The Correspondence of Henricus Reneri

Primary Contributors:

Robin Buning

Henricus Reneri (1593–1639)

The Utrecht professor of philosophy Henricus Reneri was born in 1593 in Huy in the Prince-Bishopric of Liège. He studied liberal arts at Leuven and attended the Grand Seminary of Liège. In 1616 Reneri converted to Calvinism, a decision which forced him to seek refuge in the Dutch Republic where until 1621 he studied theology at the Walloon College in Leiden. For the ensuing decade Reneri worked as a private tutor to the children of several Amsterdam merchant-regents whilst pursuing studies in medicine at Leiden.

In 1631 Reneri found a position as professor of philosophy at the Illustrious School of Deventer, thanks to his favourable contacts among the professors at Leiden. Reneri had a number of influential relationships also with members of the aristocracy and in the same year he married into the regent patriciate. From 1634 he held the chair of philosophy at the newly founded Illustrious School of Utrecht, which was raised to the status of university in 1636.

Reneri was a personal friend, as well as an admirer, of the French philosopher René Descartes. The two men met in 1628–1629, shortly after Descartes’s arrival in the Netherlands. Reneri taught Aristotelian philosophy, but he reformed parts of Aristotelian doctrine and he was the first to use elements of Descartes’s physics in his lessons. He developed an empirical and inductive method of science as well as a method of logic that built on humanist educational reform. In his private studies he carried out experiments in optics and thermometry, and produced chemical drugs. Reneri died in Utrecht in 1639.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for Henricus Reneri’s correspondence was supplied to EMLO by Robin Buning and was collected as part of his NWO-funded PhD research at Utrecht University.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Gassendi, Pierre, Opera omnia (Lyon: Laurentius Anisson, 1658; repr. Stuttgart: Frommann, 1964), vol. 6.


Only 61 letters from Reneri’s correspondence survive. Most of them were written by Reneri and are preserved in the collections of his – often famous – correspondents, including the Dutch diplomat and virtuoso Constantijn Huygens, the Leiden theologian André Rivet, and the French philosophers Pierre Gassendi and Marin Mersenne. Surprisingly, we have only two letters exchanged with Descartes. This is probably caused by the fact that the two men saw each other regularly and even lived close to each other for a couple of years in Deventer and Utrecht. Descartes is mentioned in many of Reneri’s other letters, however.

The earliest letter that survives is from 1629 and is addressed to Huygens. In this letter Reneri tries to interest Huygens in his optical inventions and refers to Descartes in relation to this subject. Many letters discuss his work on telescopes and thermometers in minute technical detail. Only in his letters to Descartes does Reneri discuss natural philosophical issues. With Gassendi, Reneri talked about the use of logic. Most letters to Reneri’s patrons are about finding an academic position and financial matters. Most letters are written in French, Reneri’s mother tongue, or Latin.

Letter from Henricus Reneri to David de Wilhem, 10 September 1631. (Image courtesy of Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden, BPL 293A)

Further resources


Buning, Robin, Henricus Reneri (1593–1639): Descartes’ Quartermaster in Aristotelian Territory (Utrecht: Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University, 2013).

Verbeek, Theo, ‘Reneri, Henricus’, in Wiep van Bunge, Henri Krop and Bart Leeuwenburgh, eds, The Dictionary of Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Dutch Philosophers (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2003), pp. 824–6.

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