Turquet De Mayerne, Theodore

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(b. Mayerne, near Geneva, Switzerland, 28 September 1573; d. London, England, 15/16 March 1655)

medicine, chemistry.

Turquet de Mayerne was the son of the noted Huguenot historian and political theorist Louis Turquet de Mayerne. Following early schooling at Geneva, he went to the University of Heidelberg and thence to Montpellier, where he graduated M.D. in 1597. In his subsequent career, that of an eminently successful court physician in both France and England, he displayed a remarkable ability to survive professional and political upheaval. Although not a prominent scientific figure in his own right, he was influential in the introduction and support of chemical therapeutics in medicine.

After graduating at Montpellier, Turquet went to Paris, where he became the protégé of Jean Ribit, first physician to Henry IV and a fellow Calvinist. He became a royal physician, and as Ribit’s disciple he built up a successful practice that included many notables, particularly but not exclusively among the Huguenots. On Ribit’s death in 1605, Turquet inherited their joint clientele. Ribit and Turquet both endorsed the use of chemical remedies in their practice, and fostered the training of apothecaries in the preparation of these new medicaments. They probably were instrumental in establishing Jean Beguin’s chemistry courses in Paris.

This advocacy of chemical therapeutics aroused the hostility of the Paris Medical Faculty, and Turquet became personally embroiled in the bitter polemics that ensued between the Faculty and proponents of Paracelsian therapy. In 1603 yet another Calvinist royal physician, Joseph Duchesne (Quercetanus), wrote a treatise defending Paracelsian-Hermetic medicine, which promptly elicited an anonymous and vituperative reply from the Faculty (most probably written by the elder Jean Riolan). In response to this Faculty-spon-sored attack, Turquet published in the same year (1603) a moderate defense of chemical therapeutics arguing that the new remedies did not contravene the principles of medicine as set down by Hippocrates and Galen. This publication, however, was sufficient to bring him the official censure of the Faculty on 5 December 1603. As a privileged royal physician, Turquet was able to continue in practice, despite the fulminations of the Faculty.

Following the assassination of Henry IV, Turquet moved permanently to England in 1611; he had visited there in 1606, when he was incorporated M.D. at the University of Oxford. He came as first physician to James I and later served Charles I and his queen in a similar capacity. His professional career in England was a dazzling success and made him very rich. Turquet was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1616; he bought the seigneurie of Aubonne (near Lausanne) in 1621; and he was knighted by James in 1624. Following the outbreak of the English Civil War, he retired to Chelsea, where he died in 1655; he was buried in St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Only one daughter of his seven children by two marriages survived him.

In England, Turquet continued his interest in chemical therapeutics and the training of apothecaries. In association with Henry Atkins, several times president of the Royal College of Physicians, he helped establish the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, which gave English pharmacists distinct corporate status and distinguished them from the grocers. He also served on the Royal College’s committee that produced the first edition of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1618), intended to provide the first standardized English formulary. It generally has been assumed that he was influential in the inclusion of chemical remedies in this text. It should be noted, however, that when the first specific proposals for the Pharmacopoeia were drawn up in 1589, such remedies were included. Also, Turquet did not join the College’s committee on the Pharmacopoeia until shortly before its publication. He wrote the dedicatory epistle to James I. which should not be confused with the preface to the reader in which chemical remedies are defended. Turquet developed some chemical prescriptions of his own. including the popular lotio nigra. the main ingredient of which was mercuric oxide. He also experimented with pigments and included among his friends the artists Rubens. Van Dyke, Peter Lely, and Jean Petitot. It was also through his efforts that the manuscript of Thomas Moffett’s Theatrum insectorum was published in 1634.


I. Original Works. Turquet de Mayerne published little in his lifetime. An early travel book attributed to him is entitled Sommaire description de la France, Allemagne, Italie et Espagne (Geneva, 1591: 1653). His defense of chemical remedies is Apologia in qua videre est, inviolatis Hippocratis et Galeni legibus, remedia chymcie preparata tuto usurpari posse, ad cujusdam anonymi calumnias responsio (La Rochelle, 1603). Turquet did, however, keep extensive personal and clinical records throughout his life, the bulk of which became the property of Sir Hans Sloane and are now in the Sloane collection of the British Museum (for description see Edward J.L. Scott, Index to the Sloane Manuscripts in the British Museum [London, 1904], 349–350).

Turquet’s MSS formed the basis of severasl posthumously published collections of his clinical case histories. The distinction of his patients gives these added historical interest. The first such collection was published, along with a treatise on gout, as Tractatus de arthritide. Accessreunt ejusdem consilia aliquot medicinalia (Geneva, 1674), translated into English by Thomas Sherley, 2 vols. (London, 1676–1677). A more comprehensive and systematic collection was published with a preface by Walter Charlton as Praxeos Mayernianae in morbis internis (London, 1690, 1695: Augsburg, 1691: Geneva, 1692 [as Praxis medica]). The last and most complete collection was edited by Joseph Borwne as Theodori Turquet Mayernii ... opera medica, complectentia consilia, epistolas, et observationes, pharmacopeam, variasque medicamentorum formulas (London, 1700, 1701, 1703).

II. Secondary Literature. Accounts of Turquet’s life and writings include the following, listed chronologically: Norman Moore, “Mayerne, Sir Theodore Turquet de,” in Dictionary of National Biography; Thomas Gibson, “A Sketch of the Career of Theodore Turquet de Mayerne,” in Annals of Medical History, n.s. 5 (1933), 315–326; “An Account of Dr. Theodore Turquet de Mayerne’s ’Praxis Medica.’ Augsburg 1691,” ibid., 438–443; and “Letters of Dr. Theodore Turquet de Mayerne to the Syndics and Executive Council of the Republic of Geneva,” ibid., n. s. 9 (1937), 401–421; and William B. Ober, “Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne. M.D., F.R.C.P. (1573–1655); Stuart Physician and Observer,” in New York State Journal of Medicine, 70 (1970) 449–458. Most of these sources contain factual inaccuracies and must be used with caution.

For Turquet’s association with Jean Ribit, see Hugh Trevor-Roper. “The Sieur de la Rivière, Paracelsian Physician of Henri IV,” in Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, Essays to Honor Walter Pagel, Allen G. Debus, ed., II (New York, 1972), 227–250. The Paris dispute over chemical therapy is discussed in W. P. D. Wightman, Science and the Renaissance, I (Edinburgh-London-New York, 1962), 256–263.

For Turquet’s relationship with the English apothecaries, see C. Wall, H. Charles Cameron, and E. Ashworth Underwood. A History of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, I (London, 1963), passim. His role in the publication of the London Pharmacopoeia is discussed by George Urdang in the historical intro. to the facs. repro. of the 1618 ed. of Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (Madison, Wis., 1944); also see Urdang’s “How Chemicals Entered the Official Pharmacopoeias,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, n.s. 7 (1954), 303–314; and Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsians (New York. 1966), 150–156. These should be assessed. however, in the light of Sir George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London, I (Oxford, 1964), 227–230.

Owen Hannaway