The Grete Herball (Peter Treveris)
Originally published in 1516 and later reissued in 1526, The Grete Herball was one of the foundational texts of the herbals genre, and the oldest book in this exhibit. As Minta contends, it was primarily composed of information from other texts, pieced together into a new work.
Evidence of its early publication soon becomes clear, especially when compared to later herbals. As Arber notes, the drawings are less complex: flower and leaf shapes are “highly schematized”; certain plants, like the mandrake (with its human-like body), are drawn to look mythological in nature; and in one particularly Medieval direction, readers are told to “appeal to the Virgin Mary” before applying a remedy to a dog bite.
For the purposes of this exhibit, the Herball therefore offers a distinctly Medieval foil to the later, more precise and physiological nature of late-16th to mid-17th century natural science books. Indeed, the botanist William Turner later criticized the book as the only English herbal full of bad spelling and falsely-named herbs.
A Look Inside
This copy of The Grete Herball is intriguing in part because it is not a copy of The Grete Herball at all. The bound text is from an English 1527 edition of Kleines Destillierbuch (here The vertuose boke of the distyllacyon of all maner of waters of the herbes...) with damage and wear on its spine and cover, and a detached spine which reveals remnants of the herbal's construction. The focus of this page is the three unbound leaves thought to be from a 1526 copy of The Grete Herball found within the book. These leaves have significant portions of their pages cut/torn out.
This copy of the Herbal belongs to the Hoeniger collection. Like many of the other Hoeniger books, its front endpapers and colophon offer some indications of its provenance. It appears that while some have identified the entirety of the text as The Grete Herball, others have correctly identified that only three fragment leaves may be from The Grete Herball, while the rest of the text is from an English 1527 edition of Kleines Destillierbuch.
The grete herball whiche geueth parfyt knowledge and vnderstanding of all maner of herbes [and] there gracyous vertues whiche god hath ordeyned for our prosperous welfare and helth, for they hele [and] cure all maner of dyseases and sekenesses that fall or mysfortune to all maner of creatures of god created, practysed by many expert and wyse maysters, as Auicenna [and] other. [et]c. Also it geueth full paryte vnderstandinge of the booke lakely pretnyd by me (Peter treuveris) named the noble experiens of the vertuous handwarke of surgery.
PUBLISHER: Printed by Peter Treveris, in Southwarke, London.
ITEM TYPE: Book
CALL NUMBER: with RS81 .B813 1527
ESTC records 18 copies.
COLLATION of Accompanied Book:
Since the collation is so irregular and so many pages are missing that it is difficult to determine the book's format, a formal statement cannot be given for this book. Nevertheless, there are two gatherings in sixes (the G gathering and R gathering), suggesting that the book was initially a folio in 6s. The ideal copy, according to ESTC, is A-2E⁶. Boards measure 17cm x 23.5cm. Leaves measure 17cm x 23cm.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Simple woodcut illustrations of certain herbs and plants.
BINDING of Accompanied Book: Early 16th c.? pasteboards; previously half-bound but highly faded. Missing spine. Sewing threads in beishe still present, but broken and detached throughout.
PROVENANCE: Donated to CRRS by F.D. Hoeniger.
Boards: loose boards are scratched and chipped, with original fabric peeling away from pasteboards. Spine is missing. Leaves: Several leaves are highly torn and/or flaking at corners and sides; creases and stains throughout. Final gathering of the accompanying book, R, is the only one still sewn together.
 Frank McCombie, William Turner: A New Herball (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1568): 3.