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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Legal manuscript

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge University Library, MS Add. 2994 (hereafter MS Add. 2994) is one of many predominately non-medical manuscripts in the Curious Cures project that nevertheless have medical recipes recorded in their peripheries. In the cases of the primarily non-medical manuscripts, the medical recipes are often miscellaneous, so although those manuscripts might bear witness to the many ways in which this knowledge was recorded and transmitted in the medieval period, nevertheless the books themselves may have served as little more than convenient sources of writing material. Here, however, the copying of recipes seems to have been the result of a more concerted attempt to gather and preserve numerous different treatments for gout and aching bones. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The main part of the manuscript comprises standard legal texts: the <i>Novel Tenures</i>, the <i>Natura brevium</i>, and various other treatises, statutes, ordinances, and copies of legal documents. MS Add. 2994 was made in the 15th century, for the most part in its earlier decades, with additions being made at various stages thereafter, and by more than one hand. Some of those additions may be datable, insofar as the date or year in which a document was originally prepared provides a 'terminus ante quem non' - a date before which they could not have been copied - as in the case, for example, of the will of William Chapman, a tailor, dated 12 July 1444 on ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(385);return false;'>198r-202v</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>On ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(400);return false;'>205v-206v</a>, meanwhile, recipes for gout and bone ache were copied by the same hand, though a change in ink after the eleventh recipe suggests that this was not done at one time as a single campaign. The treatments typically involve preparing some sort of plaster, unguent or oil and covering the sore area with it. Formulations include simple one-line instructions, more involved herbal preparations (one using rue, celandine, black soap and sea salt), and conclude with one on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(402);return false;'>206v</a> that is bizarrely elaborate and frankly improbable (though not unique: similar examples have been found elsewhere). It directs the reader in the month of May to disembowel a puppy, stuff it with sage, black snails and pig fat, roast it on a spit over a fire, collect the fat rendered off the carcass, chop up what is left and fry it in order to catch the very last remnants, and place this in a glass bottle. Apparently, 'it will look like a green salve', and, the reader is instructed, 'therewith anoint the patient any time of year when it is needed'. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Medical recipes often feature alongside culinary recipes, due at least in part to the role that diet was thought to play in regulating the body’s humours, but also probably as a consequence of the domestic contexts in which both types of recipe were made. The same hand that copied the gout remedies also copied three very similar culinary preparations on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(406);return false;'>208v</a>, to conserve quinces or oranges 'to last through the whole year without rotting'. While quinces can be grown in northern Europe, oranges must have been imported and were likely a luxury foodstuff – and in the days before refrigeration or canning, there was an imperative to make a harvest last. The basic principles are the same here as for modern-day preserving. The instructions for quince involve macerating the fruit and parboiling it in the lees of sweet white wine, placing the mixture in a sealable container, covering the top with more of the same wine and sealing the vessel with a cover of some sort. 'Take of them to bake when you desire it', the recipe concludes. It actually sounds quite delicious. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr James Freeman<br /> Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

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