Early equine veterinary textbook saved

  • The British Library has acquired the first printed veterinary horse textbook in English, entitled Propertees and Medicynes of Hors, which dates from the late 15th century.

    The 16-page pamphlet contains a total of 49 remedies written in Old English including advice ‘for all manere of blood letying’ to the ‘hawe in the eye’. It also explains how to identify the properties of a good horse, ways to stop your horse from neighing and how to make an old horse seem younger.

    Historians believe that small handbooks for horse owners were in use from the early Middle Ages. This book was printed by Wynkyn de Worde, the successor to William Caxton, who is widely regarded as the father of printing in England.

    John Goldfinch of the British Library explains: “Rather as we like to cross-check today what our vet tells us against what we’ve read in a magazine or on the internet, medieval people seem to have had a healthy distrust of professional advice.

    “While some of the minor surgical procedures inside may seem cruel to us, many basic treatments using herbs with cleansing or disinfectant properties suggest signs of what we today call ‘evidence-based medicine’.”

    A private collector owned the book until 1998, when an American dealer purchased it. It has now returned to Britain and will be accessible to the public for the first time. However, horse owners who are interested in reading the book are warned that an understanding of Old English will be required if they are not to be disappointed.

    Pictures courtesy of the British Library

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