The Syon Abbey Herbal

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The Syon Abbey Herbal, edited by John Adams and Stuart Forbes

Although Thomas Betson, the abbey librarian from 1481 until his death in 1516, is best known for compiling the Registrum of books held in the brothers’ library and for his Ryght Profytable Treatyse … to Dyspose Men to be Vertuously Occupyed in Theys Myndes and Prayers, he 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 and his death there in 1516.

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 offers an important contribution to the study of medicine’s transition from the medieval to the early modern period.


Related work by John Adams on the herbal, medical books, the care of the sick at Syon Abbey may be found in the following document:

Syon Abbey: Its Herbal, Medical Books and Care of the Sick: Healthcare in a Mixed Mediaeval Monastery.

A PDF of this work is available for download here.