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This article is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

From Chetham’s Library

13: For Him that Holdeth not his Pyssyng
Michael Powell
FOR MANY PEOPLE the term medieval manuscript is synonymous with illuminated manuscript, handwritten books which have been ‘lit up’ or ‘enlightened’ by the use of gold and bright colours for initials, borders and miniature illustrations. These great survivals of an elaborate process of book production are among the most beautiful and celebrated artefacts of the middle ages and in some instances have become venerated, totemic objects for cultural tourists. Who, for example, travels to Dublin without seeing the Book of Kells?

But the vast majority of medieval manuscripts were not illuminated and did not involve a host of craftsmen from vellum makers, scribes and rubricators to illuminators, painters and binders. Most were much more modest affairs, made to be used for specific purposes and certainly not for posterity.

Chetham Manuscript Mun. A.3.127 is a case in point. Written on paper towards the end of the fifteenth century this one hundred-and-fifty-page work is a compilation of medical recipes, a medieval guide to family health. It was probably written by two Cheshire men, ‘Richard Wermyncham Spens’ and Richard Denyas, (Warmingham is a Cheshire place-name), almost certainly as a permanent record of years of collected treatments and cures. It begins with an alphabetical list of herbs before a detailed list of contents. The first ailment, perhaps not surprisingly, is the headache, for which  fifteen different herbal recipes are provided. This is followed by ‘fantom or vaunte in mannes hedde’ before moving swiftly downwards through red eyes, sore teeth, evil in the mouth or in the throat, to him ...


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