The Most Widely Read Treatise on Agriculture & Animal Husbandry
to Survive from 13th-Century England

Decorated manuscript on vellum, in Anglo-Norman French, of Walter of Henley’s Hosbondrye, seven leaves (lacking the final leaf). Small 4to (198 x 140 mm.), single column, 29 lines (text block: 128 x 90 mm.), text written throughout in one hand in Anglicana, 24 initials in blue with pen flourishing in red, oftentimes with seven- or eight-line extensions in margins, chapter divisions in red & blue.

Modern brown morocco (a few small wormholes, occasionally touching a few letters, more pronounced in the final leaf). [England: early 14th century].

An important early 14th-century manuscript of Walter of Henley’s Husbandry, the most widely read of several notable treatises on agriculture that survive from mid- or late 13th-century England. This manuscript exhibits notable differences from other surviving examples (see below).

Little is known of Walter of Henley (fl. 1260). “From what the treatise says of estate administration at a time when methods were changing, it seems likely that it was written in the 1250s or 1260s. It is one of six treatises on managing agricultural properties that survive from mid- or late thirteenth-century England. Only one of the others has a named author — Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln (d. 1253) — and Walter of Henley’s treatise was the most widely read of them all, as shown by the number of surviving manuscripts and by the degree of variation between them, pointing to frequent copying and glossing. Its popularity is understandable, for it is written with great charm and verve. Its structure is that of a contemporary sermon, with prologue and epilogue related to the main theme but looking beyond its technical content. This theme was a commentary on a slightly earlier treatise, the Seneschaucy; it enlarges on the techniques involved in, successively, manorial management, corn growing, and livestock. It is written from the viewpoint of the owner of a small estate, who managed it in person, and it bears many marks of the author’s individuality, among them an emphasis on profit, honestly and honourably gained, the occasional proverb in English, and digressions to calculate, for instance, the relative cost of oxen and horses in plough-teams. The author seems to have produced two versions of the text and it has been suggested that the first was for oral delivery, the second for reading. Although the treatise was soon out of date in some details of management, its agricultural precepts continued to be valid, and in the fifteenth century it was still being copied, apparently as of practical value.”–ODNB.

There are sections on husbandry, farming (including ploughing, sowing, harvesting, costs of cultivation, etc.), and livestock including cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry. He discusses the plow team; feeding horses, oxen, and pigs; the care of sucklings; milk yields; culling livestock; feeding sheep; etc.

In 1971, Dorothea Oschinsky listed 32 surviving manuscripts of the Hosbondrye, to which she added in her Preface three further manuscripts (including ours), which were discovered after the main part of her book had gone to press. The text is known in two traditions, called α and β. The manuscripts derived are classed in group A (from α) and groups B-F (from β, and
its branches γ and δ). The different groups often share variants and show individualistic omissions or insertions. In this manuscript — most likely originally from a composite codex — the text of the Hosbondrye is copied with accuracy, possibly in a professional milieu. Corrections are lacking, and only a few words are wrongly repeated. The text copied belongs to tradition β, but shares some variants with branch γ, establishing a new group from β.

Regarding our manuscript, Oschinsky wrote “one early-fourteenth-century copy has come to light which is of great interest…It enables us, moreover, to assess the printed translation of Walter included in The Booke of Thrift by James Bellot, printed in 1589…We now find that it was translated from a copy which followed the version of the newly-found Rothamsted copy and it can be assumed that the two texts are survivors of a group, widely spaced in time, which ultimately derived from a copy of β older than our γ.”–D. Oschinsky, Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting (Oxford: 1971), pp. vii-viii.

A dozen surviving manuscripts give the author’s name in the title, while two offer biographical information, describing Henley as a knight and, later, as a Dominican friar.

As mentioned above, our manuscript lacks the final leaf of text, with 59 lines, containing Chapters 102-113. Considering the unknown scribe copied the text with regularity, filling each page with 29 lines, it is logical to assume that only the final leaf of the manuscript is now missing.

Manuscripts of Henley’s Hosbondrye are extremely rare on the market.

❧ Trow-Smith, A History of British Livestock Husbandry to 1700, p. 88–one of “the first great agrarian treatises”–(& see pages 93, 115, 116, 118, 119, 120, 151, 157, & 160).

Price: $125,000.00

Item ID: 6472

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