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John Gerard

 

 

Written and compiled by George Knowles

 

John Gerard’s “Herbal or General History of Plants” has long been considered one of the most famous of English herbals.  First published in 1597, it was republished in 1633 revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson in an edition that retained much of the original Elizabethan text.  The 1633 edition contains some 2850 descriptions of plants and about 2700 illustrations.  Divided into three books including an appendix, the first book describes:  Grasses, Rushes, Reeds, Grains, Irises and Bulbs; the second book:  Food plants, Medicinal plants and Sweet-smelling plants; and the third book:  Roses, Trees, Shrubs, Bushes, Fruit-bearing plants, Rosin and gum-producing plants, Heaths, Mosses and Fungi.

 

John Gerard was born in Nantwich, England in 1545 and attended a village school in Wisterson.  In 1562 he traveled to London were he become an apprentice to a Barber-Surgeon studying medicine.  After seven years he was granted permission to establish his own practice and soon became well respected as a surgeon.  Achieving eminence in his profession, he was elected a member of the Court Assistants of the Barber-Surgeons Guild in 1595, a Junior Warden in 1597 and Master of the Barber-Surgeons Guild in 1608.

 

For centuries the barbers of Europe practiced surgery, a custom that began with a papal decree in 1163 that forbade the then Clergy to shed blood.  During those times Monks were required to undergo bloodletting at regular intervals, and some were trained to perform this task as well as minor surgery.  Once the decree came into force, these duties were turned over to the barbers, familiar figures at monasteries since 1092 when the clergy were required to be clean-shaven.  The medical establishment in those times welcomed this, for while they thought bloodletting was necessary, they considered it a task beneath their dignity to perform.  They were also happy to relegate other tasks to the barbers such as the treatment of minor wounds.

 

In France a royal decree of 1383 declared that “the King's first barber and valet” was to be made the head of the Barbers and Surgeons in their country, which had been organized into a Guild in 1361.  The barbers of London were first organized as a religious guild, but were then granted a Charter as a ‘trade guild’ in 1462 by King Edward IV.  The Barbers Guild was then amalgamated with the Surgeons Guild in 1540 under a Charter granted by Henry VIII, and the members of the joint corporation were accorded the right to be addressed as “Master”, or “Mister”.  Today British surgeons still prefix their names with “Mr.” instead of “Dr”.  In England the Surgeons Guild was again separated from that of the Barbers in 1745, and superseded by The Royal College of Surgeons, however they did not receive their new Charter until 1800.

 

While studying in London, Gerard became interested in plants and herbs, and started a garden near his home in Holborn, between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane.  While medicine was his first profession, in the sixteenth century plants, herbs and medicine were closely related.  To enhance his knowledge of plants and herbs, he worked for a time as a ship's surgeon visiting such places as:  Denmarke, Swevia, Poland, Livinia and Moscow in Russia, from where he brought back rare and exotic plants and seeds to grow in his own garden.  He later makes mention of these collecting excursions in his famous Herbal.

 

Back in London his garden soon became popular, and Gerard started receiving offers to supervise the gardens of others.  By 1577, he was supervising the gardens of Lord Burghley (William Cecil, the first minister to Queen Elizabeth), including those at his residence in the Strand, London, and those at his country estate ‘Theobalds’ in Hertfordshire.  In 1586 he was appointed to supervise the College of Physicians ‘physic garden’, used to educate medical students in the medicinal properties of plants and herbs, and in 1588 he created a botanical garden at Cambridge University for the same purpose.

 

In 1596 Gerard compiled a list of the plants he had cultivated in his own garden, this was the first complete catalogue of any one garden ever published.  Dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh, a copy of this can still be viewed at the British Museum.  The most significant plant in his garden at that time was the Potato, which he grew from roots obtained from New World travelers (most likely Raleigh) before the plant became well known.  The potato is a native plant of the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes and was first introduced into Europe during the second half of the 16th century.

 

Gerard’s interest in plants and gardens was obviously well known to the Barber-Surgeons Guild, for in 1596 they commissioned him to create a “fruit-grounde” for their London headquarters.  In 1597 Gerard published his celebrated “Herbal or General History of Plants”.  The Herbal was immediately popular, providing information together with illustrations on as many plants as were known and understood at that time.  While he wrote about plants largely for their medicinal properties, uniquely and for the first time it catalogued common English and Latin botanical names, descriptions of habitats, physical descriptions, times of growth and flowerings, and other uses such as food etc.  It also provided a large amount of herbal folklore.

 

There is however a cloud of controversy surrounding the original contents of the Herbal.  It is believed that Gerard may have used a translation of Stirpium historiae pemptades sex (1583) by the Flemish botanist Rembertus Dodoens.  The publisher John North is said to have commissioned Dr. Robert Priest, a London physician, to translate Dodoens book from Latin into English, but he died before completing the work.  The task was then thought to have been passed on to Gerard to finish.  What became of Priest’s unpublished translation is not now known, but Gerard makes a curious mention to it in the preface of his Herbal stating:

 

“Doctor Priest, one of our London Colleagues hath (as I heard) translated the last edition of Dodonaeus, which meant to publish the same; but being prevented by death, his translation likewise perished”.

 

Many now believe that Gerard used Priest’s translation as the base for his own work, added some 182 new plants, revised the arrangement and included his own observations.  Likewise while the Herbal contained more than 1800 woodcuts, only 16 are attributed to Gerard himself, the remainder are thought to have come from a collection published by Jacob Theodorus Tabernaemontanus in his Eicones plantarum seu stirpium (1590).  In a rush to publish his new Herbal, Gerard also made a great number of errors, these were later corrected in the 1633 edition revised by Thomas Johnson.  Despite these discrepancies, Gerard’s Herbal represented a landmark in botanical publishing and remains an extraordinary compilation of Elizabethan plant and herb lore.

 

When the Herbal was first published in 1597, it appeared at a time when England was expanding its boundaries, when voyages of discovery were embarked on missions to assert England’s claims on the New World.  New lands, plants and animals were being discovered all the time, science, literature and the arts flourished, and poets, scholars and playwrights all dreamed and put pen to paper.  Botany as a science was still in its infancy and Gerard in his Herbal shows the beginnings of scientific thought by dismissing information passed down by our ancient forefathers, and stating what he found to be true by experimentation.

 

The “Herbal or General History of Plants became required reading by botany students for over two centuries and formed part of the essential education of botanists well into the nineteenth century.  Gerard’s contribution to the advancement of botany and plant knowledge during his time, set a precedent that inspired most later Herbals and catalogues of plants.  John Gerard died in February 1612 and was buried at St Andrews church in Holborn, London.

 

Up-date:

 

I have just received notice from author Holly Ollivander-Thomas, that she has a modern version of Gerard's Herbal due to be published in December 2008.  The new book will be entitled:  The Herbal or Generall Historie of Plantes

 

 

http://www.gerardsherbal.com/

 

This new Herbal or Generall Historie of Plantes has 413 pages and 300 entries.  It contains extracts taken from the original 1597 Herbal, the later 1633 Thomas Johnson enlarged edition and the newer 1927 Marcus Woodward version.  Many of the entries in this new edition of the Herbal have not seen on the book shelf for centuries.

 

End

 

Sources

 

Yet to be posted

 

First published on the 04 March 2007, 18:22:06 © George Knowles

 

 

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

 

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Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   

 

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Rituals contributed by Crone:

 

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Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder

 

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Rocks and Stones:

 

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Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:

 

Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom and Inspiration:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

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Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

 

Biographies

 

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Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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