LEIGHEAS Manuscript of the Month: March 2024

Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS 2076

Siobhán Barrett

Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS 2076, fol. 1v: The beginning of the first particle of Bernard of Gordon’s Lilium Medicinae, on the subject of fever. Image courtesy of Irish Script on Screen.

View the manuscript online

This manuscript of 714 pages is the longest Gaelic-language manuscript in the National Library of Scotland. It was probably written in Ireland ca 1600 by an anonymous scribe with the assistance of two other scribes. One of these has been identified as Neil Beaton, a member of the famous Scottish medical family, the Beatons. There were two divisions of the Beaton family and this manuscript is associated with the Beatons from Husabost in Skye.

There are three texts in this manuscript: an Irish copy of Bernard of Gordon’s Lilium Medicinae, followed by two short texts, one a pharmaceutical text by Rémacle Fuchs consisting of ten tables of common prescriptions, and the other an incomplete copy of Bernard of Gordon’s Decem Ingenia, which describes ten methods of curing disease.

One of the interesting aspects of this manuscript is a note, written by Rev. Donald MacQueen on his presentation of the manuscript to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries in 1784. In this note, he describes the economic value of the manuscript and also the lengths to which its owner, Farchar Beaton of Husibost, went to protect it:

The Lilium Medicinae of Bernardus Gordonius … was early translated into Gaelic, and became the physical pandects of the Beatons, the hereditary physicians of the Lords of the Isles … The price of transcribing a copy was sixty milk cows. The copy possessed by Farchar Beaton of Husibost … was of such value in his estimation that when he trusted himself to a boat, in passing an arm of the sea, to attend any patient at Dunvegan, the seat of Macleod, he sent his servant by land, for the greater security, with the Lilium Medicinae.

Further reading:

Bannerman, John (2015), The Beatons: A Medical Kindred in the Classical Gaelic Tradition, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: J. Donald)

Demaitre, Luke (1980), Doctor Bernard de Gordon: Professor and Practitioner (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies)

MacKechnie, J. (1973), Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in Selected Libraries in Great Britain and Ireland, 2 vols (Boston: G.K. Hall)

MacKinnon, Donald (1912), A Descriptive Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and Elsewhere in Scotland. (Edinburgh: W. Brown)

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