A litil boke the whiche traytied and reherced many gode thinges necessaries for the ifirmite & grete sekeness called pestilence the whiche often times enfecteth vs made by the most expert Doctour in phisike Bisshop of Arusiens in the realme of Denmark [London], [1485?]


Reproduced in facsimile from the copy in the John Rylands Library.

With an Introduction by Guthrie Vine, M.A.

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Table of Contents

Prefatory Note

Introduction.

The Facsimile

Prefatory Note

THE present volume forms the third issue of a series of facsimile reproductions of unique and rare books in the possession of the John Rylands Library.

The series is to be known as “The John Rylands Facsimiles”, and it may not be out of place, in this prefatory note, again to recall the considerations which led up to the undertaking.

It is a matter of common knowledge that, preserved in this library, there are a number of works, particularly of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which are of considerable importance on account of their extreme rarity.

Hitherto, many of these works have been accessible only to students in Manchester, because the only known copies are to be found here.

With a view to render these texts more readily accessible to students beyond Manchester, and also in order to avert the disaster and loss to scholarship involved in the destruction by fire or otherwise of unique and rare literary treasures of this importance, when they have not been multiplied by means of reproduction, the Governors of the library have sanctioned the publication of this series of facsimile reproductions of some of the more interesting and remarkable of the rarer books and prints of which they are the guardians.

The volumes will consist of minutely accurate facsimiles of the works selected, preceded by short bibliographical introductions.

It is proposed to limit the issue of each work to five hundred copies. Of this number two hundred will be reserved for distribution to the principal libraries of the world; the remainder will be offered for sale at a price calculated to cover the cost of reproduction.

The introduction to the present volume has been written by the sub-librarian, Mr. Guthrie Vine, to whom the thanks of the Governors of the library and of the writer of this note are due.

We are also indebted to the Controller of the Oxford University Press for the interest and care which he has bestowed upon the production of the work.

Henry Guppy

The John Rylands Library September, 1910

Introduction.

Social Effects of Epidemics

The influence of epidemic disease in the development of society is a matter replete with interest, whether the subject be viewed from the standpoint of history, or of medicine. The mysterious visitation that swept away the Assyrian host beneath the walls of Jerusalem, the disastrous plague that sapped the vitality of Athens in the maturity of her greatness, are but conspicuous examples of forces always operative in history.

Great and widespread calamities, by their utter disregard of social conditions, must ever effect profound modifications in the form, and structure, of society. The Black Death may be considered at least as important a factor in producing the economic changes that marked the close of the fourteenth century in England as the long and exhausting war with France. Yet the Black Death was merely one of many epidemics similar in character, if lesser in degree.

If such epidemics were liable on their first approach to be regarded as special manifestations of the divine displeasure, against which it were hopeless to contend, it can awaken no surprise. That on their recurrence from time to time men should endeavour to cope with their enemy with such means as lay at their disposal resulted naturally enough from their growing familiarity with the style, and manner, of attack.

The treatise here reproduced furnishes an account of the various remedies, and curative methods, adopted in the middle ages for checking the advance of the terrible foe. The mere recital of the more serious attacks to which Europe was subjected from the time of the Black Death to that of the compilation of the present treatise, a period of a little over a century, is sufficient to give one some idea of the devastation that must have been wrought in Europe by this dreadful scourge.

The Black Death is said to have originated in the Far East, and thence to have swept across Asia THE PLAGUE IN MEDIAEVAL EUROPE without a check. It made its appearance in Sicily in 1346, and in the following year broke out in Constantinople, Greece, and Italy. Thence it travelled across the Continent until it reached England in 1348, where it lasted for several years, being conveyed from this country in 1349 to Norway and the other Scandinavian states. In 1361, and again in 1368, we find numbers dying from the disease both in France and England. In 1370 countless victims are said to have perished from the plague in Ireland, which country again suffered severely from its ravages in 1383. The year 1375 witnessed an outbreak of a serious character in England, although not comparable to that of 1390–91, which was likened for its mortality to the Black Death of forty years before.

The fifteenth century enjoyed no more immunity from attacks of the plague than did the previous one. All parts of Europe suffered intermittently from it. In England it broke out between 1405 and 1407, carrying off in London, it is said, 30,000 people in the latter year. The next grave attack in England appears to have occurred about 1420. In a petition from the Marches of 1421 we hear of “great numbers of persons dead by the great mortalities and pestilences which have raged for three years past and still reign”. Turning to the Continent one finds that 80,000 persons are stated to have died in 1427 in Dantzig and the neighbouring country. In 1438–39 the plague was still very rife in Germany, its prevalence in Basel being attested by Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pope Pius II. England, too, was not exempt from the disease in these years, for between 1430 and 1440 four outbreaks are recorded in London, the last one extending to the whole kingdom. The next visitation of the plague, which began in 1448, appears to have overrun practically the whole of Western Europe. It reached Sweden in 1450, and devastated that country for a period of five years, carrying off in 1455 no fewer than 9,000 persons in Stockholm alone. The autumn of 1464 saw a recurrence of the disease in Sweden, which lasted with dire effects for about two years; the mortality in Stockholm on this occasion is said to have reached a total of 7,000.

The prevalence of the plague in Sweden at this period is of special interest in view of the fact that the treatise here reproduced in facsimile was written (as will appear later) by a bishop of Vasteras in that country, Bengt Knutsson, appointed to the see in 1461, who was doubtless led to compose the work by the terrible ravages of the disease in that land.

The outbreak of the plague that afflicted Sweden in 1464–65 was evidently not confined within any narrow limits, as 40,000 persons are stated to have died in Paris in the year 1466, whilst its presence was recorded in England in 1464, from which time until 1478 the disease seems to have lasted in different parts of the British Isles with but little intermission. In the latter year the mortality in England was so great that we find the plague described as more destructive than the long continued wars. The cities in the north of Italy are said to have suffered from an outbreak that began in 1478 and lasted for a period of seven years. We are thus brought down to 1485, the year when the “sudor Anglicus”, the English sweat, made its appearance. As this probably provided the occasion of printing the treatise of Knutsson in English, it will be necessary to examine at somewhat greater length the circumstances of its earliest emergence.

The Sweating Sickness

The disease that received the name “sudor Anglicus”, because it was commonly believed to have originated in this country, first made its appearance in England in the autumn of 1485, soon after the landing of Henry Tudor in the month of August, as we learn from the account of it given by Polydore Virgil in his history of England.

This statement is borne out by a manuscript in the British Museum (Additional MSS. 27582) written by Thomas Forestier, a doctor of medicine belonging to Normandy who was resident in London at the time. Soon afterwards he seems to have removed to Rouen, where, probably in 1491, was published a Latin work by him on the plague, entitled: “Tractatvs contra pestilentiam thenasmonem et dissenteriam.” In the latter work he names the 19th of September, 1485, as the date of the commencement of the sweating sickness. Other authorities, whilst differing as to the day, agree in attributing its origin to the autumn of 1485.

After its first appearance the disease seems to have spread with terrible rapidity. In London Thomas Hyll the lord mayor, Sir William Stokker chosen as his successor, and several aldermen died within a few days — facts that enable us to form some idea of the extent of the mortality amongst the other classes of citizens. As the coronation of Henry VII took place with due ceremony on October 30, and Parliament met on the yth of the following month, the departure of the disease would appear to have been as sudden as was its advent. The same suddenness that marked the general movements of the epidemic characterized the individual attacks. In the “Tractatvs contra pestilentiam, etc.” Forestier says that “more than 15,000 persons departed this world by sudden death, as if from divine chastisement, and many died unshriven without respite, whilst walking in the streets”. Whether Forestier is here speaking of the number of victims in London does not seem clear, but the suddenness of the attacks must have been not the least terrible feature of them. We have a vivid picture of this characteristic of the disease in the manuscript treatise of Forestier. “We saw” (he says) “two prestys standing togeder and speaking togeder, and we saw both of them dye sodenly. Also . . . we se the wyf of a taylour taken and sodenly dyed. Another yonge man walking by the street fell down sodenly. Also another gentylman ryding out of the cyte dyed.” The terms in which he describes the symptoms correspond closely with other accounts: “And this sickness cometh with a grete swetyng and stynkyng, with rednesse of the face and of all the body, and a contynual thurst, with a grete hete and hedache because of the fumes and venoms.” It is no cause for wonder that to a superstitious age the outbreak of such a disease augured ill for the peace of Henry’s reign.

The disease soon made its way from London into the country. Definite notices of it are scanty, but we know that the abbot of Croyland succumbed to an attack on the 14th of October. Its prevalence at Oxford is well attested; although it lasted but a few weeks its stay was long enough to exact a heavy toll among the scholars of the University. Though records of its presence are but few, the statements of historians as to the extent of its ravages may presumably be accepted without reservation.

This disease that broke out in 1485 was generally believed to differ in character from any of the epidemics that had preceded it; hence the assignment of a new name to it. From the work of Forestier it seems clear that the heart was especially liable to attacks of sudden and overpowering force.

With the arrival of any new, and widespread, disease one is naturally prompted to enquire into the origin, and antecedent history, of the unwelcome visitant. This question suggested itself to the early writers on the “sudor Anglicus”, and was answered with but little hesitation. They attributed the epidemic to the soldiery of Henry Tudor, whose landing had by so short a time preceded the first appearance of the disease, and there seems good reason for accepting the traditional theory as to its origin.

The force with which Henry of Richmond secured the crown was collected in the neighbourhood of Rouen. Normandy at this period was overrun by bands of free-booters licensed by Louis XI. In assisting the Earl of Richmond to raise an army in this district the ministers of Charles VIII may have seen an excellent opportunity for ridding France of a portion of this social refuse. Men such as these, whose lives had been spent in the indulgence of every kind of excess, were fitting mediums for the attraction, and transmission, of any sort of infection.

We have no evidence that any disease like the sweating sickness existed around Rouen previous to the departure of Henry Tudor for England, or the origin of the epidemic might have been held to be established beyond cavil; yet nearly 250 years later, about 1717, a disease resembling the English sweat in nearly every particular made its appearance in the marshy districts of the lower Seine, the very region where Henry’s force had been raised, and lasted with but little intermission for a century and a half. It seems not unreasonable to suppose that the seeds of this later endemic disease may always have lain latent in this region, but for lack of entirely suitable conditions may for long have failed in their native soil to reach the point of germination. These conditions must have been supplied in England. Contact with people of a different stock, and other manners, may have been all that was requisite to enable the infection to burst forth. Strangers are naturally more susceptible to any malady than those who by long residence in an infected area have become gradually inured against a disease. A parallel is furnished by the yellow fever, from which negroes enjoy almost complete immunity, although they are believed to have been the means of introducing the virus to the white man. Even the exemption of Henry’s force from attacks of the sweating sickness (supposing it granted, and history is silent on the point) would not seem, therefore, to justify us in refusing our assent to the theory that traces the infection to that source.

The first London Printer

Whilst the honour of printing the first English books, as well as that of introducing the art of typography into this country, belongs to an Englishman, the distinction of establishing the first press within the actual boundary of the city of London is claimed by John Lettou, supposed to belong to Lithuania, of which name Lettou is an old form.

An examination of the technique of Lettou’s work shows that he was a practised printer. The fount of type used in his first books is practically identical with one employed at Rome in 1478–79 by Johann Bulle of Bremen, which, according to the late Mr. Proctor, was the same as one in the hands of another printer in that city, Johann Schurener. It seems quite likely that Lettou may have been an assistant at one of these presses, and have brought away with him from that city a fount of type with which he was already familiar. Many of the early printers moved from one country to another, so that there would be nothing exceptional in Lettou migrating from Rome to London.

What reasons brought Lettou to London we do not know, but here in 1480 we find him printing three editions of an indulgence of John Kendale against the Turks (of which Caxton printed a corresponding number), besides the work of Antonius Andreas “Questiones super duodecim libros metaphisice”, and in the following year the “Expositiones super Psalterium” of Thomas Wallensis.

A certain amount of rivalry no doubt existed between Caxton and Lettou, and in one particular, namely, the use of “signatures”, the former seems to have copied Lettou. These are small letters (or figures) placed at the foot of the first leaves of a quire to aid the binder in the arrangement of the sheets. They are found in some of the earliest manuscripts, and were at first added by hand to printed books, but about 1472 the custom of printing them was introduced.

The two books printed by Lettou were produced at the expense of a certain William Wilcock, who cannot be identified with any degree of certainty.

Lettou and Machlinia

After issuing the two books just named, and the different editions of the indulgence, Lettou was joined by Willelmus de Machlinia, whom from his name we may assume to have been a native of Mechlin, or Malines, in Brabant.

Of the productions of their press five books are known, all of a legal character, namely: “The abridgement of the statutes”, the Year-books of the 33rd, 35th, and 36th years of King Henry VI, and the “Tenores novelli” of Sir T. Littleton, the last alone possessing a colophon, from which we learn that the press was situated “iuxta ecclesiam omnium sanctorum”. The last-mentioned work and the “Abridgement of the statutes” are both in the John Rylands Library. As there were several churches in London at this time dedicated to All Saints, the site of the press cannot be definitely fixed.

Since none of the books issued jointly by Lettou and Machlinia are dated, it is impossible to state with certainty the time either of the commencement, or of the termination, of their partnership. With the advent of Machlinia came a change in the character of the books produced by the press. Machlinia, one may presume, had some particular interest in, or special knowledge of, legal matters, as the printers seem to have confined their attention to printing this class of work, for which it is quite possible they may have procured a royal patent.

A noticeable deterioration in the quality of workmanship accompanied the change in the class of books issued by the press. For the neat fount used by Lettou was substituted a small cramped type, evidently designed for printing law books, as it contains numerous contractions, like the legal manuscripts of the time.

After the publication of the five books mentioned above Lettou’s name disappears; whether through death, or through withdrawal from the business, is not known. The deterioration in the press work just alluded to suggests that on the accession of Machlinia he did not exercise the same active supervision over the press, and may have been preparing to retire from it altogether on his partner acquiring sufficient practice in the art of printing. On the other hand the consistent employment of signatures so long as Lettou remained in the firm — a typographical aid used very irregularly by Machlinia — shows that the former did not give up entire charge to his partner.

The date when Machlinia acquired the sole control of the press appears to have been about 1483, although owing to the entire absence of dates in his books one is unable to state positively when the change took place.

The same fount of type, with some modifications, as that used by Lettou and Machlinia appears in one other book, “The siege of Rhodes,” which is generally attributed to an unknown printer. This is an English version by John Kay, who describes himself as poet laureate, of a Latin work written by Gulielmus Caorsin, vice-chancellor of the Knights of Malta.

Dibdin in the “Bibliotheca Spenceriana” adjudged the work, on account of the resemblance of the type, to be the production of Lettou and Machlinia, or of Lettou alone; but, as the book shows traces of less skilful workmanship than those with which Lettou’s name is associated, and has no signatures, which that printer always used, one may assume that he had no hand in printing it. It is produced with more skill and care than Machlinia was wont to exhibit, so one seems unable to entertain the idea of his being the printer, whose identity appears likely to remain a moot point for the present.

The book is dedicated by the translator to Edward IV, whose death took place in April, 1483. As dedications were apt to be copied without alteration in printed books of that period, long after they were originally written, it would be rash to take for granted that this was the date of printing solely for that reason; on the other hand, 1483 does not seem an unlikely date for the issue of the book, as Machlinia had probably just started on his own account with fresh types, and may have parted with the discarded fount to some other printer who employed it for this book.

Machlinia’s Press

The absence of definite dates in all of Machlinia’s books constitutes a serious difficulty in their arrangement, which no examination of the technique seems able to overcome, for he appears to use quite indiscriminately signatures, headlines, and “directors” — the name given to the small letters printed in the blank spaces left for the insertion of rubricated or illuminated capitals, to serve as guides to the rubricator.

The productions of his press can be divided, however, into two groups according to the type employed in them, known as the Fleet Bridge group, and the Holborn group. In two of the eight books belonging to the former group the printer gives his address as near “Flete brigge”, whilst in the colophon to one of the latter he describes himself as printing in Holborn.

For the books of the Fleet Bridge group, which was probably the earlier of the two, Machlinia used two new founts of type, of a square gothic character, described as types 2 and 3 by Mr. Proctor, his type 1, which was used for headings and opening words of books, being the same as that similarly employed by Lettou. The two books referred to as containing colophons, both of which are in the John Rylands Library, are an edition of Littleton’s “Tenores novelli” and the “Liber aggregationis” of Albertus Magnus. The colophon of the former is as follows: “Expliciunt Tenores nouelli Impressi per me wilhelmu de machlinia in opulentissima Ciuitate Londonia, iuxta ponte qui vulgariter dicitur Flete brigge.” The colophon of the Albertus Magnus reads thus: “Albertus Magnus de Secretis nature Explicit Necnon per me wilhelmum de Mechlinia Impressus In opulentissima Ciuitate Londoniaru Iuxta pontem qui vulgariter dicitur Flete brigge.”

Perhaps the most interesting amongst the Fleet Bridge books from a bibliographical point of view is a small vellum edition of the “Horae ad usum Sarum”, the existence of which is known only from a few leaves recovered from various bindings and distributed in the British Museum, the libraries of Cambridge University, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and Lincoln Minster. This book exhibits the only ornament used by Machlinia, in the shape of an engraved border, which we afterwards find in the hands of Richard Pynson.

Another book that deserves a passing reference is “The revelation of St. Nicholas to a monk of Evesham”, as affording an example of Machlinia’s somewhat casual methods of work. In the course of printing this book one of the sheets was wrongly imposed, but instead of reprinting the whole sheet correctly he merely printed off some copies of the wrong pages and pasted them down in their proper order.

One of the books in this group most commonly met with is an edition of the “Nova statuta”, printed in law French. It covers the period from the first year of Edward III to the 22nd year of Edward IV inclusive. The latter year terminated on March 3, 1482–3, and as Edward IV died in the following month this book can reasonably be assigned to his successor’s reign.

The removal of Machlinia to Holborn may probably be placed about the latter half of 1484, assuming that the introduction of the new types (Nos. 4 and 5) synchronized with the change of address. The type styled by Proctor no. 4 bears a strong resemblance to one of Caxton’s founts (no. 2*), and is still more like that used by Veldener at Utrecht, and Jean Brito at Bruges. Type 5, a larger fount, is not unlike Machlinia’s type I, both being of the same character as the fount used by Caxton known as no. 3, which like them was employed mainly for headings, etc.

As with the other group of books, none of those in the Holborn type are dated, and only two contain Machlinia’s name, viz., the “Speculum Christiani” described later, and the Year-book of the 34th year of Henry VI, the colophon of which gives the information: “Enprnte p moy Willia Maclyn en Holborn.” The unsigned books of both groups, including the present work, are ascribed to Machlinia on typographical grounds.

On account of the clue as to date furnished by the “Statuta Ricardi” it seems desirable to notice this book first among those in this group. This work contains the statutes passed in the first year of Richard III, which ended on June 25, 1484. It must therefore have been printed after that date, but probably at no great interval. Now a comparison of the state of the type with that in the edition of Knutsson’s work here reproduced shows clearly that only a brief period could have intervened between the printing of these books. The historical reasons for believing that the “Treatise on the pestilence” was printed in the autumn of 1485 have already been stated, and we shall probably not be much in error in attributing the “Statutes” to the early part of the same year.

Three editions of the work of Knutsson are known, each represented by a single copy preserved in the British Museum, Cambridge University Library, and the John Rylands Library respectively. The British Museum copy has a title-page, the earliest occurrence of one in any book printed in this country. The next example of a title-page is found in “The Chastysing of goddes Chyldern”, printed by Wynkyn de Worde about 1491.

The only other certain production of Machlinia’s press with which any definite date can be connected is a Bull of Innocent VIII confirming the marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York, and excommunicating all who should rebel against Henry VII, which was issued by the Pope on March 27, i486. There are two copies now extant, one of which is preserved in the John Rylands Library, and the other in the library of the Society of Antiquaries.

The unique copy of the “Regule, etc.”, of the Chancery of Pope Innocent VIII preserved in the John Rylands Library, that must have been printed after Sept. 23, 1484, has also been regarded as one of the books which assist in the arrangement of Machlinia’s productions. But, in spite of its close resemblance, the fount employed is not the same as type 4 of Machlinia, having a lighter face, and containing, too, a superior m which Machlinia does not appear to have used. If it is not formed by trimming up type 4, it is probably a fount employed by Veldener, or Jean Brito, so that the work would have to be assigned to a Low Country press.

One of the best known books in the Holborn group is the “Speculum Christiani” attributed to John Watton. It is a volume of theology, written partly in Latin, and partly in English, but specially interesting on account of sundry pieces of English verse that are scattered through the volume. The colophon gives the book also a bibliographical importance, and on that account deserves to be cited in full. To quote it from the John Rylands copy: “Iste Libellus impssus est I opulentissima Ciuitate Londonia+ p me willelmu de Machlinia ad instanciam necnon expensas Henrici Vrankenbergh mercatoris.”

From the “Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds in the Public Record Office” we glean a little information about the merchant at whose expense this work was printed. No. C. 1058 of vol. i (1890) is a “Demise by John Michell, steward of the lands and tenements belonging to Edward . . . heir of George Darell, knight, within the city of London and the suburbs thereof, with the consent of Dame Jane Darell, to Henry Franckenbergk and Barnard van Stondo, merchants of printed books, of an alley in St. Clement’s Lane called ‘St. Marcke’s Aley’, with houses, &c., in the same, reserving a right of way to Giles van Gaunt, master of the ‘Currours’. 10 May, A.D. 1482.”

The position of foreigners engaged in the production, or sale, of books was assured by an Act of Parliament passed in 1484, which expressly gave them permission to bring into this country, or to sell here, any books, written or printed, as well as to print them. Of this Act, which remained in force for fifty years until 1534, many foreign printers and stationers took advantage to establish businesses in London. One of them, Peter Actors, a Savoyard by birth, received from Henry VII in 1485 the appointment of Stationer to the King.

Upwards of a dozen books, theological and grammatical, are ascribed to Machlinia’s press at Holborn. One other notable book, probably one of his later productions, should not be allowed to pass without mention, namely, an edition of the “Chronicles of England”. There is a copy of this rare volume in the John Rylands Library, a remarkable feature of which is that all the initials inserted in the blank spaces provided for the purpose have been filled in with gold paint.

There is the same uncertainty about the year when Machlinia terminated his typographical career as about the dates of the works which he printed. That he had ceased to print by 1490 may be regarded as tolerably certain, but, as with his former partner Lettou, we are unable to assign a reason for the cessation of his press. Mention has already been made of the engraved border belonging to Machlinia that was afterwards used by Pynson. Early bindings by Pynson have also been found lined with leaves from works printed by Machlinia. These two circumstances are sufficient to justify us in presuming some connexion between the two printers. As Pynson does not appear to have made use of Machlinia’s types, it is unlikely that he actually assisted Machlinia at his press, or even took over his material. Perhaps Pynson may have taken the premises just quitted by Machlinia, and used up such waste stock as was left there.

The Original of this Facsimile

This copy of Knutsson’s treatise is printed in types 4 and 5 of Proctor, on paper folded in quarto, and quired in 5. It consists of 9 leaves, and as the watermark (a unicorn) appears on leaves 2 and 3, 8 and 9, the missing leaf must be the last one, which was doubtless blank. The height of the type-page is 139 mm. and its breadth 96 mm., the measurements of the copy being 212 x 135 mm. The work has no title-page, nor indication of date, place of printing, or name of printer, the ascription to Machlinia being based on the identity of the type with that used in the two books which contain his name. The leaves are unnumbered, and without headlines, signatures, catch-words, or directors. A full page has 24 lines. The following stops are employed for punctuation: Full-stop, colon, semicolon, oblique stroke as comma. The capital A at the commencement of the text is supplied in red, as are also the initial strokes, and underlines. The copy is bound in brown russia leather, with blind stamped ornament, but with a richly gilt doublure.

The unicorn, which was a symbol of power adopted by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, appears as a water-mark in some of Caxton’s productions. Another water-mark occurring in Caxton’s books, which is also found in those of Machlinia, is a representation of the arms of Champagne. Machlinia no doubt obtained his paper, like Caxton, from mills in the Low Countries.

The signature “Wyllm lee” appears above the text on the first folio, written in a sixteenth-century hand. The manuscript foliation in the book may have been added by the same person. At the beginning of the last century the copy was in the possession of the bookseller Robert Triphook, when it was seen by Dibdin. Triphook sold it to the Marquis of Blandford, and on the sale of this nobleman’s library in 1819 (White Knights Library — Cat. no. 331) it was purchased (for £9) by Triphook again for a collector, who has prefixed to the copy a note to this effect, subscribed “I. B.” It was afterwards in the Ashburnham library, and on the dispersal of that collection was acquired in June 1897 (Cat. no. 158) for the John Rylands Library at a cost of £147.

Sweden in the Fifteenth Century

The facts known about the writer of this treatise are so few in number, and depend so much for their interpretation on our knowledge of the general history of Sweden at that period, that to appreciate their real significance it is necessary to pass in review very briefly the history of that country from the close of the fourteenth century, when Sweden began to be subject to the supremacy of Denmark.

Margaret, the daughter of Waldemar IV of Denmark, had married Haakon, king of Norway, the son of Magnus Smek of Sweden, who was dispossessed of his throne by Albert of Mecklenburg. Their only son Olaf, born in 1370, succeeded his grandfather Waldemar as king of Denmark in 1375, and five years later, on the death of his father, he became in addition sovereign of Norway. On account of Olaf’s youth the task of ruling the two countries was entrusted to his mother Margaret as regent, who, on the death of her son in 1387, became the actual sovereign.

The kingdom of Sweden had long been in a state of turmoil. On the one side were the nobles and hierarchy, eager only for their own aggrandizement, and ready to welcome any change by which their own power seemed likely to be increased; on the other hand, there was the great mass of the people still, in spite of the oppression of the nobility, full of national spirit and independence. To the nobles the idea of a foreign supremacy that might leave them free from all but nominal restraint seemed highly attractive. They resolved to invite Margaret to become the ruler of Sweden. But the Swedish people were not willing to acquiesce in the arrangement, and offered an active resistance under their king. Albert of Mecklenburg was soon captured in 1389, but Stockholm withstood a lengthy siege by the Danish troops, and did not actually come into the hands of Margaret until 1398, when it was surrendered in lieu of a ransom for the liberation of their monarch.

Already in June 1397 Eric of Pomerania, the grand-nephew of Margaret, had, at her instance, been accepted as her successor, and crowned at Kalmar. As he was at this time only about fifteen years of age, Margaret was to act as regent, thus retaining an active control of affairs, which, indeed, she never relinquished during her lifetime. The following month witnessed the conclusion at Kalmar of the celebrated compact, known as the Union of Kalmar, by the terms of which the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were to be henceforward under the rule of a single sovereign.

Causes for dissatisfaction with this arrangement were not long in making their appearance. A struggle arose as to the feudal rights of Denmark over the duchy of Schleswig, and this developed on the death of Margaret in 1413 into a war which lasted twenty years. To meet the expenses of this war Eric levied heavy taxes on the Swedes, who in 1434 took up arms under a miner, named Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, and compelled the Swedish Council of State to proclaim the deposition of the king in 1436. By the influence of the nobility Eric regained his authority to a large extent, but he was obliged to appoint as viceroy in Sweden Karl Knutsson, one of the leaders of the national party.

Eric was not destined, however, to enjoy his regal power much longer, for in 1439 he was dethroned by the three countries, and was obliged to seek safety elsewhere. In his stead Denmark chose his nephew, Christopher of Bavaria, whose authority was soon recognized in the other two kingdoms. On his death in 1448 Christian, count of Oldenburg, was chosen to fill the throne of Denmark, to which was added shortly that of Norway. The Swedish people were not so compliant as the sister state, and elected Karl Knutsson king, under the title of Karl VIII. With the nobility and clergy, at the head of whom was the Archbishop of Upsala, openly disaffected towards him, his position became at last untenable, and he was obliged in 1457 to fly from the country and take refuge in Dantzig. Christian, who had the support of the Holy See, now became king. Never acceptable, however, to the patriotic section of the people, he managed very soon by various arbitrary actions to alienate the ecclesiastical powers that had been so largely instrumental in securing the crown for him. At last coming to an open rupture with the Archbishop of Upsala, Jons Bengtsson, who had helped to put him on the throne, he seized the powerful prelate and threw him into prison in Copenhagen. But Christian was to learn that the power which could raise him to the throne was also strong enough to remove him at its pleasure. The clergy were incensed at his high-handed action, and, when the threat of excommunication from the Pope failed to secure the release of the archbishop, the nephew of the latter, Kettil Karlsson, bishop of Linkoping, issued a proclamation by which the Swedes were declared to be no longer bound by their oath of allegiance, and were exhorted to take up arms in defence of their rights and liberties.

The appeal was responded to with enthusiasm, and, unable to stamp out the flame of insurrection, Christian was forced to abandon the country. In 1464 Karl VIII was restored to the throne, which, with the exception of a short interval, he contrived to hold until his death In 1470, when he was succeeded by his nephew, Sten Sture, with the title of Regent.

To pursue the history of Sweden any farther would be unnecessary for our purpose, but without such a brief summary of the events which happened during the life-time of our author it is impossible, in the absence of certain information, to reconstruct with any degree of probability the outline of his career.

The Author of this Treatise

For our author’s name and office we are indebted to the Latin editions of this treatise printed in the fifteenth century. In these the work is described thus, with variations: “Regimen contra pestilentiam . . . Kaminti (or Kamiti), episcopi Arusiensis civitatis, regni Dacie, medicine expertissimi professoris.” The form Kaminti, or Kamiti, has long been recognized as a mistake for Kannuti, or Kanuti; but owing to the fact that “Arusiensis civitatis” was wrongly identified with Aarhuus in Denmark instead of Arosia, the Latin form of Vasteras near Stockholm in Sweden, the author could not be traced, as no bishop of Aarhuus bore a name at all resembling his. The apparent geographical difficulty connected with the expression “regni Dacie”, i.e. kingdom of Denmark, explains itself on reference to the history of the two countries of Sweden and Denmark, and, indeed, by narrowing the limits of our search helps us to fix with the more certainty on Bengt Knutsson (Benedict Kanuti), who was elected bishop in 1461, as the author of this work.

Our author was a man of rank we learn from the Swedish chronicle of the bishops of Vasteras, compiled by Peder Svart, a bishop of the see who died in a. d. 1562. From the fact of his appointment to the bishopric of this important city at so critical a time we may presume that to the distinction of good birth he added high qualifications of counsel, or of action. Peder Svart tells us that he had travelled far and wide. In the present treatise Bishop Knutsson asserts that he had practised medicine at Montpellier, the seat of the foremost medical school in Europe: “In the mount of Pessulane I might not eschewe the company of people for I wente fro hous to hous by cause of my pouerte to cure feke [sic] folkes.”

The mention of his poverty, which, in the case of one born of high family, at first seems a matter of surprise, when taken in conjunction with the other circumstances of his career, may furnish a clue as to the cause of his wanderings that may well have originated in political intrigue, so rife in Sweden at this period, in which, willingly or unwillingly, he may have been involved. It is at least significant that his return to Sweden seems to have taken place during the Danish supremacy. Again, in speaking of his see, he describes it as situated in the kingdom of Denmark. It seems, too, in the highest degree improbable that any one would be appointed to the see of Vasteras who was not a more, or less, active supporter of Christian I, and, in consequence, acceptable to that monarch. Over the election to the vacant see of Drontheim Christian is known to have interfered, inducing the chapter to choose his nominee. The Pope refused to ratify the election, and appointed another to the bishopric. A protracted struggle resulted in that case in the triumph of the Holy See.

There are grounds for believing that some such conflict between the civil and spiritual powers arose in the present instance. Bishop Svart’s chronicle states that “Knutsson was appointed bishop by the Council of the Kingdom in King Christian’s absence” — which need by no means imply his ignorance — “and that he held the office two years.” Official documents of Pope Pius II, however, show that immediately after the death of Olaf Gunnari in 1461 the Pope appointed to the see Birger Mansson, who generally figures as successor, in May 1462, to Knutsson. As two letters are in existence, one of July 25, 1462, and another of 1463, in which Knutsson is spoken of as bishop of Vasteras, it seems fairly certain that one is not justified in assuming the death of Knutsson to have necessarily taken place before May, 1462, when Birger Mansson is credited with being elected bishop, a date that may only mark the time when the Papal nomination was accepted by the chapter. Supposing Knutsson to have been a partisan of the Danish king, as suggested above, one can easily understand that the Swedish clergy in their growing state of alienation from Christian I would welcome the opportunity of removing from office one of his supporters.

As to the time and place of Knutsson’s death we are in ignorance. The same obscurity in which the earlier portion of his life is wrapt surrounds the closing scenes. The compilation of the work on the plague —— the outcome of the experiences gained in his days of poverty — that was the source of all the treatises published on the subject for 150 years, has alone preserved his name from entire oblivion. The disease that had devastated Sweden from 1450 to 1455, and again in 1464 and 1465, had probably never entirely quitted the country in the interval between these visitations, and it was in anticipation of its breaking out with increased virulence that we may assume the author to have written his work about 1461–63.

As the text is available in this reproduction, it is unnecessary to dwell upon the causes assigned by Knutsson for the spread of the pestilence, or on the remedies which he recommended.

History of the Treatise

The various forms in which his work was circulated need to be briefly described before terminating this notice of his treatise. Several Latin editions were printed in the nrteenth century, lacking for the most part any indication of printer, place, or date. On typographical grounds they are assigned to Antwerp, Paris, etc. None of them are likely to be much, if at all, earlier than the English version printed by Machlinia. A versified form of the work appears in an edition of “Albertus Magnus de Virtutibus herbarum”, which was printed about 1500.

The history of the English version is of greater interest. One of the Sloane manuscripts in the British Museum is said to agree so closely in wording and spelling that it may actually have been the original from which the text was set up by Machlinia. This is the manuscript described as no. 2276–2 in Ayscough’s Catalogue, and no. 404 (ff. 282 b-293 b) in the “Index to the Sloane manuscripts in the British Museum, by E. J. L. Scott”.

The English version of Knutsson’s treatise was reprinted in London about 1510 by Wynkyn de Worde, and about the same time an edition appeared, probably at Antwerp, from an unknown press. In 1536 it was printed afresh by Thomas Gybson of London. According to Hazlitt (“Second series of bibliographical collections, etc.” p. 18) W. Griffith obtained permission to print an edition some thirty years later: “A spedy Remyde for the pestelence, by a bysshope of Denmarke. Licensed to W. Griffith in 1569–70.” Whether this proposed reprint was ever issued does not appear to be known.

But it was through Thomas Phaer, the celebrated translator of Vergil’s Aeneid, that the influence of Knutsson’s treatise on English medical practice received its greatest impulse. Phaer, whose earlier years were occupied with the practice of law, took up about 1539 the study of medicine. As one of the results of his new study he brought out in 1546 an English translation, entitled “The regyment of lyfe”, of a French version of “Regimen sanitatis Salerni”, a work which was regarded as a standard authority. To this version he appended a treatise on the pestilence, in which was embodied the substance of Knutsson’s work. A number of editions of Phaer ‘s book were issued in the sixteenth century, whilst the part relating to the plague was republished in London as late as 1722. So long at least can we trace the influence of Knutsson’s “litil boke”.

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