage, Cordelia utters another assertion of a lay person’s power to cure:
For a brief moment, the mad king is lucid, cradled in his daughter’s arms.Footnote 53
An investigation of Cordelia’s intention in this small speech indicates the increasing complexity of early modern attitudes towards the fields of botany and medicine and highlights the role that books could play in the performance of healing by both professionals and amateurs. By 1608, printed botanical works, along with the manuscript annotations contained within them, were widely available to serve as props that allowed Jacobean dramatists to consider the ways that medical and scholarly authority was constructed as part of the process of self-fashioning. Herbals could likewise serve as props off stage as these books appeared in portraits for figures like Anne Clifford and William Cunningham (see Figure 7.1), who used them to serve as evidence of their own medical, cosmographical, or botanical authority. It is unsurprising, then, that the English stationers who produced and profited from such books recognized their potential as status-conveying commodities. In the semiotic space of the early modern stage, herbals and other medical books held up a mirror to the tentative and conditional nature of scholarly and professional authority.