Benoist Pierre

Researcher’s profile



French court medical practitioners in the 17th century: versatility, innovation and health policy


This paper deals with court physicians in France in the 17th century from Henry IV to Louis XIV, based mainly on first physicians to the king. It focuses largely on assessing and understanding the functions of these commensals, their place in court systems and in health policies on the basis of the French example. One of the chief characteristics of this group is the marked versatility of the service both in medical practice and in court service. Jean Héroard for instance published a Traité d’Hippostologie in Paris in 1599 and was veterinary surgeon to the king before becoming his first physician and that of the Dauphin. Under Louis XIII, the king also entrusted him with other missions unrelated to the medical service. These practitioners were no different from other groups at court that have tended to be analysed using the yardstick of professionalisation and specialisation without regard to the fact that one of their chief characteristics was precisely that of not acting only in accordance with specific predefined practices. This did not prevent them from being at the centre of knowledge and of “innovations”. The majority of these practitioners had in fact studied at the medical school of Montpellier (except, among first physicians, Jean Cousinot and Gui-Crescent Fagon), a competitor with the school of Paris in terms of medical knowledge. This is true of Jean Héroard, François Vautier, Superintendent of the ‘Jardin du roi’ (the Royal Botanical Garden), Antoine Vallot (1652-1672), particularly despised by the faculty of medicine of Paris, and the famous Antoine Daquin (1672-1693). It is also true of Pierre Chirac (1650-1732) at the beginning of the reign of Louis XV. They all championed the physicians of Languedoc and permitted them to settle in Paris, granting them authority to act as medical advisers. This was certainly the result of scientific solidarity which extended into aulic and social promotions, but it also came from a deliberate will on the part of the state to establish an opposing scientific community that was loyal and considered innovative compared with the “traditionalist” galenical medicine (or what was perceived as such) of the faculty of medicine of Paris.


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