Even after the Normans conquered England, Old English (the oldest form of the vernacular) continued to be spoken throughout the country. It continued to be used in books produced in monasteries there for at least a century after William the Conquerorâs invasion.
One excellent example of this is found in the Old English Illustrated Herbal. Originally made in Canterbury in the early 11th century, this manuscript contains Old English translations of a collection of Latin remedies, illustrated with numerous paintings of plants and animals. You can read more about its history in Taylor McCallâs article on Medical knowledge in the early medieval period, as well as in this earlier blogpost.
Illustrations of a lion, a bull, a monkey, a bear and a dog alongside Old English medical recipes, in the Old English Illustrated Herbal (Canterbury, 1st quarter of the 11th century): Cotton MS Vitellius C III, ff. 81vâ82r
To judge by its additions and annotations, this manuscript continued to be read for many years after its production. During the 12th century, scribes at Canterbury were still adding new recipes to it, which were also written in the vernacular.
One added remedy is a cure for lung disease (WiÃ° lungen adle), made from a mixture of herbs with warm ale. Another claims to be seo seleste eahsalf wiÃ° ehpÃ¦rce (the best eye salve for eye pain). There is even a medical treatment for gout, entitled WiÃ° fot adle (Against foot disease).
A page of Old English medical recipes added in the 12th century, including a treatment for gout (column 2, lines 1â15): Cotton MS Vitellius C III, f. 83r
This remedy describes a recipe for a drink â a mixture of wine, leeks, cumin and laurel berries â that a patient should take every day until the disease is cured:
WiÃ° fot adle 7 wiÃ° Ã¾one dropan nim datulus Ã¾a wyrt oÃ°er nama titulosa Ã¾Ã¦t is on ure geÃ¾eoda Ã¾Ã¦t greata crauleac nim Ã¾es leaces heafda 7 dryg swiÃ°e 7 nim Ã°er of Ã¾riddan healves penincges gewihte 7 peretreo 7 romanisce rinda 7 cymen 7 feorÃ°an del lauwerberian 7 Ã¾era oÃ°era wyrta Ã¦lces healves penincges gewihta 7 vi piper corn unwegen 7 grind ealle to duste 7 do win tra aeg faille fulle Ã¾is is foÃ° lÃ¦cÃ¦crÃ¦ft fyle Ã¾an men drincan oÃ¾ Ã°Ã¦t he hal fy.
('Against foot rot (gout) and against wrist-drop: take the wort hermodactylus, known by another name titulosa that in our own language is called the âgreat crow leekâ. Take the heads of this leek and dry them thoroughly, and take a weight amounting to two and a half pennies, and pyrethrum and Roman rinds and cumin and one fourth as much laurel berries, and of the other worts, each by weight of a half penny and six pepper corns, unweighed, and grind them all to dust. And add two egg shells full of wine: this is a true leechcraft. Give it to the man to drink till he is whole again.')
These 12th-century additions occur throughout the herbal. On one occasion, two medical recipes were added to a previously blank page, opposite a large illustration of a man and a centaur presenting a book in a landscape surrounded by animals. The image is captioned Escolapius Plato Centaurus.
Old English medical recipes added in the 12th century, facing a representation of a man and a centaur presenting a book: Cotton MS Vitellius C III, ff. 18vâ19r
One of these added recipes purports to be a remedy for vertigo or giddiness. It instructs the reader to:
Nim betonica 7 wÃ¦ll swyÃ°e on win oÃ¾Ã¾a on ald ealaÃ° 7 wÃ¦se Ã¾Ã¦t heafod mid Ã¾am wose 7 leg fiÃ°Ã°en Ã¾Ã¦t wyrt swa wÃ¦rm abutan Ã¾Ã¦t heafod 7 wriÃ° mid claÃ°e 7 lÃ¦t swab eon ealla niht.
('Take betony and boil it thoroughly in wine or in old ale, and wash the head with the infusion, and then lay the wort, so warm, about the head, and wreathe with it a cloth, and leave it there all night.')
While it is hard to determine the effectiveness of such cures, this addition to an older Anglo-Saxon book does reveal the continued use of English a century after William's victory at the Battle of Hastings. If you'd like to know more about writing in the vernacular in the 12th century, why not take a look at this article featured on our website.
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