Sunday, January 29, 2023

Curing Disease

The Royal Touch was not just for scrofula, nor was it just a simple touch.

Epilepsy was another disease that would bring folk to the king for healing; and like scrofula, it was a disease whose symptoms were irregular and could end spontaneously. It was actually King John who started the practice of blessing rings on Easter Sunday and hand them out as a cure for epilepsy.

Speaking of handing things out, Kings Edward I, II, and III of England would give a gift of alms to anyone who traveled a long distance to see them (as well as tokens as part of the Royal Touch ritual). It was not a huge sum, but also not an amount you'd stick in your pocket and forget. Because records were kept of royal expenses and alms, those reigns have accurate data on how many people received alms.

We know, therefore, that the reigns of the Edwards averaged about 500 healing rituals per year. Edward I "healed" as many as 1736 in one high-yield year, whereas Edward III only touched 136 one year. Keep in mind that the Third spent a good amount of his reign attacking France during the Hundred Years War, so he wasn't always available at home. Edward II did not spend much of his time in battles, and there was a lot of variation in his annual healing numbers.

The process was also slowed down during Edward II's reign (1307 - 1327) because it was more formalized:

The sick individual was brought before the king and then kneeled in front of the monarch. The king touched the face and cheeks of the afflicted person while a chaplain announced that "He put his hand upon them, and he healed them." The chaplain’s words referred to a passage in the Gospel of Mark 16:18 in which Jesus, speaking to his disciples after the resurrection, suggests that the disciples will have healing powers. Many people believed that the disease was brought on by sin, so prayers were central to the ceremony. [link]

The afflicted would then be given a "touch piece," a gold coin that could be worn around the neck to continue to keep them healthy. The illustration shows the touch piece given by Henry VI (reigned 1422 - 1471). The generosity of the gold coin and the Royal Touch together would enhance the reputation of the king as well as reinforce the notion of divine authority.

So if Edward II wasn't away at war, he could have endeared himself to his people with lots of healings. What was he doing with his time? That's a complicated question, but we will see what we can do about it tomorrow.

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