Friday, December 18, 2009

Diane de Poitiers' Elixir of Youth: Side Effects Include Death

Odds are, you've already seen this: it's one of those weird news stories that everybody, from the Tri-City Herald to WJAC.

"Study: Too much drinkable gold for king's mistress"
The Associated Press (December 17, 2009)

"A British medical journal has published findings saying a mistress of 16th-century French King Henry II may have died from consuming too much drinkable gold.

"When French experts dug up the remains of Diane de Poitiers last year, they found high levels of gold in her hair. Since she was not a queen and did not wear a crown, scientists said it was hard to see how jewelry could have contaminated her hair and body...."

Odds are, a sort of "drinkable gold" killed her. It was a sort of youth-preserving medical treatment that was popular at the time - for women with enough disposable income to afford the stuff.

The Associated Press isn't known for playing practical jokes on its clients, but I did a little checking, anyway. Sure enough, "drinkable gold" was a sort of elixir of youth at one time. Toxic, ineffective, and ultimately lethal: but popular.

Notes on Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 3
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

"...Drinkable gold is "a preparation of nitro-muriate of gold deoxydized by some volatile oil, formerly esteemed as a cordial medicine; drinkable gold." See Johannes Agricola's Treatise on Gold 4...."

That link to "Treatise on Gold 4" leads to:

"Joannes Agricola - Treatise on Gold"
Chapter 4.
The Alechemy Website

"Another Process for the Preparation of Oil of Gold

"Take purified gold, 2 Lots; quick silver, 8 Lots. Make of them an amalgam such as goldsmiths make when trying to gild. Put this ground gold in a leather and dry the quicksilver off it...."

Don't laugh. Alchemy started out as a serious - and useful - study of materials. The basic designs of beakers, crucibles, and most other glassware you see in chemistry labs today were the work of alchemists.

Then, alchemists discovered that they could get the equivalent of government grants if they said they could turn lead into gold. Or, in this case, preserve youth.


Brigid said...

Isn't quite as crazy sounding as some youth preservers people have come up with. I think the first emperor of China ended up offing himself by drinking mercury in an attempt at immortality. (That and his already high level of paranoia did not help his sanity in his last years.)

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Yeah, quite a guy.

I seem to remember his name was Ying Zheng - but later he liked to be called Qin Shi Huang. And, the way he ran things, people called him whatever he wanted.

There's a pretty good writeup on him at

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