How else to endure all those rituals?
September 20, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

You live at Versailles in 1658. You're nobility of the blood. You know the King. What drugs, drinks, or other ways of getting totally fucked up are available to you? How often could you partake before people started to Have A Problem with it?

Aside from alcohol, of course, which would be in abundance, but what kind? Wine? Beer? What kind of spirits? I know laudanum was available, and cocoa leaves mixed with tobacco enjoyed a fad but smoking was looked down on. I think. What other ways did the French Court get totally ripped? Would coffee be around? Would it be spiked? Marijuana? Hashish? More powerful concentrations of opiates? Coca Leaves processed into cocaine? Exotically dangerous substances?
posted by The Whelk to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Coca Leaves processed into cocaine?

Not until 1855.

Coca leaves for chewing might have been available, but apparently they didn't ship very well. "Monardes brings coca leaves to Europe (1580); unlike tobacco, it fails to generate interest or use, possibly because most coca leaves lost their potency during the long voyage." (source)

Regarding tobacco: "By the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), [tobacco] use [in France] is widespread and highly praised, despite the King's personal disapproval." (source)
posted by jedicus at 10:22 AM on September 20, 2009

Oh, you asked about coffee. Yes, it was available to the nobility, but expensive: "Many doctors [in France] are against coffee drinking and at first only limited use appears in the courts and upper classes. In order to pay for his wars, Louis XIV of France grants the first of several coffee monopolies (1692), all of which are extremely unpopular. The first monopoly fails because the price of coffee is set too high."
posted by jedicus at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2009

posted by gt2 at 10:35 AM on September 20, 2009

Moliere was such a person. In The Imaginary Invalid, doctors joke about opium (Act III, The Examination). The play is not about opium abuse, but we know opium was in use, and so I'd assume there were those who became addicted.
posted by Houstonian at 10:42 AM on September 20, 2009

Opium either in smoked or laudanum form.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:48 AM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: Cardinal Mazarin was a tea-drinker, and Louis XIV himself is supposed to have picked up the habit ca. 1665, in the hope it might ease his gout.
posted by misteraitch at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2009

erowid would be a good place to start.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2009

Here's a nice brief blog entry that might lead you to further research and follow-up.
posted by gimonca at 12:04 PM on September 20, 2009

Chemical laced enemas. Including use as a murder weapon in court circles. Oh I have been debating whether to do an FPP on this but you asked and so I give.
posted by jadepearl at 1:06 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

My advice: do the fpp on the enemas.
posted by mjg123 at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2009 [12 favorites]

More on chemical laced enemas please.
posted by molecicco at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh alright, here is a mass media article on the enema in France and its use as a murder weapon. I am trying to find more relevant information on its use as a weapon of assassination in the Arab world during the power struggles over various caliphates for a cross cultural approach.

Do I want the first FPP of my time here to be about killing asses?
posted by jadepearl at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by Houstonian at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2009 [9 favorites]

The erowid cannabis timeline indicates that it was definitely well known and widely cultivated by that time period. As someone with means I'm sure you could find a merchant or trader that was familiar with it.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:56 PM on September 20, 2009

Distillation of alcohol was well-known by the 17th century. Gin was being made in Holland and exported, and France was making brandy. There would also definitely have been wine around. Beer I'm less sure about, and while other hard liquors existed at that point (whisky in Scotland, vodka in Russia) I don't know if they would have been available in France.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:15 PM on September 20, 2009

Beer I'm less sure about

Beer and ale were definitely around in quantity, and artesian beers and even establishments that we'd recognize as brewpubs were around in Versailles. I don't know if these were more pedestrian activities or if they would be frequented and ales and other beers served at parties, but they were definitely present even in their modern-day (bottom-brewed, hopped) forms.

Absinthe wasn't introduced in the modern commercial form until the 1780s or 1790s, by the way, although for medicinal use it dates to 1500BC or so in Greece.
posted by SpecialK at 6:30 PM on September 20, 2009

Chocolate. No, for reals.
posted by dhartung at 6:54 PM on September 20, 2009

Wine was in abundance, but the problem was that it didn't age well. In the Cognac region, wine was distilled into brandy since the 15th century (Link in French). (I just learned that brandy comes from the Dutch brandwjin = burnt wine.) Distillation had been known for centuries.

If you want to go into drugs, you have to look for medicinal plants and various mixes of alcohol and plants like Bénédictine (since 1510) or Chartreuse (1605).

I found that the Codex Pharmacopea (or Medicamentarius) Parisiensis (list of all known medication) has been published in 1638, one has been published in London in 1618 and another one in Amsterdam in 1636. Obviously, doctors and apothicaries had the most easy access to drugs.
posted by bru at 7:20 PM on September 20, 2009

Folks, that is too early for laudanum. The substance Paracelsus described as laudanum isn't the laudanum beloved by Byron and De Quincey et al.--Paracelsus's laudanum was a chemical compound, not a drug.

Laudanum as we know it, the tincture of opium in alcohol, was invented in the 1670s.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:35 PM on September 20, 2009

By "a chemical compound, not a drug" I mean "a compound used in alchemical experiments, not something that anyone took as a medicine or recreational drug."
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 PM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, laudanum as we know it was the work of Thomas Sydenham, and he didn't work out the uses of "modern" laudanum until after 1672.

Shrooms were known, but they more feared than used, and it's extremely doubtful they would have been used by the nobility. The first mention of their effects in the medical literature isn't until the tail end of the 18th century.

Cocaine is mid-19th century, but coca leaves were available in the 1600s.

Cannabis was definitely around and in use, and hashish would have been available from the East.

As for alcohol, yeah, there's lots of beer. England's wine industry had been wiped out by the Little Ice Age, and that meant France, Spain, Portugal, and the city-states of Italy were the main wine producers. Since grain did well in the short and cool summers in Britain and Germany, their main source of alcohol became beer. Brandy and sherry were around in quantity; people were now drinking it straight as well as mixing them with water (brandy and sherry being essentially wine concentrate). Liqueurs were around, but they weren't in wide distribution, and they weren't like modern liqueurs yet. Green chartreuse wouldn't be invented for another century.

Vodka was available, though again, it was still a century from becoming what we know of as vodka, and it was used for medicinal purposes as much as drinking.

Rum was around, but it wasn't very good. It would be about a decade before it would start moving upmarket.

Gin's around, but would the French have drunk it?

Moonshine would have certainly been around. The Irish were already making potcheen, though not in industrial quantities.

And, of course, whisky, mostly from Scotland, was readily available.

I notice you're using 1658. You do know that year was the bottom of the Little Ice Age, right? The North Sea was freezing over during the winter, as were rivers in England and France. It was a very, very cold winter.
posted by dw at 10:46 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older How can I listen to Number 10?   |   How to convert m4p to mp3 for free? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.