Reputable Remedies

Frontispiece of Natura Exenterata, London 1655

Lady Arundel’s recipe collection was published a year after the Countess’ death under the pseudonym Philiatros. Next to the front page the publication includes a half-length portrait of Lady Arundel, engraved by Hollar and based on van Dyck’s famous Madagascar Portrait. The caption identifies portrait as of “The most Illustrious & most excellent Lady, the Lady Alathea Talbot & c. Countesse of Arundell & Surrey & the first Countesse of England.” Philiatros, translated as “friend of medicine”, is the ancient name for a layman practicing medicine (Katharina Luchner, Philiatroi 2004). Interestingly, it is the same pseudonym that Conrad Gessner used in 1554 for his very successful De Remediis Secretis, a manual on pharmaceutical distillation.

Samuel Hartlib, Memo on the Countess of Arundel’s Natura Exentera, undated

Despite the pseudonym, the recipes became immediately apparent as the Countess’s collection. Samuel Hartlib notes the intention to exchange Lady Arundel’s book with Robert Boyle for a copy of Basilius Valentinus. In the Hartlib Circle, the collection was undisputed as Lady Arundel’s work.

Many noble women gathered medical and culinary knowledge in so-called recipes. The recipes were often the result of generations of experience in the household, which included cooking, baking and canning, preserving and preserving food, as well as medical care for people in the often rather large households, comprising extended family, servants, neighbours and frequent house guests (Michelle DiMeo, Reading and Writing Recipe Books 2013 and Sara Pennell, Perfecting Practice? Women, Manuscript Recipes and Knowledge in Early Modern England 2004). Noble women collected recipes and exchanged them. They preserved and expanded their experiences with human problems, from serious illnesses like plague and syphilis to rashes and dry eyes. Lady Arundel’s collection also had recipes for problems such as melancholy, loss of libido and lovesickness. The remedies have been passed on from generation to generation and are constantly being expanded. In exchange with other women, with doctors and iatrochemists and from the printed collections, the housewives added new recipes to their collections. The recipes passed on from generation to generation were checked, adapted and supplemented through one’s own practice and experience, through the consultation of printed herbaria and recipe books and, last but not least, through the network of nobles (Elaine Leong, ‘Herbals she peruseth’: Reading Medicine in Early Modern England 2014).

Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, A Choice Manual, 1659

In her introduction to the facsimile edition of Lady Arundel’s Natura Exenterata, Elizabeth Spiller refers to the historical importance of recipe collections at the interface between the arts and to the influence of new physical and chemical theories on the understanding of body, disease and cure in the early modern period. The humoral theory, according to which a balance of the four galenic humors caused the health and appearance of the body, was particularly influential in the recipe collections.

Since this balance had to be secured primarily through an appropriate diet, the separation between medicine and cooking recipe is anachronistic, and the principles of purification and purification of Paracelsian iatrochemistry, which emanated from the primary substances salt, sulfur and mercury, were not only applied to medical recipes but also applied to food. English medicine is characterized by a compromise between the galenic tradition and the new Paracelsian medicine, which was shaped by practical experience and less influenced by theoretical frameworks (Allan Debus, The English Paracelsians 1965). This attitude in England does not correspond to the Paracelsian rejection of tradition, which called for a radical break in favor of his worldview, not only in medicine (Charles Webster, Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic, and Mission at the End of Time 2008).

Lady Arundel’s collection does occupy a special position in her time. While the recipe collections of her sister, Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, and that of Queen Henrietta Maria, published almost at the same time, appeared in the small octavo format, Lady Arundel’s book was printed in the quarto format, its immediate practical use considerably increased by a very detailed index. This alphabetical index lists all diseases for which prescriptions can be found in the recipe collection, an incredibly useful feature and result of serious editorial effort.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.