John Arderne, Medical Works (England, 14th/15th century) Shelfmark: MS 86

John Arderne, Medical Works (England, 14th/15th century) Shelfmark: MS 86

St John’s College had a significant collection of medical manuscripts and early printed books. Among the medieval medical manuscripts is this fascinating volume of John Arderne’s work, full of marginal decorations and even one English case history among the otherwise Latin text.

John Arderne (1307/08-c1377) is often named as the most important English surgeon before the 17th century or indeed as the “father of surgery”. His work is notable for originality and unique insight into medical realities of the Middle Ages. He is best known for his work in curing fistula-in-ano, a professional hazard of knights and the long time they sit in the saddle.

MS 86 contains four separate texts, including Arderne’s best-known work, the Practica. All texts are unpublished but correspond to sections of Arderne’s work in British Library, MS Sloan 56. Compared to other medical medieval manuscripts at St John’s College this one is noteworthy for its extensive marginalia, consisting of headings for recipes in red half-boxes and illustrations showcasing medical implements, plants, diseased bodies and modes of surgery. Some illustrations are also part of the text itself, such as the wind diagram (folio 1r) and the zodiac man (folio 10r). Another feature that stands out is the look of being a well-thumbed manuscripts. In contrast to many other medieval manuscripts in the College’s collection, which can look surprisingly pristine, MS 86 has surely been very well used.

The volume arrived at St John’s College as part of the bequest made by the royal physician William Paddy, a St John’s alumnus, who has already been introduced in the March 2022 ‘Book of the Month’ feature.

Find out more about our medieval medical manuscripts in our Digital Library at

MS 76, St John’s copy of William of Parma’s Chirurgia, also features as the last item the Exhibition Stars and Surgery (see