The Grete Herball (Peter Treveris)

RS81 B813 1527 Frag Fii verso - Fiii recto Spread.jpg

A full-page spread of The Grete Herball, featuring a botanical woodcut. The relative simplicity of the woodcut style differentiates this early herbal from later publications. 


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.[1]

Bibliographical Information


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.

DATE: 1526

PLACE: London

PUBLISHER: Printed by Peter Treveris, in Southwarke, London. 


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.

TYPE: Gothic


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. 


[1]           Frank McCombie, William Turner: A New Herball (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1568): 3. 

The humours and natural science
The Grete Herball (Peter Treveris)