Some eminent Huguenots in Early Modern Medicine

Portrait of Sir Theodore de Mayerne, 1573-1655, Physician, by Jacob Andries Beschey after Peter Paul Rubens. Wikimedia Commons.


Many Huguenots chose a career within the broad remit of medical science, whether as physicians, surgeons, or apothecaries. This blog will relate specifically to the life of an exemplary physician of the early modern period, Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne (1573-1655) - who during his distinguished career served four sovereigns, as well as treating on at least one occasion the future Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell - and to Mayerne’s nephew’s family, the Colladons, father and son.

Mayerne was born in Geneva on 28 September 1573 to Huguenot parents of the name of Turquet, who had fled France following the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. He was baptised in the cathedral church of St Pierre, Calvin’s own church, and his godfather, Theodorus Beza (Theodore de Bèze, 1519-1605), was Calvin’s successor. His early education commenced in Geneva, and a notebook from his elementary school days still survives. The book contains neatly written notes on Logic, and his thoughts on distillation are illustrated by precise drawings of vessels used in chemistry experiments. He went on to study at the universities of Heidelberg and Montpellier where he gained his Bachelor of Medicine (MB) in 1596 and his Doctor of Medicine (MD) the following year. His tutor at Montpellier was Rivierus, who became the physician-in-ordinary to the French Court of Henri IV (1589-1610). This connection between tutor and student may have led to Mayerne choosing to begin his career in Paris.  His reputation soon led to his appointment as a teacher of anatomy to surgeons.


Joseph du Chesne (Quercatanus) 1546-1609, engraving, 
C. Ammon, 1652. Wellcome Library, Creative Commons 


He became a follower of two leading neo-Paracelsians, Joseph Du Chesne (Quercetanus) (1546-1609) and Jean Ribit de la Rivière (1546-1605), both Huguenots, the latter being appointed first physician to Henri IV in 1594. In 1600, Mayerne was appointed, by Royal Warrant, district physician of Paris and, through the influence of both these men, physician-in-ordinary to the King. He retained this position even when the Paris medical faculty became bitterly intolerant of his chemical remedies and succeeded in banning him from teaching. A group of his learned colleagues in Paris produced a defamatory pamphlet about his methods and his usage of certain preparations which they considered harmful at that time, but his medical reputation continued to flourish.

In 1606, Mayerne’s reputation was enhanced still further when he successfully treated Lord Norreys of Rycote (a young kinsman of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury) who, while visiting Paris, had fallen ill. This grateful patient, upon his return home, was so overjoyed at his recovery that he heaped high praise upon Mayerne’s skills. Shortly afterward, an invitation to visit England was offered to Mayerne. During this visit, on 8 April, the University of Oxford conferred on him an honorary degree of MD.


James I of England, attributed to John De Criz,
Prado Museum image. Wikimedia Commons.


Mayerne’s reputation continued to flourish, until, five years later, it led to him accepting the invitation extended by James I, King of England (1603-1625), to become physician to his Queen, Anne of Denmark. His deep belief in Protestantism and the inflexible Paris medical faculty that refused to accept his teaching and practice of chemical medicine eventually led him to accept this invitation. He arrived in England during the summer of 1611, the year after Henri IV’s assassination, and a short time after having been ennobled as ‘De Mayerne’, a name he was always known as in his country of adoption.

In 1612, Henry, Prince of Wales, fell ill with a fever and died on 6 November. Mayerne’s detailed account of the Prince of Wales’s illness and subsequent death is the first written record of a case of typhoid fever.  

Title page of the London
from the First Edition, 1639.
Wikimedia Commons


As an early practitioner and promoter of chemical medicine, he had taken a leading role in the publication of the first English Pharmacopœia in 1618. He supported the Apothecaries in their successful bid to break away from the Grocers’ Company and he even found time to draft their Charter.  He followed this triumph by freeing the Distillers from the Apothecaries, something he had a personal interest in doing as a patentee of ‘strong waters’.


Theodore de Mayerne and Thomas
Cademan, Title page of The Distiller
of London, 1639.
Wikimedia Commons


Mayerne remained useful to James I through his esteemed Huguenot connections and accompanied him when he travelled to France in 1625; he was at his side when James unexpectedly died of a stroke. Following the King’s death, Mayerne returned to England as the physician of Charles I (reigned 1625-1649) and his Queen Henrietta Maria, the daughter of Henri IV of France, and their children.  He safely delivered all nine of their children, and saved the lives of Charles (the future Charles II) and his sister Mary (the future mother of William III). He also tried to save the life of the fragile 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth, and wrote copious medical notes in which he observed that ‘after the death of her father she fell into a great sorrow whereby all the ailments from which she suffered were increased’. The young Princess died in 1649 at Carisbrooke Castle.

Medicine had for centuries relied upon the balance of the four humours: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, a theory accredited to Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC–370 BC) whose name eventually led to the Hippocratic Oath. Mayerne’s methods were based upon three kinds of cure: diet, pharmaceutics and, when absolutely necessary, surgery. The remedy for his patient would be a prescribed course of treatment that might last for several weeks, often leading to a worsening of the patient’s condition as Mayerne methodically worked his way through his patient’s symptoms toward a cure. Often the patient was advised on a ‘regimen’ to begin with that dealt with the six non-naturals: food and drink, exercise and rest, sleep and wakefulness, excretion and retention, air, and emotions. Mayerne supported the theory that some diseases were caused by an excess of one of the four humours alone, but insisted that in the case of arthritis, salt was the culprit. In taking into account the symptoms of arthritis, he wrote:

‘We are not to regard the division of the humours into four parts; for though they appear distinct when they are voided from a human body, we are to look deeper into the thing, and to consider that all the Excrements of the body do admit into themselves, and contain in their Composition, Salt’.   Salt was one of the three principles championed by Paracelsus.

Although Mayerne’s various activities were for the most part conservatively scientific, he did preserve an ongoing secret correspondence with Du Chesne and others on the dubious subject of Alchemy.  He was not only a physician but an enthusiastic chemist and created several cosmetics for Queen Henrietta Maria. Not all his potions or remedies were met with approval, and many criticised his concoctions. Other, more conventional interests, included cookery. He wrote a cookery book entitled ”Archimagirus Anglo-Gallico” which was posthumously published in 1658.


Theodore de Mayerne, Archimagurus
Anglo-Gallicus, title page, 1658.
Wikimedia Commons


He was twice married: first, to Marguerite de Boetslaër, who died on 17 November 1628. He married his second wife, Isabella Joachimi, on 14 August 1630, in Fulham, London.  Ironically, Bishop William Laud (Bishop of London, 1633-1645), who licensed the marriage, was soon to be known as a persecutor of Huguenots.  

Mayerne was appointed nominal physician to Charles II in 1649 but soon after retired to Chelsea, where he died on 22 March 1655, at the age of 82. He is buried in the parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, with his wife and mother of five of his children. He died a very wealthy man, yet the ambition that had driven him to achieve great affluence and found a noble dynasty had failed. By the time he wrote his last will on 8 March 1655, except for one surviving daughter, Adrianna, born in 1637, all his children had died without issue. This was surely what prompted Mayerne to include his Colladon family in his will, in which he states ‘I do hereby give and bequeath all the said sums to my beloved niece Aymée Colladon, wife of John Colladon, for the advancement of herselfe and her children in testimony of my affection towards them’. The will also instructs that in the event of the death without issue of Sir Theodore’s only surviving child, Lady Colladon should inherit half of his remaining estate. After the restoration of Charles II, John Colladon, originally Jean, Mayerne's long-serving Genevan assistant who married his master's niece, was appointed one of the King’s physicians. His name was also listed as one of the Trustees of the Westminster French Church in the Savoy. John, his wife Aymée, and four children were formally naturalised on 5 April 1663. On 8 August 1664, he was knighted at Somerset House as Sir John Colladon of St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields.


Portrait of Sir Theodore Colladon         
by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1705. 
Yale Centre for British Art,
Google Art Project jpg.


The eldest son of Sir John Colladon, Theodore, named after Sir Theodore de Mayerne, followed his father and his namesake into the world of medicine, gaining an MD from Oxford on 20 December 1670. He was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians as an Honorary Fellow on 25 June 1685,  became Physician to the Royal Hospital of Chelsea and on 21 February 1699, was knighted at Kensington. Sir Theodore Colladon and his wife, Suzanne Mary, were known benefactors of the French refugees, as documented in the records of the French Hospital.

Joyce Hampton


Further Reading

I. Scouloudi, ‘Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, Royal Physician and Writer, 1573-1655’, HSP, 16, 3 (1939-40)

T. Gibson, A Sketch of the Career of Theodore Turquet de Mayerne (1933)

R. Vigne, ‘Mayerne and his Successors: some Huguenot Physicians under the Stuarts’ Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. 20 No. 3 (July 1986)

H. Trevor-Roper, ‘Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne’ (Yale University Press, 2006).

B. Nance, ‘Turquet de Mayerne as Baroque Physician: The Art of Medical Portraiture’. (The Wellcome Trust, 2001).

D. C. A. Agnew, ‘Protestant exiles from France, chiefly in the reign of Louis XIV; or, The Huguenot refugees and their descendants in Great Britain and Ireland’ (Edinburgh, 1886).

D. North, Huguenot Wills and Administrations in England and Ireland 1617-1849, HSQS 60 (2007).                                                                                           

A.G. Browning, ‘On the Early History of the French Protestant Hospital’ HSP, 6 (1898). 

Paracelsus (1493-1541) 

Pharmacopœias  - The Gutenberg Press 

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