Aller au contenu

Isabella Inglish, a successful Scottish saleswoman

    By Lisa Lemoine & Manon Martel (université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France)

    Isabella Kilpatrick married David Inglish in 1683. They had a successful business with their “Dr. Anderson’s True Scots pills”. This medicine came from the Scottish Dr. Anderson who would have invented it in 1630 during a trip to Venice. Concerning the way Isabella came into possession of this formula, two points of view actually clash. Dr. Anderson would have left “the secret and skill of preparing the pill” to his daughters. The youngest would have sold it to surgeon Thomas Weir, whose maid was none other than Isabella Inglish. The latter would have therefore gained access to this formula from him. The question is, did he give her the formula willingly, or did she steal it? She was living in Edinburgh at that time but was forced to leave and migrate to London around 1700, after having been (rightly or wrongly) accused to be a fraud. It is worth noting that at the time, the Union (1707) was not yet signed between Scotland and England, and that makes the use of the term “immigrant” all the more valid since both were still two separate countries.

    She was far from being the only one to claim ownership of these pills, but she was the most successful in selling them. Once in London, she used her Scottishness as a legitimacy to sell these “True Scots Pills” and published adverts in various newspapers, such as the Derby Mercury and Newcastle Courant. But these pills were so easy to reproduce that, rapidly, an invasion of counterfeits came to light in London. To prevent competition, Isabella Inglish wrote an advertisement in the London Gazette. She claimed that she was the one and only person to hold the real secret recipe. She therefore wrote a pamphlet in which she claimed having been granted royal trust:

    The excellency of the genuine Medicine having so long since as the year 1692 excited numerous counterfeits thereof, their Majesties King William and Queen Mary were graciously pleased to command the Secretary of State to issue the following order to the printer of the London Gazette: – “Whereas we are fully satisfied that Mrs Isabella Inglish hath the only true receipt and right method of composition of the Pills commonly known as by the name of Dr. ANDERSON’S or SCOT’S PILLS, and that several do (though falsely) pretend to have  the receipt and make up and vend their counterfeits to the abuse of their Majesties’ subjects : these are, therefore, to require you to publish her said Pills, and no other of that name, in the Gazette”. – Given under my hand this 1st day of May, 1692.[1]

    It was uncommon for a woman to publish anything in newspapers at the time, and this only adds to Isabella’s independence and business acumen.

    This smart business move allowed her not only to almost get hold of the pills market monopoly, but also to legitimize her activities by acknowledging that the formula came from Dr. Weir. Nonetheless, it didn’t prevent her from selling this medicine with her own name on it, besides having her own seal on it. As a matter of fact, this seal is often mentioned in sources about the pills, because of its peculiarity. As John Inwood writes on the website of the National Portrait Gallery, “the true pills had their boxes sealed with a Lion Rampant, and Three Mullets Argent, Dr Anderson’s Head between the initials, I. I, with his name round it, and Isabella Inglish beneath the shield.” So not only was the seal especially recognizable, but it also made Isabella’s name live on. The boxes are indeed still currently for sale on eBay.

    Despite being the one whose name appeared in papers and on products, her husband played an influential part anyway. In her advertisement, Isabella Inglish wrote that Dr. Anderson’s pills, or the Scots Pills, were “only truly and faithfully made by Mrs. Isabella Inglish (with the Care and Inspection of her Husband Mr. Ja. Inglish, Philo-Chymist) who alone is authorised by Their MAJESTIES to prepare and publish the same; and lives at the Hand and Pen near the King’s Bagnio in Long-Acre, London.” One shall notice that the mention of her husband, despite not being flagrant, is essential anyway. It might have reassured 18th-century customers that a woman was supervised by her husband. She incidentally highlighted the fact that her husband was a “philo-chymist” who therefore knew about chemistry and medicine. Despite the fact that they both ruled this business, it was Isabella’s name which was recognised. This business was one of the most flourishing of the 18th century, and she controlled it. Her husband only took a secondary role and stood as a backup for her. The pills were in popular use for three hundred years: beginning around 1600 with Dr Anderson, they were still on sale by 1916, while researchers lost track of Isabella’s name in 1926. In a nutshell, as Dr. Allan Kennedy points out, “she is emblematic of the space available in early modern England, or at least London, for Scottish women to carve out independent economic identities.”[2]

    Sources (all links accessed on 26 January 2022):

    An Illustrated History of Lindsay & Gilmour and Raimes, Clark & Co Ltd.  (p.21).

    Coignerai-Devillers Lucie. Les Grana Angelica ou Véritables Pilules Écossaises d’Anderson: W. A. Jackson, Grana Angelica. Patrick Anderson and the True Scott Pills in Pharm. Historian, déc. 1987. Revue d’histoire de la pharmacie, 76ᵉ année, n°277, 1988. p. 206.

    Ebay: 17thC Dr Patrick Anderson Isabel Inglish TRUE SCOT’S PILLS Wood Box WAX SEAL #R3.

    Fox, Adam (2020), The Press and the People: Cheap Print and Society in Scotland, 1500–1785. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Inglish, Isabella (1690), Advertisement. At the Hand and Pen near the King’s Bagnio in Long-Acre, liveth Mrs. Isabella Inglish, who alone is authorised by their Majesties to make and publish Dr. Anderson’s Grana Angelica, or the famous true Scots Pills … London: s.n. Ann Arbor: Text Creation Partnership, 2011.;view=fulltext

    Kennedy, Allan (2020), Scottish Women in Early Modern London. Centre for Scottish Culture Blog (31 may 2020).

    Lane Furdell (2002), Elisabeth, Publishing and Medicine in Early Modern England. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press & Boydell & Brewer Ltd: Suffolk, UK.

    National Portrait Gallery: British artists’ suppliers, 1650-1950 – I, Isabella and James Inglish.

    [1] Advertisement. “At the Hand and Pen near the King’s Bagnio in Long-Acre, liveth Mrs. Isabella Inglish, who alone is authorised by their Majesties to make and publish Dr. Anderson’s Grana” Angelica, or the famous true Scots Pills … Inglish, Isabella”. [London: s.n., 1690],

    [2] Kennedy 2020.