2012 February Book of the Month

Worth’s oldest book:
The De Conservatione Sanitatis of Benedetto Reguardati of Nursia (1398-1469) ‘miles et physicus’.


Benedetto Reguardati (1398-1469), named after St Benedict of Nursia (480-543), was the author of the earliest printing in the Worth Library: De conservatione sanitatis (Rome, 1475). It proved to be a popular text and by 1500 seven editions of the original Latin text had been printed. Worth’s copy was the first edition, published in Rome on 14 January 1475 in octavo by Giovanni Filippo de Lignamine. It had been written c 1435-38 for the governor of the Mark of Ancona, Astorgio Agnesi (1391-1451), and though seemingly concerned with providing Agnesi with his own health manual, its general applications were obvious. Not all of the text was original, for (as Cotton argues) Reguardati borrowed extensively from earlier writers on the subject. For his initial five chapters on Air, Exercise, Sleeping and Waking, Evacuation, Food and Drink, and his final chapter, which was on the Passions, his source was Barnabas de Reatinis of Reggio’s Libellus de conservanda sanitate (1331); while the same author’s Compendium de naturis et proprietatibus alimentorum (1338) provided much of the material for Reguardati’s intervening chapters, which focused on Diet.


The decision to dedicate the editio princeps of 1475 to Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) was the choice of the printer, de Lignamine, who had dedicated several works to his papal relative. The papal dedication did, however, mirror Reguardati’s own preoccupations for during his life he had led four missions to the papal court,  appealing successively but not successfully, to Nicholas V (1397-1455), Pius II (1405-1464 ) and Paul II (1417-1471) to rescind a papal ban on him ever returning to his native Nursia.


Reguardati’s missions to the papal court were not solely on his own behalf: he was both a physician and diplomat of the Milanese court of the Sforzas. His fascinating diplomatic career began when Nursia was conquered by Francesco Sforza of Milan (1401-1466). Trusted by the Duchess of Milan, Bianca Maria Visconti (1425-1468), Reguardati became the official physician to the Milanese ducal family. Given his position at the Sforza court, Reguardati understandably concentrated his medical studies on the areas of obstetrics and infant welfare, but if these were his chief foci he did not neglect other areas. As Cotton reminds us, his position as Controller of Public Health inevitably meant that he was concerned with the fight against plague and he later wrote on the topic: De preservatione a pestilentia (Lyons, 1478; Milan 1479).


Considered indispensable by the ducal couple, Reguardati gave up on a teaching career and instead devoted himself to developing a diplomatic one. He was honoured by the Sforzas by a series of diplomatic postings: in 1447 he became Governor of Pavia, and in 1468 was Governor of Parma. In between he had served the Sforzas as Lieutenant of Pesaro and had been appointed as a member of the Secret Council (1464). This dual career, indicated by Reguardati’s favourite signature ‘miles et physicus’, was by no means unusual, particularly in the context of his own family, for he came from an illustrious family of physicians and diplomats. His ties to the Sforzas remained strong and it was really only the death of Francesco, in March 1466, followed two years later by the death of Bianca Maria, which served to loosen them. Benedetto himself died of malaria on 19 July 1469 at Florence.


Worth’s copy of the text demonstrates the interconnection between manuscript and text at the the beginning of the printing revolution: Space is left for the ornamental drop capitals to be illustrated by hand, in this case with red ink. During this early period there is no titlepage, though someone has written the title on the first page. The imprint information is therefore taken from the colophon at the back of the text.



The binding of the volume is clearly later, dating to late seventeenth-century France with its characteristic marbled edges under gilt. This dating is confirmed not only on stylistic grounds but also by the inclusion of the inscription on the flyleaf: Bibliotheca Colbertinae, indicating that this book had once belonged to Louis XIV’s famous Finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683). Colbert’s extensive library was auctioned in Paris in 1728, just at the time Worth was assiduously buying books for his library.





Cotton, Juliana Hill (1968), ‘Benedetto Reguardati: Author of Ugo Benzi’s Tractato de la conservatione de la sanitade’, Medical History XII, 76-83.

Cotton, Juliana Hill(1969), ‘Benedetto Reguardati of Nursia (1398-1469), Medical History XIII, 175-89.


Text by Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Worth Library.

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