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Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel
Alkmaar 1572 – Londen 1633



a Bold mind, a show-off to the World  


Born in Alkmaar in 1572
Deceased in London 7 November 1633


Cornelis Drebbel born - probably in the year 1572 - in the city of Alkmaar (Netherlands)
at Dronckenoort in the second house from the corner of the Huigh-de-brouwer steegh.

Drebbel: great innovator

The Edison of his time; Brilliant empiric researcher and innovator, Drebbel’s constructions and innovations cover in particular measurement- and control technology, pneumatics, optics, chemistry hydraulics and pyrotechnics. With Staten General he registers several patents: writes some interesting essays about his experiments with air pressure. Makes beautiful engravings; the subject The Seven Liberal Arts and a map of the city of Alkmaar.


Measurement- and control technology / pneumatics: Famous for his Perpetuum Mobile, builds and navigates with a submarine. Builds an incubator for eggs and a portable stove / oven with an optimal use of fuel, able to keep the heat on a constant temperature by means of a regulator / thermostat. Designs a solar energy system for London (perpetual fire), demonstrates air-conditioning, let it rain, makes lightning and thunder ‘on command’, develops fountains, fresh water supply for the city of Middelburg. Involved in the draining of the moors around Cambridge (the Fens). Develops predecessors of the barometer and thermometer, the "Drebbeliaensch instrument", harpsichords that play on solar energy.

Optics: Develops an automatic precision lens-grinding machine, builds improved telescopes, constructs the first microscope ('lunette de Dreubells'), camera obscura,  laterna magica, manufactures Dutch or Batavian tears.
Chemistry: Develops an innovative way to improve and produce scarlet red dye, establishes a dye works in Stratford-at-Bow-on-Lea. Develops a methodology to re-gain silver ore. Probably makes oxygen for his submarine.

Hydraulics: Makes theater props, moving statues. Is involved in  plans to build a new theater in London

Pyrotechnics: produces torpedo’s and sea mines and a detonator with Batavian tears, uses fulminating mercury -aurum fulminarum- as an explosive.

Drebbel: wonderworker

"The idea of Drebbel as a universal wonderworker was as widespread in the seventeenth century as the idea of Einstein as a genius is today." writes Dr. Vera Keller in her dissertation ‘Cornelis Drebbel, Fame and the Making of Modernity.’  (Princeton University, Sept. 2009)

Drebbel writes the essays: ‘Miracle of the eternal movement / done by the Alckmaersche Philosooph Cornelis Drebbel/ etc. (1604 / 1607), and ‘’a short Treaty of the Nature of the Elements and why these are useful". 'Done by Cornelis Drebbel.In 1621 reprinted and extended with  "A  clear description of the Quinta Essentia, never printed before. Plus a dedication of the Primum Mobile. Drebbel’s books and ideas have a strong influence in his time. For over 200 years, reprints are published and read.  

Drebbel's Life

Timeline

1572-1604 Alkmaar

  • 1572 Cornelis Drebbel, born in Alkmaar.
  • 1573 October 8. The siege of Alkmaar by the Spanish troops is terminated. Alkmaar, the first Dutch city to resists the Spaniards. At Alkmaar, Victory begins !
  • 1577 Staten-General invite Matthias, brother of the, in 1576 appointed Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Rudolph II, to become Sovereign of the Netherlands.
  • 1579 January 23. The Union of Utrecht. The Republic of the Seven United Provinces is born.  
  • 1585 For a number of years, Drebbel attends, the Latin school of Rector Potter in Alkmaar.
  • 1587-1590  Drebbel in Harlem. Pupil of the Harlem Academy, an initiative of painter/writer Carel van Mander, painter Cornelis van Haarlem and engraver, painter, publisher, humanist Hendrick Goltzius, disciple of humanist and engraver Dirck Coornhert (1522-1590).
  • 1595 Feijtge Jansdochter (Sophia) Goltzius, the younger sister of Hendrick Goltzius, living in Alkmaar and Cornelis Drebbel marry. First they get a son, Jan Cornelis, than 2 daughters, Anna en Catharina, and another son, Jacob. They live at the cornerhouse Doelenstraat-Koningsweg.
  • 1597 Drebbel engraves the map of Alkmaar, measured by Adriaen Thönissen, "Stercktebouw-meester der Vereenighde Nederlanden”; designer of the reinforcements of   Alkmaar and f.e. fort Bourtange.  Adriaen’s sons take the family name Metius.
  • 1598 Staten-General grant two patents: "Octroy for Cornelius Jacobsz. Drebbelthe first, an instrument which enables to raise great quantities of fresh water, by means of a fountain from ‘low’ till XXX, XL or L or more feet, floating through leaden pipes” The other, a  time peace or clockwork which is able to show the time for over fifty, LX, yes even more than a hundred years, without winding a spring or other action, at least as long as the wheels or clockwork is not worn out.”
  • 1600 Drebbel designs and builds a fountain –fresh-water-supply- at the Noorderpoort in Middelburg. Meets with spectacle makers / lens-makers, Hans Lipperhey and Zacharias Janssen, who claim to have build the first telescope.
  • 1602 Another patent for Drebbel: “'invention of a chimney system, as never constructed before, that draws and dispatches the smoke in a convenient way'.”

1603-1610 London

1610-1613 Prague​

  • 1610 October, the Drebbel family arrives at the court of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. Drebbel demonstrates the Perpetuum Mobile, does –probably- chemical experiments and is involved in mining projects.
  • 1612 In January, Emperor Rudolph II, Drebbel’s sponsor in Prague, dies. November 6, Crown Prince Henry Frederick Stuart, ‘the Renaissance prince’, Drebbel’s’ major sponsor in England, suddenly passes away, 18 years old.
  • 1613 February; Drebbel travels back from Prague to London. Has no income, no patron: In a letter to King James I-VI he proposes to develop diverse interesting apparatus and instruments. Offers to optimize the exploitation of a silver mine, asks for permission to organize a lottery.

1613-1633 London

  • 1620 Drebbel’s submarine demonstration in the Thames.  "March 15 anno 1620 stilo no­vo" "Received a few days ago, a letter from my father in which he wrote that Drebbel in Engelandt  developed a ship with which he is able to navigate between two waters as he likes. (Citation from the diary of Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637)) Drebbel, involved in a plan, to build a theater in London, with  the musician William Byrd (ca. 1543-1623)
  • 1621 Various reprints of Drebbel’s booklets: “Secure solution of Nature and the characteristics of the Elements Now with the following tractates: A clear description of the Quinta Essentia, never printed before and a Dedication of the Primum Mobile”. In his new booklet, Drebbel describes a process that looks like the production of oxygen (the body of Saltpetre is broken by the power of fire and changed in the nature of air).  Constantijn Huygens (1596 -1687) regularly meets Drebbel during his stays in England. In his autobiography, Huygens writes: ‘when I placed this moon (Drebbel) next to this sun (Bacon), I was in particular interested in physics. This modest man, a citizen from Alkmaar, had an amazing experience in this area, as I have noticed with my own eyes. Huygens about Drebbel’s microscope: ‘Not only from his hands but also from his miraculous brain comes, what I call the standing telescope. Had Drebbel during his life done nothing else than this miraculous tube, he had acquired immortal fame forever.’ Drebbel works several years for the Duke of Buckingham, involved in garden design.
  • 1622 Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) scientist and senior officer in France, Drebbel’s’ first biographer, describes a mite, which he saw through a microscope of Drebbel (lunette de Dreubels). Corresponds a.o. with Peter Paul Rubens, Galileo Galilei and Marin Mersenne about Drebbel’s innovations.
  • 1623 In Stratford-Langton, on July 20, Drebbel writes in the Album Amicorum of Daniel Stolcius: ‘Oefent u gaven regt’ / Try thy gifts rightly.  With a portrait, shown on page 1.
  • 1625 Drebbel works on designs for fountains at York House in London and New Hall in Chelmsford. Palaces owned by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628),  the favorite and lover of King James I – VI.
  • 1626 Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam (1561-1626), Statesman, philosopher, dies in London.“For all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure in itself". Bacon’s last book, Nova Atlantis, describes an ‘ideal’ utopic society; peaceful, technological far ahead. Many innovations and constructions are described in this book, which were developed and build by Drebbel.
  • 1626-27  At the mandate of the English marine and the initiative of Buckingham, Drebbel constructs special weaponry, such as torpedo’s, firebombs to be used to liberate  the Huguenots, entrenched in La Rochelle; defending  themselves against the army of the catholic king of France. Drebbel’s machines have no result. According to the English, because they do not work, according to Drebbel because the English didn’t dare to get close enough to the French. 
  • 1632 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek born. Benedictus de Spinoza, born in Amsterdam; the Enlightenment is coming.  Does Anthony van Dyck paint Drebbel’s portrait in London?
  • 1633  In his final years, Drebbel is Chief Engineer at the court. He and his family run an Alehouse at the quay of the Thames near The Tower.
  • November 7, 1633, Cornelis Drebbel passes away. He is buried at the Trinity Minories at the eastern borders of the City of London; within the Liberties of the Tower of London.

Drebbel World'-'Famous';'since 2013 also in the city of Alkmaar.

1994 Cornelis Drebbel; the first Alkmaar citizen on the moon, at 40,9 degrees latitude and  49 degrees longitude in the Clementine galaxy, a crater with a section of 30 km calls to Drebbel.

Contemporaries Ben Jonson (play ‘The Alchemist’) and Shakespeare (the Tempest), might be inspired by Drebbel.
The BBC devotes a broadcast to Drebbel.
Drebbel, personage in Harry Potter.
Startrek: His name is Captain Drebble. He travels the galaxy in his ship.


Text and ©: Hubert van Onna, Drebbologist and Chairman
of the Second Drebbel Foundation


Design: Dr. Francis Franck, Member of Honor of the Second Drebbel Foundation.
email: drebbelfoundation@gmail.com   
November 2014

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