At first glance, the history of science appears to be organized around the achievements of great men. However, much work has recently been done to reintroduce women scientists and women who participated in scientific culture into the historical narrative. Historians have pointed out that while most works dealing with the advent of modern science have focussed on the importance of academies and universities, we must not forget the more traditional and informal settings like the home, the royal court, and later, the aristocratic salon, where intellectual and scientific discussion and innovation flourished. We now know that there were wives, mothers, and sisters who helped scientific men, and women who themselves engaged in scientific experimentation in domestic spaces, impoverished dissection rooms, private studios, apothecary stores, workshops and laboratories. This essay will focus on the spaces of the court and the salon, examining the important role that well-born women played in the advancement of natural philosophy by using their political and social positions to patronize and correspond with the scientific men of their day. Firstly, it will examine European courts where women such as Christina of Sweden, Caterina Sforza, and the Duchess of Portland supported scientific activity. Next, it will examine the Enlightenment-era salons where important scientific discourse occurred, which can be seen as the heir to the Renaissance court and were often hosted and mediated by aristocratic women, such as Émilie du Châtelet and Margherita Sarrocchi.
The patronage of cultural activities was an integral part of court politics, particularly from the Renaissance onwards, and the presence of artists, philosophers, and innovators enhanced the prestige of a court and its competitiveness with rival courts. Female rulers, wives of rulers, and other ladies of the court lent their support to leading thinkers through the system of patronage and clientalism. The scientific culture of early modern Europe was organized around a complex network of patrons, brokers and clients, and the style of support given ranged from subsidies, appointments, gift-like ‘gratifications,’ and popularization through the circulation of epistolary correspondence and translation. Indeed, historian Patricia Fara argues, “the foundations of modern science were not built by male geniuses labouring in isolation.” As idealized in Baldassar Castiglione’s The Courtier, female courtiers acted as facilitators of learned communities, and provided the impetus necessary to stimulating intellectual conversation. However, it must be noted that while female patronage of science was relatively common and encouraged, women who sought royal patronage themselves were often less likely to receive it.
Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618–80) played an important role in the career of the influential philosopher, scientist, and mathematician René Descartes. Records of their lengthy epistolary correspondence indicates that she assumed the tone of an eager and modest pupil and he the flattering recipient of her royal favour. He dedicated his Principles of Philosophy (1644)—which resembles more a book of science than philosophy as the line between these two disciplines had not been yet drawn—to Elisabeth, praising her keen understanding of metaphysics and geometry. His dedication of Principles read:
To the most serene princess Elisabeth…Neither the distractions of the court nor the customary upbringing which usually condemns girls to ignorance could prevent you from discovering all the liberal arts and all the sciences… I have so far found that only you understand perfectly all the treatises which I have published up to this time.
However, this dedication stands unique from other transparent attempts at flattery, for despite her royal title she was not in the position to offer financial backing, but rather only had her position of prestige to offer as backing to his work. As Patricia Fara argues, this is proof of his admiration of her sound intellect and grasp of his ideas. Indeed, Elisabeth prompted Descartes to push further in his philosophical analysis in more than one instance. By framing her critique as a humble apology for her ignorance in understanding, she forced Descartes to modify her earlier position and re-examine the link between mental and physical health, expanding on the mind-body dualism integral to his philosophy. After having to leave court, she entered a Protestant convent as its head and ruled over a large household of aristocratic women. There, she continued to correspond with important thinkers of the time, such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz as well as with other philosophers who sought to reconcile Cartesianism with Christianity.
Another important patron of Descartes, and indeed of scientific experimentation in general, was Christina of Sweden (1626-89). She was deeply fascinated by theology, philosophy, astrology, and alchemy, and was known for being “exceedingly learned” and for having an “insatiable capacity for knowledge.” Her personal mandate as queen was to convert remote Stockholm into a “metropolitan centre” to equal London or Paris, and she wished to reign over a European empire of intellectualism. She therefore invited eminent scholars to join her court, and summoned Descartes to act as a tutor and philosophical advisor, and they were known to discuss intellectual matters in her study two or three times per week, from five in the morning on. Furthermore, in 1650 she commissioned Descartes to draw up regulations for her scientific academy, and some blamed the rigors of this work for his untimely death five months after he arrived at her court. Like Elisabeth of Bohemia, Christina was also engaged in epistolary correspondence with scientific intellectuals. Besides Descartes, she also engaged in discussion with Gassendi, with whom she deliberated Epicurean philosophy and atomic theories. In 1664, Christina gained further notoriety for her independent mind when she scandalously abdicated and converted to Catholicism. She moved to Rome, and continued to contribute to the scientific culture there, by practicing alchemy herself and also by sponsoring the scientific exploration of others. She reassembled the Academia Reale that she had formed in Sweden in Rome, and also lent support to the academy of Ciampini at the Oratory of St Philip Neri in the church of Santa Maria in Valicella, which included the leading scientists of the day. Her royal patronage enabled them to further pursue natural experimentation. Next, she asked Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an Italian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and engineer, to join her in observing the comet of 1664, following which he procured her support in establishing an observatory, now the Botanic Gardens. Its mandate was to support a program of observations of the Mediccean satellites of Jupiter to be utilized for clocks as part of the process of calculating longitude. Thus Christina utilized her position of political power to promote the sciences both during her time in Sweden and in Rome.
An earlier example of a woman for whom the patronage of art, philosophy and science was important is the infamous widow regent Caterina Sforza (1463-1509), who successfully ruled over the Riario territories in the Romagna from 1488 to 1500 after her husband’s death. Caterina was immortalized in Nicollò Machievelli’s The Prince for her military and diplomatic strength, and studies have been conducted on her strategies of princely self-fashioning, mostly considering her political roles. However, another major occupation of hers was in the patronizing of alchemical and pharmaceutical endeavors, and in collecting “cosmetic secrets,” and these activates largely pale in comparison to her military exploits and resisting the advance of Cesare Borgia in the history books. In fact, Caterina maintained a keen interest in new scientific technologies and maintained her own apothecary in Forlì. Letters have endured between Caterina and her apothecary as well as with others who approached her for assistance with alchemical, medicinal, and cosmetic recipes, which she ambitiously collected throughout her life and compiled in a manuscript titled Experimenti. This compilation was later passed down to her youngest son, who would become the father of Cosimo I, the first Medici grand duke, thereby initiating the long and important Medici family engagement with alchemy and medicine. Caterina was one of a handful of early modern women associated with the collection and circulation of alchemical “secrets,” including Catherine de’ Medici and Marie de’ Medici after her, for whom knowledge was a political tool. Theories on the potential motives Sforza had for pursuing these areas of experimentation include the quest to produce alchemical gold, counterfeit coins, and poisons and antidotes. Furthermore, there was a personal element in the collection of recipes and prescriptions, as she participated in the Renaissance tradition of gift-giving, as well as using this knowledge to tend to personal health and hygiene. Letters exist between Caterina and Luigi Ciochi, who was engaged in political negotiations in her interest, which allude to secret alchemical recipes. He was tasked with keeping an eye out for recipes for his mistress, and in one instance, it appears that he found one at the court of her contemporary, the esteemed Isabella d’Este. It becomes clear that for Caterina, participating in the scientific culture of her day was of the utmost importance.
Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-85)—not to be confused with Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, another early modern aristocratic lady who is known for her participation in the scientific sphere—was an important patron of botanic sciences during the eighteenth century. As was relatively common for landed ladies of the early modern era, she received a moderate scientific education. The classics were largely closed off to women due to their intellectual connotation, whereas the physical world and sciences like botany and chemistry were associated with female concerns like cooking and gardening. Margaret devoted years to the intensive study of natural history, and indeed became an authority in the emerging field of botany. In 1776, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau arrived in England after fleeing France and Switzerland, he made Margaret’s acquaintance and volunteered to serve her as a plant collector, or “herborist,” and proceeded to assemble plant specimens and seeds for her. In their correspondence, Rousseau frequently refers to Margaret as his “botany teacher,” illustrating the respect this Enlightenment thinker, who often discounted women’s capabilities in other instances, had for her botanic knowledge. She began to house her growing collection of both exotic and domestic plant specimens in the Portland Museum, which evolved to act as a zoo, aviary, and garden, when she began to include both flora and fauna. Her collection expanded to include shells, corals, insects, plant, animals, and over a thousand pieces of Japanese, Chinese, and European porcelain, and her museum emphasized the commercial project of imperial acquisition and exchange so prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain. Margaret’s museum was open to the public, and reached immense popularity by the 1760s. Contemporaries who visited over the next two decades until her death were thrilled to find a “fantastic visual profusion of curious objects from around the globe” stocked at her London residence at Whitehall and at her Buckinghamshire estate. Her vast collection was assembled through networks like the East India Company, through personal connections, and through private trade with agents. Joseph Banks was one important figure who specifically brought back objects for the duchess from his journeys across the Pacific. Indeed, she was an early sponsor of Daniel Solander’s career, whom Banks brought along to collect and describe the plants found on his voyages on Captain James Cook’s Endeavor. She had employed him to classify her natural history collection, and thereby participated in the dissemination of the important new principles of Carl Linnaeus and the popularization of botany in general.
Two social institutions are said to be the heirs of the early modern court: the salon and the academy. However, the academy more closely resembles the Medieval university, its other predecessor, with its institutional exclusion of women—save in Italy, where prominent scientific women like the degree-holding Laura Bassi had a membership. Meanwhile, the salon, often criticised for its elitist and informal nature, is an important facet in the history of women’s participation in scientific culture. In a similar way that the court’s blending of domestic and political purposes allowed female rulers, wives of rulers, and court ladies to navigate the system of patronage and clientalism, the salon also fused home and workplace and women again acted as mediators and facilitators in these learned communities. The running of a salon can be seen as a type of career—with no monetary income—for elite, educated women, and these salonniéres often wielded great authority. The phenomenon of the salon began in France, but soon women around Europe were also hosting and moderating salons, where philosophers, scientists, and writers gathered to discuss and conduct scientific experimentation and demonstrations. Interestingly, these salonnières were satirized by writers like Moliére, who declared they made up in style what they lacked in substance. Additionally, Rousseau worried that the powerful salonniéres were “feminizing” (and weakening) France’s culture, politics, and even military. Women’s historian Merry E. Weisner-Hanks argues that the anxiety around these elite hostesses indicates the level of power that they really had. Indeed, she points out, the approval of a salon hostess was quite often the unofficial prerequisite a man needed to be elected to the Académie Française. As in the courtly system of patronage, elite women who hosted salons served as “intellectual power brokers” in a scientific climate greatly organized around personal networks and power systems.
Margherita Sarrocchi (1560-1617) was an important Italian writer and salonnière in Rome. She is best known for her epic poem La Scanderbeide, which was published posthumously; however, during her life she hosted important intellectual gatherings at home, through which she forged relationships with leading scientific figures like Galileo. She corresponded with Galileo about his discovery of Jupiter’s satellites and was an early champion of his work, using her position within the elite network to both endorse and disseminate his discoveries. Galileo later remembered the connections he made at her ridotto (salon), and utilized them to gain the favourable reception of his theories.
Another important figure who utilized her standing as a well-born woman to circulate and promote scientific knowledge was Émilie du Châtelet. Mostly known as Voltaire’s famous mistress, she was also a brilliant mathematician and physicist, rivalling her male contemporaries. Born into an aristocratic family, Émilie benefited from an education; however, to her frustration she was excluded from the Royal Academy. She spent a great portion of her life immersed in the theories of Isaac Newton, and in collaboration with Voltaire she worked on Elements of Newton’s Philosophy, which was followed by her own Foundations of Physics. This second work was prompted by her dissatisfaction with only knowing how the universe works rather than why it works. In this title, she tries to integrate the theories of Descartes, Leibniz and Newton while also pursuing her own questions on the nature of matter, the role of God, and good and evil. Next, she published a translation of Newton’s Principia, which incorporated both her own ideas and interpretations as well as the words of the Newton himself. Her goal was to provide academics with a scholarly study that clearly interpreted Newton’s ideas and also to translate his work into Europe’s international language of society and science: French. She has thus been credited with popularizing and spreading Newton’s work by offering clarification and translation. While engaged in this work of her own, Èmilie compensated for being excluded from professional academies and institutions by inviting leading scholars, mathematicians, and natural philosophers to join her “intellectual court,” such as Maupertuis and Clairut. She was a brilliant hostess, and in many ways her behaviour confirmed the stereotypes of the aristocratic hostess, as she adored clothing, dancing, and entertaining. However, her participation in and promotion of scientific discovery played an important role in the scientific culture of her day.
Women’s historians have argued that as the courts and salons were largely replaced as centres of scientific discourse, and the role of the scientist was increasingly professionalized and institutionalized, the traditional exclusion of women from intellectual culture was reinforced. Women did not become regular members of the Royal Society of London, the French Académie, nor the Berlin Akademie der Wissenschaften; however, women like Laura Bassi in Italy did enter the Italian Academy of the Institute of Science, and she earned her degree and later taught at the University of Bologna. Meanwhile in the environment of the court, systems of patronage allowed Elisabeth of Bohemia, Christina of Sweden, Caterina Sforza, and Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Portland, to participate in scientific culture of early modern Europe. Through both financial sponsorship and informal promotion through royal endorsements. Out of this tradition emerged the Enlightenment salon, where salonièrres like that of Margherita Sarocchi and Èmilie du Châtelet hosted forums where learned communities collaborated on and discussed topics of scientific importance. These elite figures and institutions assisted in the process of stimulating and circulating scientific knowledge and innovation.
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 Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton, introduction to Women, Science, and Medicine: Mothers and Sisters of the Royal Society, 1500-1800, ed. Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Pub., 1997), 3; and Nina Rattner Gelbart, “Adjusting the Lens: Locating Early Modern Women of Science, Early Modern Women 11.1 (2016): 116.
 Bruce T. Moran, introduction to Patronage and Institutions: Science, Technology, and Medicine at the European Court 1500-1750, ed. Bruce T. Moran (New York: The Boydell Press, 1991), 1; Meredith K. Ray, Daughters of Alchemy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015), 17; Merry E. Weisner-Hanks, Woman and Gender in Early Modern Europe. Third Edition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 163; Bruce T. Moran, “Courts and Academies,” in The Cambridge History of Science. Volume 3. Early Modern Science, ed. Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 253; and Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 17.
 Gelbart, “Adjusting the Lens,” 117-18; and Ray, Daughters of Alchemy, 3-4.
 Moran, “Courts and Academies,” 254; and Schiebinger, The Mind, 17.
 Londa Schiebinger, “Women of Natural Knowledge,” in The Cambridge History of Science. Volume 3. Early Modern Science, ed. Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 194.
 Weisner-Hanks, Women and Gender, 168; and Moran, “Courts and Academies,” 254.
 Paula Findlen, “Science as a Career in Enlightenment Italy: The Strategies of Laura Bassi,” in History of Women in the Sciences: Readings from ISIS, ed. Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 73; and Moran, “Courts and Academies,” 255.
 Patricia Fara, Pandora’s Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment (London: Pimlico, 2004), 53.
 Findlen, “Science as a Career,” 73
 Schiebinger, The Mind, 46.
 Schiebinger, The Mind, 172; and Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 65.
 As quoted by Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 55.
 Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 65.
 Ibid., 67
 Ibid., 73.
 Monique Frize, The Bold and the Brave: A History of Women in Science and Engineering (Ottawa: University of Press, 2009), 67.
 Alan Cook, “Ladies in the Scientific Revolution,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 51. 1 (1997): 3; and Lilian H. Zirpolo, “The Queen’s Predicament: Christina of Sweden as Virgo, Virago, and Femme Philosophe,” Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art 11 (2010): 60.
 Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 58.
 Schiebinger, The Mind, 65; and Zirpolo, “The Queen’s Predicament,” 60.
 Schiebinger, The Mind, 47; and Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 58.
 Cook, “Ladies in the Scientific Revolution,” 3.
 Cook, “Ladies in the Scientific Revolution,” 3.
 Joyce de Vries, “Casting Her Widowhood: The Contemporary and Posthumous Portraits of Caterina Sforza,” in Widowhood and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe, ed. Alison M. Levy (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003), 77-78.
 Ray, Daughters of Alchemy, 10.
 Ibid., 42.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ray, Daughters of Alchemy, 10 and 18.
 Ibid. 15
 Ibid. 16
 Ibid. 17
 Ibid., 37-38
 Alexandra Cook, “Botanical Exchanges: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Duchess of Portland,” History of European Ideas 33 (2007): 145.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 148.
 Ibid., 145
 Stacey Slobada, “Displaying Materials: Porcelain and Natural History in the Duchess of Portland’s Museum,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 43.4 (2010): 456 and 464.
 Ibid., 455.
 Sloboda, “Displaying Materials,” 467.
 Gillian Russell, “An ‘Entertainment of Oddities’: Fashionable Sociability and the Pacific in the 1770s,” in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire 1660-1840), ed. Kathleen Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 51; and Maura C. Flannery, “An Eighteenth-Century Woman,” The American Biology Teacher 72.3 (2010): 198.
 Russel, “An ‘Entertainment,’” 51-52.
 Leigh Whaley, “Networks, patronage and Women of Science During the Italian Enlightenment” Early Modern Women 11.1 (2016): 194; and Shiebinger, The Mind, 50.
 William Clark, “The Pursuit of the Prosopography of Science,” in The Cambridge History of Science. Volume 4. Eighteenth-Century Science, ed. Roy Porter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 233.
 Weisner-Hanks, Women and Gender, 166.
 Frize, The Bold, 67; and Weisner-Hanks, Women and Gender, 166.
 Weisner-Hanks, Women and Gender, 166.
 Schiebinger, The Mind, 32.
 Ray, Daughters of Alchemy, 112.
 Ray, Daughters of Alchemy, 155-57.
 Ibid., 134.
 Isser Woloch and Gregory S. Brown, Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789. Second Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012) 245; and Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment and Why it Still Matters (New York: Random House, 2013), 103; and Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 88.
 Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 95-96.
 Ibid., 100 and 101.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 103.
 Fara, Pandora’s Breeches, 98.
 Londa Schiebinger, “Maria Winkelmann at the Berlin Academy: A Turning Point for Women in Science,” in History of Women in the Sciences: Readings from ISIS, ed. Sally Gregory Kohlstedt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 40.
 Whaley, “Networks, Patronage,” 187; and Weisner-Hanks, Women and Gender, 162.
Feature image credit: Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier and his Wife, chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze by Jacques-Louis David, 1788, oil on canvas, 259.7 × 194.6 cm (102.2 × 76.6 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Everett Fahy, 1977.