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Metadata for text 194
No. words in text46383
Title Regimen Sanitatis The Rule of Health A Gaelic Medical Manuscript of the Early Sixteenth Century or perhaps older from the Vade Mecum of the famous MacBeaths Physicians to the Lords of the Isles and the Kings of Scotland for several centuries
Author (Gillies)
Editor Gillies, H. Cameron
Date Of Edition 1911
Date Of Language 16th c.
Publisher Printed for the Author by Robert Maclehose & Co. Ltd. University Press, Glasgow
Place Published Glasgow
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries (Inverness Reference)
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins N/A
Register Education, Prose
Alternative Author Name N/A
Manuscript Or Edition Ed. of MS
Size And Condition 26cm x 20cm. The MS consists of 62 vellum folios, of the same size as they are reproduced in this volume (i.e. 20cm x 13.5 cm). Gillies states that ‘The cover is skin-covered board ornamented by simple straight-line devices. The front board has two sides of the original pair of silver clasps still attached, the other parts are wanting. The vellum is in a very fair state of preservation, and the writing, as may be seen from the photographic reproduction, is quite legible’ (p. 1).
Short Title Regimen Sanitatis
Reference Details EUL, Celtic Library: LIG MACB. British Library: MS Add. 15582
Number Of Pages [8], 139 pages. The MS consists of 62 vellum folios. The text presented in this edition appears on folios 8ral-14va10.
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context This volume contains a transcription, and photographic reproductions, of a Gaelic medical manuscript, which appears to have been written around the beginning of the sixteenth century, or possibly earlier. Much of the text is based on the Rosa Anglica by John of Gaddesden. The editor found the MS at the British Museum (ref. Add. 15582). Gillies believed that the book belonged to John MacBeath (or Beaton, as the family is better known), one of a family of hereditary physicians. The MS was purchased by the British Museum in 1845, from London bookseller Thomas Rodd. It is not known how he acquired it. Another medical MS was also in his possession, and that too now rests in the British Museum (ref. Add. 15403). Gillies describes it as a ‘smaller vellum treating of Materia Medica’ (p. 1).

Tradition holds that the Beatons came to Scotland from Co. Derry around 1300. The first Beaton on record is Patrick, who was the chief physician to King Robert I, who died in 1329. The family continued as hereditary physicians, and Bannerman claims that ‘More medieval Gaelic manuscripts known to have been in the possession of Beatons have survived than for any other professional kindred. Their commitment to classical Gaelic scholarship came to an end in the person of Christopher, who was the compiler of the so-called Black Book of Clanranald’ (Thomson 1994, p. 22). They were well read in Greek, Muslim, and Continental medical tracts, which they frequently refer to in their own writings. See pp. 9-12 and Thomson (1994, pp. 22-23) for further information on these medical texts.

Gillies suggests that John Beaton (along with other members of the Beaton family) would have kept a note book, ‘in which he stored the sum and essence of his reading, compiled and translated from the many ancient authors which we know he had in his possession. He added pertinent comments and observations of his own, based upon his necessarily wide experience. All this was set down in the Scottish Gaelic of the time, which really did not differ very much from the Irish language of the same period’ (p. 8). At some point, these notebooks would be given to a professional scribe to write out ‘in the best and most compact form’ (ibid.), and this text was written by the scribe Aodh Ó Cendamhain. It must be noted that Gillies’s picture does not square with the fact that the text as a whole was translated from Latin by a member of an Irish medical family. Glosses added to some medical MSS do attest to the continuing activities of the hereditary physicians. Gillies also refers to some of the scribes who transcribed other medical tracts. He also makes the following statement: ‘That these men were mere copyists knowing little or nothing of Medicine or its terminology is abundantly evident from the numerous miswritings that occur throughout their work. It is also clear that they had their materials before them in Scottish Gaelic form, because we frequently find that when they take their eye off the “copy” they at once drift into the writing of Irish forms – especially of the smaller common words’ (pp. 8-9). This statement is wrong in almost every respect. The ‘miswritings’ are mostly correct spellings in an orthographic tradition which permitted considerable variation in certain respects. The scribes were Irishmen and the Scotticisms are mostly introduced by Gillies himself. For more scientific information on the text see Färber (2010) and bibliography there cited, especially Wullf and Nic Dhonnchadha. It has also been suggested that at least two other scribes may have worked on this text, viz. Cairbre and Daibhí Ó Cearnaigh ( The handwriting of this text has not yet been carefully examined, although a clear change of handwriting style can be seen in column 28 (opposite p. 30).

Hugh Cameron Gillies was a medical doctor. In addition to this volume, he published The elements of Gaelic grammar: based on the work of the Rev. Alexander Stewart, D.D. (1896); The Gaelic Names of Diseases and Diseased States, which was reprinted from the Caledonian Medical Journal in 1898; The Place-Names of Argyll (1906); and Gaelic Concepts of Life and Death (1913).

Dating the Text

Gillies tentatively dates the text to the early sixteenth century, and possibly even to the fifteenth century. The earliest date to occur in the MS, 1563, appears in what seems to be a later tract.
Contents This volume is dedicated to John, the fourth Marquis of Bute. The Preface notes that ‘This is the first definite effort to restore our old Gaelic Medical Manuscripts’. There follows a table of Contents. The Introduction to the MS (pp. 1-16) contains sections on The MacBeaths; The Substance of the Text; The Genesis of the Book; The Transliteration which the editor says is as accurate as can be and includes all scribal errors; The Translation which is said to be necessarily cruder than the Gaelic text; and The Time and Age of the Text, which the editor estimates to be early sixteenth century, or perhaps even fifteenth century.

The text, i.e. Regimen Sanitatis (pp. 17-30), is presented in the form of photographic reproductions of the MS with transcription on the facing page. The transcription is presented by column. The MS contains two columns per page, and 29 columns in total. The MS is written in Corra-litir. The text is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of health. The first chapter looks at the ‘three aspects of the Regulation of the Health’, these being Conservatiuum (i.e. ‘maintaining the healthy state’), Preservatiuum (i.e. ‘fore-seeing’), and Reductiuum (i.e. ‘restoration’). The rest of the chapters focus mainly on food. The second chapter is ‘Of the Quantity of the Food’; the third is ‘Of the Order of Diet or the Eating of Food’, the fourth is ‘Of the Time’, which looks at different eating habits of different times of the year; the fifth is ‘Regarding the Time of Eating’ (i.e. at what time of the day to eat in each season); the sixth is ‘Of the Habit of Custom’ of diet; and the last chapter is ‘Of the Age and Temperament’, which looks at what ought to be eaten by people of different ages. There are three short additional tracts or parts of tracts. The first of these looks at the six different parts of the body that can be bled for different results. The second, which is written in two different hands, begins to tell us about Hippocrates’ Arcanum. The third is a short note on the meanings of some terms, and is signed by Donald MacBeath. There follows a Translation (31-59) of the text into English.

We then find a section of Notes (pp. 59-82) on the people and texts mentioned in the MS, which discusses and expands on some of the concepts mentioned in the MS, and explains terminology. There is a fairly extensive Glossary (pp. 83-139). Examples of each word are given as they appear in the text, e.g. ‘Leigheas a cure, same base as liagh, G. leigh a healer; na deocha leighis the curing or healing drinks 8; is dlighi leighis sin that is the necessary treatment 7; leighes medicine 12’ (p. 117). The numbers here represent the number of the column in which the text appears.
Language This text relates to medical matters, and particularly to food and eating. We therefore find terminology relating to types of food, parts of the body, and specific health problems. For example, we find the author commenting on what types of food are and are not good for you: Gidhedh adeirim do na cnoib and so nachfuil etir nahuili toradh déis na fígeadh ocus na rísinedh toradh is ferr na iad ocus is uime sin adeir in fersa Dic auellanas epati semper fore sanas .i. abair gurab fallain na cnó do sír do na haeibh (p. 26, column XIX). We also find comments about wine, its health benefits, and when it should be drunk, e.g. Adeirim nachimchubidh an fín roimh an cuid an aimsir na sláinti. Gidheadh is imchubidh e uair ann an aimsir na heslainti .i. intan is mó is egail uireasbhaidh na bríghi … ocus adeirim gurub imchubidh e intan sin roimh in cuit ocus tar a héis (p. 20, Column VII).

The third chapter begins with an instruction on how best to start the day, with regard to exercise, washing, and clearing the digestive system: D’Órd in Dieta no Caithme in Bhidh—is e so e .i. intan éireochas neach sa mhaidin sínedh artús a lamha ocus a mhuinel ocus cuiredh aedaighi gu glan uime ocus indarbadh ainnsein imurcracha in cét dileaghtha ocus in dara dileagha ocus in treas dileaghtha … ocus aindsein coimleadh an corp dambia aimsir imcubidh aige arson fhuighill an alluis ocus in luaithrigh bis air in croicind (p. 21, Column IX).

The first postscript deals with blood-letting in different parts of the body: Nott let guruba sea hinduibh dlighear an adharc do cur maille fuiliughaidh. In cét inadh a clais cúil incinn ocus folmaighe si ona ballaibh ainmidhi ann sin ocus fóiridh tinneas in cind goháirighi ocus eslainti na súl ocus glantur (ocus) salchur na haighchi ocus do ní inadh na cuislinni ren aburtar sefalica (p. 30, Column. XXVII).

The author frequently refers to other authors and texts, e.g. Gidheadh is ferr na toirrthi uile do tregin ocus is uime sin innisis g[alen] a leabur follamhnaighti na slainti goraibhi a athair fén cét bliadhan ina bhethaidh arson nar chaith toirrthi (p. 25, Column XVIII).

Irish or Scottish Gaelic

Given that both Irish and Scottish medical families created, used and exchanged the same medical textbooks in the shared Early Modern Gaelic language, there is no need to look for ‘Scottish’ or ‘Irish’ features in them (though hints of such colouring do occur in certain MSS). This was not clear to Gillies, whose discussions of linguistic matters should be treated with extreme caution by editors. Since his mistaken view influenced his expansion of MS contractions, the readings of the CELT online version of this text should be used for citation purposes.

Regimen Sanitatis

Another late fifteenth or early sixteenth Gaelic medical manuscript, containing ‘the same text’ (according to Färber), is found in MS G12 of the National Library of Ireland. This MS was not known at the time of publication of Gillies’ volume. Digital images of this MS can be found at the Irish Script on Screen project website: Comparing the first page of both texts, it can be seen that they are closely similar but not identical. For instance, in the following passage, MS G12 lacks the Gaelic glosses on the Latin terms. These are shown in {brackets} in the following quotation:

Regimen Sanitatis Est Triplex .i. ataid tri gneithi ar follamhnughadh na slainte. Conservatiuum {.i. coimed} ocus preservatiuum {.i. rem-coimed} ocus reductiuum {.i treorughadh} mar foillsighius g[alen] sa treas partegul do Tegni.
Edition First edition. This edition is available online at (where it has been re-typed and is therefore searchable), and at, where scanned images of each page of the book can be viewed. It is possible that this text will be used as the primary source for the MS, however the transcription needs to be checked against the MS, and editorial principles for dealing with MS sources and transcriptions still need to be determined.
Other Sources
Further Reading Färber, Beatrix, ‘Foreword to the Digital Edition’,
Nic Dhonnchadha, Aoibheann, ‘Irish medical manuscripts’, Irish Pharmacy Journal 69/5, May 1991, pp. 201-2.
Nic Dhonnchadha, Aoibheann, ‘Medical writing in Irish’, in Two thousand years of Irish medicine, ed. J. B. Lyons, 1999, pp. 21-26.
Nic Dhonnchadha, Aoibheann, ‘Eagarthóir, téacs agus lámhscríbhinní: Winifred Wulff agus an Rosa Anglica’, in Oidhreacht na lámhscríbhinní. Léachtaí Cholm Cille 34, ed. Ruairí Ó hUiginn, 2004, pp. 105-47.
Thomson, Derick S. (ed.), The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, 1994.
Wulff, Winifred, Rosa Anglica, seu Rosa Medicinae Johannis Anglici. An early modern Irish translation of a section of the mediaeval medical textbook of John of Gaddesden, Irish Texts Society, 1929.
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