University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Elite paternalism and exotic drug demand in early modern France: the case of the Marquis de Louvois and quinquina, circa 1685

Elite paternalism and exotic drug demand in early modern France: the case of the Marquis de Louvois and quinquina, circa 1685

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My talk will explore the links between household medical consumption of prominent aristocratic families and the early bulk consumption of exotic, non-European drugs by the French army in the 17th century. Men of state like the French War Secretary, the Marquis de Louvois, approached their personal health problems – as well as those of their families and servants – through personal networks of informants, suppliers and experts. Looking specifically at Peruvian cinchona bark (quinquina), I will consider how Louvois’ personal advocacy of the drug helped extend its use to his subordinates, servants, the king and ultimately in bulk volumes to thousands of soldiers during an epidemic of intermittent fevers at the construction site of the Eure Canal.

Louvois’ drug networks were not in any sense dependent upon traditional ‘medical’ actors such as physicians or apothecaries: it was in fact Louvois who supplied his physicians with quinquina, not vice versa. His networks of supply and information included reliable familial clients from many walks of life, from domestics to jewellers and bankers, and other servants scattered strategically through various institutions and settings, both in France and abroad.

Drawing on this case and a few others, I argue that the personal consumption of élites served as a crucial mediator for population-scale consumption of exotic drugs. Far from an economy of individualised consumption, I argue that the state marketplace for exotic drugs originated within a broader culture of paternalism and charity: it was an extension of the personal care of aristocratic patrons for their clients and servants.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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