Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Jewel House

The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution

Deborah E. Harkness
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Jewel House
    Book Description:

    This book explores the streets, shops, back alleys, and gardens of Elizabethan London, where a boisterous and diverse group of men and women shared a keen interest in the study of nature. These assorted merchants, gardeners, barber-surgeons, midwives, instrument makers, mathematics teachers, engineers, alchemists, and other experimenters Deborah Harkness contends formed a patchwork scientific community whose practices set the stage for the Scientific Revolution. While Francis Bacon has been widely regarded as the father of modern science, scores of his London contemporaries also deserve a share in this distinction. It was their collaborative, yet often contentious, ethos that helped to develop the ideals of modern scientific research.

    The book examines six particularly fascinating episodes of scientific inquiry and dispute in sixteenth-century London, bringing to life the individuals involved and the challenges they faced. These men and women experimented and invented, argued and competed, waged wars in the press, and struggled to understand the complexities of the natural world. Together their stories illuminate the blind alleys and surprising twists and turns taken as medieval philosophy gave way to the empirical, experimental culture that became a hallmark of the Scientific Revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18575-1
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Conventions
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. A Note About “Science”
    (pp. xv-xix)
  6. Prelude. London, 1600: The View from Somewhere
    (pp. 1-14)

    Standing on the south bank of the River Thames in 1600 and looking from Southwark to the ancient walled City of London, the viewer would have been struck by four features of her skyline: the monumental, crenellated stone fortress of the Tower of London to the east; the round, half-timbered “O” of the Globe Theater to the south; the truncated spire of St. Paul’s cathedral in the west, rising up from the rectangular bulk of the enormous medieval church, still charred from a stroke of lightning that had blown off the top; and the sun glinting off the golden grasshopper...

  7. 1 Living on Lime Street: “English” Natural History and the European Republic of Letters
    (pp. 15-56)

    In 1597 James Garret, a Flemish apothecary who lived and worked in London, paid a visit to the shop of Bonham and John Norton, one of the City’s busiest and most prestigious publishers. The Nortons specialized in expensive, large-format books, and they were in the process of readying John Gerard’s massive manuscript ofThe herball or Generall historie of plantesfor the presses (Figure 1.1). It was the most ambitious English-language publication on the subject that had ever been attempted, and its release promised to make Gerard a household name as ladies bought up copies so that they could trace...

  8. 2 The Contest over Medical Authority: Valentine Russwurin and the Barber-Surgeons
    (pp. 57-96)

    Valentine Russwurin, an itinerant medical practitioner from the central European town of Schmalkalden, carved out a place for himself in London’s bustling medical market sometime in the late spring of 1573, when he set up a temporary market stall just outside the Royal Exchange, at the commercial heart of the City (Figure 2.1). There he displayed his collection of extracted bladder stones removed from reportedly happy and healthy patients, presented testimonials related to his ability to surgically treat cataracts, and held up samples of a powerful ointment that he had developed to combat skin diseases — all the while keeping...

  9. 3 Educating Icarus and Displaying Daedalus: Mathematics and Instrumentation in Elizabethan London
    (pp. 97-141)

    Sometime around 1590 the mathematical author and educator Humfrey Baker (fl. 1557–90) picked up a stack of broadsides from a London printer and began tacking them up on every conceivable surface of the City and distributing them at the booksellers’ stalls along with his popular arithmetic textbook,The well spryng of sciences(1568), and his translation of Oronce Fine’s work on astrology,The rules and righte ample documentes, touchinge the use and practise of the common almanackes(1558). The broadside was divided into three sections. One focused on the theoretical lessons Baker was prepared to teach in subjects such...

  10. 4 “Big Science” in Elizabethan London
    (pp. 142-180)

    In the chill winter of 1577 William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted minister, held a clandestine meeting somewhere in London with a Venetian merchant and alchemist named Giovan Battista Agnello. The alchemist lived in the eastern end of London, in the prosperous parish of St. Helen Bishopsgate, which was home to many immigrants. There Agnello had established his alchemical reputation as someone with special expertise in the early form of metallurgical chemistry, which put experimental processes within a resolutely allegorical framework concerning the transformation and redemption of matter. Some alchemists toiled away with their potions and equipment to transform base...

  11. 5 Clement Draper’s Prison Notebooks: Reading, Writing, and Doing Science
    (pp. 181-210)

    On a Friday night in the spring of 1581/82, Thomas Seafold, who was being held at her majesty’s pleasure in the King’s Bench prison in Southwark, had a dream. His long-dead tenant Robert Jeckeler appeared to him in his sleep and told him how to prepare a marvelous restorative elixir. The process of manufacture required several stages. After gathering human excrement and putting it into a two-gallon glass vessel, Seafold was supposed to add three or four pounds of quicksilver to the noxious contents and stew them over a gentle fire for a few days before distilling the mess to...

  12. 6 From the Jewel House to Salomon’s House: Hugh Plat, Francis Bacon, and the Social Foundations of the Scientific Revolution
    (pp. 211-253)

    We began this exploration of science in Elizabethan London in a busy printer’s shop within the City’s walls. We end in the leafy western suburb of Holborn in the midst of a handful of collegiate quadrangles known as the Inns of Court. The Inns served as dormitories for wealthy young gentlemen who had not yet succeeded to their lands and titles, and as Elizabethan London’s law schools. In the early modern period they were famous for the youthful exuberance of their residents and the sage advice their members provided to the notoriously litigious early modern population. While some residents of...

  13. Coda: Toward an Ethnography of Early Modern Science
    (pp. 254-260)

    The stories in this book have taken us from Lime Street to the Royal Exchange. They plunged us into Elizabethan math classes and instrument shops. We witnessed the assays of Frobisher’s black rocks, and went to prison to see Clement Draper. At Hugh Plat’s side we visited John Dee and Mrs. Gore. And at the end we found ourselves not in London but in an imagined institution for science called Salomon’s House that was both distinct from, and eerily reminiscent of, the City. In this brief coda I share why I believe that these stories and the journey they make...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 261-298)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-330)
  16. Index
    (pp. 331-349)