Origins & History

Origins and History

There were two main threads which led to the granting of a Royal Charter to the Worshipful Company of Distillers’ by King Charles I in 1638. The first was, of course the life and career of the founder, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, while the other was the political background in England at the time of the granting of the Charter.


Theodore de Mayerne Born

Theodore de Mayerne was born into a Huguenot family in Geneva in 1573, where there was a strong Protestant/Catholic divide. Educated in Geneva, Heidelberg and Montpellier, where he studied medicine, he trained as a physician. Building a reputation and making contacts in Switzerland, Germany and France, he became a physician to Henri IV of France; until 1610, when King Henri was murdered. As a Huguenot, de Mayerne decided that passage to England was the wisest course.


Knighthood for de Mayerne

The reputation de Mayerne had established served him well. His skills had come to the notice of James I, by whom de Mayerne was knighted in 1624. Following King James’s death, he soon found his skills being called upon by Henrietta, wife of Charles I and, later, by King Charles himself.


Royal Charter to the Apothecaries

A Royal Charter to the Apothecaries was granted after de Mayerne supported their claim to the distilling of herbs, flowers and fruits for minor ailments. A monopoly over distillation was held by the Grocers’ Company; and so supported by de Mayerne (with the benefit of his royal connections), a Charter was granted in 1617.


Royal Charter for the Distilling of Spirits

In the mid-1630s de Mayerne turned his attention to obtaining a Royal Charter for the distilling of spirits for general consumption. In this he was supported by Sir Thomas Cademan, who was also a Royal Physician, and Sir William Brouncker, a Royal Courtier. The Charter created a “Body Politique and corporate” to govern the “Trade Arte and Mystery of Distillers of London” and was dated 9th August in the 14th year of the reign of Charles 1. Cademan was appointed the first Master. The Charter gave the Company control over the area within a 21-mile radius of the cities of London and Westminster. However, the Apothecaries attacked the grant of the Charter, with the result that enrolment by the City of London as a Livery was delayed for many years.


Civil War

The political crisis in 1649 led to the outbreak of the Civil War, which disrupted commerce and culminated in the execution of Charles I in 1649. Given his advanced age and the turmoil of that decade, de Mayerne maintained a much lower profile during the 1640s through to his death in Chelsea in 1655. Theodore de Mayerne and his wife were buried in the Churchyard of St. Martin in the Fields’ Church, and his funeral monument now stands in the crypt of St. Martin’s church, which replaced the building in which he worshipped.


Distillers’ Livery Status Granted

Unfortunately, de Mayerne was not able to witness the fruition of his plan, as the Distillers’ Charter was not enrolled by the City until 1658, nor the successful development of the Company following the restoration of Charles II in 1660 – and, in particular, the granting of livery in 1672.

Further information on the life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne and the history of the Distillers’ Company can be found in “The Worshipful Company of Distillers – A Short History”, by Michael Berlin, and “Europe’s Physician – the various life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne” by Hugh Trevor-Roper.