What is The Tudor Pattern Book?

Click HERE to return to Flowers and Trees of Tudor England prints.

A series of Hugh Evelyn © prints published in 1972 comprising some of the images in MS Ashmole 1504, known today as the Tudor Pattern Book which is held in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.  The images, drawn between 1520 and 1530, were finished in gouache and watercolour, with pen and ink, on vellum. Names of species are written in early English directly above each drawing, in large textura (narrow, angular letters with a strong vertical emphasis) in pen and black ink; the initial letter of each species name is written in Lombardic style, in pen and red ink. 

In the Bodleian library there are 154 pictures of plants, birds, and beasts, 5 coloured alphabets, the beginning of a fifth, 2 heraldic sections and all ending with a botanical index. In our collection we have images of 58 of the pictures – all of plants, flowers, and trees with various household items, buildings animals and people shown in miniature beneath each of the main images.

A similar manuscript, a variant twin, was purchased for Paul Mellon by his fellow Yale alumnus, Laurence Claiborne Witten II at Sotheby’s in June 1961. It had lain at Helmingham Hall, near Stowmarket in Suffolk, England (seat of the Tollemache family) for 400 years.

Known as the Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary, it is today held at the Yale (University) Centre for British Art in New Haven Connecticut, USA which was founded by Mellon. Both manuscripts may be by the same hand as they have many similarities in form and style. The main difference between the manuscripts is that the Pattern Book shows 2 species on each page, with various paraphernalia in miniature beneath, whilst the Helmingham comprises 4 images on each page but without the miniature images beneath.  It seems that images from two famous contemporary works have been reproduced in the Pattern Book: “St Eustace” (c. 1501), an engraving by Albrecht Dürer [1471-1528] held by the Royal Collection, London and “Adam and Eve” (1526), a painting by Lucas Cranach The Elder (1472-1553) held by the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. But no such reproductions appear in the earlier Helmingham manuscript.

The images shown in our collection of prints comprise plants, ostensibly native to England. Henry Black, assistant keeper of Public Records in 1845, considered this was the Book of Patterns of an illuminator of manuscripts. The late W.O. Hassall, himself librarian at the Bodleian (Western Manuscripts) and to the Earl of Leicester at Holkham, agreed, whilst questioning if it might be a private textbook for a child. He thought the style of the pictures (and of the English) suggests some influence from the Low Countries.

Nicolas Barker, a British historian of printing and books and lately head of Conservation at the British library, has more recently studied both manuscripts (Barker, Nicholas, ed. Two East Anglian picture books: a facsimile of the Helmingham herbal and bestiary and Bodleian ms. Ashmole 1504. (London: Roxburghe Club, 1988)). Barker has speculated that the Yale images are older than the Tudor Pattern Book by about 20 years. He also suggested that both manuscripts may have existed together at Helmingham and were possibly used by Lionel Tollemache as pattern books when he began renovation (the house was then called Creke Hall) at the start of the sixteenth century.  He surmises that they may have been used as educational primers for the Tollemache children, endorsing the opinion of Hassall.

Elias Ashmole (1617-92) was an English antiquary, politician, officer of arms, astrologer, and student of alchemy. He supported the royalist side during the English Civil War. At the restoration of Charles II, he was rewarded with several lucrative offices. Through a carefully planned (if unhappy) marriage, Ashmole came into the wealth he needed to pursue his twin ambitions: the study of alchemy and the acquisition of things. He acquired collections from (1) Simon Forman (1552-1611), an astrologist, occultist and herbalist active during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, who left his collection to his protégé Richard Napier, whose son sold it to Ashmole; and (2) William Lilly (1602-1681) an astrologer who supported the Parliamentarians during the Commonwealth. He had also acquired (fairly or otherwise) the collections of John Tradescants Senior and Junior (gardeners to Robert Cecil and Charles I respectively). Their employers had sent their gardeners off around the world to find plants and other ‘curiosities’. Ashmole’s gifted his collection to Oxford University and the Tradescant “curiosities” (which had been part of a private museum called “The Ark” in Lambeth, London) formed the basis to the founding of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the first public museum in Britain. Ashmole’s manuscripts (and those of Anthony Wood (1632-1695) an antiquary at Oxford and Sir William Dugdale another antiquary and a herald who also became Ashmole’s father-in-law) were moved to the Bodleian Library in 1860.

Click HERE to return to Flowers and Trees of Tudor England prints.