Jean Nicot

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Jean Nicot

Jean Nicot, sieur de Villemain (* 1530 in Nîmes , † May 1604 in Paris ) was a French diplomat and envoy to the Portuguese court, who gained historical importance through the introduction of tobacco as a medicinal plant in France and as the forefather of French lexicography .

Nicot studied the medicinal properties of tobacco in Lisbon and sent tobacco seeds to the French court in 1561, which led to the early spread of tobacco in France . The French botanist Jacques Daléchamps therefore gave the plant the name herba nicotiana in 1586 , from which the genus name Nicotiana originated. In 1828 the Heidelberg chemists Karl Ludwig Reimann and Christian Wilhelm Posselt isolated the alkaloid active in the tobacco plant for the first time and named it nicotine in honor of Jean Nicot .

Through the lexicon work Thrésor de la langue francoyse , published posthumously in 1606 , Nicot is also considered the founder of scientific lexicography in France.


Earlier career

Nicot came from a simple family of notaries from Nîmes, but was able to get a job as a large seal keeper at the court of Henry II . He caught the attention of the king, who eventually appointed him his private secretary. In 1559, the 29-year-old was sent to Lisbon to organize the marriage of the six-year-old Margarete von Valois , daughter of Henry II.

In addition, Nicot observed the achievements from the Portuguese colonies and brokered them regularly to France. In doing so, he benefited from his friendship with the then famous scholar and zealous botanist Damian de Goës, who grew numerous colonial plants himself and made Nicot aware of indigo and tobacco, among other things . They were also surrounded by reports of miraculous properties: Tobacco, for example, was said to have miraculous healing powers and even be able to heal ulcers.

Introduction of tobacco as a medicinal plant in France

Convinced that he had discovered Columbus' egg from a medical point of view, he wrote to numerous personalities at the French court who were suffering from various diseases and reported on the newly discovered "miracle herb". One of the earliest testimonies is a letter dated April 26, 1560 to Cardinal Franz von Lothringen, in which he enthusiastically describes the effect on the incurable ulcers called "noli me tangere" at the time . In 1561 the first tobacco seeds reached the court of Queen Katharina von Medici with almost fairytale descriptions of the healing effects of the snuffed, laid or infused tobacco leaves.

Katharina, plagued by migraines herself, was particularly accessible to magicians , alchemists , astrologers and therefore also the knowledge of the legendary healing properties of tobacco. At that time she was considered to be the inventor of snuff , which is why it was called "poudre de la reine" - the queen's powder - for a long time. This cannot be proven by sources today, but Nicot's promotion of tobacco as a medicinal plant ultimately led to its spread in France.

Beginning of French lexicography

In 1561 Nicot returned to France and devoted himself entirely to the scientific writing of a French dictionary . His work Thrésor de la langue francoyse contains over 18,000 very detailed articles and is the first work of its kind to have a scientifically structured structure. That is why Nicot is now considered the inventor of French lexicography . The work was published posthumously in 1606: Jean Nicot died in Paris in May 1604.


  • Egon Corti : The dry drunkenness. Leipzig 1930, 51 ff.
  • Edmond Falgairolle: Jean Nicot, ambassadeur de France en Portugal au XVI ème siècle. Paris 1897.
  • Tobacco Lexicon. Mainz 1967.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Date of death in Archives de France