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The King's Evil and the Royal Touch


Henri IV of France touching the head of a kneeling man for the King's Evil (scrofula). From Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Licensed via CC-BY 4.0.  Wellcome Library, London
Henri IV of France touching the head of a kneeling man for the King's Evil (scrofula). From Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Licensed via CC-BY 4.0. Wellcome Library, London

The practice of the monarch laying on hands to cure sick people lasted from the medieval period all the way to the 18th century in Britain and France. One disease in particular was so often "cured" it came to be known as the King's Evil.

Tracy's Research

  • Fern, Thomas. "A perfect cure for the King's evil, (whether hereditary or accidental,) by effectual alcalious medicines: faithfully approv'd by the experience of eighteen years practice, and the testimony of above four hundred patients restor'd beyond relapse." London: printed, and sold by D. Browne. G. Strahan. A. Bettesworth; C. King. Mr. Corbet. Mr. Mears; and at the Author's house, [1709] . Via Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004846987.0001.000/1:7?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
  • Grzybowski, S. et al. "History and Importance of Scrofula." The Lancet , Volume 346 , Issue 8988 , 1472 – 1474. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(95)92478-7/abstract
  • H. E. J. Cowdrey. "King's Evil." Dictionary of the Middle Ages, edited by Joseph R. Strayer, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989. World History in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2353201658/WHIC?u=lap17pvbs&xid=93e0f79d. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.
  • Kent, John. "Observations on the Causes, Symptoms, and Nature of Scrofula or King's Evil, Scurvy, and Cancer: With Cases Illustrative of a Peculiar Mode of Treatment." 1833 edition. Via Project Gutenberg. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=23468
  • Lewis, Michael et al. " Scrofula Overview of Scrofula." MedScape. 5/17/2015. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/858234-overview
  • Pepys, Samuel. "The Diary of Samuel Pepys." http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1661/04/13/
  • Riddell, William Renwick. "Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 19, No.4, Part 1 (Feb., 1929)." Via JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1134613
  • Royal College of Physicians. "The King's Evil." https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/kings-evil
  • Science Museum. "King's Evil and the Royal Touch." http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/kingsevil
  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "King's Evil." Encyclopedia Britannica. 6/20/1998. https://www.britannica.com/science/kings-evil
  • Toynbee, M.R. "Charles I and the King's Evil." Folklore, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Mar., 1950). Via JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1257298
  • Turrell, James F. "The Ritual of Royal Healing in Early Modern England: Scrofula, Liturgy, and Politics." Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (March 1999). Via JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42611999
  • Turton, William, "Some observations on consumption, scrofula or king's evil, gout, asthma, softness and distortion of the bones, rickets, cancer, insanity, and other chronical diseases." 1813. Via Wellcome Library. http://wellcomelibrary.org/item/b21536685#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&z=-1.147%2C-0.0833%2C3.294%2C1.6667

Topics in this Podcast: medical history, European history, medieval history, show notes, tuberculosis


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