Plate 6 from Nova Reperta
by Johannes Stradanus

Astronomy of Farming


Because of damage to the title page, the precise date of this edition of a popular—and ever expanding—compendium of knowledge is uncertain. The Folger copy is the only recorded extant copy of this particular edition, but the popular astronomical treatise for predicting the best times for planting, growing and harvesting had been published and republished dozens of times in England since the mid-sixteenth century. As early as 1619, The Husband-Man's Practice was appended to the work, though with a separate title page. The general title The Knowledge of Things Unknowne also tended to incorporate a third work, The Shepherd's Prognostication of the Weather (complete with a list of the dates and locations of regional fairs). The wording on the title page indicates that John Stafford was what we would call the publisher of this edition. Indeed Stationers Company records indicate that he had registered the "copy" rights in 1637. Such a practical handbook must have appeared a good investment as it constituted something of a deviation from Stafford's more typical religious fare. For his part, the bookseller Coles (or Coules, or Cowles) focused primarily on the publication of popular ballads, works in which woodcuts figured prominently.

Click for a Larger ViewThe woodcut reproduced here illustrates the title page to the second part of the tri-partite work (which is continuously paginated even though it is possible more than one printer was involved). The image depicts two laboring men consulting a book—one by Godfridus, perhaps? They look to the stars for guidance, while surrounded by farming implements and livestock. Various appeals to authority collapse into one another on the page. The ancient originators of the practices described—Albert, Alkind, Haly, and Ptolemy—are effectively rendered husbandmen themselves. By the standards of the consumers of popular "how-to" books, an authority, no matter how ancient or learned, was deemed good in direct proportion to the practicality and effectiveness of his advice.

Regina Buccola
Roosevelt University

Suggested Reading

McRrae, Andrew. God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500-1660. Cambridge: New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Thirsk, Joan. The Rural Economy of England. London: Hambledon Press, 1984.