Introduction to Edwarde Potter’s Booke of Phisicke

Edwarde Potter’s Booke of Phisicke and Chyrurgery is a manuscript dating back to the early seventeenth century. We do not know why it was compiled, but we believe Edwarde Potter was the vicar of that name, who held the living at Tatsfield, on the Kent-Surrey border, dying in 1612.

In the nineteenth century it came into the possession first of antiquarian Rev. John Hodgson, and then another antiquarian, James Raine of Durham. One or other of these owners bound it together with another manuscript (mainly of cookery recipes) from the eighteenth century. From the references in it, we know that these later pages must have been written in Newcastle or nearby.

The  book offers remedies for all sorts of diseases and injuries, along with a number of recipes for sweetmeats and cakes. Many are very gruesome, and most are in the ‘don’t try this at home’ category. Some use the blood and even the skin of animals, while others include minerals such as red lead and mercury, and large numbers of different herbs and spices.

The volume now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, and is kept at Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, and all 387 pages have been digitised and are available on this website. Transcription is being done by a group of volunteers, with transcribed pages going up on the website as they are completed. It was studied just over a hundred years ago, in 1917; follow this link for the article in our Proceedings which describes it. The antiquary Rev John Hodgson, who owned it in the early 19th century, also wrote a about it piece in the Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1835, giving more details; follow this link to see that.

Contents

The first part of the volume is divided into seven ‘bookes’, or sections, with some preliminary matter at the beginning not included in any of them. The last, eighteenth-century, section does not have numbered pages or any subdivisions. Follow the links to see the contents of each section.

(Note, the spelling of ‘book’ varies within the volume; we have kept it in the original here). To see the 387 images, follow this link

  • Preliminaries, Prognostication and the Firste Booke; Title; Coppye of all suche medicenes where wt the noble Countisse of  Oxenford most charitablye in her owne person did manye greate and notable cures upon her poore neighbours; The Prognostication runs from image 8-22, and the Firste Booke starts at image 23;
  • The Seconde Booke; Title; Medecines wherewith Mistress Johan Ounsteade daughter unto ye worshipfull  Mr John Olliffe alderman of London hath cured and healed many forlorne & deadlye diseases (folios 19a to 93)
  • The Thirde Boke;   Title; The thirde booke is of cookery; Prety conceates of cookery, and baked meates, gellies, conserves, suger plates, and others
  • The Fourthe Booke; Title; heere followeth a booke which was founde in the parsons study of Warlingham, written in the Roman hande, & it wanteth both the beginning and ending.
  • The Fifthe Book; Title;  “Certayne medicines which were taken out of the vicar of Warlingham’s booke, beinge as he sayde, taught to him by the fayries.”
  • The Sixth Booke, Title, Heere beginneth an excellente booke of playsters, salves, diet drinkes, purgations, potions, &c
  • The Seaventh Booke, Title, Taken out of a booke intitledA thousand notable things of sundrye sortes’. (The book referred to is by Thomas Lupton, first printed 1579. Follow this link for a transcription). There is a handwriting change on folio 106 (image 208), and the numbering of items stops on the following page. From folio 109 onwards (image 213), handwritings vary, sometimes even on the same page.
  • Eighteenth-Century Pages

Follow this link for the Glossary, which also includes information about some of the names in the text.

Disclaimer

Many of the natural ingredients mentioned in these pages can be positively harmful – not only the minerals, but also the plants. While some may still be used in herbal medicines, pollution and pesticides mean that gathering them in the wild comes with considerable risk. Even if herbs or spices come from a reputable source, individuals can react differently to herbal remedies. It would be deeply unwise for anyone to attempt to self-medicate with a remedy Potter describes. No liability can be accepted for any adverse effects caused by self-treatment with the natural ingredients referred to in the transcription.