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Royal Collection: Henry VIII's garden book on display

By Hayden Smith

He is known as one of history's most ruthless rulers but an item from his library poses the question of whether Henry VIII enjoyed a spot of gardening to take the edge off in between deadly divorces and religious upheaval.

A manual written more than 700 years ago and acquired by the King contains such horticultural gold dust as:

  • cucumbers shake with fear at thunder
  • squash will bear fruit after nine days if planted in the ashes of human bone and watered with oil and
  • planting ingredients including a radish and lettuce seed inside a ball of goat manure will result in tasty lettuces.

Written in Latin between 1304 and 1309 by Petrus de Crescentiis, a wealthy lawyer from Bologna in Italy, Ruralia Commoda is seen as the first of its kind in the world and was the only such publication available during Henry's reign. The manual entered the King's library after the death of its previous owner, the King's chaplain Richard Rawson, in 1543.

As well as providing gardening advice, it also included a section on how to create a royal garden - leading to suggestions that it may have provided inspiration for Henry VIII's lost garden at Whitehall Palace.

The book will be one of the artefacts on display in an exhibition of some of the earliest and rarest surviving records of gardens and plants from the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace in March.

In the 1540s Henry created the Great Garden at Whitehall, but it was destroyed by fire in 1698.

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