Conveying Cures


Wellcome Western Ms. 213, Liber Comitissae Arundeliae, London, Wellcome Collection

Lady Arundel’s collection of recipes consists primarily of remedies for a wide variety of diseases. The collection goes back to a handwritten book that Aletheia Talbot received as a wedding gift in 1606 from her mother-in-law Anne Dacre Howard, Countess of Arundel, now named Wellcome Western Ms. 213. It also contains instructions for distilling, some recipes for cakes and pies, for gardening and horse breeding. The handwritten title of the book is Liber Comitissae Arundeliae: A Booke of diuers medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practice of Mrs Corlyon Anno Domini 1606.

Folger V.a.388, A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize of Mrs. Corlyon, Washington D.C., Folger Shakespeare Library

There is still another manuscript with recipes in a similar handwriting and preserved in the Folger Library under the name Corlyon, Folger V. a. 38. The handwritten title of this collection is A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize of Mrs. Corlyon. Mrs. Corlyon may have been a servant in the Countess’s household. It is also conceivable that Corlyon was an earlier pseudonym of Lady Arundel and refers to the lion in the coat of arms of the Talbot family. Cor (de) Lyon, Lionheart, in hindsight could also refer to the famous heroic courage of the Countess. Research on the Corlyon Manuscript is in progress and published online as part of the Recipes Project.

Charles Howard’s dedication of his copy made in 1679, with the kind permission of the Duke of Norfolk, Arundel Castle Archive

Additionally, there exists a later copy of the book made by Lady Arundel’s grandson in Arundel Castle. Charles Howard, the countess’s grandso, a passionate alchemist himself, dedicated the copy to his niece out of a desire to keep the family tradition alive. The stories of Charles Howard’s own experiments deserve a chapter of their own.

Medicine, botany and distillation were among the interests of high-ranking ladies at the English court. In addition to remedies, an English gentleman worked in her role as a housewife but also with the production of baked goods and confectionery. Since the end of the 16th century, this knowledge closely linked to female virtue and nobility became widely accessible in a steadily growing number of printed collections.

In the compendia of Wiliam Partridge’s The Good Huswiues Closet (1584) and The Widowes Treasure (1588), in Hugh Plat’s The Jewell House of Art and Nature (1594) and Delightes for Ladies (1600), which would be reissued in numerous editions until the middle of the century, up to John Bate’s The Mysteryes of Nature and Art (1634) the relationship between art and nature in relation to the human body was constantly negotiated and refined. Two studies from 2007, Allison Kavey’s Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550–1600 and Deborah Harkness’ The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution provide valuable insights into the culture of recipe collections.

John Bate, The Mysteryes of Nature and Art, Frontispiece, London 1634

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