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1936: Andrew Borde physician from Borde Hill - an interesting and curious character

Worthing Herald - Saturday 22 February 1936


The original “Merry Andrew” Andrew Borde or Boorde, was born near Cuckfield about 1490. His was an interesting and curious character and one worth recalling. He was brought up at Oxford, and while still a boy became a monk of the Carthusian order, but it does not appear that his vows were of serious matter.

Borde Hill House c1930

There was a bad practice in those days whereby, as one contemporary writer complains, monks and Friars “drew boys into their religion with hooks of apples, as the people commonly report." Parents were afraid to send boys to Oxford lest the friars should entice them.

The best of both worlds.

Borde was out to make the best of both worlds. He became renowned as a traveller and physician, as an adviser of Thomas Cromwell, who employed him much abroad, as a writer of learning and as a wit. Most of what we know about him comes from his own letters and writings.

In 1521 when the Bishop of Chichester was 80 years of age Borde was appointed suffragan. He was, however, already tired of the religious life, so he obtained the pope's bull dispensing him from filling the office.

Andrew Borde

A few years later, about 1528, he feels even more strongly a different vocation. "I am not able to bide the rigorosity of your religion," he writes to his Prior. Accordingly he gets a dispensation from his monkship vows and goes abroad to study medicine.

Duke of Norfolk's doctor.

By 1530 board was in England again, and having the good fortune to attend the Duke of Norfolk as a doctor, his fame was secure, for the Duke was president of the council and uncle to Anne Boleyn. Borde was presented to Henry VIII.

After this followed more years of travel and study on the continent, when he visited "all the universities in Christendom," studying physic and making acute observations of national customs and character which were later embodied in his famous books. When Henry demanded that his supremacy as head of the church should be acknowledged, Borde, who was back in England, took the oath without any difficulty.

Cromwell at once ordered him abroad to report how the King's actions were received on the continent. Borde sent some rhubarb seeds to Cromwell from Spain with instructions how to set them. "in these parts it is held for a great treasure." This was nearly 200 years before the plant was cultivated in England.

The next year Borde was in Scotland "in a little university named Glasgow where I study and practice physic." He observed that "it is naturally given, or else it is of a devilish disposition of a Scottish man, not to love nor favour an English man." All the same he managed the Scotch very well and spent a year among them.

Travels abroad.

When, in 1538, the dissolution of the monastic houses had been brought about Borde set off on the longest of all his tours, visiting France, Spain, Flanders, Germany, Saxony, Denmark, Italy, Greece and Jerusalem, finally settling for a time at Montpelier, which he described as "the finest University in the world for physicians and surgeons."

By 1542 he had written three books that enhanced his fame – "the First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge," his “Breviary of Health," and "Dietary." Each of these was a pioneer work.

Borde returned to England to attend to the publication of his books, and then settled in Winchester, writing and practising as a doctor. Unfortunately while there the Bishop of Winchester publicly accused him of behaviour which justifies his being called an old reprobate. For this offence, or for some other reason not known to us, Borde was put in the Fleet prison and died there in 1549, a sad eclipse. There is no record of where he was buried and no authentic portrait. Nevertheless we are justified in being proud of him as a Sussex man.

Borde wrote a number of books, and some jest books which he probably did not write have been 'fathered upon' him. Among his works the three we have already mentioned were full of interest to modern readers for the vivid picture they give of Tudor times in England and abroad.

"The Introduction of Knowledge."

"The Introduction of Knowledge" is a handbook of Europe. The full title continues "which doth teach a man to speak part of all manner of languages, and to know the usage and fashion of all manner of countries." All Borde’s writings are full of true observations mixed with some of the superstition and ignorance of his time. He notices the independence of Englishman, also their love of new fashions. He exhorts them to strive for learning and to stop swearing.

Traditional stereotypes do not escape him: the Welsh are "liars", the Irish "hasty tempered", the Scots "boastful".

In another place describing England, he writes: "men say that Merlin built Stonehenge with the devil's help.” The beauties of England appealed to him more than any other country. So it was apparently, with most Englishman.

In all his travels he never knew Englishmen who chose to live permanently abroad. In the “Dietary”, the first book of its kind in English, Borde describes how a house should be built and run, and how a gentleman should conduct his life in order to be healthy.

Most of his advice is very sound, as for instance the recommendation to "rise with mirth." Some of his prescriptions are curious. "Green ginger onion in the morning quickens the memory." "The smell of a fox is good for palsy”, "wear a scarlet nightcap", but modern minds are shocked by the instruction to "keep lunatics in a close dark room with a keeper whom they fear."

The "Dietary" was supplementary to the "Breviary of Health", which set forth many diseases with their remedies. Fuller, in his "Worthies," says Borde’s “Breviary” was accounted "a jewel in that age." Andrew Borde was certainly an earnest searcher for the truth, with many ideas in advance of his time. His work was esteemed by his contemporaries. His personality also, despite some bad but not uncommon failings, was undoubtedly admired, for he was much trusted by the Crown and by Cromwell.

From his writings we know that his disposition was kindly.

For more on Andrew Borde's Work as a physician, please follow the links...


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