Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Healing Hands of the King

In The Return of the King, Ioreth, looking at the fair face of Faramir says, "Alas! if he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known."
While reading A Distant Mirror, which leads into the miracle of Joan of Arc being at the end of the Hundred Years War, I decided to get out my copy of Marina Warner's Joan of Arc to compare Warner's view of the events of the war to that of Tuchman. One of the commands issued by Joan's voices was that Charles VII must go to Rheims, which was in enemy hands at the time, to be crowned King of France and anointed with the special oil which was kept at Rheims for the anointing of kings since the days of Clovis. The oil was given to the Bishop Remigius by the Holy Spirit in the form of a white dove, according to Hincmar, the archbishop of Rheims in the 9th century.
After he had been crowned in a bare bones ceremony, he touched the relics of the martyr, St. Marcoul, and "through his intercession heal the scrofula, or king's evil, of his subjects. Scrofula is a disfiguring, incurable disease of the skin, and the only remedy in medieval times was believed to be the touch of the legitimate, God-appointed and God-pleasing king." This according to Warner's notes comes from the chronicle of Enguerrand Monstrelet. By healing people, Charles VII was confirming for himself and his people that he was the rightful king.
Edward the Confessor, one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, was the first to have been credited this power by Osbert de Clare and all subsequent kings of England are also supposed to have had this power to heal the King's Evil, as scrofula was called.
So the hands of the king really were healing hands, if you believe.

13 comments:

Tracy said...

The Healing Hands of the King, sounds like more 'proof' put forward to show that Kings had power because of divine right.
Scrofula - does that still exist?

The Red Witch said...

@Scrofula - does that still exist?

Yup, it is some kind of skin lesions on the neck. Has to do with tuberculosis from what I read.
I think the anointing with the special oil is a way of showing divine favor and the healing shows you are the proper recipient. Not just any king had healing hands; only the true king.

anachronist said...

From Wikipedia:

"Scrofula is the term used for tuberculosis of the neck, or, more precisely, a cervical tuberculous lymphadenopathy. Scrofula is usually a result of an infection in the lymph nodes, known as lymphadenitis and is most often observed in immunocompromised patients (about 50% of cervical tuberculous lymphadenopathy). About 95% of the scrofula cases in adults are caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but only 8% of cases in children. The rest are caused by atypical mycobacterium (Mycobacterium scrofulaceum) or nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM). With the stark decrease of tuberculosis in the second half of the 20th century, scrofula became a very rare disease. With the appearance of AIDS, however, it has shown a resurgence, and presently affects about 5% of severely immunocompromised patients."


When it comes to the treatment,it is highly dependent on the kind of infection. Surgical excision of the scrofula does not work well for M. tuberculosis infections, and has a high rate of recurrence and formation of fistulae. Furthermore, surgery may spread the disease to other organs. The best approach then is to use conventional treatment of tuberculosis with antibiotics. Scrofula caused by NTM, on the other hand, responds well to surgery, but is usually resistant to antibiotics. The affected nodes can be removed either by repeated aspiration, curettage or total excision (with the risk in the latter procedure, however, of causing unsightly scarring or damage to the facial nerve, or both).

From 1633, the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church contained a ceremony for "the royal touch" and it was traditional for the monarch (king or queen) to present to the touched person a coin — usually an Angel, a gold coin the value of which varied from about 6 shillings to about 10 shillings. King Henry IV of France is reported as often touching and healing as many as 1,500 individuals at a time.

In the 18th Century, Mrs Elizabeth Pearson, an Irish herbalist, discovered the cure for Scrofula using herbs and a poultice and extract of vegetable and in 1815, Sir Gerard Noel, presented a petition to the House of Commons to respect her discovery.

If you are interested there's a book about this phenomenon (the royal touch):Bloch, M. (Anderson, J. E., trans), The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France (Les Rois Thaumaturges), Routledge & Kegan Paul, (London), 1973.

The Red Witch said...

It is fascinating. And the custom persisted so some people must have felt relief.

Tracy said...

And the custom persisted so some people must have felt relief.
True, red Witch - but then, the Placebo Effect existed in the Middle Ages too...


Especially with the incentive of being given a gold coin!

anachronist said...

Especially with the incentive of being given a gold coin!

If the hands of the king or queen were ineffective the poor wretch could at least seek some professional help - he/she had the means.

The Red Witch said...

I like to think the king had magic fingers. :-)

Tracy said...

Mmm - why am I thinking Aragorn :D

anachronist said...

Yeah, it leaves me, the most unromantic of this bunch. Aragorn never cured scrofula.

Tracy said...

No, but he cured Faramir and Eowyn!
And did any of the real Kings cure anything, or was that fiction too?

Tracy said...

usually an Angel, a gold coin the value of which varied from about 6 shillings to about 10 shillings. King Henry IV of France is reported as often touching and healing as many as 1,500 individuals at a time.

Weren't monarchs worried about catching some of these diseases? A very risky business.

And If Henry IV of France was giving out gold 'Angels' at the equivalent 10 shillings apiece like his English counterparts, that's also a very expensive business.

The Red Witch said...

@Aragorn never cured scrofula.

He was the only one who could cure the Black Breath.

@Weren't monarchs worried about catching some of these diseases?

They didn't know how these things were transmitted. I would worry but then I know better.

Tracy said...

They didn't know how these things were transmitted.
They certainly didn't know about bacteria and viruses, but people with leprosy were feared and shunned, the plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire isolated themselves to avoid spreading the Black Death.