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Bourdelot, Pierre Michon

1. Dates
Born: Sens, 2 February 1610
Died: Paris, 9 February 1685
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 75
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Physician
His father, Maximilien Michon, was a barber-surgeon in Sens. His mother was a niece of Theodore Beza. It was her family name, rather than Michon, that Bourdelot bore. In 1634 he was adopted by his two uncles on his mother's side, Edmé Bourdelot, physician to the king, and Jean Bourdelot, a jurist and distinguished Hellenist.
It is not clear in what economic circumstances Bourdelot grew up.
3. Nationality
Birth: Sens, French
Career: French, Swedish
Death: Paris, French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris, M.D.
Early accounts that Bourdelot had no formal education are mistaken. About 1629 he began his medical studies in Paris, and graduated M.D. in 1642. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Heterodox
In light of Bourdelot's heritage on his mother's side, there is room for ambiguity. Moreover, he required a special dispensation from the Pope to hold the Abbey of Macé. However, this is explained by the fact that Bourdelot was not ordained, and there would surely have been some comment had the Pope granted a dispensation for a Protestant to hold the income from an abbey. Because of Macé, Bourdelot is called the Abbé Bourdelot. In fact he is said to have been an avowed atheist.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Organization, Medicine
As the founder of Académie Bourdelot, Bourdelot played an important role in the scientific life of Paris between 1640 and 1680, providing material assistance and a means of diffusing experimental results.
He successfully developed a treatment for gout, which brought him fame.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Secondary: Medicine
In 1634 Francois de Noailles made Bourdelot his physician and took him to Rome where Noailles was the French ambassador. When he returned to Paris in 1638, Bourdelot entered the service of Prince Henri II de Condé, the governor of Burgundy. Having earned the title of king's physician, he settled in Paris in 1642 and became the Condé family's physician. Upon the death of Henri II de Condé in 1646, Bourdelot served his son, Louis II, Duke of Enghien. In 1651, he left the Condé family to go to Sweden as physician to Queen Christina, whom he cured of a malady that sounds largely psychological. He returned to France, laden with gifts from the Queen, in 1653.
In Paris he obtained the living of the abbey of Macé in Berry, on the condition that Bourdelot practice medicine free of charge to the poor, which he did for the rest of his life. (I take the specific reference to the poor to indicate that Bourdelot also maintained a practice among those who were not poor, beyond his services to his patrons.) The abbey gave him the right to the title abbé. When the Great Condé returned from exile in 1659, Bourdelot again became his physician.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat
See above.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
In 1640s he founded Académie Bourdelot, the biweekly meetings of which were attended by nobles, men of letters, philosophers, and scientists, including Roberval, Gassendi, Etienne, and Pascal. During the winter of 1647/1648 several new experiments on the vacuum were presented and discussed at the meetings.
In 1664, he resumed the meetings of his academy. These meetings were attended by future members of the Académie Royale, by foreign scholars passing through, by violent partisans of Descartes and Gassendi, and by all sorts of alchemists and visionaries. The academy continued to meet more or less regularly until 1684.
  1. Dictionaire de biographie francaise, 6, cols. 1439-1440.
  2. D. Riesman, "Bourdelot, a Physician of Queen Christina of Sweden," Annals of Medical History, new ser., 9 (1937), 191.
  3. J.A.Hazon, ed., Notice des hommes les plus celebres de la Faculté de Médecine en l'Université de Paris, (Paris 1778), pp. 124-7.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. R.J. Denichou, Un medecin du grand siecle: l'abbe Bourdelot, (Paris, 1928).
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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