Wednesday, 15 February 2012

History is written by the victors (and Wikipedia)

I've been doing a lot of research into the history of Gin lately, and found an enormous amount of inconsistencies. Common consensus seems to be that, loosely speaking, Gin was first created by Franciscus Sylvius in 1650 (remember this date). This was thought to have been for purely medicial reasons, with Juniper being noted as an effective diuretic, used to treat liver cirrhosis and kidney failure (although with apparently little attention paid to the counter-productive effects of the alcohol it was steeped in).

Franciscus Sylvius

As Fransicus was a Dutchman, it is perhaps not surprising that the first historical records are entwined with Dutch military history, and we are told that the phrase 'Dutch Courage' comes from our (British) soldiers witnessing the Dutch knocking back this medicinal alcohol before going into battle.
All seems well so far, until we stumble across this little gem: Wikipedia tells us that the British first noted the Dutch soldiers imbibing the precursor to Gin (or Genever, as it was then known) during the Thirty Years War. The trouble here is that the Thirty Years Was was fought (primarily in what is know Germany) from 1618 to 1638. So, unless Franciscus also invented the time-machine, this is clearly impossible.
Another take on Gin history tells us that the first British exposure to the spirit came during the Eighty Years War, otherwise known as The Dutch War of Independence. Sadly, this solves nothing, since the dates of that particular skirmish are given as 1568-1648.
So we are left with a dilemma: it is simply not possible that our first encounter with Gin predates its invention.
The answer, naturally, comes from the inaccuracies which we should expect from a source such as Wikipedia, but for some reason tend to over look. The clever folk over at gintime have put together a far more plausible account of the evolution of the spirit, which, if you are interested, I would suggest you read. But remember, there's a lesson in here: don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia.

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