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l'Écluse, Charles de [Carolus Clusius]

1. Dates
Born: Arras (Artois), 19 Feb. 1526
Died: Leyden, 4 April 1609
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 83
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Michel de l'Écluse was lord of Watènes and councillor at the provincial court of Artois. Charles was the oldest child and thus bore the titel seigneur de Watènes. The family was forced to flee their home in the 1550's because of the war.
The family is explicitly described as rich.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: Belgian Area, German, Dutch
Death: Dutch
4. Education
Schooling: Louvain, LD; Wittenberg, Montpelier
He received a substantial education. He was trained as a lawyer under Gabriel Mudaeus and received his licence in law from the University of Louvain. I am listing all degrees in law.
1546, entered the college of three languages at Leyden. I am not sure what this means, but the Univ. of Leyden had not been founded in that year.
1548, University of Marburg, ostensibly to study law, though he was attracted by religious issues.
1549, he passed the year with Philippe Melanchthon in Wittenberg.
1551-4. His interest in botany was awakened in 1551, when he studied with Guillaume Rondelet, a professor at the University of Montpellier. It is sometimes said that l'Écluse received a licenciate in medicine, but there is no evidence for this. Moreover, he never practiced medicine. I take a B.A. or its equivalent to be obvious.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Protestant
BNB says that his protestant convictions stemmed from his time with Melanchthon in Wittenberg. He suffered along with his family (some of whom were martyred) the effects of anti- Protestant persecutions. The ultimate appointment in Leyden suggests Calvinism or at least a willingness to conform publicly to it.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany
Subordinate: Natural History, Pharmacology
His Rariorum plantarum historia (1601) records approximately 100 new species; Exoticorum libri decem (1605) is an important work on exotic flora and includes everything that he published on the subject. Those two works contain all of his original contributions in botany and natural history and are still often consulted. He also published other works and translated several works of his contemporaries in natural science.
He edited De piscibus marinis libri xviii, (1554).
He published Antidotarium, sive de exacta componendorum miscendorumque medicamentorum ratione libri tres (1561) and another similar work in 1567.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Secondary: Academia, Personal Means
1561-3, he was governor to two young Silesians, Thomas and Abraham Rediger. In 1562 he fled to the Low Countries. I don't find anything about the years 1554-61. I assume that he was living on the family wealth, but the religious turmoil would have overtaken them about this time. The need to tutor would testify to this.
1563-5, he accompanied two young Fuggers on an instructional voyage.
1566-7, he lived in Bruges with Gui and Marc Lauweryn, patrons of science.
1567-71, he lived in Malines. Around 1566 he had received (from what source is not said) a modest estate which was sufficient to support him. In 1571 he gave his share of the estate to his father, who had just been stripped of his fortune.
1571-2, a trip to Paris and London.
1573, upon the death of his father, he received the title seigneur de Watènes, but passed it on to his younger brother. After this, according the BNB, he managed without family, resources, or employment, all of which points clearly to patronage.
1574-6, he was summoned to Vienna by the Emperor. Here he was attached in some way to the imperial garden. Some refer to him as its director. After religious problems arose, he lived with Jean Aichholtz, a professor at the university.
1578, dead broke, he left Vienna for Frankfurt, where he worked doing further editions of his own work and publishing translations of the works of others for several years. Eventually he received a pension from Wilhelm IV of Hesse.
He was appointed professor of botany at the University of Leiden in 1593, and he held the chair until his death in 1609.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Physician, Court Official
First, the Rediger family of Breslau and then Antoine Fugger, Count of Kirchperg and Weissenhorn, whose two sons he tutored.
Gui and Marc Lauweryn, seigneurs of Watervliet, supported him in 1566-7.
The physician to Maximiliar II, Nicolas Biese, an old teacher of l'Écluse, was probably the person who engineered his call to Vienna in 1573.
Maximilian II gave him a position and occasional honoraria. Rudolf II may have continued the support briefly, but religious issues quickly ended this phase of his life.
He corresponded with Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate.
Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse gave him a pension and enjoyed his company.
I don't find reference to who arranged the appointment in Leyden, but it had to have passed through the court of the princes of Orange.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacology, Cartography
Beyond his interest (like that of every other natural historian of the age) in the medicinal properties of plants, l'Écluse did not practice medicine.
He prepared two major maps for Ortelius, one of Gallia Narbonensis (or southern France) and the other of Spain.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He carried on an extended correspondence with learned men, including Ortelius and Mercator. Some of this has been published.
  1. Biographie nationale . . . de Belgique, 5, 383-404.
  2. J.P. Niceron, Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire des hommes illustres, 30, 38.
  3. Leo Bagrow, A. Ortelii Catalogus Cartographorum, 2 vols. Ergänzungsheften Nr. 199 & 210 zu "Petermanns Mitteilungen," (Gotha, 1928-30), 1 (Nr. 199), 62-3.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. C.J.E. Morren, Chales de l'Escluse, sa vie et ses oeuvres, (Liege, 1875).
  2. C.F.A. Morren, in Belgique horticole, 3 (1853), v-xix.
  3. Bulletin. Société royale de botanique de Belgique, 1 (1862), 14- 15.
  4. E. Roze, Charles de l'Ecluse d'Arras, le propagateur de la pomme de terre au XVIe siècle. Sa biographie et sa correspondance, (Paris, 1899).
  5. F.W.T. Hunger, Charles de l'Ecluse, (Den Haag, 1927).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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