Water from the Queen of Hungary. A name that sounds so sweet to my ears that it naturally inspired me the very first range of cosmetics Miss Saint-Germain. A very pretty name for an aqueous extract (or distillate) of rosemary in vogue at the court of Versailles for decades and decades, both for its medicinal properties and for its cosmetic virtues. And above all, a name steeped in history: by what miracle did a recipe originating in Hungary reach the Palace of Versailles?
Once upon a time there was water from the Queen of Hungary
It is said that the formula of the water of the Queen of Hungary was published for the first time in a work entitled "New rare and curious secrets (...)" by a certain "P. Erresalde" (who, according to certain sources, could well be a pseudonym (1) ). There is a reference to this recipe in Old French:
"In the City of Bude in the Kingdom of Hungary, of October 12, 1652, the present Recept was written in a Breviere of the Serenissima Donna Yzabelle, Queen of the said Kingdom
Moye, Donna Yzabelle, Queen of Hungary, being seventy-two years old, very infirm and tasty, a whole year of the following receipt (sic) which I obtained from a Hermit whom I had never seen there could see. Since then she has given me so much good and deed that at the same time I was cured and recovered my strength, so that they seem healthy (sic) to everyone; the Roy de Ponlongne wanted to marry me, which I refused for the love of Jesus Christ and the Angel from whom I believe I obtained the said recipe.
According to this book, the water of the Queen of Hungary therefore comes from a queen called “Yzabelle of Hungary”, whom certain historians have subsequently identified as being Elisabeth of Poland. Legend has it that it was this wonderful water that allowed her to retain her beauty and regain her strength... Which led the Prince of Poland to ask her for her hand even when she was already 72 years old!
How a lie made the water of the Queen of Hungary...
A love story that can only leave the most blue-flowered among us dreaming (myself included), but which is nothing more than a simple legend, however beautiful it may be. Certainly, Elisabeth was indeed a great lady of the Court of Poland. However, she was not raised to this rank thanks to her union with the Prince of Poland… But thanks to her own son Louis of Hungary who, after having acceded to the throne of Poland, appointed her regent of the country.
Portrait of the Queen of Hungary
How easy it is therefore to think that this alteration of the truth is the work of a facetious person who gave this water to which one lends 1001 virtues the name of an imaginary queen for the sole purpose of making it admit to court!
A lie which nevertheless bore fruit, since the one known as the water of the Queen of Hungary was used in turn by Charles V, Louis XIV, Madame de Sévigné... Without forgetting, of course, the young Queen Marie Antoinette, to whom we owe the revival of natural cosmetics. Indeed, if the name of water of the queen of Hungary was misleading, its prophylactic and curative virtues were very real, and it is truly thanks to them that this aqueous extract became famous.
… A fashionable cosmetic from Madame de Sévigné to Queen Marie-Antoinette!
Madame de Sévigné, for example, loved it! I have heard that she always had a bottle of this precious cosmetic water in her pocket, the smell of which she loved so much that she "perfumed her clothes and her wig" with it (3). Moreover, many of his letters recount the benefits, like this one, dated 1675:
“She is divine, thank you again. I get drunk on it every day. I have some in my pocket. It's madness like tobacco; when you are accustomed to it, you can no longer do without it. (...) I put it on in the evening, more to rejoice than for the serenity, of which my woods guarantee me." 1675
Nearly 100 years later, it was Jean-Louis Fargeon who brought Hungarian water back into fashion. Presented to Marie-Antoinette by Madame de Guéménée (the governess of Louis XVI's children), the one who was Mademoiselle d'Orléans' "ordinary apothecary and perfumer" knew how to use his qualities to make himself appreciated by the young queen. Conquered by his creations in terms of beauty, she even gave him the prestigious title of "Perfumer Distiller Patented Supplier to the Empress"! It is to him that we owe the version of the Hungarian recipe which was used by the great ladies of the Court, in a collection which he published at the end of his life:
Digitization of the recipe for the Water of the Queen of Hungary, a famous rosemary-based cosmetic
Subsequently, the water of the Queen of Hungary was in vogue until the reign of Napoleon 1st, when it was supplanted by what we still know today as eau de Cologne. This is how, after appearing in the official pharmacopoeias until the middle of the 19th century, the water of the Queen of Hungary fell into deep oblivion… Until I rediscovered it today by chance of my research and let me in turn be charmed by his promises!
- Rare and Curious New Secrets, Charitably Donated to the Public by a Person of Condition, Containing Various Proven, Useful and Beneficial Remedies for All Kinds of Diseases, and Various Secrets for Preserving the Beauty of Ladies, With a New Manner of Doing All Kinds of jams, both cuttlefish and liquid, which was published by Jean-Baptiste Loyson, bookseller in Paris, and had two editions: one in 1660, the other in 1669
- Paul Dorveaux, "The Water of the Queen of Hungary", Bulletin of the Society for the History of Pharmacy, vol. 6, no. 19, 1918, p. 358-361
- JAL (A.). Critical Dictionary of Biography and History, 2nd Edition p. 1024, col. 2, Paris, 1872.