400 years of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis

 By Karen Horn, RPS Librarian

December 2018 sees the 400-year anniversary of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (second issue).  We are lucky enough to have a copy in the RPS Library’s early printed collection.  Produced by the Royal College of Physicians, it was the first authoritative, standard pharmacopoeia for the whole of England – Scotland and Ireland later producing their own.

It lists all the drugs authorised for use by the Physicians. These include the stomach lining of hens, used as an astringent, and opium.  Preparations of opium are still in use today.

Signs and symbols

The title page of this Pharmacopoeia is fascinating.  Rich with symbols of power, the Tetragrammaton, Hebrew for God, appears on a cloud from which a hand reaches out to hold the coat of arms of James VI of Scotland/I England.

The College of Physicians’ own coat of arms is situated alongside four important figures who influenced the development of medicine: Galen, Avicenna, Hippocrates and Mesue. The presence of all these images is no coincidence: they emphasise the authority of the College of Physicians.

As interesting as the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis is in its own right, there’s something about our volume which makes it all the more exciting.

 

Sir William Paddy and ‘Principis Ferdinandi’


Discovered in Brussels in 1955, our copy contains handwritten notes contemporary to the period in which it was published.  The majority of these are headed ℞ for ‘Recipe’ or prescription.  Further notes in French include instructions for the dispensing of certain medicines and their uses.

It also includes the name of William Paddy in a handwritten inscription at the foot of the title page.  Sir William Paddy was born in 1554 and was President of the College of Physicians in 1618.  As a Fellow, he is likely to have been involved with its production.  He was also physician to James I.

Paddy is not the only prominent name in the inscription. Whilst the ink has faded in some places, the name ‘Principis Ferdinandi’ is also legible alongside it.  So, who was ‘Principis Ferdinandi’?  The most obvious candidate would seem to be  Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor (1578-1637), although Ferdinand of Bavaria (1577-1650) might also be a contender.  To complicate matters further, a third individual seems to be mentioned, but much of his name is now illegible.  The inscription tells us that our copy of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis was presented as a gift … but by whom, to whom?

We may never know for certain whose hand wrote the notes and inscription. We will certainly never know all the secrets this volume holds of its journey from London to Brussels and back again.

If you can shed any light on the mystery surrounding our copy of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, we would love to hear from you. If you would like to book an appointment to see this and other pharmacopoeias in our early printed collection, please email library@rpharms.com.

 

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