Yale Center for British Art, Folio C 2014 4
(Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary)


Produced: Helmingham, Suffolk, ca. 1500
Current Location: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, USA
Manuscript Type: Bestiary
Language: Latin
Folios: 20
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Parchment
Dimensions: Height: 43.1 cm Width: 28.3 cm
Sample page - Yale Center for British Art HHB
Folio 17v-18r


Manuscript herbal and bestiary, in an unidentified hand, completed circa 1500 at Helmingham, Suffolk. The volume comprises 95 drawings of flowers and trees and 49 drawings of animals and birds, giving a remarkable picture of English knowledge of natural history in the Tudor period. The herbal and bestiary are preceded by two scroll alphabets. There are generally four drawings on the recto and verso of each leaf. All drawings are neatly finished in gouache and watercolor, with pen and ink, on parchment throughout. Names of species are written directly above each drawing, in large textura letters in pen and black ink; the initial letter of each species name is written in Lombardic style, in pen and red ink.

In most cases, the plants or animals are not drawn from nature; they are depicted to varying degrees of realism. Where plants have been drawn in a stylized manner, it is in order to portray the essential useful characteristics of each plant. The 95 illustrations of flowers and trees are presented in approximate alphabetical order and depict common species in Britain. The 49 drawings of animals and birds in the bestiary are also in rough alphabetical order, and depict fabulous creatures such as the alde (a purple hound with three-pointed tail and yellow claws), bonnacon (a pink horse with yellow horns), koketrice (half rooster, half serpent), and a honicorn (unicorn). Real animals, drawn either from direct observation or as imagined from traveler's reports (occasionally with imaginary attributes), include the ape, hyena, bear, badger, beaver, ibex, rat, and leopard.

The present manuscript has a variant twin at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Bodleian Library. MS Ashmole 1504). The pair are studied together, with photographic facsimiles, in Nicholas Barker's Two East Anglian Picture Books: A Facsimile of the Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary and Bodleian MS Ashmole 1504 (London: Roxburghe Club, 1988). The two manuscripts share nearly identical pictures, with small differences in size, content, and organization. Both manuscripts are loosely connected to contemporary traditions--the Agnus Castus manuscripts in the case of the herbals, and the Hortus Sanitatis for the bestiaries--but there are significant differences in content and style. Barker speculates that they must have been copied from a common source, but the model is now lost or unknown. Printed images in Du¨rer's "St Eustace" and Cranach's "Adam and Eve" served as a model for some of the drawings in the Ashmole manuscript, but no image in the Helmingham herbal and bestiary is copied from those works. The Helmingham herbal and bestiary also lacks illustrations of household goods, present in the Ashmole manuscript. It is clear that the twin manuscripts were both produced in England in the early 16th century, and it is likely that both were at one time together at Helmingham Hall. The present manuscript probably predates Ashmole by about 20 years. [Adapted from the Yale Center manuscript catalog]

Additional Descriptions

Additional description

Editions and Facsimiles

Printed facsimiles

Barker, 1988

Digital facsimiles

Yale Center for British Art