‘The Shepardes Kalendar’ ([ZZ]1556.07) in which this woodcut features is one of the many early printed books in Lambeth Palace Library. The woodcut illustrates the parts of the body ‘over the whiche the planettes hath might and domynacyon’, combining medicine and astrology. While the book features tables outlining days of the month, highlights saints days and charts the stages of the moon as one would expect of a calendar, this image is not anomalous. It features alongside a whole variety of woodcuts about astrology and medicine, from diagrams of appropriate places on the body for bloodletting, to detailed (often unpleasant) descriptions of the personalities of people born under certain star signs. A significant proportion of the book is also dedicated to religious instruction, accompanied throughout by appropriate, sometimes shocking woodcuts. Despite its various subjects, the book has one unifying aim: to teach the reader to ‘live well’.
The prologue tells us that this is a ‘newely augmented and corrected’ version from a French original, which we know to be Le compost et kalendrier des bergiers (1497). This has as its parent a manuscript now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge Fitzwilliam Museum MS 167), providing not only the text but also illuminations that clearly inspired woodcuts in versions that followed. The English translation first appears in 1503 and is reprinted in 1506 by Pynson, who acquired the woodblocks from the French version for his own edition. De Worde prints three editions with similar woodcuts, and the book continues to be popular with various printers as late as 1631. This plethora of versions attests to the popularity of the text and the images which accompanied it.
The sheer number of editions may demonstrate that the book was popular among lay readers. Though numerous, many of the woodcuts in the Lambeth copy are in miniature, thus more affordable than the larger ones of earlier versions. A lay readership might also go some way to explaining the sheer number of images, encouraging literacy by explaining the text in accompanying illustrations. The book’s aim to teach the reader to live well is assisted, even augmented, by the inclusion of woodcuts such as this.
- Driver, Martha W. ‘Pictures in Print: Late Fifteenth- and Early Sixteenth-Century English Religious Books for Lay Readers’, in Michael G. Sargent ed. De Cella in Seculum: Religious and secular life and devotion in late medieval England, Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1989 pp.229-244. H5199.H8I6
- Driver, Martha W. ‘When Is a Miscellany Not Miscellaneous? Making Sense of the “Kalender of Shepherds”’, in The Yearbook of English Studies Vol. 33, Medieval and Early Modern Miscellanies and Anthologies, 2003, pp. 199-214. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3509026
- Hodnett, Edward, English Woodcuts 1480-1535, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. Z1008.(B5) [R]
- James, M.R., A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1895. Z6622.C2F5 [R]