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In 1568 Thomas Hill (c. 1528-1576) published the very first manual for beekeepers printed in the English language. It ran to two editions in his lifetime, and received another five prints by various London printers over the course of the century, proving at the very least, its saleability.

Although, the seventeenth-century saw an explosion in books that examined apiculture, insect biology, and beekeeping practices, during the sixteenth-century only a few other authors had been inclined to touch upon the subject and only one other author attempted an alternative manual on the subject.

Thomas Hill’s treatise, therefore, represents not only the first attempt to advice husbandmen about beekeeping, but also the only attempt for a generation, and one that occurred before the subject became of ‘learned’ interest.

The treatise

The treatise is called A Pleasant instruction of the perfect ordering of Bees. Thomas Hill published it as an appendage to his larger treatise on gardening: The Profitable Art of Gardening. This was Hill’s second version of a gardening manual. The first had been published in 1558 and 1563 as A most brief and pleasant treatise, teaching how to dress, sow, and set a garden. That treatise did not contain many references to Bees at all. The third (and last) gardening manual that Hill wrote again did not contain much on beekeeping. Entitled The Gardeners Labyrinth, the third manual only appeared in print in 1577 after Hill’s death, and then under the pseudonym name Dydymus Mountaine.

Thomas Hill treatises breakdown

The fact that Hill appended the treatise on bees to a larger work on gardening suggests that he or the printer felt that it would not sell on its own merits. It is also a much smaller work. The Profitable Art of Gardening has 78 chapters divided over 432 pages, the treatise on Bees, whilst offering as much as half the number of chapters (41 to be precise) covered a mere quarter of the pages (113 pages). Hill also attached an even smaller treatise which gave seasonal advice to husbandmen. This treatise was a mere 8 chapters, taking up only 64 pages.

Thomas Hill

Thomas Hill described himself as a ‘Londoner’ in his publications. Other than this little is really known of his life. Hill had knowledge of Latin and Italian, putting those skills to work as a translator of popular books on science and the supernatural.

Thomas Hill (from 1568 treatise of Bees)
Depiction of Thomas Hill wearing clothes that labelled him amongst the young citizens of London and as the son of a minor Guild member.

The woodcut image of Hill that accompanies many of his books shows him wearing an unornamented flat cap. This suggests that Hill considered himself as a young citizen of London from a middling family and that his father was most likely a low-ranking Guild member. It is likely therefore, that Hill did not come from a wealthy background and that his aptitude for translations offered him the best opportunity for trade. Hill focused on good quality translations designed for the largely untapped market of husbandmen. In this respect, Hill made the market his own.