William Turner (naturalist)

Last updated

Illustration of Mandrake plant from William Turner's Herbal, the first to be written in English rather than Latin Mandrake - William Turner's Herbal.jpg
Illustration of Mandrake plant from William Turner's Herbal, the first to be written in English rather than Latin

William Turner MA (1509–10 – 13 July 1568) [1] was an English divine and reformer, a physician and a natural historian. He has been called "The father of English botany." [2] He studied medicine in Italy, and was a friend of the great Swiss naturalist, Conrad Gessner. He was an early herbalist and ornithologist, and it is in these fields that the most interest lies today. [3] He is known as being one of the first "parson-naturalists" in England. [4]

Contents

He first published Libellus de Re herbaria in Latin in 1538, and later translated it into English because he believed herbalists were not sharing their knowledge. Turner's works were condemned under Henry VIII and under Mary Tudor. [2]

Biography

Title page of Libellus de Re Herbaria Novus, 1538 William Turner Libellus de Re Herbaria 1538 candido lectori SPD page 02.jpg
Title page of Libellus de Re Herbaria Novus, 1538
Page from Libellus de Re Herbaria Novus with name Giulielmus Turnerus William Turner Libellus de Re Herbaria 1538 candido lectori SPD page 01.jpg
Page from Libellus de Re Herbaria Novus with name Giulielmus Turnerus
Title page of Avium Praecipuarum, 1544, the first ever printed book devoted wholly to ornithology William Turner Avium Praecipuarum Title Page 1544.jpg
Title page of Avium Praecipuarum, 1544, the first ever printed book devoted wholly to ornithology

Early years

Turner was born in Morpeth, Northumberland, in or around 1508. His father was probably a tanner of the same name. He studied at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University, from 1526 to 1533, where he received his B.A. in 1530 and his M.A. in 1533. [5] He was a Fellow and Senior Treasurer of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. While at Cambridge he published several works, including Libellus de re herbaria, in 1538. He spent much of his leisure in the careful study of plants which he sought for in their native habitat, and described with an accuracy hitherto unknown in England.

In 1540, he began travelling about preaching until he was arrested. After his release, he went on to study medicine in Italy, at Ferrara and Bologna, from 1540 to 1542 and was incorporated M.D. at one of these universities. He married Jane Auder [6] (perhaps a widow of a Mr Cage when they married[ citation needed ]) who gave birth to a son Peter in 1542. After his death she remarried Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely. [7]

Career

After completing his medical degree, he became physician to the Earl of Emden. Back in England he became Chaplain and physician to the Duke of Somerset, and through Somerset's influence he obtained ecclesiastical preferment. The position as Somerset's physician also led to practice among upper society. He was prebendary of Botevant in York Cathedral in 1550, and Dean of Wells Cathedral from 1551 to 1553, where he established a Herbal garden. [8] When Mary I of England acceded to the throne, Turner went into exile once again. From 1553 to 1558, he lived in Weißenburg in Bayern and supported himself as a physician. He became a Calvinist at this time, if not before.

After the succession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, Turner returned to England, and was once again Dean of Wells Cathedral from 1560 to 1564. His attempts to bring the English church into agreement with the reformed churches of Germany and Switzerland led to his suspension for nonconformity in 1564. Turner died in London on 7 July 1568 at his home in Crutched Friars, in the City of London, and is buried in the church of St Olave Hart Street. An engraved stone on the south-east wall of this church commemorates Turner. Thomas Lever, one of the great puritan preachers of the period, delivered the sermon at his funeral.

Quite early in his career, Turner became interested in natural history and set out to produce reliable lists of English plants and animals, which he published as Libellus de re herbaria in 1538. In 1544, Turner published Avium praecipuarum, quarum apud Plinium et Aristotelem mentio est, brevis et succincta historia ("The Principal Birds of Aristotle and Pliny..."), which not only discussed the principal birds and bird names mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny the Elder but also added accurate descriptions and life histories of birds from his own extensive ornithological knowledge. This is the first printed book devoted entirely to birds. [9]

In 1545, Turner published The Rescuynge of the Romishe Fox, and in 1548, The Names of Herbes. In 1551, he published the first of three parts of his famous Herbal, on which his botanical fame rests.

A new herball, wherin are conteyned the names of herbes… (London: imprinted by Steven Myerdman and soolde by John Gybken, 1551) is the first part of Turner's great work; the second was published in 1562 and the third in 1568, both by Arnold Birckman of Cologne. These volumes gave the first clear, systematic survey of English plants, and with their admirable woodcuts (mainly copied from Leonhart Fuchs's 1542 De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes ) and detailed observations based on Turner's own field studies put the herbal on an altogether higher footing than in earlier works. At the same time, however, Turner included an account of their "uses and vertues", and in his preface admits that some will accuse him of divulging to the general public what should have been reserved for a professional audience. For the first time, a herbal was available in England in the vernacular, from which people could identify the main English plants without difficulty.

A New Book of Spiritual Physick was published in 1555. In 1562, Turner published the second part of his Herbal, dedicated to Sir Thomas Wentworth, son of the patron who had enabled him to go to Cambridge. This book was published by Arnold Birckman of Cologne, and included in the same binding Turner's treatise on baths. The third and last part of Turner's Herbal was published in 1568, in a volume that also contained revised editions of the first and second parts. This was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. He claimed that the herbal described only English plant species "whereof is no mention made neither of ye old Grecianes nor Latines". [10] A New Boke on the Natures and Properties of all Wines, also published in 1568, had pharmacological intent behind it, as also the included Treatise of Triacle.

As a member of the nonconformist faction in the Vestments controversy Turner was famous for making an adulterer do public penance wearing a square cap and for teaching his dog to steal such caps from bishop's heads. His scholarly pursuits had other, distinctly political, implications. According to Tudor historian Lacey Baldwin Smith, for instance, "Religious discontent and civil rebellion were obviously walking hand in hand when William Turner dared speak out against [Henry VIII's] proclamation of 1543 limiting the reading of the Bible to men of social standing. What kind of ungodly belly wisdom was it, he demanded, to say that 'rich men and the nobles are wiser than the poor people?'" [11]

Turner embraced the transmutation of species. Historian of science Charles E. Raven wrote that "Turner, a shrewd observer and an excellent botanist, accepted transmutation as a commonplace event." [12]

Natural history publications

  • 1538: Libellus de re herbaria novus. Bydell, London. Index 1878; facsimiles 1877, 1966.
  • 1544: Avium praecipuarum, quarum apud Plinium et Aristotelem mentio est, brevis et succincta historia. Gymnicus, Cologne. ed Cambridge 1823; ed with transl. Cambridge 1903.
  • 1548: Turner, William (1548). The Names of Herbes (1881 ed.). London: English dialect society.
  • 1551: Turner, William (1995) [1562–8]. A New Herball Parts II and III. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-0-521-44549-8. (Part 1 Mierdman, London 1551; Parts 2 and 3 Barckman, Cologne. 1562, 1568) Available at BHL

Other works are listed briefly by Raven. [13]

Related Research Articles

Conrad Gessner Swiss physician, bibliographer and naturalist (1516–1565)

Conrad Gessner was a Swiss physician, naturalist, bibliographer, and philologist. Born into a poor family in Zürich, Switzerland, his father and teachers quickly realised his talents and supported him through university, where he studied classical languages, theology and medicine. He became Zürich's city physician, but was able to spend much of his time on collecting, research and writing. Gessner compiled monumental works on bibliography and zoology and was working on a major botanical text at the time of his death from plague at the age of 49. He is regarded as the father of modern scientific bibliography, zoology and botany. He was frequently the first to describe species of plants or animals in Europe, such as the tulip in 1559. A number of plants and animals have been named after him.

This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1544.

Common chaffinch Species of bird

The common chaffinch or simply the chaffinch is a common and widespread small passerine bird in the finch family. The male is brightly coloured with a blue-grey cap and rust-red underparts. The female is more subdued in colouring, but both sexes have two contrasting white wing bars and white sides to the tail. The male bird has a strong voice and sings from exposed perches to attract a mate.

Coal tit Species of bird

The coal tit or cole tit,, is a small passerine bird in the tit family, Paridae. It is a widespread and common resident breeder in forests throughout the temperate to subtropical Palearctic, including North Africa. The black-crested tit is now usually included in this species.

<i>Acorus calamus</i> Species of plant

Acorus calamus is a species of flowering plant with psychoactive chemicals. It is a tall wetland monocot of the family Acoraceae, in the genus Acorus. Although used in traditional medicine over centuries to treat digestive disorders and pain, there is no clinical evidence for its safety or efficacy – and ingested calamus may be toxic – leading to its commercial ban in the United States.

John Gerard was an English herbalist with a large garden in Holborn, now part of London. His 1,484-page illustrated Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597, became a popular gardening and herbal book in English in the 17th century. Except for some added plants from his own garden and from North America, Gerard's Herbal is largely a plagiarized English translation of Rembert Dodoens's 1554 herbal, itself highly popular in Dutch, Latin, French and other English translations. Gerard's Herball drawings of plants and the printer's woodcuts are mainly derived from Continental European sources, but there is an original title page with a copperplate engraving by William Rogers. Two decades after Gerard's death, the book was corrected and expanded to about 1,700 pages.

Herbal Book containing the names and descriptions of plants

A herbal is a book containing the names and descriptions of plants, usually with information on their medicinal, tonic, culinary, toxic, hallucinatory, aromatic, or magical powers, and the legends associated with them. A herbal may also classify the plants it describes, may give recipes for herbal extracts, tinctures, or potions, and sometimes include mineral and animal medicaments in addition to those obtained from plants. Herbals were often illustrated to assist plant identification.

Blasius Merrem

Blasius Merrem was a German naturalist, zoologist, ornithologist, mathematician, and herpetologist. In 1804, he became the professor of political economy and botany at the University of Marburg.

Matthias de lObel Flemish physician and botanist (1538-1616)

Mathias de l'Obel, Mathias de Lobel or Matthaeus Lobelius was a Flemish physician and plant enthusiast who was born in Lille, Flanders, in what is now Hauts-de-France, France, and died at Highgate, London, England. He studied at the University of Montpellier and practiced medicine in the low countries and England, including positions as personal physicians to two monarchs. A member of the sixteenth-century Flemish School of Botany, he wrote a series of major treatises on plants in both Latin and Dutch. He was the first botanist to appreciate the distinction between monocotyledons and dicotyledons. The Lobelia plant is named after him.

This article lists notable events in the history of botany in Britain.

Arthur Humble Evans British ornithologist (1855–1943)

Arthur Humble Evans FRSE was a British ornithologist.

<i>Ornithogalum umbellatum</i> Species of spring flowering bulb in family Asparagaceae

Ornithogalum umbellatum, the garden star-of-Bethlehem, grass lily, nap-at-noon, or eleven-o'clock lady, a species of the genus Ornithogalum, is a perennial bulbous flowering plant in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). O. umbellatum is a relatively short plant, occurring in tufts of basal linear leaves, producing conspicuous white flowers, in a stellate pattern, in mid to late spring. The flowers open late in the day, but when closed have a green stripe on the outside. It is native throughout most of southern and central Europe, and north-western Africa. O. umbellatum is often grown as a garden ornamental, but in North America and other areas it has escaped cultivation and can be found in many areas, where it may become an invasive noxious weed. Parts of the plant are considered poisonous, but are used in some regional cuisines. Essences are also sold as patent remedies. O. umbellatum has been depicted in art by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, and folklore has suggested it originally grew from fragments of the star of Bethlehem, hence its horticultural name.

A parson-naturalist was a cleric, who often saw the study of natural science as an extension of his religious work. The philosophy entailed the belief that God, as the creator of all things, wanted man to understand his creations and thus to study them by collecting and classifying organisms and other natural phenomena.

Slip (needlework)

In needlework, a slip is a design representing a cutting or specimen of a plant, usually with flowers or fruit and leaves on a stem. Most often, slip refers to a plant design stitched in canvaswork (pettipoint), cut out, and applied to a woven background fabric. By extension, slip may also mean any embroidered or canvaswork motif, floral or not, mounted to fabric in this way.

Henry Lyte (botanist) Sixteenth century English botanist

Henry Lyte was an English botanist and antiquary. He is best known for two works, A niewe Herball (1578), which was a translation of the Cruydeboeck of Rembert Dodoens, and an antiquarian volume, The Light of Britayne (1588), both of which are dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.

Thomas Newton was an English clergyman, poet, author and translator.

Lancelot Browne (c.1545–1605) was an English physician.

The year 1538 in science and technology included a number of events, some of which are listed here.

The year 1544 in science and technology involved some significant events.

<i>Grete Herball</i>

The Grete Herball is an Early Modern encyclopedia and the first illustrated herbal produced in English. It is preceded by Richard Banckes's unillustrated Herball (1525), which was the first printed English herbal ever produced. The Grete Herball is a single volume compendium which details the medicinal properties of plants and some non-botanical items according to the system of humoralism. Confirmed editions were printed between 1526 and 1561, with many still in existence today. Its full title is "The grete herball: whiche geueth parfyt knowlege and under standyng of all maner of herbes & there gracyous vertues whiche god hath ordeyned for our prosperous welfare and helth: for they hele & cure all maner of dyseases and sekenesses that fall or mysfortune to all maner of creatoures of god created: practysed by many expert and wyse maysters, as Aucienna & other &c."

References

  1. Year of birth from DNB; day of death preferred on grounds of a message sent by the Bishop of Norwich: see Raven p122.
  2. 1 2 Samson, Alexander. Locus Amoenus: Gardens and Horticulture in the Renaissance, 2012 :4
  3. Raven, Charles E. 1947. English naturalists from Neckam to Ray: a study of the making of the modern world. Cambridge. p38
  4. Armstrong, Patrick (2000). The English Parson-naturalist: A Companionship Between Science and Religion. Gracewing. p. 43. ISBN   978-0-85244-516-7.
  5. "Turner, William (TNR529W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. "Richard Cox" 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica Vol. 7
  7. 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. Adler, Mark (May 2010). Mendip Times. pp. 36–37.{{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. "William Turner and the First Bird Book | BirdNote". BirdNote. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  10. Knight, Leah. Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England. p. 40.
  11. Smith, Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971, p. 128.
  12. Raven, Charles E. (2010 edition). Natural Religion and Christian Theology: Volume 1, Science and Religion: The Gifford Lectures 1951. Cambridge University Press. p. 205. ISBN   978-0-521-16639-3
  13. Raven, Charles E. 1947. English naturalists from Neckam to Ray: a study of the making of the modern world. Cambridge. p71

Bibliography

Historical editions

Modern editions