Medieval manuscripts blog

22 May 2012

A Physician's Folding Almanac

A page from a 15th century physician's folding almanac: London, British Library, MS Harley 3812, f. 5v.

When we think about medieval manuscripts, the image that often comes to our mind is one of a codex, typical in form to the modern printed book, bound between hard covers and read by turning its pages one-by-one. But medieval books come in all shapes and sizes, and here, from our Harley Science Project, is another interesting format, the physician's folding almanac.


Harley MS 3812 was made in England around the year 1463 (before Columbus sailed the ocean blue), and was designed for portability. Its leaves are folded and sewn together in a tab at the lower edges, and was clearly intended to be hung at the waist, or carried in a satchel or pocket. The name of its first owner is unknown, alas, but we surmise that he must have been a physician. On f. 5v is found a rather crude drawing of a bloodletting man, for the use of a medieval medical practitioner. One can imagine that the original owner carried this almanac on their travels, bringing it out whenever consulted by their patients. Maybe, if we looked close, we could even find traces of medieval blood ...

The remainder of our Harley Science manuscripts will be published soon on Digitised Manuscripts, and publicised here.

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