28th March 1684. Kings’ Evil.
Scrofula, a glandular disease, is probably referenced in Deuteronomy 28:22: ‘The Lord will strike you with wasting disease…with fever and infliction with scorching heat, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish just before entering Palestine’.(1)
The superstitious touching by the monarch against ‘Kings Evil’, or Scrofula, was said to have begun in Edward the Confessor’s reign, a belief in the monarchs’ power as semi-divine.
The condition was described in ‘Thomas Elyot’s Castel, of Helth’ (sic) (1539) as ‘swellings in the neck, full of matter’.
Macbeth mentions in Act 4 Scene 3: ‘The ‘hanging of golden stamps around their neck’, to cure the ‘evil’.
The obstinate belief in the Divine Right of Kings was a cause of the downfall of Charles I, a belief which included the power to cure scrofula.
Samuel Pepys recorded in his Diary on 13th April 1661: ‘To Whitehall to the Banquet House and there saw the King heale (sic), the first time that ever I saw him do it-which he did with great gravity; and it seemed to me to be an ugly office and a simple one’.
Charles II was said to have ‘touched’ 100,000 subjects, 8,500 in 1662 alone, although the number of remissions produced, if any, was not mentioned.
Today in 1684 the English diarist John Evelyn wrote: ‘There was so grette (sic) and eager a concourse of people… To be touched of ‘The Evil’ that six or seven were crushed by pressing at the chirurgeon’s door for tickets’.
Queen Anne who died in 1714, was the last monarch to perform this curious function, reportedly ‘touching’ Samuel Johnson ‘without effect’.
He must have been one of the last to be touched by the Monarch when he was taken by his mother, having inherited a ‘taint of the disease’. (2)
On certain Saints’ Days the monarch would touch the sore and give them a gold coin called the Angel (1465-1642), with a hole to be worn like a talisman round the neck. Later the coins were silver and later still replaced by ‘touch pieces’.
(1) Scrofula, ( Latin for little pig as the growth looked like piglets)-tuberculosis of the neck lymph glands.
(2) John Floyer of Hints Hall (related to the Levetts of Packington) was a physician who advised Johnson’s Mother to have her son touched by Queen Anne on March 30th 1714.
Ref: dettrick.blogspot.co.uk/Pic Image.
Ref: QI facts, J Mitchinson and Molly Oldfied, Daily Telegraph Weekend Review.
Ref: It was ‘of such holiness that he received power from above to cure many diseases among others Kings Evil a prerogative that continues to his successors’ according to Thomas Blount’s Glossographia 1656).
Ref: Charles Hardwick’s, Traditions, Superstitions and Folklore 1872.