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Magic, Medicine and Authority in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Muscovy: Andreas Engelhardt (d. 1683) and the Role of the Western Physician at the Court of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, 1656-1666

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In Early Modern Europe court physicians exerted great influence in service to their royal patrons. These medical practitioners acted as learned conduits, whose knowledge of natural philosophy, which often included occult theories of healing, natural magic and astrology, was able to serve the broad interests of their patrons. Thus, in addition to being charged with maintaining the health of a ruler, physicians were often exploited by monarchs seeking to enhance the general health of their body politic.This case study of the German physician Andreas Engelhardt examines his decade-long service in Moscow between 1656 and 1666 at the court of Aleksei Mikhailovich. This study of Engelhardt’s role at court at a time of increased Western influence in Muscovy aims to reveal how the tsar sought to utilize the learning of his German physician in a variety of ways. Engelhardt not only administered Western medical remedies, including the use of unicorn horns, to the royal family, but was also instructed to ascertain whether various Russian and Siberian folk remedies possessed beneficent qualities. This process of legitimization and containment of medical knowledge coincided with an attempt to suppress the authority of folk healers, thereby reflecting the autocratic nature of Aleksei Mikhailovich’s reign. Furthermore, this article demonstrates that the tsar drew on Engelhardt’s supposed expertise in astrology and divination in order to know how Muscovy would be affected by the appearance of a comet in the winter of 1664-1665.

Affiliations: 1: University of Sheffield,


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