A good companion for a Christian (1632)

A good companion for a Christian was published posthumously in 1632 by John Norden’s son (probably John Norden Jr, although it could have been Josias). He states this in his dedicatory epistle to the Baron of Dondaulk, noting that ‘my deceased Father very often surveyed the Kings lands, but now by me he humbly tenders himself to be surveyed by you’. Indeed, John Norden had been mostly known for his work as a cartographer and surveyor, but, as his ODNB biographer has noted, in times when work was scarce publishing devotional works helped to bring in some extra money (his biographer, Frank Kitchen is, however, quick to stress that Norden’s publications were also a reflection of his religious devotion).

This text was only printed the once and was advertised as a series of meditations and prayers ‘for every day in the weeke’ relating to preparation for death. Norden’s son claimed that his father had produced the treatise and left it with his children:

‘to assure us, and al men that himselfe chiefly studied and shaped his courses so to dye that he might never dye, & that he prepared himselfe so to depart fro[m] the earth, that when he did leave the Earth he had no other business but to leave the Earth, for his actions were but an example of his precepts’.  

The treatise is divided up by sections on each of the senses, examining first the body, then the tongue, eyes, ears, taste, smell, touch, and heart, with chapters on interestingly sub-titled subjects such as;

  • Signs that a mans house, body and soul are out of order
  • If the heart be good the words cannot be evil
  • Above all seek the illumination of the inward eye
  • The taste hath devoured many
  • The feet are necessary member: yet often used to sin

These sections are then followed by a long list of prayers for each day (morning and evening) and for specific purposes such as before a Sermon, or for specific persons, such as ‘a short prayer for a woman with child’.

References to Bees

Norden refers to Bees twice in this treatise. The first is an example of perfection in the sense of taste. Norden argues that God in his ‘wisedome and goodnesse’ created both man and beast with five senses and that in some creatures he gave them perfection in a particular sense; the Eagle has perfect hearing, the Dog has a perfect sense of smell, the spider excels at touching things, and Bees in tasting. Norden goes on to explain that only man has ‘reason’, but that other creatures do come close in understanding ‘exquisite Art’. He asks, what man can build a spider’s net? What man can form honeycomb? Who can make the nest of a Wren?  These examples show, Norden believed, that God gave many creatures some level of knowledge and capability, which in certain ways exceeds that of man.

The second reference appears in a chapter entitled ‘The best heart hath some feelings of evill motions’. Here, Norden discusses sin. He suggests that sin is a subtle ‘prompter’ and ‘deceiveth the heart not well instructed’, but that a heart with whom ‘the Spirit of God hath sanctified’ can recognise the deception and dislikes the ‘sundry motions which intrude themselves as it were, by stealth into it’. Norden compares such a heart to Bees removing the drones from their hive: ‘to hurle them out of the hyve of the heart’. The description not only recognises the fact that drones are removed from the hive en-masse but also suggests that this is an act of removal of something sinful by the bees. This is interesting as it suggests knowledge that the drones do not forage or work and become a burden on the hive (much like sin can be on a soul).

References to Honey

There is only one reference to honey in A good companion for a Christian. Norden refers to it when describing ‘taste’. He suggests that humans should use their ability to taste for the purpose ‘that God hath given it’, meaning to distinguish food and drink that is safe, from that which is dangerous. He refers to the difference between sweet and sour tastes, wholesome or unwholesome meats and drinks. To illustrate the point, Norden compares ‘hony from Gall’ noting that without taste ‘thou shouldst finde no difference of the relish of edible things, the most tainted and contagious would bee as pleasing unto thee, as the most salutary’.


Frank Kitchen, ‘Norden, John (c.1547-1625)’, ODNB (2004). DOI: 10.1093/ref:odnb/20250

John Fitzherbert – The Book of Husbandry (1523)

The Book of Husbandry

In 1523 either John Fitzherbert (d. 1531) or his younger brother, Sir Anthony Fitzherbert (1470-1538) published a short manual on husbandry, that was simply called The Book Of Husbandry. This little book contained advice on various agricultural processes, such as:

  • Using ploughs;
  • growing fruit, seeds, and vegetables;
  • following rotations;
  • sowing oats;
  • looking after sheep, horses, and cattle;
  • advice on carrying wood and managing trees.

It also contained advice for the wife of the husbandman to take heed and, additionally, a short chapter on managing bees.

This book might well be the first to offer guidance on beekeeping printed in the English language, beating Thomas Hill’s treatise on bees (the first full ‘how-to’ manual on beekeeping printed in England) by some forty years. In their study of 2000, on beekeeping in English gardens, Penelope Walker and Eva Crane certainly believed this to be the case, although no evidence is presented as confirmation by them. In print, there is certainly no other book entitled for either bees or husbandry, which immediately stands out as a likely alternative.

Bees in The Book of Husbandry

It is quite surprising just how much Fitzherbert fitted into a section of only 528 words. He started the account with advice on the placing of a hive in a garden or orchard; he then followed up with advice on how to deal with swarms. The account ends with advice on how to protect the hive from pests such as mice, wasps, and other bees. One final sentence identifies the drone and the fact that it is ‘greater’ than other bees as it does not work, but eats all the honey. In later editions, Fitzherbert (or perhaps his printer?) adds the advice that such drones should be killed for the good of the hive.

The inclusion of a chapter on beekeeping in this book of husbandry is interesting. It would appear to be one of the few topics that Fitzherbert himself is not highly knowledgeable about. His other advice is detailed, exacting, and obviously based on local knowledge and practices. The chapter on Bees could easily have been extracted out of a classical agricultural book (Walker and Crane have noted the similarity to Palladius) or perhaps borrowed from someone else with more knowledge (a beekeeper perhaps?). At the least, the suggestion that June and July are the months when a swarm is most likely is true of the English situation.

At the very least we can say something about why the chapter was included in the book. The inclusion of beekeeping is explained by Fitzherbert in the proceeding chapter on swine. Fitzherbert suggests that a landlord could gain the most profit, for minimal space and cost if he kept sheep, swine, and bees. Yet he neglects to say anything about the products of the hive that might achieve that profit: the honey, the beeswax, or propolis. On these subjects Fitzherbert is silent.

Who wrote the book?

There is some doubt over the authorship of The Book of Husbandry first published in 1523 and republished many times after. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, several arguments were made, some favouring John Fitzherbert, and some favouring his younger sibling, Sir Anthony Fitzherbert. The book itself only describes the author as ‘Master Fitzherbarde’. Mid-sixteenth-century writers assumed that the reference was to Sir Anthony, who was known to have written various legal writings, including Magnum abbreviamentum (1514-1517), La novel natura brevium (1534), and The New Boke of Justices of the Peas (1538).

Sir Anthony (c. 1470-1538) was the youngest son of Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury and became a well-regarded judge in his time. However, around the turn of the nineteenth century, both Reginald H.C. Fitzherbert and Edwin F. Gay opted for John, the older brother, as the correct author. The original Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) entry, by J.M. Rigg, still argued for Sir Anthony, as did an editor of the work in 1882, Walter W. Skeat, but the more recent version of ODNB, by J. H. Baker, states categorically that John is correct.

Less is known about John. He is Sir Anthony’s older brother and appears to have inherited most of the lands from their father. According to evidence supplied by Reginald H.C. Fitzherbert, John inherited these lands around 1483, having married three years earlier. It is therefore quite possible that he could have written both the Book of Husbandry and the Book of Surveying.

Essentially, Fitzherbert’s goal was to improve English agricultural practice. Whether he succeeded in any way with this goal is difficult to judge, but the book itself appears to have been popular, reaching eleven editions between 1525 and 1598. It is therefore possible that his beekeeping advice was read and used, although this was a minor part of the whole.

Further Reading

Reginald H.C. Fitzherbert, ‘The Authorship of the “Book of Husbandry’ and the ‘Book of Surveying’, The English Historical Review, 12:46 (1897), pp. 225-236.

Edwin F. Gay, ‘The Authorship of the Book of Husbandry and the Book of Surveying’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 18:4 (August 1904), pp. 588-593.

E. Fussell, The Old English Farming Books from Fitzherbert to Tull, 1523-1730 (London, 1947), pp. 5-6.

Penelope Walker and Eva Crane, ‘The History of Beekeeping in English Gardens’, Garden History, 28:2 (Winter 2000), pp. 231-261.

M. Rigg, ‘Fitzherbert, Sir Anthony (1470-1538)’, ODNB [Archive Version]. DOI: 10.1093/odnb/9780192683120.013.9602

J.H. Baker, ‘Fitzherbert, Sir Anthony (c. 1470-1538)’, ODNB, 23 September 2004. DOI: 10.1093/ref:odnb/9602.