On May 1, 1633, thirty-two-year-old beauty Venetia Stanley Digby was found dead in bed in her London home. A popular lady at court, her surprising demise set the city abuzz with rumors, many of them focused on her husband, the grief-stricken Sir Kenelm Digby.
A popular man himself, Digby was a scholar, an off-and-on Catholic, and a former privateer. He was also a noted chef, alchemist, and enthusiastic supporter of sympathetic medicine (in which treatment was applied to the injury-causing instrument, rather than to the injured).
He was kind of like your favorite crazy uncle who dabbles in a little bit of everything. And who might accidentally kill his wife in the process. Of course this is a hypothetical uncle. I certainly have no such uncle. My uncles are wonderful men who occasionally read this blog.
Though he wasn’t a particularly faithful husband, Digby took Venetia’s death pretty hard. He retreated from his life at court, renewed his devotion to Catholicism, and found solace by throwing himself into his studies. He found greatness at the bottom of a wine bottle. Also in its sides and neck.
Because it was around this time that England faced a wood shortage that led to an increase in hotter coal-burning furnaces rather than the wood-fed ones typically used for glassmaking. Digby fired up his furnace and went to work producing a dark, thick bottle suited for elegantly storing wine.
Up until this point in history glass hadn’t been up to the task, and if it held wine at all, it was for presentation purposes only. Since the early days of its development in about 3000 BC, glass was generally too thin and delicate for wine.
That is until Sir Kenelm Digby became the father of the modern wine bottle. It’s a good thing he did, too, because before his thick-glassed bottle, wine didn’t get stored and savored and swirled and pretentiously sipped. And even more important than that, there weren’t thousands of empty, standard-sized bottles awaiting magical Pinterest transformation into dreamy wedding centerpieces.
It’s Sir Digby, then, I can thank for the hours and hours I have spent these past few weeks collecting, rinsing, and wrapping wine bottles in yards of twine. One of my nieces is a soon-to-be bride. She needs centerpieces for her reception, and I’m kind of like that favorite crazy aunt who will volunteer to do just about any tedious wedding-related task you require without complaint, though not without a blog post.
Of course my niece has many wonderful aunts who occasionally read this blog, and she has never publicly declared that I am her favorite. But I think we all know.
I also think the bottles turned out pretty well. I know the centerpieces will be beautiful, the ceremony will be perfect, and my niece and her groom will remember their special day for all of their long, happy lifetime together. I also think Sir Kenelm Digby would have been pleased to know to what great use his bottles had been repurposed, as part of a celebration of marriage and love.
10 thoughts on “The Father of Wine Snobbery and Pinterest Magic”
Cheers, Sir Digby! I didn’t know this story! I will thank him when I’m enjoying my next bottle of wine (which will be soon, since we have quite the growing collection). Also those bottles look fabulous. Congrats to your niece!
Thank you! Yes, I think a toast to Sir Digby is definitely in order, but I’m not anxious to open another bottle of wine just yet. I contributed my fair share to the collection.
Enough already. How astounded do I have to be at your multitude of myriad talents and accomplishments? I’m trying to be gracious and happy for you and those you so readily bless, but really? When God was handing out talents, how many times did you sneak around and get back in line?
Thanks, Marcia. I don’t know that this one is so much talent as determination and a willingness to have very sticky, glue-covered fingers.
Hmmm….applying treatment to the source of an injury has me wondering what exactly I need to do to my wine bottles when their contents cause a hangover. You know, just asking out of medical curiosity, not from any personal experience.
Well, I think the only thing that might work would be to fill them with water and drink it. 🙂
That’ll show those pesky wine bottles! 😉
What an interesting story. And those do make for a really cute centerpiece. Rock on, Aunt of the Year 😀
Hey, that’s pretty interesting! That explains why you never hear about fancy wines from before the seventeenth century or so being sold! And congrats about your niece!