HTML Scrolling Menu

No. 11. Thomas Charnock's alchemical letter to Queen Elizabeth

Transcribed by Fiona Oliver. With an introduction by Adam McLean.

In this remarkable letter written to Queen Elizabeth in 1565, the alchemist Thomas Charnock makes the astounding offer to make gold for the Queen on pain of losing his head.
Charnock (1526-81) was fortunate to meet, early in his life, two alchemical adepts, in the 1540's he met I. S., a monk of Salisbury, and later a prior of Bath, who apparently had the secret of alchemy from George Ripley, the famous alchemist from Bridlington. From these two he was instructed in the art of alchemy.
In this long Epistle Charnock outlines his scheme to enlist the support of the Queen, explaining all the details of the cost and the profits that will be obtained.
Charnock's Epistle is, I believe, an important social document of the early Elizabethan period. It shows how seriously alchemy was taken at the highest levels in English society, and also how a sincere alchemist of that time tried to find ways to obtain support for his research. It gives a rare insight into the mind of an alchemist struggling to find a means for undertaking the expensive work of alchemy.