The golden panacea. Alchemy and distillation in the court of Philip II (1527-1598)
Authors: F J Puerto Sarmiento
This study analyzes the relationships between Philip II and the two main goals of Alchemy: obtaining or forging alchemical gold, and preparing chemical drugs, liquors and perfumes. The first part of the study shows that throughout his reign Philip II maintained contacts with alchemists of several nationalities (Flemish, German, Italian, English and Spanish) in the Low Countries and Spain who were determined to obtain gold and silver. Their activities were overseen by high-level bureaucrats. Despite the disapproval of the Church and intense repression by the Holy Office, the alchemists had no difficulties during his reign, although their situation changed markedly after his death. In relation with distillation, Philip II ordered stills to be installed in all his gardens in Madrid, Aranjuez and the Escorial. He hired a corps of Flemish distillers who worked at all three sites in the preparation of chemical drugs, liquors and perfumes for the royal household. Their activities, and records conserved at the library of the Escorial, bear witness to a new route for the introduction of Paracelsism in Spain. Philip II organized the distillers' activities and brought them under the oversight of his apothecaries and protophysicians. The distillers' activities were later regulated by the by-laws fo the Royal Apothecary, inaugurated in 1594.