The Ophthalmologist and Physician to the King, Rupert Fink († 1579)

“The news of the Queen Catherine Habsburg’s death arrived at night. The King’s physician Rupert Fink, who because of ruler’s disease was used to sleeping close to the ruler, on that night, like other physicians, also slept in the gaspada (hotel). A huge night owl flew into the room of his wife […] In the morning the king found it sitting on the windowsill. Nobody knew where it had come from; they put it into a chest and then the doctor went to see the king’s treasury scribe Žalinski’s wife. Having told her about the owl, he promised to give it to her but he did not find the owl in the chest. ‘You must know, my dear wife, that it is a death knell sounding for her ladyship, our benefactor’” with these words the physician Rupert Fink addressed his wife. This story told by a contemporary about the death of Catherine Habsburg, the third wife of Sigismund II Augustus, the Queen of Poland, and the Grand Duchess of Lithuania, who died on 28 of February 1572 in Linz, Austria is of importance as it mentions the Prussia-born king’s physician Rupert Fink, who spent a considerable amount of time in Lithuania, where he found his second homeland.

The doctor of the most distinguished women in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Rupert Fink is best known to historians as the doctor to Sigismund II Augustus. Even though he began his career at the court of the Prussian duke, Rupert Fink spent most of the time in Vilnius and Radom, attending to the health of Catherine of Habsburg. Later, he was Henry Valois’ and Stephen Báthory’s physician. He started his medical career as a surgeon and pharmacist, with his own pharmacy in Vilnius. Rupert Fink had a university education. In 1544 he studied at Königsberg University. Having started working at the Duke of Prussia’s as a surgeon and eye doctor in 1543, he treated the eyes of a number of noblemen of Prussia and Lithuania, The Checin elder Jeronim Szafraniec and the Poznan voivode Janusz Latalski expressed satisfaction with the way their problems, mainly cataract, were dealt with.

We meet the doctor in Vilnius in 1552. In a document of April 12 he is introduced not as a surgeon but as a pharmacist, who had acquired the pharmacy of the deceased pharmacist Kondratas (in the house of the Trakai bailiff and castellan Ivan Jermola in the Castle Street). In 1556 Rupert Fink left for Bologna to study at the university. On coming back to Vilnius as a Doctor of Medicine and of Philosophy, he was employed to work as a medical doctor in the court of the third wife of Sigismund II Augustus, Catherine of Habsburg, who was then residing in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The German origin of Rupert Fink may have affected the appointment. However, Sigismund II Augustus did not get along with his wife. Their relations cooled down, perhaps because of her permanent diseases. He thought that Catherine was suffering from epilepsy, yet in his letters of 1560 to emperor Ferdinand Rupert Fink wrote that the queen ran a persistent fever and had gastritis.

The doctor not only treated the Queen, but he also delivered drugs to the court.

The sovereign returned the favour in 1561 by exempting his house from the obligation to host guests.

Around the same time Rupert Fink took up the office of the personal physician of Elżbieta Szydłowiecka, the wife of an influential nobleman of GDL, the Vilnius voivode Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black. In June 1562 he tended to the terminally ill Elżbieta. Despite all the efforts of the medics, she died on June 20, 1562, of heart failure, most probably.

A doctor who surpassed the nobles in wealth and influence

Rupert Fink was doing quite well. His pharmacy was profitable; working in it, was a former pupil of his, Krasnodubski, the Krakovite Lukosz traded there, there were other assistants, too. The doctor had two cooks, a cabman and a number of other servants.

During his travel with the sovereign in 1563-1565 he lived in the city of Radom. When the Queen left Poland in October 1566, Rupert Fink returned to Lithuania and in 1568 he started his service, first at the court of Sigismund II Augustus, then at the courts of Henry Valois and Stephen Báthory. His annual salary was about 200 złoty – 10 złoty for food and 3 gorčius (1 gorčius equals around 3 liters) of oats per week. The doctor secured support of influential noblemen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Thus, Henry Valois awarded a 40 volok (1 volok equals 20 ha) Rokantiškės holding to Rupert Fink and granted him a privilege of a brick house and a garden. The rather big brick house located in the Castle street, in close vicinity of St. Johns’ church, belonged to the jurisdiction of the castle, and the garden was behind the royal stables. These assets exceeded the wealth of an average nobleman or burgher. Rupert Fink had some real estate in Kaunas, too.

Therefore, the pharmacist, surgeon and the King’s doctor Rupert Fink belonged to the most prominent and richest group of Vilnius citizens of the 16th century.

Career and wealth-wise, the doctor’s family relations were also beneficial. His father-in-law, Kasparz Libner, held the position of a customs officer for many years; later, he was the Trakai castellan and bailiff (died in 1549). After his death his widow Urszula married Panus Szpil from Kaunas. The Libner family, like Rupert Fink, had connections with Königsberg, they had some real estate there. In 1565, Queen Catherine of Habsburg appealed to the Duke of Prussia with a request to grant permission to her doctor’s wife and other relatives of Kasparz Libner to recover their property and money left in Königsberg. The wife of Rupert Fink brought a large dowry – the Šienava estate in the district of Rumšiškės that she received from her father.

Inheritance wasted by the children

The doctor and his wife Libnerowa raised four children: three sons – Rupert, Samuel, and Daniel, and the daughter Zuzana. Rupert Fink died on October 18, 1579. Then Stephen Báthory granted the privilege to the house to Rupert Fink’s heirs. As evidenced by the trustees of the family, among whom were the sovereign’s doctor Mikołaj Bukcelia, the Vilnius advocatus Stanisław Sabina and others, Rupert Fink rubbed shoulders with the most famous citizens of Vilnius of the time, with the elite of the ruler’s court.

Fink’s children did not manage to retain the wealth accumulated by their parents.

After his father’s death, Samuel took care of the family property. Even though Rupert seems to be the eldest of the sons (died in 1608), he is hardly ever mentioned in the sources. Around 1584, Zuzana (died in 1592) married Jakub, the brother of the Radziwiłł client, the protestant activist Andreas Volanus. Samuel gave her a large dowry – gold, silver, jewels, money and also the Šlienava holding in Kaunas district, worth 480 kapa. The youngest son of Ruopert Fink, Daniel, received his share – one fourth of the brick house in Vilnius and part of the Rokantiškės property. Having given a dowry to his sister and his share to his brother, Samuel did not manage to retain the main part of the inheritance – a brick house in a prestigious Vilnius street. In October 1596 he mortgaged the house for 2000 shocks of groats to the Smolensk voivode Jan Abramowicz and in 1599 he sold it for 6000 złoty to the newcomer from Gdansk Kornely Winhold and his wife.

Literature: R. Ragauskiene. Vaistininkai 16 a.Vilniuje. Vilniaus istorijos metraštis, 2007, Nr.1, p. 42-45

Raimonda Ragauskienė