Sometime around 1370, an alcoholic fragrance, known today by the generic name of "Hungary Water", first made its appearance in Europe.
Legend repeated ad nauseum on the internet has it that Hungary Water was created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary to treat a medical condition from which she suffered. It had also been credited with gaining her a husband, many times younger than herself.
While modern scholars have debunked the connection between Queen Elizabeth and Hungary Water, Hungary Water itself made from a wide variety of formulas was an important advance in European perfumery and established the basic structure of European perfumes made prior to 1882 when Houbigant introduced Fougère Royal.
The Basic Structure
Hungary Water was (or is, as it can still be made today!) a blend of scented materials and alcohol. The alcohol gives it a lightness not previously available in fragrances. The distillation of alcohol itself was a new technology in 1370, learned from Islamic perfumers who had developed the process of alcohol distillation.
The selected materials were typically herbal in nature, commonly rosemary and thyme. Gradually perfumers experimented with a range of essential oils and added fixatives from animal and resinous sources to prolong the effects of the fragrance.
This style of creating fragrance is very well described by G.W. Septimus Piesse in his book "The Art of Perfumery". Like so many other early perfumers, Piesse gives his own formula for Hungary Water: Alcohol, rosemary, lemon peal, balm (melissa), mint, "espirit de rose", and extract of fleur d'orange. Piesse recommends this fragrance for clergymen and orators as it excites the mind to vigorous action. It was to be applied to a handkerchief, as were so many early fragrances. Some, too, might have drunk it.
Hungary Water and "Eau de Cologne" are closely associated.
NOTE: The bottle shown in the photo above is about the size of a whiskey bottle.
|Click to enlarge
Detail of the label on "Hungary Water" bottle.
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