Jacques Coeur(15th c.) was a French fraudulent alchemist. Jacques Coeur was a flamboyant man who enjoyed prestige in the court of King Charles VII of France. He attempted to disguise his ill-gotten riches by pretending to have created them through Alchemy.
Coeur was born in Bourges in the early 15th century. His father was a goldsmith. The family had no money to pay for Coeur’s training in goldsmithing, and in 1428 he went to work in a low-level job at the Royal Mint of Bourges. The young Coeur distinguished himself with his quick learning of metallurgy. He gained the patronage of Agnes Sorel, a mistress of the king. He advanced quickly in his career and was made Master of the Mint and Grand Treasurer of the royal household.
Coeur exhibited a skill in finances and with the advantage of his position, amassed a fortune. He bought stocks of grain, honey, wine, and other produce, creating shortages and then sold them at maximum price. He became the richest man in France and was a trusted adviser of the king. In 1446, Charles sent him on diplomatic missions to Genoa, Italy, and to see Pope Nicholas V. His stellar performance earned him even more riches.
In 1449, war broke out between the French and the English over Brittany, and Coeur financed the French fighting. The French were victorious, which made Coeur nearly invincible against his critics and detractors.
At the close of the war, Coeur returned to business. He initiated trade with Genoa and bought up large estates throughout France. He procured for his religious son the office of archbishop of Bourges.
Coeur’s jealous detractors circulated rumours that he had debased the currency and forged the king’s signature to a document that fraudulently made him wealthy. Coeur attempted to dispel these rumours by letting it be known that he had in fact discovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone, which was not true. He built lavish houses in Bourges and Pontpellier, decorating both with alchemical symbol s and invited foreign alchemists to live with him. Coeur wrote a treatise in which he stated that he knew how to transmute base metals.
His efforts in vain, Coeur was arrested in 1452. Of the several charges brought against him, he was acquitted of only one—that he had been an accessory in the poisoning death of his patronness, Agnes Sorel. He was found guilty of debasing the currency, forging the king’s signature, and supplying the enemy Turks with arms and money. He was fined 400,000 crowns and was banished from France. King Charles VII believed him to be innocent of all charges but was able only to reduce his fine and have him imprisoned.
After some time, Coeur was released. It was said that Charles secretly gave him a handsome sum of money with which Coeur retired to Cyprus and lived an opulent life. Coeur died in about 1460.
- Mackay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1932.