With the arrival of spring bringing flowers into bloom, our focus this month is the Cathedral’s copy of De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes or Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants (1542) by Leonhart Fuchs.

This seminal work, often considered the most insightful and significant of early modern works of botany, features over 500 woodcut illustrations of plants accompanied by their names in Latin and German, and a brief description by Fuchs, based on his study of them. The text shows some of the earliest depictions of ‘new’ plants from the Americas and was revered not just for being the most comprehensive herbal of its kind to date but for the beauty of its illustrations.

The Cathedral’s copy has several distinctive features: all 500 illustrations are hand-coloured, and under the Latin and German names of the plants, a past reader has added the English equivalents.

In contrast to many of the books in the Morley Library, The History of Plants was not the gift of Bishop George Morley, but a bequest left to the Cathedral in 1619 by Dr Ralph Hulton, who urged in his will that his copy be ‘perfected’. From this, we can perhaps speculate that the extensive English translations and hand colouring were added according to his specification.