As you enter Nantwich Museum, you may notice some herbs in a planter dedicated to John Gerard.
John Gerard was born in Nantwich in 1545, and went to school in nearby Willaston. When he was about 17 he moved to London, and became a botanist and herbalist. His chief claim to fame is as the author of a large illustrated Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes. This book was published in 1597, and became the most widely circulated botany book in English in the 17th century. The book contained many errors and plagiarisms, and was reissued with corrections in 1633 by Thomas Johnson, and became a standard work for English students.
Plants were important in Tudor times for treating illness. Before our modern medicines people would rely on plants like marigolds and willow when they were unwell. In his Herball, Gerard makes reference to plants growing around Nantwich. Gerard’s Herball also references many of the poisonous plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. The plant genus Gerardia is named after John Gerard.
In 1604 Queen Anne (the consort of James 1) granted to John Gerard (who was described as a Surgeon and Herbalist to the King), a lease of a garden plot adjoining Somerset House, on the condition that he supplied her with herbs, flowers, and fruit.
In 2015 it was suggested by botanist and historian Mark Griffiths in Country Life that Gerard’s Herball has the first – and only known demonstrably authentic, portrait of William Shakespeare on the cover. John Gerard died in February 1612, and is buried in St. Andrew’s Church, Holborn. In case you are wondering why it says 1611 on the pot outside the museum, the date of Gerard’s death is variously recorded as 1611 and 1612, and this is most likely a consequence of the use of the Julian calendar at the time. The start of the Julian calendar year was 24 March, and so Gerard’s death in February would have been in 1611 according to the Julian calendar, 1612 according to the Gregorian calendar in use today.
You can read more in our booklet: John Gerard and his Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes which is available from our shop.