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MAYERNE, Sir Theodore Turquet de (1573-1654/5)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-MAYET
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: MAYERNE, Sir Theodore Turquet de (1573-1654/5)
Date(s): 1607-1651
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Mayerne | Sir | Theodore Turquet de | 1573-1654/5 | Knight | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne was born on 28 September 1573 in Geneva, the son of Louis Turquet de Mayerne, a protestant French historian. Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor, was Mayerne's godfather and namesake. After being educated in Geneva Mayerne went to the University of Heidelberg, where he studied for several years. Physic was his chosen profession and he went to Montpelier to pursue his medical studies. He proceeded MB in 1596, and MD in 1597.

Mayerne then moved to Paris where he lectured on anatomy and pharmacy. He had become greatly interested in chemistry, and in his medical practice made considerable use of chemical remedies. His support of this then recent innovation brought him into favour with Lazarus Riverius, first physician to Henry IV of France, who then procured Mayerne an appointment as one of the King's physicians in 1600. However Mayerne's support equally antagonised the Faculty of Paris, who would accept no dissent from Galen. In 1603 Mayerne, in conjunction with Quercetanus, was attacked by the Faculty in print, in Apologia pro Medicina Hippocratis et Galeni, contra Mayernium et Quercetanum. Mayerne responded with an apologetic answer, and his only medical publication, Apologia in qua videre est, inviolatis Hippocratis et Galeni legibus, Remedia Chemice praeparata tuto usurpari posse. Rupel. 1603. In this he demonstrated that chemical remedies were not only in accordance with the principles but also with the practice of Hippocrates and Galen.

Despite another interdict from the Galenists Mayerne remained in favour with the King, who appointed him to attend the Duke de Rohan in his embassies to the courts of Germany and Italy. Although he continued to rise in the King's esteem, Mayerne failed to secure the advantages the King offered because he refused to renounce his protestant beliefs and conform to the Church of Rome. Whilst the King would still have appointed him first physician, the Queen intervened to prevent it. Mayerne continued as physician in ordinary to the King until 1606, when he sold his place to a French physician.

It is thought that it was in the early part of 1606 that Mayerne came to England, on the invitation of an English nobleman he had treated in Paris. He was appointed physician to James I's Queen, Anne of Denmark, and was incorporated at Oxford on his Montpelier degree on 8 April 1606. It is thought that he spent the next few years in France, until the assassination of Henry IV on 14 May 1610 when he returned again to England. This was upon the request of James I, made via letters patent under the Great Seal. On his arrival the King appointed him first physician to himself and the Queen, and from this point until his death `Dr Mayerne appears to have been considered one of the first physicians in the kingdom' (Munk's Roll, 1878, p.165). His practice soon thrived; he even had French patients cross the Channel to consult him. His patients included Sir Robert Cecil and Prince Henry, about whose demise by typhoid fever he wrote a detailed state paper. This document remains `a valuable monument of the medicine of the time' (DNB, 1894, p.151).

In 1616 Mayerne was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. The following year he was influential in obtaining a charter for the Society of Apothecaries, separating them from the Grocers, and was later the chief founder of the Company of Distillers. In 1618 he wrote the dedication of the first Pharmacopoeia Londinensis to the King. At about this time Mayerne revisited France. He was however in England again in 1624 when he was knighted at Theobalds. In the same year he wrote a collection of prescriptions and methods of practice for his colleagues, explaining that he would again be absent from his duties for a time. It has been said about this undertaking that

`certain prudential rules for their conduct are prefixed, which show the man of sense and liberal sentiments, but might, perhaps, be thought somewhat assuming and officious, considering the persons to whom they were addressed' (Munk's Roll, p.166).

In 1625 Mayerne returned for a short time to Switzerland, to his house in Aubonne, where a few years earlier he had taken the title Baron Aubonne.

On the accession of Charles I in 1625, Mayerne was appointed first physician to the King and Queen. During his reign Mayerne rose still higher in reputation and authority. His leisure time was spent conducting chemical and physical experiments, which he had begun in Paris. He introduced calomel into medical practice and invented the mercurial lotion known as the black-wash (lotio nigra). He experimented on pigments, and consequently did much to advance the art of enameling. He mixed paints and varnishes for artists, and cosmetics for the ladies at Court. It has been said of him that he was

`an innovator and a man of new ideas, and for that reason was perhaps over-anxious to prove his respect for what had long been generally received' (DNB, p.152).

Mayerne is ultimately famous for his copious case notes, the detail of which was extraordinary for his time.

It is thought that he remained in London, at his house in St Martin's Lane, during the Civil War, attending patients. On Charles I's execution in 1649, he was made nominal first physician to Charles II. In the same year he retired to Chelsea.

Mayerne was twice married, first to Marguerite de Boetslaer, by whom he had three children. His wife died in 1628. In 1630 he married Elizabeth Joachimi, by whom he had five children, of whom just one daughter survived him. Mayerne died at Chelsea on 22 March 1654/5. His body was interred in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, with the bodies of his mother, first wife, and five of his children. A monument was erected in his memory, with an inscription written by his godson, Sir Theodore des Vaux.

In 1690 Vaux published Praxis Medica, which contained a series of Mayerne's medical notes. In 1701 Joseph Browne published Mayernii Opera Medica, complectantia Consilia, Epistolas et Observationes, Pharmacopoeiam, variasque Medicamentorum formulas. Lond., which contains Mayerne's long counsels written in reply to letters. These offer some illumination of the duties of a fashionable physician in the early 17th century.

Sommaire Description de la France, Allemange, Italie et Espagne (1592)
Apologia in qua videre est, inviolatis Hippocratis et Galeni legibus, Remedia Chemice praeparata tuto usurpari posse. Rupel. 1603

Publications by others about Mayerne:
Praxis Medica, Sir Theodore des Vaux (ed) (London, 1690)
Mayernii Opera Medica, complectantia Consilia, Epistolas et Observationes, Pharmacopoeiam, variasque Medicamentorum formulas. Lond. 1701 Joseph Browne (ed.)
`Rubens and Mayerne', Charles Davis (MA Thesis) (North Carolina, 1967)
Turquet de Mayerne as Baroque Physician: The Art of Medical Portraiture, Brian Nance (Amsterdam, 2001)


Scope and content/abstract:

Mayerne's case book, 1607-51 (mainly 1634-39), includes medical correspondence and letters of advice, as well as cosmetic prescriptions for Queens Anne and Henrietta Maria, 1612-43. The case book is in several different hands, but with Mayerne's signature to a number of entries and some marginal annotations in his hand.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Latin and French

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Bequeathed to the Royal College of Physicians by Sir William Osler. Received on 4 October 1928.

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Mayerne held elsewhere in the College Archives, including a volume of copies of Mayerne's prescriptions, which also include some of Dr Thomas Willis', and extracts from the 'Distiller of London' (1652), in an unknown hand, 17th century (MS443); Lecture on Mayerne and his successors, by Randolph Vigne, President of the Huguenot Society, delivered at the College in 1985 (MS1029/3);

Mayerne's correspondence and papers are held at the British Library, Manuscript Collections; His notebooks, journal and papers, 1607-55, are held at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives; Other correspondence and papers are held at the National Archives, Public Record Office; His Antidotarium, 1606, is held at Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts; Further papers are held at the Royal College of Surgeons. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. I, 1518-1700, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, 1878, pp.163-68]; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXXVII, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1894) [DNB, 1894, pp.150-52]; `Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, Royal Physician and Writer, 1573-1655', Irene Scouloudi, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, Vol. XVI, No. 3 (1940); `Three Hundred Years Ago on March 22 died Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne: Royal Physician and Chemical Experimenter', The Chemist and Druggist, 19, 1955 (pp.321-22); Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled July 2003; Modified September 2003

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