Hungary water

Hungary water is spirit of wine distilled upon rosemary, and which therefore contains the essential oil and powerful aroma of that plant. To be really good the spirit of wine ought to be very strong and the rosemary fresh; and if that be the case, the leaves are as proper as the flowers, which according to the prescription of some should only be employed. It is likewise necessary that the spirit of wine be distilled several times over the rosemary; but that process is too troublesome and expensive to admit of this water being disposed of at the low price for which it is usually sold; and it is certain that the greater part of it is nothing else than common spirit, united with the essence of rosemary in the simplest manner. In general, it is only mixed with a few drops of the oil. For a long time past this article has been brought to us principally from France, where it is prepared, particularly at Beaucaire, Montpelier, and other places in Languedoc, where that plant grows in great abundance.

The name, l'eau de la reine d'Hongrie, seems to signify that this water, so celebrated for its medicinal virtues, is an Hungarian invention; and we read in many books that the receipt for preparing it was given to a queen of Hungary by a hermit, or as others say, by an angel, who appeared to her in a garden all entrance to which was shut, in the form of a hermit or a youth 965. Some call the queen St. Isabella 966 ; but those who pretend to be best acquainted with the circumstance affirm that Elizabeth wife of Charles Robert king of Hungary, and daughter of Uladislaus II. king of Poland, who died in 1380 or 1381, was the inventress. By often washing with this spirit of rosemary, when in the seventieth year of her age, she was cured, as we are told, of the gout and an universal lameness; so that she not only lived to pass eighty, but became so lively and beautiful that she was courted by the king of Poland, who was then a widower, and who wished to make her his second wife.

John George Hoyer 967  says that the receipt for preparing this water, written by queen Elizabeth's own hand, in golden characters, is still preserved in the Imperial library at Vienna. But it has been already remarked by others 968 that Hoyer is mistaken, and that he does not properly remember the account given of the receipt. It is to be found for the first time, as far as I know, in a small book by John Prevot, which, after his death in 1631, was published by his two sons at Frankfort in 1659 969.

One may easily see that Prevot mistook this Elizabeth for St. Elizabeth, the daughter of king Andrew II., who was never queen of Hungary, but died wife of a landgrave of Thuringia in 1235. But respecting Elizabeth, the wife of king Charles Robert, we know from the information of Hungarian writers 970 , that in her will she really did mention two breviaries, one of which she bequeathed to her daughter-in-law, and the other to one Clara von Pukur, with this stipulation, however, that after her death it should belong to a monastery at Buda. It is not impossible, therefore, that one of these books may have come into the hands of Podacather's ancestors.

I must however confess, that respecting this pretended invention of the Hungarian queen I have doubts; it may be readily conjectured that this Elizabeth must have been extremely vain; but when she wished to make posterity believe that in the seventieth, or seventy-second year of her age she became so sound and so beautiful that a king, at that time a widower, grew enamoured of her, we may justly conclude that she was more than vain—that she was perhaps childish. I have taken the trouble to search for the king, then a widower, who paid his addresses to Elizabeth, but my labour has proved fruitless. This proposal of marriage must have been made about the year 1370; but Casimir III., brother of the Hungarian Elizabeth, reigned in Poland till that year, and was succeeded by her son Louis, who died after her in 1382; and the throne then remained vacant for three years.

It is rather singular that the name of aqua-vitæ, and the practice of distilling spirit of wine upon aromatic herbs, should be known in Hungary so early as the fourteenth century, though I will not pretend to affirm the contrary. But I consider it as more remarkable that the botanists of the seventeenth century should have spoken of and extolled the various properties of rosemary without mentioning Hungary water. It cannot however be denied, that in the sixteenth century, long before Prevot, Zapata 971 , an Italian physician, taught the method of preparing rosemary-water: and he has even told us that it was known, though imperfectly, to Arnoldus de Villa Nova; but he does not say that it was an Hungarian invention. It appears to me most probable, at present, that the name l'eau de la reine d'Hongrie, was chosen by those who in later times prepared rosemary-water for sale, in order to give greater consequence and credit to their commodity; as various medicines, some years ago, were extolled in the gazettes under the title of Pompadour, though the celebrated lady from whose name they derived their importance, certainly neither ever saw them nor used them.


965  Universal Lexicon, vol. xlix. p. 1340.

966  Traité de la Chemie, par N. le Febure. Leyde, 1669, 2 vols. 12mo, i. p. 474.

967  In his notes to Blumentrost's Haus- und Reise-apotheke. Leipzig, 1716, 8vo, cap. 16, p. 47.

968  Succincta Medicorum Hungariæ et Transilvaniæ Biographia, ex adversariis St. Wespremi. Wien, 1778, 8vo, p. 213.

969  Selectiora remedia multiplici usu comprobata, quæ inter secreta medica jure recenseas. In page 6 the following passage occurs: “For the gout in the hands and the feet. As the wonderful virtue of the remedy given below has been confirmed to me by the cases of many, I shall relate by what good fortune I happened to meet with it. In the year 1606 I saw among the books of Francis Podacather, of a noble Cyprian family, with whom I was extremely intimate, a very old breviary, which he held in high veneration, because, he said, it had been presented by St. Elizabeth, queen of Hungary, to some of his ancestors, as a testimony of the friendship which subsisted between them. In the beginning of this book he showed me a remedy for the gout written by the queen's own hand, in the following words, which I copied:—

“‘I Elizabeth, queen of Hungary, being very infirm and much troubled with the gout in the seventy-second year of my age, used for a year this receipt given to me by an ancient hermit whom I never saw before nor since; and was not only cured, but recovered my strength, and appeared to all so remarkably beautiful, that the king of Poland asked me in marriage, he being a widower and I a widow. I however refused him for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, from one of whose angels I believe I received the remedy. The receipt is as follows:

“‘℞. Take of aqua vitæ, four times distilled, three parts, and of the tops and flowers of rosemary two parts: put these together in a close vessel, let them stand in a gentle heat fifty hours, and then distil them. Take one dram of this in the morning once every week, either in your food or drink, and let your face and the diseased limb be washed with it every morning.

“‘It renovates the strength, brightens the spirits, purifies the marrow and nerves, restores and preserves the sight, and prolongs life.' Thus far from the Breviary.”—Then follows a confirmation which Prevot gives from his own experience.

970  Medicorum Hungariæ Biographia,.

971  The book of Zapata, who is not noticed in the Gelehrten Lexicon, was printed at Rome, as Haller says in his Biblioth. Botan. vol. i. p. 368, in the year 1586; and other editions are mentioned in Boerhavii Methodus Studii Medici, p. 728 and 869. I have now before me, Joh. Bapt. Zapatæ, Medici Romani, Mirabilia seu Secreta Medico-chirurgica—per Davidem Spleissium. Ulmiæ, 1696. The passage above alluded to occurs in page 49.