Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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"Lady Alcumy": Elizabethan Gentlewomen and the Practice of Chymistry

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:27 authored by Latham, Sienna Louise

This thesis explores the advent of gentlewomen's chymical activities in Elizabethan England. In the sixteenth century, chymistry gained widespread currency under Queen Elizabeth I. This thesis argues that the queen's significant chymical interests contributed to her iconography, thereby bridging England's previously discrete chymical and female realms. It shows that Elizabeth's influence and fundamental societal changes enabled women, beginning with the gentry, to acquire and apply chymical knowledge. Four case studies highlight the queen's impact on her female subjects through an examination of primary manuscript and printed sources. The Protestant gentlewomen Grace Mildmay, Mary Sidney Herbert, Margaret Hoby and Margaret Clifford may first have encountered chymistry in the manifestation of their religious beliefs through charitable healing, but they developed their knowledge in very different ways. Evidence of their engagement with chymical practitioners and writings provides context for their activities. Shared motivations led to divergent practices, indicating that chymistry in Elizabethan England took as many forms as there were practitioners. This thesis asserts the crucial importance of community to early modern chymists, noting courtly links and overlapping social circles. It contributes to limited historiography on Elizabethan alchemy as well as female alchemists.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Parry, Glyn