This Project is in progress.
The 1675 Baker manuscript (Va619) was partially transcribed by Dr. Rebecca Laroche’s online English 3900 course during the spring semester of 2016 at the University of Colorado—Colorado Springs. In Fall 2016, undergraduates at University of Texas–Arlington working with Dr. Amy TIgner and at the University of Essex working with Dr. Lisa Smith have taken up the baton. This manuscript has also been partially transcribed by users on the crowdsourcing research website, Zooniverse, under the Shakespeare’s World project. The other two manuscripts within the Baker project (British Library MSs Sloane 2485 and 2486) have not yet been transcribed to our knowledge.
Biographical and Contextual Information
Little is known of Margaret Baker outside of her recipe books. However, she does refer to many cousins throughout her books, providing us with some clues to her family history. One such cousin is Lettice Corbett (d. 1669), the daughter-in-law of “the good Lady Anne Corbett” to whom Baker also attributes several recipes. A further reference to an “uncle Baker” in Lettice’s will may indicate that Margaret Baker and Lettice Corbett were first cousins. Other cousins mentioned within Baker’s books include Cathran Andrew (MS Sloane 2485), Elizabeth Bury (Va619), Fanne Morris (MS Sloane 2485), and Richard Redman (Va619), among many others for whom Baker gives only one name. With further research, it may be possible to positively identify Baker using the many names she recorded in her recipe books.
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). Both of the British Library’s books have been positively dated using years inscribed within the manuscripts themselves. MS Sloane 2486 has been dated to 1670 and MS Sloane 2485 has recently been dated to 1672. Although the Folger Library’s collection does not contain a date within the manuscript itself, it has been tentatively dated to 1675 due to the presence of several recipes within this manuscript that resemble those found in Hannah Woolley’s 1675 book, The accomplisht ladys delight in preserving, physick and cookery. All three books contain culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic recipes collected in no particular order; though the 1670 book does have an index of its medicinal recipes appending the main text and alphabetized by ailment.
The Baker manuscripts are notable for their use of a character that has come to be known as the “y with umlauts.”
Baker does not use this character consistently: the umlauts appears over every “y” in the 1670 book, it does not appear at all in the 1672 book, and it appears randomly (though frequently) in the 1675 book. It is not yet clear why Baker uses this character, though one user on Zooniverse has suggested that it might be Dutch in origin. If the character is indeed an indicator of Dutch influence, then it is possible that Baker might have picked it up while traveling in continental Europe.
Baker’s continental influences are more readily apparent in the 1675 book. This book contains several recipes attributed to Matthew Lucatalla, whom Baker describes as an Italian physician (fols. 1v, 2v, 76r, 115v). Further research is needed to determine his identity. However, there is another continental physician within the same book who has been identified with relative certainty: a recipe for “the confect: of coriander seede” on fols. 15v-16r mentions “dorncrellius his dispensawrie.” Dorncrellius has been identified by one Zooniverse user as Tobias Dornkrell ab Eberhertz (1598-1658), a famous German physician who wrote many Latin medical books. The original Latin version of “confect: of coriander seede” appears in his Dispensatorium novum continens descriptiones et usum praecipuorum medicamentorum. The presence of both an unknown Italian physician and a well-known German physician (not to mention the umlaut-y) within Baker’s books suggests that she was significantly influenced by her continental contemporaries, leading us speculate that she may have traveled in continental Europe.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, the 1675 book contains several sections that seem to suggest that Baker may have been personally involved in alchemical and early scientific pursuits. A section entitled “of mille foile or yarrowe and his greate uertue” details how she experimented on her goats with mille foile to determine the herb’s effectiveness in the treatment of ulcers (fol. 18v).
Later in this same section, she also describes in relatively graphic detail how she personally witnessed “aboue an hundred” dissections (fol. 19r).
It is not entirely clear whether these were human dissections, but a passage referring to “men and women” immediately preceding the description seems to suggest that they were. Finally, the book is appended by a treatise on alchemy as one of the four pillars of medicine (fol. 133v). Baker refers to the alchemist in this treatise using the pronoun “she” rather than the universal “he,” breaking with the conventions of her time and possibly indicating herself as an alchemist. These sections all seem to suggest that Baker might have engaged directly with scientific experimentation and alchemical studies, both of which were unconventional practices for a woman of the seventeenth century. Hopefully with further research we will discover more about Margaret Baker, whom her recipe books reveal to be a highly unusual and well-learned woman.
Monterey Hall, AB-BA, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Summer 2016.
- For more information on Zooniverse’s Shakespeare’s World project, click here. Follow the links found on the top banner to view discussion forums (“Talk”) or to view relevant blogposts (“Blog”).
- To view Margaret Baker’s biography on the Perdita woman database, click here.
- To view images of Va619 from the Folger Shakespeare Library, click here.
- To view images of MS Sloane 2485 and 2486, contact your university’s library to see if your institution is subscribed to the Defining Gender database.
In case the links don’t work, here they are in order of appearance:
hamnet.folger.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?SC=Author&SA=Baker, Margaret, 17th century.&PID=deBw_YiQ054TakM5SVfjedLnTOn&BROWSE=1&HC=1&SID=3
 According to biographical information found on Perdita woman database.
 According to catalog information found on Defining Gender database.
 According to information found on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s HAMNET catalog.