Once it proved effective for noble men and women

By Sietske Fransen, with Saskia Klerk

First of all, I owe you the result of a question I posted in my previous blog about the Leiden manuscript BPL3603. I wondered whether anyone could help me find the name of the Archduchess of Innsbruck who was mentioned by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont. The world of Twitter soon came up with the answer from Maartje van de Kamp (@Lizzyin2015): it must be Anne de Medici.

Tweet with answer

Anna de Medici, by Giovanni Maria Morandi
Anna de Medici (1666), by Giovanni Maria Morandi

I cannot agree more. Anne de Medici married Ferdinand Charles the Archduke of Further Austria in 1646 and at the time she spoke to Franciscus Mercurius in 1650 she was still childless. She eventually had two surviving children: the Archduchesses Claudia Felicitas of Austria and Maria Magdalena of Austria. A third child died at birth.  Anne died in the year 1676, which would explain the reference to the ‘last-deceased empress’, as it is in 1676 that van Helmont is telling this story. Many thanks to Maartje!

I would like to continue this post discussing the impact of noble men and women in the manuscript that has been the centre of the series on Dutch Medicines. Two month ago I had the pleasure of spending two weeks at  Leiden University Library, and I had the time to re-visit BPL3603. Reading the manuscript, it struck me how often the names of famous people were used as a validation for the efficacy of certain recipes and drugs. A good example was the fertility drug mentioned above to which the Archduchess of Innsbruck lent her authority. But there are  several more.

On page 32 of the manuscript we find a recipe for a remedy to re-gain one’s eye-sight within 14 days, even if it had been lost for 7 years (Een kostelijke Medicine om het gesicht wederom te krijgen (al had men ‘t zeven jaren quit geweest) in 14 dagen tijds).

University Library Leiden, MS PBL3603, p. 32: Count Palatine Frederick approved of the recipe.
University Library Leiden, MS PBL3603, p. 32: Count Palatine Frederick approved of the recipe.

The recipe is followed by a little statement saying that Count Palatine Frederick has tried this and found it good, even on people who have been blind for seven years. Most likely this is the Winter King, or Elector Palatine Frederick V (1596-1632)  who lived in The Hague after he had to flee Bohemia in 1622 until his death. Thus, this is a combination of royal approval and local witness to the cure.

On page 34 another recipe for eye diseases was time tested by the ‘Margravine of Ansbach’. It is unclear to me who is meant here; there are again several options. The principality of Ansbach is located in Bavaria in Germany and although I have not been able to find the connection between Ansbach and the Netherlands at the time that the compiler of our manuscript was writing.

Fragment from Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 52.
Fragment from Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 52.

Many noble men and women have tried the recipe for the stone that is written on page 52. And they have found it ‘waarachtig‘, or truthful.

Detail of drinkable balsam for the Prince of Orange, Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 84.
Detail of drinkable balsam for the Prince of Orange, Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 84.

My final example describes a recipe for ‘milk, cream, or butter of sulphur’, which turns out to be a generally useful and invigorating balsam. It needs to be drunk as a mixture ‘with any liquor or water that is appropriate for the ailment’. All of this was found by the doctor of the Prince of Anhalt; bought by the Duke of Flanders for 500 crones; and then communicated to the Prince of Orange to use against the plague. Again, we find that a recipe came from Germany to the Netherlands, and its efficacy is proven by the fact that noble people used it. Subsequently, this recipe was brought to the geographical region of the compiler by the reference to the Prince of Orange. The date of the transmission of the recipe is not mentioned, which makes it hard to guess which Prince we are talking about. However, any of the Princes of Orange would have at least spent some of their time in The Hague.

All is to say that the efficacy of recipes seems measured not only by its power to cure but also by its power whom to cure. In the first instance I was surprised about the German noble men and women named in the manuscript, as it seems to contradict the manuscript’s local aspects. We have previously seen how the compiler used local Dutch sources, see for example Saskia’s blog about the hare. However, most of the people named are linked to the Low Countries and more specifically to the West of the Northern Netherlands. This might be another indication that the compiler of the manuscript was somehow linked to that part of the country himself, something that will be further explored in future blog posts.

Searching for Recipes: A Glimpse of Early Modern Upper Class Life

By Marieke Hendriksen

On this blog we tend to hear a lot about English household manuscript recipes but lively traditions existed elsewhere, as Sietske Fransen and Saskia Klerk also show in their series on a Dutch manuscript of recipesIn my own search for eighteenth-century Dutch medical and chemical recipes, I often come across manuscript recipe books that lack a detailed catalogue description, so I have to check them page-by-page to see if there is anything relevant for my current research.

Often these recipe books have little to do with medicine or chemistry, or they contain only a limited number of medical home remedies. Yet this does not make these books any less interesting to researchers. This week, when I opened a manuscript at Museum Boerhaave (inventory number BOERH a 176) which was marked in the catalogue as ‘medicine book and recipes, before 1860’, I caught a fascinating glimpse of early modern upper class life.

Kitchen interior, oil on canvas, Dutch, anonymous, second half of 17th C.
Kitchen interior, oil on canvas, Dutch, anonymous, second half of 17th C. Courtesy of RKD images.

Judging by the spelling and state of the paper, my guess is that this manuscript is quite a bit older than ‘before 1860’, it dates probably from the eighteenth or maybe even the seventeenth century. This is supported by the fact that underneath one of the recipes someone has noted in a different hand ‘1721: selfs geprobeerd’ (‘tried myself’). The cover and a number of pages are missing, but it contains a wealth of recipes for food, human and veterinary medicine, household chores, and home decorations. As many of the cookery recipes list expensive ingredients spices and lemons, and as the book also contains recipes for gilding, ink, paints, wax fruit, and a special recipe for nightingale food, it seems most likely that the recipes were collected in an upper class household, like that of an aristocratic or well-off merchant family.

Unfortunately the manuscript is anonymous, and the few names that are mentioned give little direction either. The only names mentioned are a certain mister Plaatman as the source of a recipe against kidney stones, and with a recipe for a potion, the author has noted ‘bij Susanna ghebruijckt in haer siekte’ (‘used with Susanna in her illness’). Given the distinct upper class feel of the recipes, and that fact that they are written in high Dutch in seventeenth and/or eighteenth century, the first Susanna that springs to mind is Susanna Huygens (1637-1725), daughter of Constantijn. Of course there must have been more women named Susanna, but the population of the United Provinces around 1800 was small – roughly 2 million people – and the upper class thus too, so it would be interesting to see if additional research can confirm this surmise.

Pieter Holsteyn I, Nightingale, crayon and gouache on paper, ca. 1656-1667.
Pieter Holsteyn I, Nightingale, crayon and gouache on paper, ca. 1656-1667.  Courtesy of RKD Images.

Whether this recipe book was owned by the Huygens family or another upper class Dutch family, it gives a fascinating insight in daily life. And for those of you wanting to take up a nice early modern hobby over the holidays, like keeping a nightingale as a pet, here is the recipe for nightingale’s food: ‘Mix finely cut lamb’s heart, hemp seed, parsley, rusk, egg yolk and sweet almonds. Can be fed every two hours.’

Van Helmont on the Plague, Again!

By Sietske Fransen, with Saskia Klerk

A few weeks ago Saskia Klerk introduced the Leiden manuscript BPL 3603 to the readers of this blog. This recently acquired manuscript has a pencil-written remark on the flyleaf by a modern cataloguer with the inscription ‘Van Helmond’s Recepten’.  We can safely assume that this refers to the seventeenth-century physician Jan Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644) and/or his son Franciscus Mercurius (1614-1698).

Father and Son van Helmont, frontispiece in Dageraed, Amsterdam 1659.
Father and Son van Helmont, frontispiece in Dageraed, Amsterdam 1659.

When Saskia told me about it for the first time, I was very curious to learn more. As there is very little known about the reception of Jan Baptista van Helmont’s Dutch work Dageraed (‘Daybreak’, Amsterdam 1659), this recipe book in Dutch might well shed more light on this part of the Helmontian story. And secondly, I had the faint hope that Saskia might have found some of the now lost manuscripts by Van Helmont himself. [1] Unfortunately the latter is not the case, but I am very sure that the manuscript will tell us more about the reception of Van Helmont’s Dageraed, as well as about medical practices in the Low Countries in general.

University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3603, fol. 103 (selection)
University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3603, p. 103 (selection)

In two previous blog posts (see here and here) I wrote about Van Helmont’s treatise on the plague and his recipes for sweat potions. These recipes were good examples to show the differences in translation practices between the ingredients (heavily based on Latin terminology) and the performative parts of the recipes (firmly grounded in the vernacular tradition). Not unsurprisingly – since these are the only recipes in Van Helmont’s texts that were published as visually recognisable recipes (with lists of ingredients, followed by the actions)  – these recipes are copied into BPL 3603. The picture here shows how the compiler of the manuscript ordered the ingredients in such a way that we find the Latin names in the left column and the Dutch equivalences on the right. All terms and additions are taken verbatim from Van Helmont’s Dageraed, which implies that the compiler had seen a copy of this book. At this point it is unclear to us whether this Dutch recipe collector was a physician, or an apothecary, or whether BPL 3606 was a household book, or perhaps it was a combination of all of this. We hope to find out more in the future.

The compiler did not only copy the recipe, but also several other passages from the plague treatise. Van Helmont’s treatise on the plague forms the second part of the Dageraed. The first part of the book gives an overview of his medical philosophy, from the influence of the heavenly bodies to his theory of disease, whereas the second part concentrates on one disease (the plague) and its history, causes, and treatments. The compiler of BPL 3603 seems especially interested in copying passages in which Van Helmont displays his experience. The compiler quotes Van Helmont, for example, as a proof for his understanding that only sulphur (‘swavel’) can protect one from the plague. Van Helmont tells of the example of a regiment of soldiers which he observed nearby Sas van Gent. The regiment consisting of Neapolitans, as well as Walloons and Germans died almost entirely from the plague, apart from the Germans. According to van Helmont, the Germans had used gun powder (‘bospoeder’) on their clothes to protect themselves from lice. Subsequently, very few of them died, which Van Helmont saw as a result of the qualities of sulphur.

University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3603, p, 104: the author quotes Van Helmont.
University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3603, p. 104: the author quotes Van Helmont.

The compiler uses the extracts from the Dageraed here to prove the effectiveness of sulphur as a treatment. This resonates with  extracts and quotes of Van Helmont that the compiler adds two pages later. Also here the main concern seems proof for the usefulness and effectiveness of the discussed drugs: ‘Van Helmont says he has seen it been used effectively’, ‘Van Helmont says that no one will die from using these drugs’, etc. Van Helmont’s comments and the way the compiler is quoting and naming Van Helmont make clear that Van Helmont is used as an authority. The compiler seems to be very interested in the practical applications of the drugs, much in contrast to Van Helmont, who always embeds his practices into a theoretical framework. This might point to the motifs of collecting for the compiler.    

In the next blog post Saskia will start to look into the references to Johan van Beverwijck in the BPL 3603. Will she find a similar interest in proof and personal experience by the compiler when quoting Van Beverwijck or does his interest lie somewhere else?

[1] For a brief account on the lost Helmontian manuscripts, see Antonio Clericuzio, ‘From van Helmont to Boyle. A Study of the Transmission of Helmontian Chemical and Medical Theories in Seventeenth-Century England’, The British Journal for the History of Science 26, p. 311-12.