The French Botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715)

Portrait of Pierre Magnol
Portrait of Pierre Magnol

The French botanist Pierre Magnol might not have bothered scholars, at least if they had not been stumbling around in his name for nearly three centuries, whenever Magnolia’s genus and species were mentioned or studied.

Where the genus Magnolia is not a plant genus just like any other , but one which contains from 80 to 240 species – some of them particularly widespread – demonstrating maximum flexibility, in this respect, however completely dependent on the systematic researcher and taxonomic scheme proposed by him.

And if the exact number of species of the genus is approximately a question, there is not at alla question about the origin of the name , Magnolia, which, as as the always sharp reader of ‘Kalliergeia’has already understood, owes it to Pierre Magnol – or more precisely to his last name.

But who was Pierre Magnol and what is its contribution and offer to Botanical science?

The most dense answers are given in two articles – with a rhythm of a machine gun to jam.

Here is listed the First Part.

The cover of one of Pierre Magnol’s emblematic works titled Botanicum Monspeliense, sive Plantarum circa Monspelium nascentium

French Botanist Pierre Magnol - Botanicum Monspeliense Work
Botanicum Monspeliense Work
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Ancestry & Family Environment

Pierre Magnol was fortunate enough to be born in the French city of Montpellier, in the wider area of Languedoc-Roussillon on 8 June 1638.

His father name was Claude and his mother Lisette (daughter of bourgeois Etienne Ranchin and Jeanne Amalric), and he was the sixth or the seventh child of the family – but by no means the eighth, since they were 7 brothers in all.

His parents had enter a marriage covenant on August 16, 1620, with highly Protestant background.

His grandfather on his mother’s side, Etienne, was a physician  in the profession, while his other grandfather, the Jean Magnol (1562 – 1632), was an apothecary, like his father and his older brother  Pierre Cesar.

There is nothing strange about it as the pharmacist’s profession – like so many others – was hereditary and more or less privileged.

Jean Magnol’s grandfather’s pharmacy was located on De La Vieille street (Rue De La Vieille), and one could see it standing there until the end of the eighteenth century.

His father Claude Magnol (25 February 1596 – 13 February 1671), who was passionate about natural history, received his diploma in 1618 and, paradoxically, did not settle in Pierre’s grandfather’s pharmacy, but opened one of his own.

As for Pierre Magnol himself, from a very young age he had shown his inclination and special interest to plants and botany.

The French Botanist Pierre Magnol

Pierre Magnol's Statue in the Montpellier Botanical Garden
Pierre Magnol's Statue in the Montpellier Botanical Garden

Montpellier, the University & the Garden

The French city of Montpellier is located near the Mediterranean coast, and in our time it is the capital of the department of Hérault having a population of approximately 270.000 inhabitants, with 1/3 of them being students, so aptly could be called a college town.

Historical Background

It was first heard in history in 985 CE. while founders there were the members of the feudal local dynasty of the Guilhem.

The Guilhem looks like looked at the big picture, because soon what was originally the combination of two hamlets, already in the 12th century CE. was transformed into a thriving multinational trading center of the Mediterranean.

Its inhabitants were locals French, Spaniards, Jews, Muslims Arabs as well as members of the christian sect of Cathars.

The Montpellier University

The city’s inextricable relation to knowledge and its foundations was probably started by William VIII of Montpellier in the 12th century CE.

The William the VIIIof Montpellier – which must otherwise have been a filth, after divorcing his wife Eudokia Komnene (Ευδοκία Κομνηνή), the niece of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (Μανουήλ Α΄ ο Κομνηνός), on the pretext that he did not made him a male heiress to marry Agnes of Castile – gave in 1180 to 1181 (Guilhem VIII Act) permission for all those who held Medical Degrees, to be free to teach Medicine in the city, while it is shown that by 1137, there were excellent physicians at Montpellier.

The school of Medicine together with the school of Law were the historic core of the University of Montpellier. And while it is very likely, the school of Medicine to have been founded by a graduate equivalent school of the Muslim Spain, on the contrary, it is certain that the school of Law was founded by Placentinus, a  jurist and glossator originally from the Piacenza of Italy.

The Placentinus left the University of Bologna, and came to Montpellier in 1160, where he taught during two different periods, and died there in 1192.

The University of Montpellier, one of the oldest in the world, it seems that it was founded together with the faculty of Law, the 1160, having been granted a charter in 1220 by Cardinal Conrad von Urach, which was confirmed in 1289 by a papal bull from the head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Nicholas IV (Papa Niccolò IV).

The Botanical Garden of Montpellier

The Botanical Garden of Montpellier (Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier) was founded in 1593 by the king Henry IV of France, as Jardin Royale de Montpellier, who created it as a space and institution – conceptual part of the University – dedicated to the teaching of Medicine and of Pharmacology.

The first director of the Botanical Garden was the great French botanist and physician Pierre Richer de Belleval (1564 – 1632) – which is considered to be the founder of modern scientific botany.

The Botanical Garden of Montpellier consisted of:

  • The King’s Garden (Jardin du Roi), which contained only medicinal plants
  • The Queen’s Garden (Jardin de la Reine), which contained mountain plants from Languedoc and elsewhere areas
  • The King’s Square (Place du Roi), which contained purely botanical interest plants

Important and innovative was that part of the Botanical Garden, which was dedicated to experiments of pharmaceutical and agricultural character.

The French Botanist Pierre Magnol

French Botanist Pierre Magnol - Hortus Regius Monspeliense Work
Hortus Regius Monspeliense Work
The Medical Faculty of University of Montpellier
The Medical Faculty of University of Montpellier

The Studies of Pierre Magnol

Pierre Magnol, the Benjamin, or almost the Benjamin of the family had the freedom – and apparently the corresponding financial support – to choose whatever profession he liked.

And after he had shown from a young age the inclination to study plants, he decided to study Medicine, because at that time the study of Botany and Medicine was inseparable.

So, he was enrolled in the school of Medicine of the University of Montpellier on 19 May 1655.

He will receive his Bachelor two years later, on 28 August 1657, and will complete the cycle of studies, with the acquisition of his doctor’s degree (M.D.) on 11 January 1659.

The future of young Pierre Magnol will be bright – if one excludes an almost invisible wisp of a cloud, his religious beliefs.

The French Botanist Pierre Magnol

The Religious Climate of the Time

At that time (only?), religious conflicts were minimal metaphysical and very pragmatic, on the basis of the social, political, and geopolitical competition and antagonism.

And in this glorious field, France has had to show remarkable achievements.

The French Religious Wars

The so-called French Religious Wars between the French Catholics and Huguenots (Reformed/Calvinist Protestants), started in 1562 and ended in 1598, leaving behind 2 to 4 million dead, and the Huguenots thinking that they had gained significant freedoms or wide-ranging rights thanks to Edict of Nantes (Édit de Nantes).

On this basis the Huguenots, that is, the Calvinist Protestants, had theoretically equal political and social rights (of the time) with the Catholics.

In fact, of course, they were few, but even them are constantly being circumvented, and the Calvinist were subjected to discrimination and persecution.

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

With the Edict of Fontainebleau (Édit de Fontainebleau) in October 1685 signed by the Louis XIV of France, revoked the Edict of Nantes, and formalized religious intolerance.

The Edict provided for the closing of all protestant schools and the destruction of all the churches of the Huguenots, which had as a consequence tens of thousands of them were forced to leave France over the next two decades.

This insightful choice of the French king left the country with remarkably fewer intellectuals and skilled craftsmen, who found refuge in the England, the Denmark, the USA and Germany.

It is obvious, that those Protestants remained in France, were forced to impersonate the Catholics, to ‘convert’, in order to survive.

Pierre Magnol could not be an exception.


French Botanist Pierre Magnol - The Plant ‘Geum folio subrotundo minori pistillo floris rubrio’, from Hortus Regius Monspeliensis
The Plant ‘Geum folio subrotundo minori pistillo floris rubrio’, from Hortus Regius Monspeliensis


The References of this religiously neutral article of ‘Kalliergeia’ with title The French Botanist Pierre Magnol (1638 – 1715), which is the First Part of the tribute to this brilliant scientist, are presented by the Spanish musical ensemble Artefactum with the song Douce Dame Jolie (or Douce Dame) of the 14th century, which wrote the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. 

With Pomp and Circumstance

The Artefactum musical ensemble in Douce Dame Jolie by Guillaume de Machaut.

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