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Panaceia’s Daughters

Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Germany

Panaceia’s Daughters provides the first book-length study of noblewomen’s healing activities in early modern Europe. Drawing on rich archival sources, Alisha Rankin demonstrates that numerous German noblewomen were deeply involved in making medicines and recommending them to patients, and many gained widespread fame for their remedies. Turning a common historical argument on its head, Rankin maintains that noblewomen’s pharmacy came to prominence not in spite of their gender but because of it.
Rankin demonstrates the ways in which noblewomen’s pharmacy was bound up in notions of charity, class, religion, and household roles, as well as in expanding networks of knowledge and early forms of scientific experimentation. The opening chapters place noblewomen’s healing within the context of cultural exchange, experiential knowledge, and the widespread search for medicinal recipes in early modern Europe. Case studies of renowned healers Dorothea of Mansfeld and Anna of Saxony then demonstrate the value their pharmacy held in their respective roles as elderly widow and royal consort, while a study of the long-suffering Duchess Elisabeth of Rochlitz emphasizes the importance of experiential knowledge and medicinal remedies to the patient’s experience of illness.

312 pages | 15 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013


History: European History

History of Science


Women's Studies


Panaceia’s Daughters places early modern women and their relationship with ‘medical cookery’ squarely in the canon of mainstream scientific pursuits. With a discerning eye, Rankin ingeniously exploits not only hitherto unexamined letters but also medical recipes and estate inventories to illuminate a fascinating lay medical world situated at the intersection of medical knowledge, charity, and patronage.”

Justin Grosslight | Arts Fuse

“A thoughtfully written and very clearly argued work that informs many aspects of the history of gender, of science and medicine, and of practical epistemologies.”

Carla Nappi | New Books in Science, Technology, and Society

“A welcome addition to the field. . . . Rankin’s work is not only thoroughly researched and informative but also a highly enjoyable read. Through lively prose, she conveys both astute factual points and presents a clear image of the world in which these noblewomen lived. While the target audience for Panaceia’s Daughters is primarily historians working in the history of science and medicine, Germanic studies, and women’s studies, Rankin’s clear and engaging writing style makes the work accessible to non-academics with an interest in the subject. She should be commended for her finely crafted and original examination of German noblewomen and their role as healers, and her work is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the early modern period.”

Elisabeth Brander, Washington University in St. Louis | Journal of Medical Humanities

“Alisha Rankin has published an original and groundbreaking study of noblewomen’s healing and pharmaceutical activities in early modern Germany. Rankin gives these elite women their due by enumerating and exploring their very concrete contributions to medicine and science. In so doing, she challenges those scholars who even today see women as marginal to this history.”

Renaissance Quarterly

“This is the first carefully researched and detailed study of the healing and medical care provided by elite women in the context of early modern medical culture to be published.”


"In Panaceia’s Daughters, Alisha Rankin describes the healing work of early modern German noblewomen. To reconstruct their knowledge and practices, Rankin has mined a truly impressive array of archival sources, including letters, diaries, chronicles, recipe books and estate inventories. She combines fascinating stories of these women’s lives with persuasive arguments about the rise of experimental method in the sixteenth century and the place of women in early modern science and medicine. The result is a highly engaging book that intervenes in some of the central historiographical debates about the Scientific Revolution."

Kathleen Crowther | Early Science and Medicine

“Impeccably researched. . . . [Rankin’s] engaging text introduces a number of remarkable medical women. Highly recommended.”

S. W. Moss | Choice

Panaceia’s Daughters is a fascinating read. Meticulously researched and brimming with new insights, it tells the forgotten story of the early modern German noblewomen who worked as healers and experimented with newfangled medicines. Alisha Rankin reveals a hitherto invisible underworld of empirical and experimental science that flourished in the households of early modern Germany, and brings back to life the everyday world of the Renaissance courts. A model cultural history of science, Panaceia’s Daughters is an important contribution to our understanding of women’s roles in making scientific knowledge and is essential reading for anyone interested in gender history and the history of the Scientific Revolution. With this engrossing, pathbreaking work, Rankin takes her place among the leading historians of early modern science.”

William Eamon, New Mexico State University

“Through deep and meticulous research into little-used archives, Panaceia’s Daughters gives insight into both macro-historical issues such as the development of new modes of knowledge-making in early modern Europe and micro-historical questions of lay perceptions of sickness and health. Most of all, it underscores the sometimes hidden but always central place of women in health care and healing in the early modern era, revealing the importance of ‘princess-practitioners’ and vividly bringing to life their networks of recipe and medicinal exchange. This book demonstrates that kitchen gardens, still rooms, recipes, and household arts should not be relegated to the margins but, rather, placed squarely within the history of the scientific revolution.”

Pamela H. Smith, Columbia University

“With admirable archival skill and a remarkable ability to tease meaning out of seemingly straightforward sources, Alisha Rankin reconstructs the extensive medical activity and widely recognized authority of scores of German noblewomen and situates them at the nexus of medical expertise, charity, and patronage. This book not only challenges us to rethink our understanding of patronage and court culture in terms of gender but also reminds us of the many varieties of empiricism and experimentalism that flourished in the sixteenth century, long before they were articulated and institutionalized in scientific societies. Panaceia’s Daughters is a delight to read and will further establish early modern German courts as lively sites for the exploration of nature.”

Tara Nummedal, Brown University

“This is a beautifully crafted, solid, and imaginative piece of historical research that brings new light on the role of women in early modern medicine and on their participation in the early modern culture of experimentation and empiricism. Alisha Rankin highlights the connection between the medieval tradition of experimenta (medical recipes) and the birth of early modern empiricist attitudes and practices, thus offering an important contribution to the history of early modern scientific culture.”

Gianna Pomata, Johns Hopkins University

Table of Contents

Early Modern Pharmaceutical Weights and Measures
Archive Abbreviations
Note on Translations

Introduction: Pharmacy for Princesses

Part I. Contexts
1. Noble Empirics
2. Art Written Down

Part II. Case Studies
3. Dorothea of Mansfeld: A Mirror and Example for Rich and Poor
4. Anna of Saxony and Her Medical “Handiwork”
5. Elisabeth of Rochlitz and the Experience of Illness




Sixteenth Century Society and Conference: Gerald Strauss Award

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