What was the general altitude towards alchemists? Were they respected? Who funded them?
You have to remember that chemistry was not a well-defined science yet. The borders between chemistry, natural philosophy, and alchemy were unclear. Universities would teach the seven liberal arts, consisting of the trivium and quadrivium. Other fields of study would be classified into this system, or simply called philosophy. There were people like Roger Bacon, who was a monk, or Albertus Magnus, who was a bishop. Their study could be called chemistry or alchemy.
Other alchemists would have promised rulers to make gold, which was common enough to lead to a papal bull against it. This was an edict against counterfeiting, not against alchemistry as such.
Before roughly 1700, alchemy was simply another word for chemistry (the words are cognate). Any kind of work with chemicals could be called either chemistry or alchemy in Europe, depending simply on what kind of local vocabulary you were familiar with. Books about working with chemicals would be addressed to people doing any kind of work, including trying to make a philosopher's stone.
In 1699, the French Academy of Sciences was founded. They initially had virtually no code of ethics, and members included vivisection and human experimentation among their wish list for scientific experiments. However, "philosopher's stones" were banned from the very beginning.
By the mid 18th century, alchemy was completely excluded from high European society.
Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (2012)
Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1985)