Arnaud Zimmern

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Notre Dame

2020 to 2021
Research Fellow

Touching Kings, Drinking Gold: Crises of Sovereignty in Jacobean Medicine

My project investigates the interplay between political legitimacy and therapeutic competence in the reign of King James I of England, in order to better theorize the role of sovereignty in the history of pharmaceutics. In the course of a twenty-year tenure, the same king who inaugurated his reign by “counterblasting” the panacean claims of Spanish tobacco and rejecting the ceremony of the king’s touch as Catholic superstition ended his reign by healing thousands of cases of king’s evil and endorsing the controversial panacean claims of potable gold (aurum potabile). Jacobean medical policy reveals how political beliefs about natural sovereignty (of kings as well as gold) undergirded medical beliefs about “sovereign remedies,” in ways historians seldom examine seriously. It casts light, in another respect, on how therapeutic incompetence and placebo practices can undermine the political and moral legitimacy of sovereigns – an interplay the covid-19 pandemic has raised for renewed attention.