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Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius [Agrippa von Nettesheim]

1. Dates
Born: Nettesheim (?), near Cologne, 14 Sep 1486
Died: Grenoble or Lyon, ca. 18 Feb 1535
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 49
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
His father, Heinrich von Nettesheim, was a citizen of Cologne. Agrippa inflated his family's nobility from around 1526, leading early biographers to conclude that the title "von" indicated nobility or knighthood.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: (Nettesheim?), near Cologne, Germany
Career: France, Germany, Italy
Death: Grenoble and Lyon, France
4. Education
Schooling: Cologne, M.A.
1499, enrolled at Cologne, where he studied law, medicine, "magic sciences," and theology. He received an M.A. I assume then a B.A.
1506, he went to Paris to study.
He probably did not have an M.D., but he claimed to have one.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic (assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Occult Philosophy, Alchemy, Medicine
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Patronage
Secondary: Government
After 1506, he went in military service to Catalonia. After a shadowy military adventure there, he wandered to Barcelona, Naples, Avignon, and Dôle.
1509, in Dôle he set up a laboratory for the alchemical production of gold. He sought to gain favor with princess Margaret. He later gave lectures (I presume at the university) on Johann Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico. Whether he came to give these lectures on account of his knowledge of the Cabbala or due to Margaret's favor is not known. Eventually, anti-semitic pressure from the Franciscans forced him to stop lecturing on the Cabbala and to flee to England.
1510, he spent a short time in London with John Colet. He then returned to Cologne and held theological disputations.
1511-18, living in northern Italy, probably earning a living as an alchemist. Contrary to standard reports, he does not appear to have served in the emperor's army or on the council in Milan. During this period he was trying to secure a university position, especially at Pavia (where he expounded hermetic writings in 1515) or Turin (where he lectured on theology). He lived cost-free with his wife and child in Casale thanks to the generosity of a fellow Cabbalist, Marchese del Monferrat. Still, he looked elsewhere for help and protection.
1517, still living as a vagrant, he delivered a lobrede to the Duke of Savoy, most probably fishing for patronage.
1518-20, he finally had an honest job as a public advocate and defense lawyer in Metz.
1520, he went to Geneva, where he practiced medicine.
1523-4, he practiced medicine in Fribourg without a qualification. According to the D.S.B. he was a salaried town physician. At any rate, he left the city in 1524.
1524, he became physician to the queen-mother at the court of King Francis I in Lyons. He also appears to have been court astrologer. He wrote a work on artillery for the king and a book on marriage for his sister, the queen of Navarre. The queen-mother left Lyons when the king was imprisoned in Italy, made vague promises of employment in Paris, and then left without paying Agrippa. This left him destitute and he even began trying to make gold again.
He found another patron in Connétable de Bourbon, who subsequently died at the sack of Rome (1527).
An unidentified merchant from Genoa with contacts in the Netherlands gave him enough support so that he could take his family to Paris for recuperation, and eventually leave for the Netherlands with some money in his pocket.
He settled in Antwerp and attemted to get the position of court physician to Queen Margaret of Austria. He failed, but worked in Antwerp as a physician, especially during the plague, and made some good money at it. Eventually he was banned from practicing medicine without a permit by the medical faculty.
1530, he moved to Mecheln, the town where Queen Margaret had her court, and worked as court historian.
1531, he was put in debtor's prison. Cardinal Campeggio, Cardinal Lamarck, and Count Wied, the Lutheran archbishop of Cologne, helped him to escape.
1532, he fled to Cologne to the court of the archbishop.
1532, he set up a house in Bonn.
1535, he travelled to Lyons, where he was imprisoned. He escaped to Grenobles, where he died.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat, Court Official
With the patronage of the Anthony I, archbishop of Besançon, he established an alchemical laboratory in Avignon. The archbishop also appears to have helped him lecture in Dôle.
Margaret, queen of Austria and Mistress of Dôle and Burgundy (see text above).
Francis I (see text above).
Count Hermann von Wied, archbishop of Cologne, assisted him to escape from prison and sheltered him thereafter.
Chapuys was a patron. He comissioned Agrippa to write a pamphlet against Henry VIII.
Connétable de Bourbon (see text above).
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
I can't take that supposed book on military engineering seriously.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
In Paris (I assume around 1506) he founded a secret society whose members were sworn to help eachother advance through astrology, magic, the Cabbala, and alchemy.
  1. Heinrich Grimm, Neue deutsche Biographie (Berlin, 1953), 1, 105- 106.
  2. Fritz Mauthner, ed., introduction to Agrippa von Nettesheim, Die Eitelkeit und Undsicherheit der Wissenschaften und die Verteidigungsschuft, (Munich: Georg Müller, 1913), pp. vi- xlv. [B781.A3 I48].
  3. Note: Agrippa is difficult because he was a self-aggrandizing liar. I have relied primarily on Mauthner.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, De occulta philosophia libri tres, V. Perrone Compagni, ed. (Studies in the History of Christian Thoughts, 48), (Leiden, 1992).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University
Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.
©1995 Al Van Helden
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