Reyna, Francisco De La

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(b. Spain [?], ca. 1520)


Little is know of Reyna’s life except that he was a farrier, veterinary surgeon, and “swine-doctor” of Zamora who cared for the horese of the Spanish nobility. The license for printing Reyna’s popular Libro de Albeyteria was issued at madrid in 1546, and the earliest dated edition know is that of Astorga, 1547. The manual, which went through at least thirteen editions, contains a controversial passage on the anatomy and physiology of the horse which has occasionally engaged the attention of historians since the eighteenth century, when Benito Feijoo y Montenegro claimed for Reyna the discovery of the circulation of the blood.

Certainly a number of William Harvey’s predecessors made observation and articulated concepts which qualify them is some way as his precursors, and Reyna was among the lesser of these. The critical passage of the libro (translated from the Spanish is as follows (ed.1547, f. 50b):

If you should be asked why, when a horse is bled from the fornt or hind legs, the blood comes from the lower part [of the opened vessel] and not the upper part, answer: IN order to understand this problem, you must know that the principal veins proceed from the liver, and the arteries from the heart and these principal veins are apportioned among the members of the body in this manner; in branches and webs of many small veins1 through the external parts of the front and hind legs, going by means the vessels. And from there these webs turn to pour through the principal veins which ascend from the hoofs through the front legs to the interior; so that the veins of the exterior parts have the internal veins the function of carrying the blood upward. And so the blood goes around: and in a wheel,2 through all the limbs and veins. It [the blood] has the function of carrying nourishment through the interior parts to the emperor of the body, the body, the heart, which all the parts obey. This is the answer to the question.

Reyna’ account was offered not as a discovery but well-known information to learned by the student. According to the Galenic system, when a vessel in a horse’s leg is cut, it should bleed from the and nearest the body. Reyna explained why the reverse can be true by suggesting that blood flows into the leg through surface veins and out through deeper ones. Yet his narrative is so vague that the precise course is not clear, and he did not suggest a capillary structure.

Reyna’s anatomy was essentially Galenic. The blood originates in the liver and is distributed through the veins. In no part of the Libro do we find the concept of the heart acting as a mechanical force bump to motivate a circulatory system; Reyna merely says that some veins have the function of carrying nourishment to the heart. Because of this, and his statement about the liver, we must interpret the passage concerning the sense and not as an anticipation of Harvey, who although an Aristotelian himself, discovered the true function of the heart in the arteries only once and not as part of his “wheel” presumably their function is the Galenic one since none other was mentioned. Reyna did not suggest a passage of blood from the arteries to the veins. Galen had described an alternating of blood and pneuma occurring between the arteries and veins through the synanastomoses, but Reyna did not mention this.

Despite his traditionalism, the question posed at the beginning of the passage shows that Reyna could not square observations made during venesection with traditional physiology. His theory might be considered an attempt to reconcile observation (upward or centripetal flow of blood in equine leg veins) with Galenism (downward or centrifugal flow) by postulating both types of flow in differing veins. This interpretation would be more plausible had he not reported the exterior veins as carrying blood downward. Exterior veins were surely used for venesection , so that the theory is surprisingly discordant with the observation which inspired the passage.

Because of his lack of clarity, it is difficult to assess the precise nature of Reyna’ contribution. His statement that “the blood goes around: and in a wheel” may be interpreted as implying some sort of venous “circulation,” although one may argue that he meant merely that the various tissues are nourished in turn, or that he was only one of several pre-Har- veians who used circular symbolism in writing of the blood. Despite these difficulties, it cannot be doubted that Reyna was among those before Harvey who saw that somehow there was more to the movements of the blood than Galen had taught. Yet it remained for Harvey to grasp the true nature of the circulatory system, and the Librode Albeyteria in no way approaches the achievement of the De motu cordis.


1.Webs of many small veins,” lit. miseraycas. The word usually refers to the portal vein and its branches.

2.Lit. la sangre anda entorno [en torno in later eds.]: en rueda.


I. Original Works. The Libro de Albeyteria is the only work attributed to Reyne. Most of the known editions are listed in Antonio Palau y Dulcet, Manual del Librero Hispanoamericano, 2nd ed., XVI (Barcelona, 1964), 408–409. At least 17 eds. (to 1647) have been mentioned, but only 13 have been verified with certainty. A Burgos ed. known only from an imperfect copy in the Hispanic Society of America, with its presumably dated colophon missing, was called the 1st e d. by Keevil and Payne (see below). Palau suggested that it was the 2nd ed., but it is certainly later still; superficially it resembles the Burgos ed. of 1564, and may follow it.

The discussion of the movements of the blood differs slightly in later eds. from the text of 1647 given above, evidently through Reyna’s emendation; for example, the passage “… through all the limbs and veins. It has the function of carrying nourishment…” becomes “… through all the limbs, and some veins have the function of carrying nourishment.…” Occasional minor changes in the text were also due to printers’ variations. Reyna’s seventeenthcentury editor Fernando Calvo eventually changed the text and removed the passage about the “wheel” entirely, for reasons unknown.

II. Secondary Literature. Benito Feijoo y Montenegro called attention to Reyna’s passage in several parts of the Cartas Eruditas, y Curiosas (Madrid, 1742–1760), as did Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Oniniana (London, 1812); for both see Dorothea Waley Singer, “S. T. Coleridge Suggests Two Anticipations of the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood,” in Archeion, 25 (1943), 31–39. Other discussions of Reyna are Cesareo Sanz Egaña, Historia de la Veterinaria Espanola (Madrid, 1941), 112–119; J. J. Keevil and L. M. Payne, “Francisco de la Reyna and the Circulation of the Blood,” in Lancet, 260 (1951), 851–853; and Ronald S. Wilkinson, “The First Edition of Francisco de la Reyna’s Libro de Albeyteria, 1547,” in Journal of the History of Medicine,23 (1968), 197–199. Harvey’s precursors are examined by Walter Pagel, William Harvey’s Biological Ideas (New York, 1967).

Ronald S. Wilkinson

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Reyna, Francisco De La

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