Feature of the month: Gervase Markham on good husbandry

In 2016 Senate House Library is commemorating the quartercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare. This year’s Features of the Month celebrate books published in the same year as Shakespeare’s first four folios: 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. This is the third of three books featured from 1664.

Cheap and Good Husbandry for the Well-Ordering of all Beasts and Fowls, and for the General Cure of their Diseases
11th edn
Gervase Markham
London: G. Sawbridge, 1664
[G.L.] 1664

Gervase Markham (1568?-1637) was a prolific writer whose works covered literature (poetry, drama and prose), horsemanship, veterinary medicine, husbandry, domestic economy, farriery, hunting, hawking fowling, fishing, archery, heraldry, and military training, with an output facilitated by his tendency to plagiarise both from himself and other authors. Whilst Markham’s literary works were never in high repute, his agricultural works were not superseded until the mid-eighteenth century. In his own time, they met a demand for new manuals. After making sufficient capital, many Elizabethan and Jacobean merchants retired to their native villages or the countryside and needed to learn to manage their property there, and the usefulness of the manuals that has been bestsellers in the sixteenth century was passing.

Cheap and Good Husbandry was first published in 1614 and remained popular throughout the century, entering its fifteenth edition in 1695. It abridged one of Markham’s earlier works on horsemanship, A Discource of Horsmanshippe: wherein the Breeding and Ryding of Horses for Seruice, in a Breefe Manner is More Methodically Sette Downe then hath been Heeretofore (1593); discussion of horses accounts for half the content of the present work. It was itself abridged in 1616, in Markham’s Method or Epitome. Its popularity arose from its specifically English relevance, with Markham claiming the information to be: gathered together for the general good and profit of the Commonwealth, by exact and assured experience from English practices, both certain, easie, and cheap; differing from all former and forrain experiments, which either agreed not with our Clime, or were too hard to come by, or over-costly, and to little purpose; all which herein are avoided”. The language is practical and earthy, and provides a wealth of detail about aspects of daily life, such as how to create a fish pond and to deter thieves from stealing the fish.

Advice includes what to do if one’s animal is bitten by a mad dog or if one’s hawk has a cold, and when to let nature take care of itself: "To speak of the breeding of Swans is needless, because they can better order themselves in that business than any man can direct them, only where they build their nests, you shall suffer them to remain undisturbed, and it will be sufficient” (p. 123). Some of the advice may strike a chord with farmers today: "If a Sheep be troubled with Maggots, you shall take Goose-grease, Tar, and Brimstone, and mixt them together on the fire; and then anoint the place therewith, and it will kill the Maggots" (p. 89).

This is the latest of three issues of Cheap and Good Husbandry held within the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, which also contains multiple issues of Markhams Farewell to Husbandry, and of which agricultural work published from the early sixteenth century onwards are a key aspect.

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  • 31 Aug 2016

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