A Bohemian pharmacist and personal doctor of Emperor Rudolf II.
The early life of Jacobus Horčický is quite vague, and sources are contradicting each other. While almost all sources state that he was born in or near Český Krumlov, S. Bohemia, in 1575, he is more likely to be of Moravian origin. There is no doubt that he was born in a lower-class family. The traditional biography states that for some time he served with the Jesuits of Český Krumlov as a scullion, but the rector Bernard Koch found out his capabilities and young Horčický was admitted to the Krumlov seminary of poor students in 1590. However, in Jantsch (1680) he is listed to have been enrolled in the Prague seminary for poor students (S. Wenceslaus), from 1584 onwards.
While in Krumlov, he spent most of his time in Krumlov's college pharmacy, which was managed at the time by a lay father who was very well versed in chemistry and pharmacy: Martin Schaffner (born in Olomouc around 1564, died in Krumlov in 1608), who not only cured the members and students of the college with the medicine he prepared, but also had a flourishing practice in the city and its surroundings. Under the guidance of this experienced man, after having graduated from the Krumlov Gymnasium, Horčický completed his training in the art of pharmacy in two years.
In or after 1598 he was sent to the Clementinum in Prague, where he passed the introductory stage in logic in 1602. All other sources say that he studied Aristotelian philosophy, but he was not impressed by the manner of teaching and preferred to continue his chemical work. The Jesuits finally allowed him to grow various herbs in their gardens in Smichov - the later botanical garden of the University - to set up a laboratory there, and to sell his distillations, which were popularly known as 'Aqua Sinapis'. His sales were good, and he was no charlatan (D.4). The Aqua Sinapis brought him such wealth that he was able to lend the emperor enormous sums of money.
At the Jesuit properties of Nebusic and Kopanina he acquired some knowledge of economy, as a result of which in 1600 he became the administrator of the new college in Jindrichuv Hradec (Neuhaus in German). From there, probably through the influence of the main landowner of Neuhaus: Wilhelm Slavata, he became, shortly before 1606, 'capitaneus' and administrator of the properties of the St. Georg monestary of the Prague Castle. Here, he continued spending most of his spare time in the alchemist laboratory.
His fame finally reached Rudolf who called him to his court and named him imperial chemist in 1607. He became a favourite of the emperor and received numerous presents. Traditional sources say that when, in 1608, he managed through his botanical knowledge to cure the emperor from a grave disease, he was raised to the nobility. Certain is, that in 1608 he sent a letter to Rudolf II requesting his nobilitation, with the predicate "de Tepenec" and the right to his coat or arms, which was based on alchemical symbolism. The name Tepenec refers to Tepenec hill, about 4 km S.E. of Moravian Šternberk. It used to have a castle with the same name (formerly Twingenberg), once owned by King Charles 4. Now, this is only a badly preserved ruin (see here for more details about this castle).
His nobilitation was granted by Rudolf on 20 October 1608. The text has been transcribed here. In spite of this, Horčický stayed a modest person. From Rudolf's court records it is known that Jacobus Horčický was enrolled by the emperor as a 'knight with two horses', and a monthly remuneration of 20 florins, from June to October 1608. He was paid in 1612.
In the religious fights that then broke out, he took a staunch Catholic position and in 1609 he even wrote a book titled "The Catholic Confession, or Description of the Right Common Christian Confession, About Hope, Credence and Love" (with the help of some doctor from the Clementinum, dedicated to chancellor Lobkowitz) which went through several editions.
Under the rule of Emperor Matthias he became the leader of the township of Melnik in 1616, in compensation for Rudolf's debts, but he made himself hated by the Utraquists. In 1618 he is found in prison in the 'white tower' (D.9) where he writes several pleas for his release to the empress. Later (in January 1620?) he was exchanged, together with a Dr. Ponzon, for Jessenius (who was imprisoned in Vienna), and thrown out of the country.
He came back after the battle of White Mountain made it possible and lived at his Melnik estate until he died in 1622, as a result of falling from his horse. He died in the Jesuit college in Prague (Clementinum) on 25 September 1622, leaving the Jesuits the sum of 50,000 gold coins and his Melnik estate. His grave is in the St.Salvator church in the Clementinum, near the altar of Maria's annunciation.
Some of the books once owned by Jacobus can be recognised by his ex libris which he apparently tended to write on the first page, just as he did with the Voynich MS. This is described in more detail on a dedicated page. According to Pelzel, in 1777 there existed several manuscript writings by Jacobus Horčický de Tepenec on the subject of chemistry and botany. Winter. also refers to writings by Tepenec, namely registries of the vineyards of the St.George cloister. The two large books are still preserved in the city archive of Třebenice, and contain a reported portrait of Tepenec, which is also shown at the top if this biography. Apart from that, little is known about these books.