Treasure of the Month

The John Goodyer Collection of Botanical Books

30th September 2014

Magdalen College’s great strength in early botanical books lies in the gift bequeathed ‘amoris … moriens Collegio Magdalenensi’ (as a token of his affection for Magdalen College) by the English botanist and physician John Goodyer (c.1592–1664). Born at Alton, Hampshire—possibly in a house leased from Magdalen College—Goodyer was in service to Sir Thomas Bilson of Mapledurham, Hampshire, around 1616. His study of botany seems to have been well developed by then; certainly he was buying books on the subject, including Clusius’s Rariorum plantarum historia (1601), purchased 12 December 1616, along with Giovanni Pona’s Monte Baldo, for 16s. It is fortunate for historians of botany and the book that Goodyer kept such meticulous notes, sometimes recording the hour and minute of beginning and completing projects, as well as the price and purchase-date of the books he bought.

Goodyer spent much of his life advancing botanical knowledge, recording plants, and searching for new medical uses for them. He assisted his good friend Thomas Johnson in his preparation of a new edition of Gerard’s Herbal (1633). His numerous descriptions of plants are often the earliest known in the English language, and have been reproduced from his manuscripts and marginal notes in R.T. Gunther’s Early British Botanists and Their Gardens (1922). His more famous botanical descriptions include the Jerusalem Artichoke, which Goodyer helped introduce to English gardeners and cooks (however ‘they be drest and eaten they stirre and cause a filthie loathsome stinking winde within the bodie’), and his dismissive account of chocolate as ‘well pleasing and accepted with the greatest among the Indians, who account nothing of more esteeme; but to the Christians it seemeth a wash fitter for hogs’. A genus of orchid, Goodyera, is named in his honour.

Gardens mentioned in Goodyer’s notes include that ‘of my good friend Mr. John Parkinson an Apothcarie of London Anno 1616’ and the famous garden at Stubbers, North Okington, Essex, belonging to William Coys. In 1621 Magdalen College granted the University five acres near the river Cherwell for a botanic garden, and it is likely that Goodyer contributed plants to the young project when he paid a visit to Oxford the following year. He certainly owned a copy of the catalogue of the Botanic Garden’s plants, published in 1658.

His will, dated 22 April 1664 and proved 9 May, bequeaths most of his property to his favourite nephew Edmund Yalden (Demy and Fellow of Magdalen College, 1630–42), but also instructs that ‘all my books de plantis which I do give and bequeath to Magdalen College in Oxon to be kept entirely in the library of the said College for the use of the said College’. It is possible that three of his botanist colleagues, William Browne (1629/30–1678), William Hooper (b. c.1622), and Walter Stonehouse—all of them members of Magdalen College—had persuaded Goodyer that Magdalen College, with its important new botanic gardens, would make a good home for his library. The gift consisted of at least 239 separately printed titles bound in 134 volumes, as well as some manuscript material, such as Goodyer’s translation of Dioscorides, Stonehouse’s catalogue of plants in his garden at Darfield, along with a drawing of a knot garden, and William How’s (1620–1656) marked up copy for an edition of Lobel’s Stirpium Illustrationes (1655).

Goodyer’s books have remained in Magdalen College ever since (with some exceptions, including a Compendium de Plantis Omnibus (1571) sold in 1745 by the Fellow Librarian, and returned by a later owner in 1921), but were scattered through the Library and Archives by the twentieth century. Unfortunately Goodyer’s substantial and innovative contributions to botany were more or less lost to the rest of the world for several centuries. Although he was never wholly forgotten, it was not until R.T. Gunther (1869–1940), founder of the Oxford Museum of the History of Science and Fellow Librarian from 1920, began the task of reconstructing Goodyer’s library from a list in the Library Book of Benefactors that the value of Goodyer’s work was again revealed. Gunther managed to collect together all the remaining volumes, number them sequentially, and stamp the Goodyer Family canting crest on the spine of each volume. Goodyer was the main character in Gunther’s Early English Botanists and Their Gardens (1922). Gunther also edited Goodyer’s translation of Dioscorides, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1934.


Dioscorides, translated by John Goodyer
Magd. MS. 316

Dioscorides (c.40–90 AD) was a physician who lived ‘a soldier’s life’, travelling through a good part of the classical world, including Greece, Egypt, and Petra. He seized the opportunities his career offered to examine medicinal plants in their native habitats and to observe their actions on his patients. Dioscorides’ original plan in writing his Materia Medica was to arrange this large body of plants, not alphabetically, but by category and then by the physiological effects they had on the body. As he complains in his Preface, other, less careful botanists, confuse plants ‘of quite contrary faculties, others follow an alphabetical arrangement in their writing, and have separated both the kinds and operations of things that are closely related, so that thereby they come to be harder to remember’. Dioscorides writes that he shall ‘endeavour to use a different arrangement and describe the classes according to the properties of the individual drugs’.

Dioscorides’ pharmacopeia remained a standard medical reference work well into the Early Modern Period, although it was sometimes rearranged by different manuscript copyists, who found the original arrangement too subtle. By Goodyer’s time, it had been translated into most academic languages, but not English. That John Goodyer (who had translated Theophrastus in 1623) thought it worth translating into English in the mid-seventeenth century is testimony to Dioscorides’ durability. Goodyer, with his assistant John Heath, worked on this translation from 1652 to 1655, consulting at least eighteen editions of the Materia Medica along the way. They worked at a fairly rapid rate, beginning the English translation of volume one (728 pages) at 10.00 on 27 April 1652 and finishing before 28 March 1653, when the second was begun. The complete Greek-English edition amounted to 4,540 quarto pages, bound into six volumes. It was not actually printed until R.T. Gunther edited it and Oxford University Press published it in 1934.

The volume is open to the description of Cardamom, which, according to Dioscorides, is effective against sciatica, ruptures, convulsion, poisoning, and the stone, among other ailments.


The grete herball whiche geueth parfyt knowlege and understandyng of all maner of herbes & there gracyous vertues whiche God hath ordeyned for our prosperous welfare and helth for they hele & cure all maner of dyseases and sekenesses
(Imprentyd at London in Southwarke by me Peter Treueris dwellynge in the sygne of the wodows. In the yere of our lorde God. M.D.xxvi. the xxvii. day of July.) Magd. R.14.10(1)

The Grete Herball is perhaps the most famous of the early English Herbals, but made no claims to originality. As it says in the Introduction, it was
compyled, composed, and auctorysed by divers and many noble Doctours and expert Maysters in Medycynes; as Avicenna, Pandecta, Constantinus, Wilhelmus, Platearius, Rabbi Moyses, Johan|nes Mesue, Haly, Albertus, Bartholomeus, and more other, &c.
The text was largely a translation by Laurence Andrewe (fl. 1510–1537) of the French Le Grand Herbier, and the illustrations are degraded copies of the German Herbarius. The ideas of the four elements and the four natures, maintained by Aristotle, are important parts of the often-curious plant descriptions. The book contains some important insights into the origins of the common names of British plants, and the exposure of methods for faking drugs. However, William Turner (c.1508–1568) was derisory when he referred to the Grete Herball and justified the need for his own New Herball (1551): ‘as yet there was no English Herbal but one, al full of unlearned cacographees, and falsely naming of herbs’. Whilst the illustrations are often so degraded that they bear little resemblance to the plants to which they refer, the text provides a link with Dioscorides, via the mediaeval herbals, to the later works of Gerard and Culpeper.


Prosperi Alpini De plantis Aegypti
(Venetiis: apud Franciscum de Franciscis Senensem, M.D.XCII). Magd. R.8.7(1)

Early in his career, Prosper Alpinus (1553–1617), a doctor, accompanied the Venetian consul to Egypt, where he studied many of the native plants there. He was eventually appointed Professor of Botany at Padua (the oldest botanical chair in Europe). Padua’s Botanic Garden, which had been established in 1545, is the oldest academic garden still in its original location, and Alpinus planted many Egyptian plants there, including the palm that inspired Goethe’s theory of metamorphosis. Alpinus is thought to be the first European writer to mention coffee, which he saw growing in Cairo. His work on Egyptian plants, Prosperi Alpini De plantis Aegypti, published in 1592, is one of the earliest examples of a detailed floristic study of plants in an area. In his study of Egyptian date palms, he observed sexual differences between the plants, which became one of the founding principles of the Linnaean taxonomy system.

The illustration shows the papyrus plant (Papyrus burdi), which of course was commonly processed and used as a writing surface before paper became more readily available.



Rariorum Plantarum Historia
(Antuerpiæ: Ex officina Plantiniana apud Ioannem Moretum, M. DCI). Magd. R.17.5(1)

Charles de l’Ecluse (1526–1609), commonly known as Carolus Clusius, was one of the most influential botanists of his day. His most important scientific contributions were made because of the quality of his plant descriptions rather than any classification. In addition, he also produced the first published monograph on fungi as an appendix to Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601). Clusius is well known for horticultural contributions that included the introduction of the potato to Germany, Austria, France and the Low Countries, as well as the introduction of numerous bulbous and tuberous plants into cultivation. He was a founder of the Dutch bulb culture, providing the first detailed history of tulips in Rariorum Plantarum Historia. Furthermore, he was responsible for the planning and arrangement of the botanic garden at Leiden, where he assembled plants for their botanical rather than medicinal interest.

This volume was one of the first in which Goodyer recorded his purchase, 12 December 1616, for 16s. He also renumbered the pages, and added many manuscript cross-references.


Flowers Fruicts Beastes Birds and Flies Exactly Drawne. With Their True Colours Liuely Described
(London: Sold by Compton Halland, [1625?]), Magd. R.9.7(2).

Magdalen College is famous for the snake’s-head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) that fill its water meadow in Spring. The finely detailed engraving here, depicting a fritillary on the left, jumbled together with other plants, insects, and animals, may have been copied from one of Joris Hoefnagel’s works. Hoefnagel (1542–1601) was a true Renaissance man: he played a number of musical instruments, knew several languages, illuminated manuscripts, and was a topographical draughtsman, among other accomplishments.

The engraving is part of a series of little books of Flowers Fruicts Beastes Birds and Flies Exactly Drawne, with Their True Colours Liuely Described. It is not clear who commissioned the twenty-eight pictures in this volume, but the title-page is signed by the English engraver John Payne (1607–1647), best known for his very large view of the ship Sovereign of the seas (1637) which measures nearly 3 feet across.


Hortus Eystettensis, siue, Diligens et accurata omnium plantarum, florum, stirpium, ex variis orbis terræ partibus, singulari studio collectarum, quæ in celeberrimis viridariis arcem episcopalem ibidem cingentibus, hoc tempore conspiciuntur, delineatio et aduiuum repræsentatio operâ Basilii Besleri philiatri et pharmacopoei
(Eichstätt?, 1613), Magd. Tab.5.4

The gardens created around his palace by Johann Conrad Prince Bishop of Eichstätt (c.1561–1612) were intended to grow every known species of shrub and flowering plant, including recent exotics imported from the Orient and America. The florilegium he commissioned in the early seventeenth century illustrated them in one of the most beautiful printed botanical books ever.

The book, made up of 367 engraved plates, and 400 pages of text, was printed on Royal paper. Measuring 570 x 460 mm (22.5 x 18 in.), Royal was the largest size available. While books were commonly printed on sheets of paper, which were then folded to form gatherings that were sewn together and then bound, the sheets of the Hortus Eystenttensis were left unfolded and an oversewing technique was used to form the gatherings. It is as large as it possibly can be, given seventeenth-century technology, and allows the plants to be shown full size.

The publication project was an impressive one. Basil Besler (1561–1629), the Nuremberg apothecary commissioned by Johann Conrad to oversee production, worked for about sixteen years on the book. At least six engravers were involved in making the copper plates. The nomenclature of plants was not yet fully established, and a great deal of research went into the text accompanying the pictures. Cross-references to other authorities, such as Dodoens and Mattioli, Bauhin, Clusius and Lobelius were provided, and they are duly cited in the bibliography at the front of the volume.

In the end about 300 copies in two editions were printed. One of the editions, probably intended for the trade, has the text printed on the verso of the illustrations. Magdalen’s copy is so. The other, smaller edition is the stunning luxury edition. The plates are hand-coloured and on better quality paper, with the text printed on separate sheets.

John Goodyer’s copy has his manuscript pagination up to 854, and some of the plant names, such as that shown here on page 540, have been written in his hand.


The herball or generall historie of plantes. Gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie. Very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson, apothecarye of London (Printed by Adam Islip, Joice Norton and Richard Whitakers, anno 1633.) Magd. R.18.1

The first edition of John Gerard’s (1545–1612) herbal was published in 1597 and was notorious for the errors that it contained. Thomas Johnson (d. 1644) corrected many of these, but some of Gerard’s wilder statements remain (for example the story of the Goose Barnacle plant, a tree that was supposed to have barnacles that opened to give birth to live geese). Johnson received considerable help from his friends in revising the manuscript, especially from John Goodyer, whose additions are specifically highlighted in the printed edition. This second edition, sometimes called ‘Gerard emaculatus’ or ‘Johnson’s Gerard’ was published in 1633.

Goodyer’s manuscript notes on the medicinal properties of certain plants are written in the upper margin of page 913.

Despite its errors Gerard’s Herbal has been seen by many as the herbal tradition at its best and has been plundered by authors ever since. The frontispiece of the first edition, reproduced in the second edition, shows a portrait of Gerard holding a potato (Solanum tuberosum) flower, and is the first published illustration of a potato. Potatoes were introduced to Spain between 1565 and 1573 (most likely from the Andes), with an introduction to England between 1588 and 1593.


Noua plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia a Francisco Hernandez … primum compilata, dein a Nardo Antonio Reccho in volumen digesta, a Io. Terentio, Io. Fabre, et Fabio, Columna Lynceis notis, & additionibus longe doctissimis illustrata (Romae: Sumptibus Blasij Deuersini & Zanobij Masotti bibliopolarum. Typis Vitalis Mascardi. Superiorum permissu., MDCLI). Magd. R.14.8.

Francisco Hernandez (1517–1587), Physician to Philip II of Spain, was in Mexico between 1571 and 1577. During his time there he collected very large amounts of material that were deposited in the Royal Archives in Madrid; much of this appears to have been lost in a fire in the late sixteenth century. However, it is clear from Hernandez’s work that the Spanish took plants used by native Mexicans into their materia medica and that native names were adopted. One such plant was cocoa, a plant initially unattractive to the Europeans since Mexicans prepared it by mixing it with maize flour and pepper. However, once preparations using vanilla and sugar were discovered cocoa became a very popular drink, and is an example of the impact that the discovery of the New World had on the European diet. And of course, since then Europeans and others have learned the value of a good molé sauce.

Goodyer notes that he bought this volume for £1. 14s. at the beginning of December 1652, and then paid a porter ‘for carriage to Dr. Dale’ when it was carried ‘downe in Mris Elz. Heathes Trunck’.