Polish Princess, Queen Consort of Hungary and her fragrant water
It is said the first perfume was invented by a Pole - Princess Elizabeth of Poland. She was Polish Queen of Hungary, therefore the first water with alcohol that was created in 1370 was known as Water of the Hungarian Queen. This fragrant water was sent to the court of French King, Charles V, and afterwards became popular all over Europe. Earlier instead of perfume people tended to use special pomades which would melt and release scent.
Elizabeth was daughter of Władysław I the Elbow-high and also a mother and wife to ones of the most important rulers of the 14th century Europe. Her granddaughter Hedwig was crowned the sovereign of Poland. Queen Elizabeth was one of the most interesting historical figures of her times. Not only she played a very significant role when it comes to politics but also many believe she was the first fashionist in 14th century Europe.
It is said that it was precisely Queen Elizabeth who invented the recipe of the eldest fragrant water that has been produced in Europe, known as “Water of the Hungarian Queen”(„Aqua Reginae Hungaricae”,
„Eau de la Reine d'Hongorie”).
According to legend, thanks to the said water she preserved her youth until her late years. Medieval chronicles agree that at the age of 60, Elizabeth looked like a 30 year old.
Today it impossible to establish when exactly the perfume was invented. Which is not surprising, given we don’t even know the date of Elizabeth’s birth. It is certain that she was born between 1298 and 1306 as a daughter of Władysław the Elbow-high by his wife Hedwig of Kalisz. She was named for her aunt Elizabeth, wife to Henry V - the duke of Wrocław. The princess was educated, knew how to read in Latin. She was taught by Poor Clare sisters whose monastery in Stary Sącz she was close to. She did not forget about the said sisters even living in Hungary, when in 1320 she got married to Hungarian king Charles Robert. She quickly started playing a siginificant role when it comes to Hungarian politics. Her husband and son Louis respected and took her opinions into consideration. She did weight influence over her second son Andrew as well. Elizabeth wanted him to become the king of Naples but even though she managed to obtain the pope’s consent to crown her son as such, it never happened because Andrew was murdered. According to the historians Andrew’s own wife had much to do with the said murder - the woman who went down to history as Bloody Joanna.
Death of her son was not the first tragic occurrence in Elizabeth’s life. On 17th April 1330 an assassination attempt against the royal family took place. King Charles Robert, Queen Elizabeth and their two sons, Louis and Andrew were dining together when Felix Zach entered the dining room. Felix, one of the most important Hungarian nobles wanted to avenge his daughter Clara, who had been allegedly raped by Elizabeth’s brother, prince Casimir. He threw himself at the royal couple with sword in his hand. Charles Robert got hurt in the arm and Elizabeth lost four fingers. If it had not been for the quick intervention of the royal butler, who was present at the dinner, the royal family could have been murdered. The revenge and punishment were terrible. Felix Zach’s body was quartered and sent to Hungarian towns. His daughter Clara got her nose, lip and fingers cut off. All the male members of the Zach family until the third generation were beheaded. Some of them managed to rescape, seeking refuge in Poland.
These two tragic events certainly took its toll, however we can not say Elizabeth’s life was a failure. After her borther Casimir The Great’s death in 1370 she managed to crown her son Louis the next king of Poland. But given the fact Louis was also the king of Hungary and he usually lived there, Elizabeth functioned as the regent and she in fact ruled the country for a few years. She gave up the regency in 1375, given her advanced age but she still enjoyed a big influence. After she left Poland, she also happened to rule as regent in Dalmatia which was subjugated to the Hungarian crown. She died on 29th December 1380 in Budapest and was buried at the local Poor Clare Sisters monastery. She passed away being about 75-80 years old. Her son Louis died two years afterwards.
It is said that she owed her longevity and youthful looks to the magic nature of the fragrant water that she herself invented. This would be the most ancient European perfume which conquered the hearts of all great courts of the continent. Some say she invented the recipe on her own. Others believe that it came from some hermit monk who passed the said recipe over to her. It is certain, however, that the first public display of the fragrant water took place in 1370 at the French court.
One of the legends says that Elizabeth suffered from rheumatism and she received the mixture which was to ease her pain from some unknown hermit. Elizabeth would drink it, rub it into her skin and use in the bath. The Queen allegedly regained her health and beauty to such extent that even King of Poland proposed to her when she was 72.
In the work that was published in 17th century by a physician John Praevotius we can read why Elizabeth did not agree, like she herself explained: “I refused because of my love for Jesus Christ, My Lord, from whose angel, as I believe, I had got the said recipe.”
According to some other legend her husband Charles Robert whom she got married to at the age of 15, was famous for the love for beautiful women and romances. Elizabeth, unfortunately, maybe due to her young age, suffered from strong acne and therefore she did not feel attractive.
She would secretly ask the court alchemist for help. He would prepare the nostrum which was to cure all her afflictions. The base of the scent was (and still is because production of the perfume which had been produced until 19th century has been recently renewed) rosemary which is thought to be an aphrodisiac. The essential oil produced from this herb was antiseptic, invigorated and relieved pain. In Queen Elizabeth’s times the perfume consisted of mixture of 60 mililiters of rosemary scent oil, 40 mililiters of thyme scent oil and 1000 mililiters of grain alcohol. Later formulas additionally included lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood.
Like many herbal and essential oil products “Water of the Hungarian Queen” functioned not only as a medium of fragrance but was a valuable medicine as well, particularly in The Middle Ages. The most valuable description of this water’s characteristics can be found in "Pharmacopeia Londoniensis" written by F.
Culpeper in 1683:
“This water (or rather infusion) deserves admiration because it cures all chills and head diseases that are being caused by dampness, it also helps to fight apoplexy, epilepsy, dizziness, lethargy, paralysis, nerve diseases, rheumatism, skin defects, cramps and convulsions. It also helps with amnesia, dumbness, coma, sleepiness, deafness, tinnitus, vision problems, blood coagulation, headaches caused by sputum and moods. It cures of tootache, bellyache, pleurisy, lack of appetite and bad digestion, liver, spleen, intestines and uterus obstructions. Receives and preserves the natural warmth. Rejuvenates bodily functions even when someone is old (they say so). There are a few medications that would give such good effects. You need to drink it with wine or vodka, use it to wash your temples and inhale with nostrils.”
After nearly 700 years perfumers from Pollena-Aroma brand recreated the best recipe. It preserved all the traits of the original and was enriched by the newest knowledge of modern perfumery. Six mililiters of the said fragrance in handmade bottle, inside of the handmade leather box cost over 1800 PLN - 408 Euros.
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