Sarah Wigges’ Weights and Measures

In her receipt book which she titled ‘Sarah Wigges her Booke’ (1616), Sarah Wigges added the wonderful slogan

‘Live Wel, dye never; Dye wel, live ever’.


sarah wigges her book

Sarah Wigges her Booke Photograph (c) Sara Read, by permission of The Royal College of Physicians library


This demonstrated her religious as well as her medical credentials, topics which often overlap in early modern writing.

Clearly Wigges decided that it would be helpful from the start to make sure anyone who consulted it knew how to make up the recipes and cures accurately.1 To this end she included a chart of the common weights and measures used by apothecaries.

Her chart reads:

The character of notes of those kindes of weights wch  are generally used in physicke hath this sign
A graine is a barly corne taken in the midst of the eare     G
A scruple is twenty barly cornes
Three scruple containe one Dragm  ʒ
Eight Dragms containe one ounce
Quart signifyeth a quart of anything q
Libra signifyeth a pound  ℔
Semis, is the halfe of every waight
Manipulus, is a great handful   M
Pugillus, is a small handful P
Ana, signifyeth of everything a like quantity Ana
Quantum satis, as much as is meete q. s.


While knowing that something required a grain might be straightforward to quantify, the other measurements of as much ‘as is meete’ seem a bit harder to work with. Wigges used these symbols in the recipes she copied down and in common with other medical books would add ‘probatum est’ after recipes she considered proven to work. She also made discursive comments after some, such as one about putting certain crushed herbs in a poultice on the souls of the feet of labouring women to speed her travail. After this recipe entitled ‘to speed the birth of a child’, Wigges commented that this was


A great Secret.2


Most intriguingly, however, Wigges appears to have mistitled one of her recipes and rather than score it out with her pen, she has burnt the title through! I’d love to know how common this was, so if anyone has seen other examples please get in touch via the comments!


sarah wigges her book 2

p. 21, Sarah Wigges Her Booke Photograph (c) Sara Read by permission from The Royal College of Physicians library

(c) Sara Read all rights reserved


1 ‘Sarah Wigges Her Booke’, Royal College of Physicians, MS 654. More information on the holdings of the RCP can be found on their blog

2 ‘Sarah Wigges Her Booke’, p. 163.

2 Responses so far.

  1. […] Sarah Wigges’ Weights and Measures  […]
  2. […] discussed in an earlier post, Sarah Wigges noted in her commonplace book in 1616, the widely accepted truism that one should strive […]


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