Book of the Month – Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

Posted by Tenby Museum on Aug 18, 2017 Blog No Comments

This is the second in a long running feature on some of the rarer and more interesting books that we have in the museum’s reference library. I warn you now, there are quite a few interesting books to consider and so this feature could run longer than my enthusiasm for writing it!

Nicholas Culpeper was born in 1616 and became renowned as an English botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer. He spent the greater part of his life in the English outdoors, cataloguing hundreds of medicinal herbs and criticized what he considered the unnatural methods of his contemporaries.

He was regarded as a radical of his time: a strict republican, he condemned the greed of his fellow physicians and raged against the expensive fees charged by doctors, lawyers and priests. “Three kinds of people mainly disease the people – priests, physicians and lawyers – priests disease matters belonging to their souls, physicians disease matters belonging to their bodies, and lawyers disease matters belonging to their estate.”   He published his books in English, giving healers who could not read Latin access to medical and pharmaceutical knowledge.   He died in 1654. Culpeper also featured as a main protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s 1909 short story A Doctor of Medicine – “He told them that he was a physician-astrologer – a doctor who knew all about the stars as well as all about herbs for medicine.”.

The knowledge gleaned from his time spent in the great outdoors is evident on every page of his Complete Herbal. The book was originally published in 1652 as The English Physician, being published under its more well-known title in 1653. The book contains a rich store of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge as well as numerous beautiful illustrations of engravings of British plants and herbs.

The museum’s copy is a later undated New Edition. It was presented to the museum by Frank B Mason in 1905.