touching for the king's evil

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touching for the king's evil was an instant medieval royal tradition. On learning that their rivals the Capetian kings of France claimed divine healing powers, the kings of England, from Henry I onwards, followed suit. Curiously it was only scrofula that could be cured. The ceremony developed into a very formal one, with the monarch stroking the sufferer's throat, while a cleric intoned ‘They shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover’ (Mark 16). If they did not, they at least had a gold medallion to show for it. James I disliked the practice but Charles II is said to have stroked more than 90,000 people. William III discontinued the ceremony. Jacobites insisted that the touch had deserted a usurper but claimed that the exiled Stuarts had effected miraculous cures. Queen Anne revived it and one of the last persons to be stroked was the young Samuel Johnson in 1712. The Hanoverians gave it up, though in France Charles X was still stroking when removed by revolution in 1830.

J. A. Cannon