Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gaddesden, John of

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GADDESDEN, JOHN of (1280?–1361), physician, was born about 1280, and wrote in the early part of the fourteenth century. He took his name from Gaddesden on the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where an ancient house, opposite that gate of Ashridge Park which is nearest to the church of Little Gaddesden, is shown as his. He was a member of Merton College (Wood), and a doctor of physic of Oxford. He began to study medicine about 1299, and soon attained large practice in London. He attended a son of Edward I, probably Thomas of Brotherton, in the small-pox, wrapped him in scarlet cloth in a bed and room with scarlet hangings, and says of the result: ‘et est bona cura et curavi eum in sequenti sine vestigio variolarum’ (Rosa, ed. Venice, 1502, p. 41 a). Between 1305 and 1307 he wrote a treatise on medicine, which soon became famous, and which he entitled ‘Rosa Medicinæ.’ He chose the name, he says, because as the rose has five sepals (additamenta), so his book has five parts, and adds that as the rose excels all flowers, so his book excels all treatises on the practice of medicine. The title was probably suggested by Bernard's ‘Lilium Medicinæ,’ which appeared at Montpellier in 1303, and is quoted in the ‘Rosa.’ Gaddesden's book is often spoken of as ‘Rosa Anglica.’ It is crammed with quotations from Galen, Dioscorides, Rufus of Ephesus, Haliabbas, Serapion, Al Rhazis, Avicenna, Averrhoes, John of Damascus, Isaac, Mesue, Gilbertus Anglicus, and from the ‘Flos Medicinæ’ of Salernum; but also contains a good many original remarks which illustrate the character of the author more than his medical knowledge. The book begins with an account of fevers based on Galen's arrangement, then goes through diseases and injuries beginning with the head, and ends with an antidotarium or treatise on remedies. It contains some remarks on cooking, and innumerable prescriptions, many of which are superstitious, while others prove to be common-sense remedies when carefully considered. Thus the sealskin girdle with whalebone buckle which he recommends for colic is no more than the modern and useful cholera belt of flannel. He cared for his gains, and boasts of getting a large price from the Barber Surgeons' guild for a prescription of which the chief ingredient is tree frogs (Rosa, ed. Pavia, p. 120). His disposition, his peculiarities, and his reading are so precisely those of the ‘Doctour of Phisik’ in Chaucer's prologue that it seems possible that Gaddesden is the contemporary from whom Chaucer drew this character. He is mentioned in line 434:

Bernard and Gatesden and Gilbertyn.

Many manuscripts of the ‘Rosa Medicinæ’ are extant. They usually begin with a calendar (as in Breviar. Bartholomei MS. Pembr. Coll., Oxford), which is absent in the printed editions. It was first printed at Pavia in 1492, again at Venice, 1502, and at Pavia, 1517, and for the last time at Augsburg in 1595 (two volumes). It was translated into Irish, and a manuscript written by Doctor Cormac Mac Duinntshleibhthe in 1450 contains part of this version (British Museum MS. Harleian 546).

Gaddesden was in priest's orders, and was appointed to the stall of Wildland in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, on 1 Aug. 1342. He died in 1361.

The best account of his writings is in Freind's ‘History of Physick,’ 1726, ii. 277. This account contains the error, repeated by Aikin's ‘Biographical Memoirs of Medicine,’ 1780, p. 11, that he held the stall of Ealdland. The John de Gatesdone who held this stall was another person, and died before 1262.

[Rosa Medicinæ, ed. 1502, Venice, ed. 1492, Pavia, Dr. Mead's copy in library of Medico-Chirurgical Society of London; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ii. 382, 448; Hist. of the Royal Family, London, 1713; Harl. MS. 546, A.D. 1450; British Museum Addit. MS. 15582, A.D. 1563; Pembroke College, Oxford, MS. Breviarium Bartholomei, circa 1380.]

N. M.