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20 Sep 2018

The Falkland Palace apothecary

Written by Antonia Laurence-Allen, Curator Edinburgh and East (pharmacological research by Rose Johnston)
The new apothecary room in the cellars at Falkland Palace
The new apothecary room in the cellars at Falkland Palace
We have recently fitted out an apothecary room in the cellars of Falkland Palace. This fully interactive space adds more to the story of life ‘below stairs’ in the 16th-century Stuart court.

Much of the furniture was either in storage or has been made especially by Leo Norris, a woodworker based in Fife. Leo got involved in the project because it meant he could use traditional woodcraft techniques, as well as teach his students how furniture was made centuries ago.

The dresser with pots on its shelves is inspired by 16th-century engravings illustrating apothecary interiors
The table and dresser are inspired by 16th-century engravings illustrating apothecary interiors
Stools based the design on engraving illustrations – each one is slightly different
Leo also made the stools and based the design on engraving illustrations – each one is slightly different

An apothecary fit for a king

The Falkland estate was acquired by the Crown from the Earls of Fife in the 15th century and from c1501 James IV set about creating a French Renaissance-style hunting lodge. On the king’s death in 1513 building works came to a halt, until 1528 when King James V came of age. Having lost his father in battle, then losing his first wife Madeleine de Valois to tuberculosis, James suffered from bouts of depression. He died of dysentery and fever at Falkland in 1542, six days after the birth of his daughter, the future Mary, Queen of Scots, by his second wife, Marie de Guise. 

Double portrait of James V and Marie de Guise which hangs in the Drawing Room at Falkland Palace
Double portrait of James V and Marie de Guise which hangs in the Drawing Room at Falkland Palace and is a copy of an original at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire (painted c1540)

The king would have had a physician who travelled with the court to royal residences like Falkland. We don’t know who attended James V, but James Naysmith was surgeon and royal herbalist to his grandson, James VI & I, who spent time at Falkland Palace. Records also show that John Parkinson was an apothecary for James VI & I. Parkinson founded the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1617 and published Theatrum Botanicum in 1640. Although we don’t know whether he or Naysmith came to Falkland, the court travelled to Fife as a large and fairly complete retinue so it’s likely they would have attended at some point. 

Items on the table include common ingredients from Falkland, including beeswax and dried herbs
Items on the table include common ingredients from Falkland, including beeswax and dried herbs. There is also a large leatherbound recipe book (not shown), made by the Trust’s conservation technician

The herbalist bible

Books were published in the 16th century that contained detailed drawings of flowers and herbs which could be used for medicinal purposes. For the Falkland apothecary we used John Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597, as a guide to what 16th-century apothecaries would have been using to help them identify plants for their remedies. 

Marjoram – ‘Pot Marjerome (Marjor and major Anglica)’ from The Herball
Marjoram – ‘Pot Marjerome (Marjor and major Anglica)’ from The Herball (adapted and drawn by Charlotte Marlow)

Artist Charlotte Marlow has reproduced several images from Gerard’s book. She said: ‘the main challenge was to translate 400-year-old images into detailed illustrations as they were incredibly intricate and drawn in a very specific style’. These drawings will be reproduced and used in the apothecary in a variety of ways – from children’s colouring sheets to replica 16th-century pamphlets advertising the latest ‘cure’.

White jagged poppy (Papaner fimbriatum album)
White jagged poppy (Papaner fimbriatum album)

Other key texts of the time came a little after the 1600s, and included the ‘bible’ for apothecaries – the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1618), later translated from Latin by Nicolas Culpeper. It contains commonly used compounds and recipes of the time.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh published a Scottish edition in 1699 – the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia, based on early drafts by Sir Robert Sibbald, a physician who was also one of the founders of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. This publication took widely known medical recipes and made them even more complicated! Some remedies contained up to 40 ingredients, including colourful items like spider webs, ant eggs and snake skins. Many of Sibbald’s recipes called for extensive boiling, extracting, mixing and decanting, which, in some cases, meant four days of prep work.

What was stocked in a late 16th/early 17th-century apothecary?

Comprehensive inventories exist of three Edinburgh apothecaries: Thomas Davidson (1574), William Purves (1588) and Thomas Traquair (1617). All three shops stocked a wide variety of raw materials as well as ready-made plasters, ointments and syrups.

 Common items to all three include senna, opium, conserve of roses, cassia, sassafras, hellebore, mercury, cantharides (a chemical excreted by beetles often used as an aphrodisiac) and almonds. 

The apothecary has been filled with dried herbs in baskets and willow hangings
The apothecary has been filled with dried herbs in baskets and willow hangings (made especially by Falkland’s volunteers)

Roses were popular as they could be used to create rose water, conserves or confectionery, as well as being used in medicines. One curative recipe for stomach troubles contained roses, as well as sage, rosemary, rue, wormwood, balm, scordium, centaury, carduus, angelica, henbane (an alternative to opium) and licorice.

These Edinburgh apothecaries also had a range of glass jars and earthenware pots, specially labelled so the apothecary knew by their shape and size whether they contained herbs, oils, barks, fruits or flowers.

Going potty

The Falkland apothecary is stocked with its own unique selection of pots.

A range of bespoke pots were made according to the designs of original 16th-century apothecary jars
A range of bespoke pots were made according to the designs of original 16th-century apothecary jars

Edinburgh-based potter Michelle Lowe took on the challenge of modelling new pots from 16th-century examples. ‘It was an amazing feeling to sit at my wheel throwing the pots and imagining a 16th-century potter doing much the same thing’, Michelle said. ‘Although they used the same materials and techniques, I was very appreciative of the luxuries of an electric wheel, lights and a kiln!’

It was a challenge for Michelle trying to re-create the shapes and decoration as she was working from pictures rather than 3D objects, making it harder to know if she had achieved the correct form and weight.

The jar on the right is for dry ingredients, while the pot on the left with a spout is a ‘wet’ drug jar (eg for oils)
The jar on the right is for dry ingredients, while the pot on the left with a spout is a ‘wet’ drug jar (eg for oils)

The size and shape of a pot indicated whether it was for wet or dry ingredients.

The most complicated one was the wet jar with a stand and spout. ‘It was like making a very strange teapot’, Michelle noted, when she was experimenting how to create her first-ever apothecary pot. She chose a simple geometric design, typical of pots from the late 1500s. This can be compared with later 17th-century examples that were often inscribed with Latin and richly decorated.

Asking a pharmacist

The research into what medicines were used and which pots would be suitable was led by retired pharmacist Rose Johnston. She consulted the 1618 Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, a book that brought together well-known 16th-century medicines, ingredients and dosages. Rose admitted it was fascinating to see how many recipes were still used today – such as the honey ointment used to treat wounds. But she pointed out that ‘the majority of the recipes made one glad to be living in the age of modern medical practice!’

 

Two ‘royal’ pots (left: Pulvis Sena Compositus Minor; right: Lohoch e Pulmone Vulpis)
Left: Pulvis Sena Compositus Minor – to ‘purgeth melancholly and clenseth the head’; right: Lohoch e Pulmone Vulpis – elixir of fox lungs, to ‘clenseth and uniteth Ulcers in the Lungs and breast’

Using the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, Rose picked out key ingredients that apothecaries would have stocked. She also selected four ‘posh’ pots that have been decorated with a (slightly re-imagined) royal coat of arms, to indicate they were specifically designed for a monarch’s apothecary. These contain remedies that would have been very useful in courtly life, with its stresses and strains, large banquets and rich foods. As well as the two pictured above, another pot contains Unguentum ex Apio, a honey-based ointment for treating wounds. This may well have been used at Falkland as there were beehives in the palace grounds.

Herbs and flowers used in the apothecary grown at Falkland Palace
Herbs and flowers used in the apothecary were (and still are) grown at Falkland Palace

We’re very grateful for all the help and support we’ve had for this project, including all the makers, researchers and volunteers who ensured we could open the doors to visitors on Herb Day 2018. The financial support of the A Sinclair Henderson Trust has allowed us to add a variety of hands-on activities, interpretation and workshops so a wide range of audiences can interact with the arts of the apothecary.

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