A Late Middle English Remedy-book (MS Wellcome 542, ff. 1r-20v)

A Scholarly Edition

by Javier Calle Martín (Author) Miguel Angel Castaño-Gil (Author)
©2014 Monographs 183 Pages


The present edition offers the diplomatic transcription of MS Wellcome 542, housing a late Middle English hitherto unedited remedy-book based on the medical lore of Hippocrates, Socrates and Galen. A glossary, notes and introduction also accompany the edition. The introduction has been conceived as a state of the art of this scientific treatise, and deals with the textual transmission of the text, a codicological/palaeographic description together with the scribe’s dialect and idiolect. The edition therefore conforms itself as a primary source for research not only in Historical Linguistics but also in other related fields such as the History of Medicine or Ecdotics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This Ebook can be Cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations and symbols
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. The Manuscript
  • 1.1. Contents
  • 1.2. Acquistion and former owners
  • 1.3. Parallel manuscripts
  • 1.3.1. Prologue/epilogue
  • 1.3.2. Charms and other medical formulae
  • 1.4. Codicology
  • 1.4.1. Material, dimensions and ink
  • 1.4.2. Quiring and collation
  • 1.4.3. Ruling
  • 1.4.4. Foliation
  • 1.4.5. Binding and fly-leaves
  • 1.5. Paleography
  • 1.5.1. Letterforms
  • 1.5.2. Section titles
  • 1.5.3. Numerals
  • 1.5.4. Punctuation
  • 1.5.5. Abbreviations
  • Chapter 2. The Language
  • 2.1. Provenance
  • 2.2. Inflectional morphology
  • 2.2.1. Nouns
  • The nominative/objective case
  • The genitive case
  • 2.2.2. Adjectives
  • 2.2.3. Pronouns
  • 2.2.4. Adverbs
  • 2.2.5. Verbs
  • The present indicative
  • The past indicative
  • The subjunctive
  • Non-finite forms
  • Chapter 3. The Text
  • 3.1. Editorial guidelines
  • 3.2. The edition
  • Chapter 4. The Glossary
  • 4.1. Conventions
  • 4.2. Glossary
  • References


The present research has been funded by the SPANISH MINISTRY OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION (grant number FFI2011-26492) and by the AUTONOMOUS GOVERNMENT OF ANDALUSIA (grant number P07-HUM02609). These two grants are hereby gratefully acknowledged.

We are particularly indebted to Amanda Engineer and Natalie Walters (Archivists, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, The Wellcome Library), Natalie Costaras and Crestina Forcina (Picture Researchers, Historical Collection, The Wellcome Library) and Dr Christopher Hilton (Senior Archivist, The Wellcome Library) and to the Wellcome Trust for granting us permission to use this unique collection of manuscripts.

We are also grateful to Prof. Santiago González Fernández-Corugedo (Department of English, University of Oviedo) for his perceptive and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this edition. Special thanks are also due to Dr Antonio Miranda García and Dr David Moreno Olalla (Department of English, University of Málaga) for their constant help and advice over the past years, and to Joaquín Garrido Garrido (Computer Manager) for the design of an ad hoc tool for the retrieval and handling of linguistic data. ← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →

Abbreviations and symbols

a. Adjective
c. Conjunction
e-MED Electronic Middle English Dictionary
esp. especially
f. Folio
ff. Folios
LALME Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English
ME Middle English
MEMT Middle English Medical Texts
MS Manuscript
MSS Manuscripts
n. Noun
OE Old English
prob. Probably
v. Verb

← 11 | 12 → ← 12 | 13 →


Recipes in Middle English Medical Literature

1. Introduction

Texts for everyday use were in the shadows of literary achievements for a long time, except for their curiosity value (see below). This has changed and non-literary texts are now being recognized in their own right as important witnesses of past cultures and past language practices. Medical recipes belong to utilitarian literature: they give instructions on how to prepare medicines to cure an illness, how to maintain health or prevent a harmful condition. Various other genres may be inserted, charms and prognostications being the most common additional items. In the course of time, approaches to Middle English recipes have also changed. With the pragmatic turn, the communicative needs and practices of common people have come centre stage (Traugott 2008), and a new awareness of texts as communication has gained ground within the last decades (see Jucker and Pahta 2011: 3-10). Texts provide the key to probing into these practices, but the further back in time we go the more difficult it is to learn about them. It is extremely valuable that new materials are made available to linguistic scholars, philologists and medieval historians. This preface will give a brief survey of the state of the art of editing Middle English medical recipes. ← 13 | 14 →

2. Editing Middle English Recipes

Editing medieval texts is one of the oldest activities in the field of philology. The earliest scholarly editions of recipes date from the 19th century, the very beginning of philological interests in English Studies. Culinary recipes were edited even earlier, e.g. the “Forme of Curry” (14th c.) by Samuel Pegge (1780), available in Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). The first edition of recipes and other remedybook materials was a miscellany of eclectic passages in two volumes entitled Reliquae antiquae by T. Wright and J. O. Halliwell (1841- 43). The extracts were selected for their curiosity value. Other early recipe collections comprise George Stephens’s publication in 1844 and Ein Mittelenglisches Medizinbuch by F. Heinrich (1896), a collection of Medical Works of the Fourteenth Century by G. Henslow (1899; see p. 24 below), and activities continued steadily thereafter (see Taavitsainen and Pahta 2004: 4). Editorial practices have undergone several changes in recent years, and it is no exaggeration to say that editing has entered a dynamic phase. The digital turn in linguistics and philology has opened up new possibilities. One significant development is the ability to encode visual and structural features of the original document into an edition. For example, it has become possible to add digital images of letterforms to illustrate the hands (see pp. 31 and 34 below). This makes a big difference to the reader of the description. Several libraries have extensive picture galleries and they are adding digital images of their manuscripts to their webpages. Editorial practices in general have undergone a shift in their goals abandoning the reconstruction of hypothetical “originals” of literary texts and focusing on versions that reached real audiences and were used by real people. The editorial practices of utilitarian texts have been different from the beginning because the remedybook tradition exhibits a great deal of variation in textual transmission and processes of adaptation, expansion, abbreviation, or omission, can frequently be encountered on manuscript pages of everyday texts. ← 14 | 15 →

3. Recipes and manuscript reality

The grand literary works of the medieval period are well known, but utilitarian texts offer opportunities for original work with manuscript materials. We have new catalogues and other research resources at our disposal. Manuscript reality can be checked with these tools to verify whether additional copies are extant and where they are housed. One of the first digital tools for studying Middle English manuscript reality of medical and scientific writing was offered by the electronic reference of Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English by Voigts and Kurtz (2000), and George Keiser’s (1998) Works of Science and Information, volume 10 of A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 is also invaluable. A careful study with the help of these tools can reveal new connections between manuscripts, as is the case with Wellcome MS 542 (see p. 22 below).

4. Recipes in Middle English medical literature

Middle English medical texts can be grouped according to their underlying traditions of writing into three main kinds: surgical texts, specialized treatises and remedies and materia medica. Surgical texts and specialized treatises belong to the learned traditions of medical writing, going back to academic origins, with emerging vernacular adaptations and translations from the last quarter of the fourteenth century onwards. The remedybook tradition and materia medica consist of recipes, and health advice in prose and verse in various regimen texts as well as prognostications and charms, which verge on the occult. In this respect the present collection is a typical representative of this tradition. Texts have mixed origins, including both learned texts from classical sources and medical lore with some traits going back to Old English (Rubin 1974, Voigts 1984: 322-324). But the overall picture of Middle ← 15 | 16 → English recipes is not simple as they also occur in surgical treatises and specialized texts. Recipes are different in these texts as they are used as illustrations of healing methods and in general they show more variation (Taavitsainen 2001). The borderline between medical and culinary recipes was also somewhat unclear, and some recipes, e.g. for tonics, occur in both contexts, as “culinary recipes and cooking instructions form part of regimen sanitatis literature in Europe from the earliest pre-Arabist text to the end of the Middle Ages” (Weiss- Adamson 1995: 204).1 In remedybooks recipes have acquired a fairly standardized form that serves a practical purpose. Quick consultation is made possible by some principles and set conventions: the items often follow the order from head to foot, the titles specify the ailment which the medicine helps combat, and the ingredients follow a formula beginning with “Take …”. At the end, efficacy phrases like “probatum est” may assure the user of the utility of the advice.

5. Electronic resources and the digital turn in manuscript studies

To follow up the connections of manuscript transmission as revealed by Voigts and Kurtz (2000) and Keiser (1998), electronic corpora can be used to detect intertextual passages. The most comprehensive electronic database of Middle English recipes for public use to date is provided by Middle English Medical Texts (MEMT; Taavitsainen, Pahta and Mäkinen 2005). It is based on editions of medical treatises from c. 1375 to c. 1500 and an appendix of texts written c. 1330. It includes everything that was available in edited form at the time, and thus it gives a good picture of the state of the art of edited recipe texts up to 2005. In the years that have passed since its publication new editions ← 16 | 17 → have come out, and we can be grateful for the scholarly activity that brings new materials to researchers’ use. A special Corpus of Early English Recipes is also under work at the University of Las Palmas (Alonso-Almeida, Ortega-Barrera and Quintana-Toledo forthcoming). Its Early Modern English section has already been completed, but the Middle English one is not yet ready. It is possible that this corpus will fill in the gap left by MEMT finishing in 2005.

The Middle English Dictionary and the Middle English Compendium are immensely valuable resources for editors and scholars of Middle English texts in general, as they make language material available in a new way and give a reliable basis for interpreting meanings of words and phrases (see Chapter 4). The digital turn has now reached a new phase with the release of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English as an online version (2011). In addition to dialectology, historical linguistics and sociolinguistics, medieval literary scholars and historians will profit from it. The usefulness of these resources can also be seen in the present edition, as the dialectal analysis is based on LALME materials.

6. Conclusions

A great deal still remains to be done in the field, and we are grateful for the new contribution provided by the edition of the recipe collection in MS Wellcome 542. The more material is available to scholars, the more reliable the results of various linguistic and philological studies will be in the future.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (December)
medical lore scientific treatise Ecdotics
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 183 pp.

Biographical notes

Javier Calle Martín (Author) Miguel Angel Castaño-Gil (Author)

Javier Calle-Martín is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Málaga (Spain). His research interests are Historical Linguistics and Manuscript Studies. He is the leading researcher of a project for the electronic edition of hitherto unedited late Middle English Fachliteratur. Recently, he has also developed an interest in the textual transmission of mediaeval uroscopy texts, the Middle English version of Gilles of Corbeil’s Treatise on Urines in particular. Javier Calle-Martín has edited The Middle English Version of De viribus herbarum (2012) and has published in journals like English Studies (2012), Studia Anglica Posnaniensia (2011) and the Review of English Studies (2008). Miguel Ángel Castaño-Gil holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the universities of Málaga (Spain) and Coventry (UK). He has recently obtained an MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Málaga (June 2013), where he collaborates as an assistant in a research project pursuing the electronic edition of hitherto unedited late Middle English scientific prose.


Title: A Late Middle English Remedy-book (MS Wellcome 542, ff. 1r-20v)
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