Greatorex, Valentine

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Greatorex, Valentine

Valentine Greatorex (1629–1683), faith healer, was born into a Protestant family in the southern Irish province of Munster. He was educated locally, but first the death of his father and then the uprising of 1641 disrupted plans for his further education. He moved to England, where he came under the influence of German mysticism. The prospect of Protestants recovering what they had lost in 1641 to the Catholic insurgents in Munster persuaded him to return to Ireland. Distressed by the cruelty and devastation of the Irish wars, he fell into deep depression, but his spirits seem to have revived with the fortunes of the local Protestants. For six years he soldiered in a local force, until about 1656, when he returned to civilian life.

The patronage of the Boyles, his landlords, and specifically of Roger Boyle, baron of Broghill, his former commander, earned Greatorex appointments as a justice of the peace, clerk of the peace in County Cork, and registrar for transplanting the Irish to Connacht. In these official capacities, he reputedly behaved with more moderation than other officials toward the Catholics. After Charles II's restoration he discovered and applied healing powers. At first, these were directed toward those in the neighborhood afflicted by scurvy, known as "the king's evil," but news of his powers quickly spread, and he was in demand to heal both notables and the humble. He attended a former comrade in the army, Robert Phaire, notorious for his religious and political radicalism, and also Broghill, now advanced to earl of Orrery and ruling Munster as lord president. Through Orrery he was introduced to other Anglo-Irish grandees and was invited to England in 1666. In London his doings were observed by theologians and scientists, including Robert Boyle, in an effort to decide the efficacy and significance of his cures. These activities, reported in pamphlets, added to his fame.

The ensuing controversy over his gifts exhumed Greatorex's past. Hostile parties suggested that he was psychologically disturbed, and that his behavior was in keeping with his unorthodox political and religious beliefs—the now discredited republican and sectarian views of the 1650s. His popularity threatened public order as patients flocked to his house, some having sailed from England. Even more ominous to ardent royalists was Greatorex's claim to the thaumaturgical role hitherto reserved for the monarch: that of therapeutically touching the afflicted. Others defended him as "a very sober, discreet, civil gentleman" (Beecher 1665, p. 5). Yet, at a time of political instability his activities were feared for their unsettling effects. His apparently magical powers were too reminiscent of the claims of the Catholic clergy, and questioned the rationalists' approach to miracles. His activities also coincided with a year of apocalyptic expectancy. In 1666 it was alleged that he had caused more conflict between laity and clergy "than anyone these 1000 years" (Duffy 1981, pp. 268–269). Aware of these controversies, he became more reticent about practicing his cures outside his immediate neighborhood, to which he retired in 1668. Thereafter nothing is known of his career.


[Beecher, Lionel]. Wonders if not Miracles or, a Relation of the Wonderful Performances of Valentine Gertrux. 1665.

A Brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatraks, and Divers of the Strange Cures by Him Lately Performed. 1666.

Duffy, Eamon. "Valentine Greatrix, the Irish Stroker." In Religion and Humanism, edited by Keith Robbins. 1981.

Godfrey, Edmund, and others. Letters to V. Greatorex. MS 4728. National Library of Ireland.

Stubbe, Henry. The Miraculous Conformist or, An Account of Severall Marvailous Cures Performed by the Stroaking of the Hands of Mr. Valentine Greatarick. 1666.

Toby Barnard

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Greatorex, Valentine

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