Lelamour Herbal (MS Sloane 5, ff. 13r–57r)

An Annotated Critical Edition

by David Moreno Olalla (Author)
Monographs 512 Pages


One of the three most important medical herbals composed in Middle English, both in terms of physical length and for the number of species treated, and regularly quoted not only by the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary or the Middle English Dictionary but also by historians of Natural Sciences in Britain since the 1700s, a printed version of the treatise compiled in 1373 by the otherwise unknown Herefordian schoolmaster John Lelamour was surprisingly not yet available to the general public. The present volume fills this gap by offering a critical edition of the text contained in the sole extant copy, together with a detailed introduction discussing such topics as authorship and Quellenforschung, the dialect of the text, or the history of the manuscript; a large collection of explanatory notes which throw light on the textual transmission of the text, translation and copy mistakes, identification of parallel passages, and species identification; a full glosary, and two appendixes, one with the current botanical names of the plants mentioned in the text, and another crossreferencing diseases to the lines in the edition where these appear.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1. The text
  • 1.1. Authorship
  • 1.2. Sources
  • 1.3. The language of LH
  • 2. The manuscript
  • 2.1. Collation, quiring and foliation
  • 2.2. Materials, conditions and binding
  • 2.3. Watermarks
  • 2.4. Page layout and ruling
  • 2.5. Contents of the MS
  • 2.6. History of the MS
  • 3. The scribes
  • 3.1. The main scribe
  • 3.2. Other hands
  • 4. The edition
  • 4.1. Editorial criteria and typographic conventions
  • 4.2. Explanatory Notes
  • 4.3. Glossary
  • 4.4. Appendixes
  • 5. List of sources and abbreviations
  • 6. Works cited
  • Lelamour Herbal
  • Explanatory Notes
  • Glossary
  • Appendix A: Botanical names
  • Appendix B: Medical virtues
  • Series index


It is a pleasant duty to acknowledge here all the people who had some share in the making of this book. The edition had its origins in a dissertation for the degree of Ph.D. in the University of Málaga under the supervision of Dr Antonio Miranda García. To him I owe an enormous debt of personal and academic gratitude. I know that he will be particularly happy to see the book out after so many years waiting for it... but then, nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus.

I would like to thank the British Library, not just for having waived the reproduction fees of the MS images used for the cover, frontispiece and p. 114, but also for all the help that I received from the staff at the desk of the Manuscripts Reading Room during my visits to London. My gratitude is especially directed towards Ms Claire Breay, who quickly and kindly provided expert answers to all my queries on the manuscript particulars. Naviget Anticyram.

Even though I do not always agree with his conclusions, my work also became so much easier and better after reading several papers on John Lelamour and his work written over the last twenty years by Professor George R. Keiser (Kansas State U.), who generously shared and discussed his ideas on the topic with a perfect stranger over several e-mails. For this and, in a less personal way, for being the author of the groundbreaking volume on Fachliteratur of the “Manual of the Writings in Middle English” as well, he deserves the highest praise. Veluti pia mater, plus quam se sapere et virtutibus esse priorem vult.

Closer home, I am particularly grateful to Mr Joaquín Garrido for his prompt and invaluable help in turning my lemmatized corpus into a proper Glossary, using his TexSEn application. Ms Jessica Carmona agreed to read large parts of the manuscript and her keen eye saved me from many infelicities. The general editors of the series read an early version of the book and provided many insightful comments that have raised the quality of the final volume. I regret to acknowledge that all remaining mistakes are unfortunately my own. Sunt delicta tamen quibus ignovisse velimus. ← 9 | 10 →

Publication expenses for this book were defrayed by a generous gift from the Department of English, French and German Philology of the University of Málaga. Thanks are particularly due to its Head, Dr. Rosario Arias, whose help was invaluable during the administrative process. Rem facias, rem si possis, recte.

This book is gratefully dedicated to my family: it would have never seen the light without their continuous support and forbearance. Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus.

Rincón de la Victoria (Málaga), St. Augustine’s day 2017

← 10 | 11 →


1.  The text

This edition presents a medical herbal, a work of scientific Fachliteratur where the healing properties of a number of plants are collected together with several recipes where those species are used as ingredients. Some, but not all of them, include a broad physical description of the plant, its temperament according to the then current humoral theory, or practical advice on its proper harvesting, handling and usage as well. Medical herbals are therefore a derivation from treatises on Materia Medica or collections of simples, that is, lists of products frequently used in the confection of medicines, including not only vegetables but also minerals and animals, as well as their by-products (oils, distillates, chemical compounds, body fluids, and the like). As a rule, in herbals each of these simples was analysed in a chapter of its own, then arranged within the treatise in a number of ways: in alphabetical order (thus, Matthaeus Platearius’s Pandectae), by temperament (as in the Liber Serapionis), by type of substance and/or perceived similarity to one another (so, Dioscorides’s Materia Medica), or following no evident system (the case of De Viribus Herbarum, although here one could perhaps argue that longer entries appear at the beginning, shorter ones at the end). Although most of these works were written in prose, some of them, particularly the less technical and more popular-oriented ones, were composed in verse to benefit from the mnemonic power of rhythm and rhyme.

Lelamour Herbal (henceforth LH) is a prose medical herbal written in late Middle English that contains the virtues of over two hundred ← 11 | 12 → species listed in a loose alphabetical arrangement using just the first letter of the plant name. LH survives in a single manuscript (London, British Library, Sloane MS 5, ff. 13ra–57ra, or S1 for short). While some areas of Middle English utilitarian writing, such as historical chronicles or religious tracts, have traditionally enjoyed the continuous attention of editors, scientific prose has remained a textual Cinderella, so raising the awareness of this type of text among scholars by offering new published material is in itself reason enough for an edition of LH.1 The main motive for an edition of this treatise is thus quite simple: although edited twice as parts of dissertations, the herbal has never been easily accessible in print, let alone as a commented critical edition. The lack of an edition is striking in itself, for the text contained in S1 is one of the examples of herbals composed in Middle English that denotes some authorial desire to renovate the old formulas and even to create something new: the compiler of LH had evidently an encyclopaedic aim and drew his information from as many sources as he could lay his hands on, rather than offering a mere translation of a Latin poem (the cases of the Middle English versions of De Viribus Herbarum, Circa Instans and, perhaps, Agnus Castus). Its comprehensive spirit and the use of several sources in the compilation turn this treatise into a “designer herbal”, as the text has been aptly dubbed (Keiser 2008b: 304), and makes an edition of this text a worthy addition to the library of any scholar interested in the development of science in England. Moreover, the critical use that the author of LH seems to have made of those sources, choosing not to reproduce a number of entries from DVH and AC dealing with plants such as ginger, zedoary or aloes probably because they were not indigenous to northern European climates but expensive Asian imports, adds to the interest of this particular ME herbal.

The present edition provides therefore the first widely available version of a very significant English medical work of the period, one which has attracted the attention of a substantial number of scholars ← 12 | 13 → since the late seventeenth century (not only among historians of science such as Eleanor Sinclair Rohde or Charles Talbot, but also among antiquarians and early literary historians such as Bishop Tanner or Thomas Warton and linguists such as the compilers of OED and MED) and been regarded by a contemporary scholar as one of the main herbals in ME that still awaited publication (Hunt 1989: ix–x, fn. 5).

1.1.  Authorship

According to its explicit (reproduced in the frontispiece), LH is the English translation, executed by a certain ‹Johannes Lelamour›, of a treatise about the properties of plants that was originally composed in Latin by ‹Macer the philizofur›, which obviously refers to Macer Floridus and his poem De Viribus Herbarum (DVH for short).2 The inscription goes on to inform the reader that John Lelamour was a schoolmaster from Hereford and that he undertook the task of translating the Latin text into English in 1373. Nothing more is known about Lelamour and, since the ← 13 | 14 → surname remains etymologically unexplained, a number of hypotheses have been put forward: it could be (faulty) French for an English name *John Love (so Talbot 1967: 187), or else it might be a copy mistake for an original *John Belamour (a conjecture hazarded in Moreno Olalla 2007: 123, fn. 28). As for Lelamour’s trade, he could have been the master of Hereford Cathedral Grammar School (so Orme 1996: 55), because that was the sole establishment devoted to higher learning in that county and it was moreover known throughout medieval England as a school specialized in the teaching of Natural Sciences (Orme 1973: 172, 305). Unfortunately, no third-party record supporting any of the above ideas has been unearthed so far, in Hereford or elsewhere (see Moreno Olalla 2007: 123 and Keiser 2008b: 293). The use of different treatises in the creation of his work (→ Sources) does speak in any case for a well-stocked library such as those found in important learning centres such as a University or a Grammar School.

Generally speaking, all the statements in the explicit are hazy if not downright misleading: LH is in fact not a translation of Macer Floridus’s treatise but a composite from several sources including DVH, and moreover S1 was composed about ninety years later than the date provided in the inscription. It is therefore only natural, then, that the actual role of John Lelamour in the transmission of the text is called into question too. The traditional view was that all or most of the statements written in the explicit were trustworthy and therefore it was assumed that LH was indeed a translation of the Latin herbal completed in 1373 by John Lelamour. A few years ago, George Keiser demonstrated that LH did not stand in textual isolation, but other manuscripts must have shared a common ancestor with S1; he hence hypothesized that John Lelamour’s authorial rendering of DVH must have circulated around England and was reproduced in a number of copies. One is led to assume from here that the text copied in S1, most entries of which do not derive from Macer’s poem, is an amplification of John Lelamour’s original translation with new matter borrowed from other textual traditions by later scribes (see Keiser 1996 for details).

Still, textual criticism and linguistic analysis indicate that the role of John Lelamour in the creation and transmission of LH must have ← 14 | 15 → been that of a compiler, not a mere translator. The common entries from DVH shared between S1 and the other manuscripts, for example, cannot have been composed by a Herefordian, but by someone speaking a distinctively northern dialect. Textually as well, the composer of LH reproduced a collection of entries from DVH rather than the full translation of the Latin poem and, as fas as we can currently tell, neither one or the other was signed by John Lelamour: that name is indeed found in S1 but missing from all other known copies of those treatises. Supporting evidence for all this is plentiful if a reconstruction of the original translation—in textual terms, the archetype Ω—is attempted from either a textological or a dialectal perspective (see Moreno Olalla 2013b and Moreno Olalla 2017, respectively).3 The new picture suggests that in 1373 a speaker of a South-West Midland dialect, which in all likelihood was the Hereford-based John Lelamour, copied a selected Middle English translation of DVH that had been done somewhere in the North of England. Although this still needs further research, the presence of a few SWML words or spellings in entries taken from sources other than this translation of DVH suggests that Lelamour was responsible for the assemblage of the whole treatise, copying entries from different textual traditions. Several modifications of the original text (for example, a curious addition in the chapter Colombyne, → 344346,4 or ‹þe morfue› → 319 substituting the more slavish rendition “black spots of the hide” that appears in the other MSS of the tradition) suggest that he was a person versed in Natural Sciences, and this certainly fits the image of a schoolmaster in Hereford Cathedral School.

Either the resulting autograph, which for all we know is now lost, or some copy thereof became the exemplar of S1, which was composed in the London area ca. 1460 and remains the sole text that can be safely ascribed to John Lelamour’s pen. The description of MS 497 (V.7.24) in the catalogue of the Hunterian Collection at Glasgow University Library (Young/Aitken 1908: 409) states that the sole treatise copied in this small quarto volume, dated in the early fifteenth century, is also a translation of De Viribus Herbarum into Middle English completed by ← 15 | 16 → the same Hereford schoolmaster. Actually, the Secretary hand of the volume is better dated in the second half of the century and any cursory analysis demonstrates that the text contained there is yet another copy of the same ME herbal made in the south of England and edited in the late 1940s (Frisk 1949, → Sources). While the dating of the script and the general physical description of the book was corrected in the updated catalogue of the English MSS in that collection (Cross 2004: 33–34), the mistaken authorship attribution is unfortunately still maintained there (Moreno Olalla 2007: 121, fn. 17).

1.2.  Sources

LH is a compilation of 215 entries taken from different textual families.5 The usage of several sources can be demonstrated in a number of ways, one of them being the presence of a sizeable number of repeated species that were taken as separate plants since each of those traditions referred to the same vegetable under a different name (some of them misapplied already in the exemplar). This is different from the recopying of the same exemplary section due to some scribal mistake, as with wild chervil, spelt ‹kerwell› in 1061, then ‹lerwell› in 1105. Both are virtually the same entry (the first one offering additional materials borrowed from a second source) that got copied twice because the compiler misread the initial *K in his exemplar when he was copying plant names beginning with letter L. The clearest case demonstrating Lelamour’s use of several sources is that of the black hellebore (Helleborus niger L.), which is treated three times under different names: ‹Longwort› 1223, ‹Pedelyon› 1851 and finally ‹Walworte› 2385. Other instances include the following: black nightshade (Solanum nigrum L., 1371 and 1518), bugle (Ajuga reptans L., 222 and 918), common groundsel (Senecio ← 16 | 17 → vulgaris L., 794 and 824), dill (Anethum graveolens L., 14 and 104), dragons (Dracunculus vulgaris Schott, 37 and 538), elecampane (Inula elenium L., 586 and 899), hemlock (Conium maculatum L., 640 and 871), houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum L., 708 and 1030), lesser calamint (Clinopodium nepeta (L.) Kuntze, 1503 and 1525), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis L., 848 and 2420), onion (Allium cepa L., 188 and 1581), purslane (Portulaca oleracea L., 975 and 1867), rocket (Eruca sativa Mill., 313 and 2160), soapwort (Saponaria officinalis L., 1570 and 2068), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum (L.) Scop., 629 and 2340), thyme (Thymum serpyllum L., 1631 and 2313), wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris (L.) Hoffm., 1061, 1105—see above—and 2136), wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare L., 1552 and 1634) and wood avens (Geum urbanum L., 29 and 843). The cases of garden angelica (Angelica archangelica L., 655 and 1045) and fleawort (Plantago indica L., 1880 and 1888) are dubious as the identification of these plants is unsure.

Most of the treatises that Lelamour employed to create his herbal have been traced. As stated in the explicit, Macer Floridus’s De Viribus Herbarum was one of these sources. Perhaps the most popular herbal in the Middle Ages (manuscript copies of the original text are literally counted by the hundreds, and translations were made into most of the major languages of Europe) and still well read until the end of the sixteenth century (Choulant 1841: 239–243 lists twenty printed editions, several of them pirated, from the 1477 Naples incunabulum to the 1590 Hamburg and Leipzig versions by Ranzovius, plus the French translation of Tremblay 1588), this poem in Latin hexameters describing the healing powers of 77 plants is thought to have been composed in France by a certain Odo de Meung-sur-Loire sometime during the late 11th or early 12th century. The original 2269 lines were supplemented in many manuscripts and early books by the Spuria Macri, a collection of extra simples—fixed into just 20 items in the two available modern editions—going from cheese and vinegar to manure, hartshorn and spider web (Jansen 2013).

The popularity and influence of DVH during the Middle Ages has made it the object of more scholarly attention than most texts of medical Fachprosa, including not only editions of the original Latin ← 17 | 18 → text (Choulant 1832, which is in sore need of revision) and long list of vernacular versions (Klemming 1883–1886, Hægstad 1906, Kålund 1907, Larsen 1931, Harpestræng 1936, Frisk 1949, Faraudo de Saint Germain 1955–1956, Bazzi 1959, Conerly/Ardemagni/Richards 1986, Capuano 1991, Corradini Bozzi 1997, Bos/Mensching 2000, Schnell/Crossgrove 2002, Hunt 2008), but a flurry of studies as well (Jansen 2013: 4–6 provides a brief yet complete and updated state of the art on the Latin text; literature on the High German rendering is thoroughly covered in Schnell/Crossgrove 2002: 53–58, while Pensado Figueiras 2012 cursorily mentions the most relevant works on the several translations into the Hispanic languages).

Notwithstanding the claims in the explicit, Macer Floridus’s poem was the main source for just 68 entries, none of them from the Spuria Macri. All the chapters borrowed from DVH originated from translations other than the one edited in Frisk 1949, and appear to be divided into two groups. The following 23 sections are independent from any known Middle English version of the Latin text:6 Acedula 2261, Allium 758, Aristolochia 66, Buglossa 213, Caulis 421, Cepa 1581, Cicuta 871, Colubrina 37, Elleborus 1223, Eruca 2160, Galanga 788, Gariofilus 843, Iris 834, Ligusticum 498, Lolium 1077, Nepeta 1503, Origanum 1552, Ostrutium 1570, Pastinaca 1719, Plantago 1735, Portulaca 1867, Senecio 824, and Violae 2517. The lack of parallel manuscripts makes it very tempting to imagine that these sections were Lelamour’s own work, which would give some grounds to the statement in the explicit that he had ‹tournyd [the original DVH] in-to Ynglis›, but positive evidence for this idea is yet to be found. Linguistic analysis is in fact against such notion (→ Dialect).

The other 45 sections derive ultimately from a translation done in the North of England, hence called Northern Macer (NM) to oppose it to the much better-known rendering of the same Latin text that was made ← 18 | 19 → in the Southern half of England and edited by Gösta Frisk.7 Textually, this source can be easily spotted as most entries in LH without Latin heading belong here (only nine chapters from other sources miss their Latin titles), although the following ones were added by some later copyist: ‹Anisum› 14, ‹Apium risus› 1060, ‹Beata› 188, ‹Betania› 149, ‹Bigula› 204, ‹Camamilla› 365, ‹Coriandrum› 354, ‹Feniculum693, ‹Genciana› 803, ‹Lappa› 560, ‹Papauer› 1693, ‹Portulaca› 975, ‹Rapa domestica› 1525, and ‹Sacrefolium708.

Only one copy of NM is currently known (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Additional MS A.106, ff. 244r–259r, siglum B in the Explanatory Notes). This version contains 68 chapters out of the 77 of the Latin original, but there are good internal reasons to believe that at least two more entries (Allium and Caulis, corresponding to DVH 161–195 and 1201–1263, respectively) were included in its exemplar, which must have lost a sheet.8 In two instances, moreover, the anonymous English translator decided to combine two Latin entries into a single chapter: the white and black hellebores (DVH 1774–1858) were presented as a continuous block ‹Walworte› 2385, while the virtues of Barrocus (DVH 1641–1663) were copied immediately after those of Aristolochia (DVH 1395–1436) under ‹Medewort› 1355. Therefore, besides the lost sections on cabbage and garlic, in fact only the following seven chapters are currently missing an equivalent in NM: Lactuca (DVH 765–775), Ligusticum (DVH 882–906), Cyperus (DVH 1585–1604), Colubrina (DVH 1728–1765), Cicuta (DVH 2030–2055), Pyrethrum (DVH 2086–2108) and Cyminum (DVH 2111–2124).

Textual analysis proves that Lelamour did not use a copy of NM as his exemplar, but an assortment from it, called Rue Herbal (RH)9 since ← 19 | 20 → the virtues of rue (Ruta graveolens L.) probably opened the treatise. This compendium enjoyed some diffusion at the time: virtually the same selection of entries, copied in roughly the same order, is found in at least two other volumes (London, Wellcome Library, MS 5650, ff. 29r–39v and Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys MS 1661, pp. 266–284), and textual criticism strongly indicates that there were copies in other manuscripts which are now lost. These would include of course John Lelamour’s autograph, called Λ in the stemma suggested in Moreno Olalla 2013b: 955. Parts of the fragmentary herbal kept in the so-called “Lincoln Thornton” (Lincoln Cathedral, Dean and Chapter Library MS 91, ff. 315r–321v; see Keiser 1996 for details) seem to belong here as well, and a very short text contained in London, British Library, Sloane MS 7, f. 105v must have derived from either NM or RH. The existence of these common entries both in S1 and a number of manuscripts, all of which can be palaeographically dated after the third quarter of the 14th century, naturally led Prof. Keiser to assume that they were copies from the original 1373 version referred in the explicit, and hence he referred to RH as Lelamour Herbal, but textual and, above all, linguistic evidence are against this idea (as demonstrated in Moreno Olalla 2017).10

The most important source by number of entries in LH, yet, is not DVH but Agnus Castus. This anonymous herbal describes 248 plants alphabetically arranged under their Latin names, which turns it into one of the most important Middle English herbals even though this includes just letters A through S. (Some MSS offer entries beginning with the remaining letters, but the editor considered these to be later additions; see Brodin 1950: 11.) The author of AC kept a pattern in the confection of the entries: after the Latin name and a collection of vernacular synonyms comes a description of the morphology and known habitat(s) of the species. Then, except in a few short entries, a list of remedies ← 20 | 21 → follows, and frequently a simplified reference to the qualities of the species without mentioning its exact temperament.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
Middle English Language Manuscript Studies Textual Criticism History of Science History of Botany John Lelamour Sloane Collection
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 510 pp., 2 ill. en couleurs.

Biographical notes

David Moreno Olalla (Author)

David Moreno Olalla is Lecturer of English at the University of Málaga. His main fields of study are Historical Linguistics, with particular reference to Middle English Dialectology, Palaeography, Textual Criticism and Manuscript Studies. He is also interested in the transmission of herbal lore in England during the Middle Ages and the Tudor period.


Title: Lelamour Herbal (MS Sloane 5, ff. 13r–57r)