c. 1497 (Hazon quotes Plantius, Fernel's friend, as placing Fernel's birth
Died: Fontainbleau, 26 Apr. 1558
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
His father was an substantial furrier and innkeeper. Fernel's marriage
testifies to the economic status of the family; his father-in-law was
a counselor of the Parlement of Paris. Fernel received a substantial dowry,
which he dipped into for the construction of some instruments until conflict
arose over this. At this point Fernel laid mathematics aside and discharged
the craftsmen and engravers whom he had maintained under his own roof.
Obviously affluent at the least, though wealthy would not be an assumption
Education - Schooling: Paris, M.A., M.D.
After schooling at Clermont, Fernel entered the Collège de Ste.
Barbe in Paris in 1519, and received his M.A. at the age of twenty two.
Then he studied philosophy, astronomy, and mathematics until 1524. After
1524, he studied medicine, and obtained his venia practicandi and his
M.D. at Paris in 1530.
Religion - Affiliation: Catholic
Primary: Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology
Subordinate: Astronomy, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy
His De naturali parte medicinae (1542) , in which he addressed himself
to physiology, was read for a century, until Harvey's time. He introduced
the term "physiology" for the science of the function of the
body. In Medicina (1554), he noted the peristalsis and the systole and
diastole of the heart. Among his anatomical observations was the earliest
description of the spinal canal.
He also pursued astronomy, mathematics and natural philosophy. He rejected
astrology over his career.
Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Academia, Patronage
Secondary: Personal Means
1521-4, Fernel seems only to have studied humane letters and mathematics
with no thought of a career. He was supported by his father until 1524,
when he began teaching.
1524-1530, teacher of philosophy at the Collège de Ste. Barbe.
1530-58, medical practice. Hazon says that he earned 2,000 livres a year,
the best medical income of the age.
1534-56, professor of medicine at the Collège de Coenouailles.
1556-8, physician to Henry II. Fernel was physician-in- chief to the Dauphin,
later Henry II. The prince wanted to keep him at court, but Fernel declined
Plancy, Fernel's biographer and close associate, reports that Fernel seldom
received less that 10,000 livres a year and sometimes more than 12,000.
He evidently received 2,300 livres Tournai for Catherine's last childbirth
alone. At his death, 30,000 écus d'or were found in his study.
Patronage - Types: Academic, Court Official
Fernel dedicated Monalosphaerium (1527) to Jocab de Gorea, a mathematician
who either had been or would become Principal of Ste. Barbe. The book
was sumptuous and appeared to indicate the support of a generous patron.
This was also true of two other books published in this period.
Hazon says that Fernel cured Catherine de' Medici of sterility, which
made his fortune. (There is another story about this below.) According
to this story, the king rewarded Fernel with 40,00 écus, and Catherine
is reported to have given him 10,000 écus at each birth (there
In 1530s, (according to the other story) Fernel's reputation at court
became firmly established when he saved the life of Prince Henry's mistress,
Diane de Poitiers. Later he also treated Catherine de' Medici, Henry's
wife. Fernel treated Francis I in 1547 before the king's death. Henry
II wanted to keep him as physician-in-chief, but Fernel wanted to stay
in Paris instead of moving to Fontainbleau. While Henry was Dauphin, he
did keep Fernel at court for two years (with a large stipend), much to
Fernel's displeasure. Much later, from 1556 to 1558, Fernel was physcian
to the court. Henry II said that as long as he had Fernel beside him,
illness would not be mortal. Fernel dedicated his Dialogue and The Natural
Part of Medicine (1542) to the Dauphin. He dedicated Medicina (1554) to
King Henry II.
Technological Involvement - Type: Medical Practice
Fernel's practice thrived sufficiently that he was compelled to give up