Raleigh’s Recipes

Anonymous, Mary Talbot, née Cavendish, Countess of Shrewsbury, 1556–1632), Oil on Panel, 54,5 x 42 cm, Cambridge, St John’s College

Lady Arundel shared not only the interest in the colonization of the Amazon with Walter Raleigh. They also shared a common interest in medicine and pharmacy. Raleigh’s knowledge of distillation and pharmacy found its way into Lady Arundel’s collection of recipes. According to the title page of Natura Exenterata: Or Nature Unbowelled the collections features recipes from numerous people with experience in medicine. Raleigh’s name comes first.

Frontispiece of Natura Exenterata, London 1655

As is often the case with books in the 16th and 17th centuries, the title of the collection provided both a synopsis and a sales pitch, so it makes sense to quote the title here in full: Natura Exenterata: Or Nature Unbowelled By the most Exquisite Anatomizers of Her. Wherein are contained, Her choicest Secrets digested into Receipts, fitted for the Cure of all sorts of Infirmities, wether Internal or External, Acute or Chronical, that are incident to the Body of Man. Collected and preserved by several Persons of Quality and great Experience in the Art of Medicine, whose names are prefixed to the Book. Containing in the whole, one thousand seven hundred and twenty. Very necessary for such regard their Owne Health, or that of their friends. Valetudinem tuam cura diligenter. Whereunto are annexed, Many Rare, hitherto un-imparted Inventions, for Gentlemen, Ladies and others, in the Recreations of their different Imployments. With an exact Alphabetical Table referring to the several Diseases and their proper Cures, London: H. Twiford / G. Bedell / N. Ekins 1655.

Simon de Passe, Sir Walter Raleigh, 1617, Engraving, 292x 52 mm, London, National Portrait Gallery

The preface promises:
“A Catalog of such Persons of Quality, viz. Knights, Doctors of Physick, Gentlemen, Countesses, Ladies and Gentlewomen, & c. by whose Experience, these Receipts following have been approved./ Sir Walter Raleigh / Sir Kenelm Digby / Sir Francis Swift / Sir Nicholas Le Strange.”

Although Lord Arundel was good friends with Raleigh, it is much more plausible that Lady Arundel exchanged experiments and recipes with Raleigh through her mother, who was imprisoned with Raleigh in the London Tower between 1610 and 1615 and from 1618 onwards (Sara Jayne Steen, The Cavendish-Talbot Women: Playing a High-Stakes Game 2004). Lady Arundel’s mother was sentenced to prison because of her role in the affair of her niece Arbella Stuart and her indomitable attitude towards the King.

Map created in 1597 showing the Tower of London (Catalogue ref: MPH 1/213), Kew, The National Archives

Raleigh and Mary Talbot were in captivity at the same time as the so-called Wizard Earl Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632), as well as the astronomer Thomas Harriot (1560-1621), the geographer Robert Hues (1553-1632) and the natural philosopher Walter Warner (ca.1557-1643). The three prisoners were among the regular collaborators of Raleigh and the Wizard Earl and known as “the earle of Northumberland’s three magi” (John William Shirley, The Scientific Experiments of Sir Walter Ralegh, the Wizard Earl, and the Three Magi in the Tower 1949). Thomas Harriot became known for his observation of sunspots and his mathematical experiments, Robert Hues’ treatise on the manufacture and use of earth globes from 1594 was reissued for years and Walter Warner was interested in a variety of natural philosophical topics, including blood circulation , which he is said to have discovered before William Harvey. The role of the Wizard Earl himself, however, seems to have been more that of a patron and patron (GR Batho, The Household Papers of Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland 1962).

Mary Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, spent many years with Raleigh and the Wizard Earl’s magi imprisoned in the Tower of London. Raleigh not only wrote his History of the World during his imprisonment from 1605 to 1617, but also used a derelict garden shed for distilling and making medicines. Raleigh’s knowledge of pharmacy was widely recognized. Everything he and of course Lady Arundel’s mother would have needed to produce diverse kinds of medicines was available in the tower, and although the stillhouse was demolished in 1610, various waters continued to be produced in the tower. Anna of Denmark herself valued Raleigh’s distilled medicines, or cordials, and turned to Raleigh when her son Prince Henry, the heir to the throne, lay dying in 1612.


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