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1530: Sage travel advice from Andrew Boorde ... II

Andrew Boorde, who was born in or about 1490 at Cuckfield in Sussex. began life as a monk and was afterwards nominated suffragan Bishop of Chichester, although he never seems to have discharged any episcopal duties.

He finally obtained dispensation from his orders, and became a physician - partly to improve his knowledge and partly to find out what was thought of Henry VIII.

He travelled over many parts of Europe, and, like a sixteenth century Flexner, visited and inspected many universities. And besides his medical works Andrew Boorde has left us an account of his travels which is still well worth reading.

It is quaintly entitled 'The First Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge', written partly in prose and partly in verse, his guidebook describes no beauty spots or places of interest, but gives comments on the lives and habits of people of many lands, and on language and coinage, on food and clothing.

In Cornwall, for example, ‘the people can speak only Cornish; there is plenty of fish and tin, but the beer is beastly’.


Some have supposed him to be a Scot because he studied at Glasgow; but he, in fact, had a very poor opinion of Scotsmen - he regarded them as thieves and liars. ‘I, being there, was hated, but my physick did keep me in favour, and I did learn their secrets’.

Scotland he described as ‘a Kingdom at one time subject to England, consisting of two parts, the best part of the realm, which is next England, and the north, consisting of barren moorland’. At this point the writer reminds the reader that there is no land to compare with England. ‘I never did know as many as seven Englishmen who chose to live permanently abroad’.

Although the University of Glasgow had been founded in 1451, there was no organized teaching of medicine, and Boorde’s knowledge probably supplied a need, while in return he gained useful information which he transmitted to England.

After the Scottish tour he made yet another Continental journey which took him as far north as Denmark and as far east as Jerusalem. He then settled down for a time, about 1542, to write, at Montpellier, the books which are his chief memorial.

Thoughts on Europe

Boorde found France very pleasant, with well-dressed folk who delight in song and dance. Spain, on the other band, was very poor. One must eat sardines and no meat.

It was on his return from Montpellier [a city in southern France], where he studied medicine for a year. At this stage he had the good fortune to attend the Duke of Norfolk, whose nieces Katharine Howard and Anne Boleyn became, in turn. Queens of England. This gained for him the friendship of Thomas Cromwell, who employed him more than once as an ambassador, or, rather, as a spy, in the course of his Continental wanderings.

It was from his reports to Secretary Cromwell that we derive such knowledge as is available regarding Andrew Boorde’s travels. His desire to see the world was strong, and he was, for a time, at the University of Orleans.

Sole survivor

When crossing the bridge there one day he fell in with a party of nine English and Scottish pilgrims who were making their way to St. James’ of Compendia in Spain. He told them that they would be better to die in England, saying that he would rather go five times to Rome than once to Compostella.

They remained unconvinced, however, and he resolved to go with them. After great privations they reached their destination, but during the return journey they all died, one by one, the result of eating fruit and drinking water. Boorde, who had been more abstemious, found himself the sole survivor, and when he reached France he ‘did kiss the ground for joy’.

Hardly had he set foot in England than he was off again, this time to ascertain for Cromwell the Continental opinion regarding the matrimonial affairs of King Henry VIII. It did not take him long to report that the King had few friends across the Channel. Our next news of Boorde is contained in a letter from Leith, Scotland, on April 1, 1536. He writes, ‘I am now in Scotland and at a little town named Glasco, where I study, and practise physick for the sustectation of my living’.

This versatile and observant wayfarer must have been good company, and his remarks are always worth reading. Another article on his home medical advice.



The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 3439 (Dec. 4, 1926), pp. 1064-1065

The traveller looks both ways by Douglas Guthrie, MD, FRCS, FRCP.Ed.

The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 5268 (Dec. 23, 1961), pp. 1701-1703

The article quotes: English Life in the Middle Ages, Louis Francis Salzman, Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, London (1941)

An etching of a woodcut of Andrew Boorde by an unknown artist (1547), National Portrait Gallery, London

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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