The Syon Abbey Herbal was the last monastic herbal collected before printing took over
In the 124 years between its founding and its dissolution, the Bridgettine double monastery of Syon Abbey near London gained a reputation for preaching, teaching and publishing in English. Thomas Betson, Abbey Librarian from 1481 until his death in 1516, was a major figure in that process, best known as the author–compiler of A Ryght Profytable Treatyse … to Dyspose Men to be Vertuously Occupyed in Theys Myndes and Prayers, a devotional miscellany printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1500. However, Betson was also the author of the last monastic herbal to be compiled in England, with entries for some 700 plant and 425 remedies, many for female ailments.The Syon Abbey Herbal was written by Thomas Betson in his notebook, sometime between his profession as a priest-brother at and his death there in 1517. He is the last recorded Librarian at Syon, and also wrote the still extant Syon Library catalogue.
As well as the herbal, the notebook contains religious texts, handwritten notes on legal matters, secret writing, receipts for conjuring tricks and illusions, an alphabet of runes and two diagrams of the night sky
The Syon Abbey Herbal is divided into two main parts – a list of healing plants from Greek, Latin, French and Middle English sources; and a list of remedies from Latin and English sources. One chapter, wholly in latin, is on the use of urine for diagnosis, particularly of women’s conditions; another is on herbal essences in distilled alcohol. The appendices include a tentative list of Linnean names for Betson’s plants; A list of diseases in the manuscript; and plants at Syon House in 1548, listed by William Turner. This book is a useful contribution to the study of the transition from medieval to early modern medicine.
- Betson’s English and Latin list of Plants and Remedies. Bibliography and Index.
- An Introduction to health and illness at Syon (1415-1539), and its medical books.
- A contemporary copper engraving (c. AD 1500) of Thomas Betson.
- Plants listed at Syon House in 1549 by William Turner, Herbalist.
Notebook of Thomas Bentson
Cambridge, St John’s College, MS 109
Saint Birgitta, Syon and Vadstena
By Claes Gejrot, Sara Risberg and Mia Akestam
Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien 2010
The library of the Bridgettine nuns and their peregrinations after the Reformation
By C. De Hamel
Roxburghe Club, 1991