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The Tudor Society

21 April – The Philosopher’s Stone offered to Elizabeth I

On this day in Tudor history, 21st April 1581, alchemist Thomas Charnock was buried at Otterhampton in Somerset.

Charnock was obsessed with alchemy and claimed to have made the philosopher's stone, which he offered to Queen Elizabeth I in exchange for financial support.

Find out more about Thomas Charnock, his work on alchemy, and the philosopher's stone, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 21st April 1509, King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty on the English throne, died at Richmond Palace. He was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII. Find out more in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1566 (20th or 21st) – Death of Sir John Mason, member of Parliament, diplomat in the reigns of four Tudor monarchs, Privy Councillor in Edward VI's reign and Treasurer of the Chamber in Elizabeth I's reign. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, in the north choir.
  • 1566 – Death of Sir Richard Sackville, member of Parliament and administrator, in London. He served Henry VIII as Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations and Escheator of Surrey and Sussex, Edward VI as Custos Rotulorum of Sussex (a post held until his death) and Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, and Elizabeth I as Privy Councillor and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was buried at Withyham in Sussex.
  • 1580 – Death of philanthropist William Lambe. He was buried at St Faith under St Paul's. Lambe was a Gentleman of the Royal Chapel in Henry VIII's reign, but is known for his philanthropy in Elizabeth I's reign. For example, he funded the building of almshouses and a grammar school in Sutton Valance, Kent, also the building of Holborn conduit.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 21st April 1581, alchemist Thomas Charnock was buried at Otterhampton in Somerset. He had died at his home in Combwich in Somerset.
I had never heard of Charnock before coming across him while researching for my book “On This Day in Tudor History”, but I wanted to know more about him when I read that in his work “Booke dedicated vnto the queenes maiestie”, he offered Elizabeth I the health and wealth that the philosopher's stone could bring if she would finance his work. The Philosopher’s Stone! Wow!

Let me tell you a bit more about this 16th century alchemist…
• Thomas Charnock was born in the mid 1520s in Faversham, Kent.
• He referred to himself as an “unlettered scholar” and it appears that he did not receive much in terms of formal education.
• His biographer Robert M Schuler writes that he’d become involved in alchemy by the time he was 12. Alchemy, of course, being concerned with changing base substances like metals into other substances, such as silver or gold, or finding a universal elixir. Charnock’s uncle, also named Thomas Charnock, who had served King Henry VII as confessor, was also an alchemist, and when he died, Charnock had access to his collection of alchemical works.
• He travelled all over England to broaden his knowledge of alchemy and to collect works on the subject.
• Around 1554, he learned the secret of the philosopher’s stone from a priest and an abbot, and he set about applying what he had learned.
• Charnock’s alchemical work caused a fire in 1555 which destroyed some of his work.
• In 1557, just after he had allegedly been successful at achieving the philosopher’s stone, he was drafted into defending Calais. He hadn’t wanted to do this, but it seems that he’d made an enemy of his local Justice of the Peace, who made sure he was conscripted. In frustration, he smashed up his work and vowed never to work on alchemy again. It is, however, thought that he wrote his work “Breviary of Natural Philosophy”, an account of his alchemical experiences, while he was in Calais.
• In 1562, he married Agnes Norden at Stockland Bristol in Somerset and he began an unlicensed medical practice there. He had two children by Agnes, a son, Absolon, who died in infancy, and a daughter Bridget.
• He didn’t practise medicine for very long as the alchemy bug bit him once more, and in 1579, he claimed that he had succeeded in making the stone once more.
• He offered Queen Elizabeth I the Philosopher’s Stone in return for her granting him as 14-year subsidy for his alchemical work and even said that he would lose his head on Tower Hill if he wasn’t successful at making her the stone, which would prolong her life and also produce gold for her coinage. Unfortunately for Charnock, he was turned down.
A bit if trivia now - According to GlynParr, author of “The Arch Conjuror of England”, a book on John Dee, Charnock claimed that King Henry VII had “possessed the purest stone” by 1504.
• One hundred years after his death, a friend of philosopher and writer John Aubrey visited Charnock’s former home at Combwich to see an alchemical scroll which has been discovered hidden in the wall of the property. Nobody had dared live in the house after Charnock’s death as it was believed to be haunted by spirits. There, he found Charnock’s intact laboratory which was still painted with alchemical symbols.
• So that’s alchemist Thomas Charnock who died on this day in 1581.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. C /

    A great video, Claire. It’s fascinating alchemy. I’ve been interested in this pseudo-science, yet forerunner to chemistry, ever since I read a book about John Dee.

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21 April – The Philosopher’s Stone offered to Elizabeth I