Anglo-Saxon Medical Manuscripts

There are several manuscripts concerning medical treatments and charms, and most of these were collected and published in the 19th century by Thomas Cockayne in a series called “Leechdoms Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England”. Some are copies in Latin and some are in Old English translation of earlier works, but there are a few original Old English texts.

The major manuscripts comprise:

  • Bald’s Leechbook, c.950 CE, the oldest surviving Old English medical work; “leech” here is from the Old English word “lǣce” meaning “healer” and does not refer to actual leeches.
  • The Old English Herbarium, a translation of the Herbarium of Pseudo-Apuleius
  • The Lacnunga Manuscripts, a slightly disordered collection of manuscripts on healing and herblore.

There are a few other references to herblore and healing in other manuscripts, but these are relatively minor entries.

An example from Bald’s Leechbook, Book I, ch. Xi.

“For sore lips”

Wiþ sarum weolorum gesmire mid hunige þa weoloras

genīm þonne ægerfelman besceað mid pipore

lege on

For sore lips, smear the lips with honey,

then take film of egg, scatter it with pepper,

and lay on

“Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England, Vol II.”, Cockayne, Thomas Oswald, 1864, Longman

Listen to a reading in Old English by Stephen Pollington here:

View the mid-10th century manuscript of Bald’s Leechbook online at the British Library