Category Archives: Animals

King George III: Farmer and Hunter

Farmer George and his wife

King George III’s preference for a simple domestic life, coupled with his interest in the theory and practice of agriculture, earned him the homely nickname of ‘Farmer George’.

From the King’s private papers, it can be observed that the he was an earnest and active reader, jotting down notes in the margins of the agricultural periodicals. It is rare however to come across personal commentary that suggests his assessment of the text. In spite of that, what his notes can tell us is that the King was largely concerned with three general issues, namely the political economy of agriculture, the merits of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ husbandry methods, and the cultivation of specific crops.[1]

Even without personal input, the King’s notes are more revealing than expected. By selecting and rephrasing or summarising specific arguments, it is possible to determine which ideas and concepts the King agreed with and found useful.

Seeing as agriculture was the dominant industry in Britain at the time, having undergone an ‘enlightenment’, the King was not the only one who was invested in its development. There was a flurry of agricultural manuals, treatises, and periodicals being published as increasing numbers of gentlemen landowners sought to deepen their agricultural knowledge.[2] The King collected these materials, absorbing new information and debates as they arrived hot off the press. As the leader of the nation, it comes as no surprise that he was particularly interested in recommendations for increasing the profitability and efficiency of farms. This then involved issues like the management of land and labour, learning new methods of husbandry while retaining the merits of the old, and getting more mileage out of existing types of crops.

Apart from reading, the King established farms at Windsor, Kew, Richmond, and Mortlake, giving each his personal attention. He conducted research and practical experiments on his own estates, devising a model farm for his sons to cultivate a strip.[3] One of his key accomplishments is the successful import of merino sheep to improve British wool stock.  

Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”

One of such agricultural periodicals that King George III pored over was Annals of Agriculture. The publication was founded by Arthur Young, whom the King held in high esteem. Young advised the King on matters pertaining to farming and was appointed director of a farm in Kew Park.[4] He might not have guessed however that he was interacting with the King in a much more down-to-earth manner.

For all the reticence in his private notes, King George III occasionally expressed his thoughts and opinions in letters written to the Annals, albeit using a pseudonym. Adopting the name of a shepherd at Windsor, the King wrote two letters ‘On Mr. Ducket’s Modo of Cultivation’ in 1787 as a ‘Ralph Robinson’.[5] He praises Mr Ducket’s farm, delving into his practices and somewhat controversial husbandry methods, with the intention of providing advice to its readers.

Mr Ducket prioritised the profitability of a crop over a routine system of planting, causing him to “examine which sort of Grain will pay him best, and to vary his changes of Crops according to the demand of that particular kind of Grain instead of laying down a regular rotation of Crops”.[6] Although the identity of Mr Ducket cannot be ascertained, the example set by him must have been significant for the King to decide to write to the Annals about. Perhaps Ducket’s alternative methods and adaptable attitude towards the choice of crops was a concept that the King found novel and wanted to encourage.

The Royal Hunt in Windsor Park

Not content with just farming, King George III was also an avid hunter. Rather than its practicality, hunting held great meaning among the aristocratic class for its ability to display and maintain social order.

The 1671 Game Law had restricted hunting to the domains of the wealthy with land, making poaching a punishable offence. This, along with other expenses that come with hunting (outfits, equipment, upkeep of horses etc) served to cement the status of hunting as a sport for the well off and powerful.[7] The royal hunt then epitomized this, acting as “the most important blood ritual through which the hierarchy of status and honour around the king was ordered”.[8]

For King George III however, hunting was also a way for him to both exercise and spend time with his sons, training them in the skills expected of gentlemen. Windsor was greatly favoured for it was close to the capital and offered ready access to good hunting country. The King and his companions hunted deer there, but fox-hunting, and grouse and pheasant shooting were also popular choices for the aristocrats.

On 6 and 9 December 1789, ‘Haunch of Venison roasted’ was served for dinner at the royal household. This venison, or deer meat, may very well have been a successful hunt by King George III!

[1] James Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’ Notes on Agriculture, Georgian Papers Programme, <>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[2] Fisher, ‘Farmer George?’, <>, [accessed 26 April 2019]

[3] Jeremy Black, “Character and Behaviour”, George III: America’s Last King (London: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 137.

[4] Sir Walter Gilbey, Bart, The Royal Family and Farming: George III to George V (London: Vinton & Co, 1911), pp. 15.

[5] H.C. Bauer, “Royal Ghostwriter”, The Serials Librarian 3, no. 2 (1979), pp. 191, doi:10.1300/j123v03n02_09.

[6] Letters from Ralph Robinson to “Annals of Agriculture and Other Useful Arts”, Georgian Papers Programme, Royal Archives, <>, pp.8, [accessed 26 April 2019].

[7] Black, “Character and Behaviour”, pp. 138.

[8] Sylvie Nail, “Preliminary Chapter: Woodlands as Landscapes of Power”, Forest Policies and Social Change in England (Springer Science & Business Media, 2008), pp. 14.

Margaret Baker’s recipe books give us so much more information than recipes

By Tracey Cornish

Little is known about Margaret Baker, however just because not much is known of the author does not mean we cannot learn a significant amount.  Three recipes books that she had written have survived today, two are owned by the British Library and one is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  They are dated approximately 1670, 1672 and 1675.  The recipe books contained medicinal, culinary and household recipes and it is through these recipes that we can find out how people lived and survived in the seventeenth century.

Baker’s books contain recipes from other people for example she mentions ‘My Lady Corbett, my Cousen Staffords, Mrs Davies and Mrs Weeks.   We could assume that these people were known to Baker and she has been given these recipes by them.  Both men and women could gain medical information through their contacts although they may not have always given information about their own health or concerns.  Therefore just because Mrs Denis tells Margaret Baker about a remedy ‘To comfort ye brayne and takes away aney payne of the head’ (37r) it did not necessarily mean that Mrs Denis had used the remedy herself.  She also appears to recite Hannah Woolley’s recipes from her ‘The accomplisht ladys delight in preserving, physic and cookery.’   Large sections of printed books are copied by Baker many are from doctors.  Many of the doctors quoted in her books were non English medical practitioners and this suggests that she was influenced by her continental contemporaries. However medical instruction at Oxford and Cambridge Universities were so far behind that in continental universities that a large percentage of Englishmen who wished to become doctors went abroad for their education.[1]

Hannah Woolley’s The Accomplisht Ladys delight

So what can we learn from Margaret Baker’s recipes?  The books contain a range of preparations for ointments, powders, salves and cordials for a variety of medical complaints.  From these remedies we can see what diseases were prevalent at the time. For example ‘A preservation against the plague’ (24r).  We would not find a remedy for the plague in medical books today and so was therefore a worry in the 1670s.   There is also a remedy for ‘A canker for a women’s breste.’  (68v).  This is very interesting as it reveals that even in the 1670s cancer was a known illness and could actually be diagnosed although one has to assume that due to the lack of medical knowledge in the seventeenth century it was only when a lump was present that cancer was diagnosed.  Other illnesses mentioned are measles and shingles (26r).  There is also a remedy for ‘the stone in the blader and kidnes’ (17v) which is another example of medical knowledge inside the body.

The body was believed to be made up of four humours – Blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile and it was an excess of one of the humours that caused illness.  Health was managed on a day to day basis.  Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s reveal the extent of self-help used by families and explores their favourite remedies and analyses differences in approached to medical matters.  Women as carers and household practitioners could assume significant roles in place of a sick person, for example the husband,  and some women would have made key decisions about information and treatment of the sick.[2]

Women and medicine

The recipes for foods reveals the diet of the seventeenth century person although one should remember that Margaret Baker was more than likely middle class and so was writing for middle class society.  She includes recipes for cakes, biscuits and meat.  Her recipes reveal that food was eaten according to the season. We can also learn what types of food the seventeenth century person ate.  As mentioned in my previous blog,  Baker’s use of animals in recipes no part of an animal ever went to waste with most parts being used as food.

Baker’s recipes also reveal beauty regimes in the seventeenth century.  Her recipes include a pomatum to style hair   Karen writes a more detailed account of the seventeenth century beauty regime according to Margaret Baker in her essay  on our website UoE Baker Project.

Recipe books like Margaret Baker’s are an invaluable insight into the world of seventeenth century society and how they coped with illness, disease and how they ate among other things.  When I first began this module I was apprehensive that recipe books would be limited.  How wrong was I!  I could never have imagined the knowledge one can retrieve from a seventeenth century recipe book.


[1] Anne Stobart, Household medicine in Seventeenth Century England, p.29.

[2] Ibid  p.29.

Baker’s use of animals in recipes

By Tracey Cornish

The Baker Project consists of three recipe books, two of which are owned by the British Library (MS Sloane 2485 and 2486) and one of which is owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library (Va619).  Whilst transcribing Margaret Baker’s recipes it has come to my notice that she uses different animals in her recipes to eat, cure or use in some way or another. Animals were an important part of 17th century life and many people lived in close proximity of their animals such as chickens and pigs.  Baker assumes this in her recipes as in her recipe entitled ‘To make Cocke Water, A Cordial’, Baker writes ‘’take an ould cocke from the barne doore the Redder the better plucke his feathers from him alive, then kill him and quarter him; and with clean clothes wipe away from the fleshe all ye blood’. (Va619, 46r) One does have to wonder if she plucks the poor cockerel alive as she wanted the blood to be warm to use for her cordial.


To make Cocke Water, A Cordial (Va619, 46r)
To make Cocke Water, A Cordial (Va619, 46r)

Cruelty on cats and dogs was common, they were tortured regularly, and sometimes even skinned for their fur.  However, this behaviour was seen as normal, domestic and wild animals existed for the use of humans.  Animals were used for their meat, fur and also for entertainment such as animal baiting and fighting.

Margaret Baker does come across as savage when it comes to the treatment and use of animals in her recipes.  As a medicine for aches Baker suggests in her recipe to ‘take a whelpe that sucketh ye fatter the better and drowne him in water till he be deade’.  (Va619, 68r) Of course in the 21st Century if someone had thought that you had drowned a puppy to cure aches and pains you would be locked up but in the 17th century it must have been believed that this would work.  Just carrying out the drowning would be bad enough.  There is also a recipe included in her books for

Recipe using a knocked out dog
Recipe using a knocked out dog (55r)

‘to make a pupy growe noe more.’ (43r) This recipe included many herbs, the poor dog being whipped and fed only once a day for a month.  It is unclear from this recipe why one would want a puppy to stop growing and why whipping him would help. In another recipe Baker writes that one should ‘take a doge and knock him one the head’.(Va619, 55r)

From Baker’s recipes it would appear that it was not just meat that animals were used for.  Horse and pig dung was used as ingredients in recipes as was their fat and grease. Even using barrow hog dung to help stop nose bleeds, if it did not stop a nose bleed it would certainly leave a nasty smell up one’s nose.  For a recipe for ‘Asprayne’ Baker writes ‘Take a pennyworth of barrowe hoggs grease & your owne urine; and boyle it in a pipkin with a piece of scarlett cloth; and soe binde ye cloth about ye place as hot as you can suffer itt.’ (Va619, 40v) A barrow hog was a pig that had been castrated before sexual maturity.  Margaret Baker also used creatures such as earth worms as a medicine for any ache.  ‘Take greate garden worms and slitt them and stripe of the filth that is with them, chop them smale and frye them.’ (Va619, 58v)

It is unknown if Margaret Baker actually used or even tried out these recipes and where they originally came from.  Some of her recipes do have name beside

Recipe with a cross showing it may have been tried
Recipe with a cross showing it may have been tried

them which is probably whom the recipe came from.  Other recipes have a mark which probably means that she has tried them out but we should not assume that those without a name or mark have not been tried out.



In a recipe for ulceration of the liver and lungs it is clear that Baker has tried the recipe and did in fact use it on goats first to see if it worked.  She writes ‘for this I have proued in goats troubled with a cartayne infirmitie called Bissole of the goate.’  She claims that she ‘made it into pouder and gave it to the goats with salt and for the most part they weare helpe and that I cured a number of men and women of that desease’. (Va619, 18v). This ponders the question, why did Baker feel that if the medication could cure goats of a disease it could also cure humans with an ulcerated liver and lungs.  However, according to Baker it did cure both.

Although some of these recipes make Baker look like she was cruel to animals there are some recipes which actually strive to cure animal illnesses.  Not only the recipe for the goat but also there is a medicine for ‘a mangy horse or doge’.  Of course it would be in the owner’s best interest not to have a horse or dog with the mange but one could argue that death may have been an option giving how they treated animals in the 17th century.