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Greatrakes, Valentine (1629-1683)

Greatrakes, Valentine (1629-1683)

Irish mesmerist, born in the county of Waterford. In 1662 Greatrakes dreamed that he had received the gift of healing by laying on of hands. He ignored the dream, but when it recurred on several occasions he experimented on his wife, which proved quite successful. He subsequently practiced the laying on of hands for practically all diseases and in 1666 went to London, where he was summoned to court. While there he healed many persons, but the insults of the courtiers proved too much for him and he was forced to withdraw to a house near London, where he continued his cures. In his Critical History of Animal Magnetism (2 vols., 1813, 1819), J. P. F. Deleuze states: "Amongst the most astonishing cures which history records, are those of an Irish gentleman in London, Oxford, and other cities of England and Ireland. He himself published in London in 1666 a full account of them: Val. Greatrakes Esq., of Waterford, in the kingdom of Ireland, famous for curing several diseases and distempers by the stroak of his hand only: London, 1660.

Joseph Glanvill, a chaplain to Charles II, stated in a letter that Greatrakes was a simple, amiable, and pious man, a stranger to all deceit. A similar testimony was offered by George Rust, bishop of Dromore in Ireland, who stated that Greatrakes was at his house for three weeks, giving him an opportunity to observe his sound morals and many of his cures. Through the simple laying on of hands, said the bishop, he drove pain to the extremities. Many times the effect was very rapid and as if by magic. If the pain did not immediately subside he repeated his rubbings and always drove the pain finally into the limbs to expel it.

The Bishop further stated that "I can as eyewitness assert that Greatrakes cured dizziness, very bad diseases of the eyes and ears, old ulcers, goitre, epilepsy, glandular swellings, scirrhous indurations, and cancerous swellings. I have seen swellings disperse in five days which were many years old, but I do not believe by supernatural means; nor did his practice exhibit anything sacred. The cure was sometimes very protracted, and the diseases only gave way through repeated exertions; some altogether resisted his endeavours."

It appeared to the bishop that "something healing, something balsamic" flowed from the healer. Greatrakes himself believed that his power was a special gift of God. He healed even epidemic complaints by his touch and believed it his duty to devote himself to the cure of diseases.

To the bishop's testimony may be added that of two physicians, Faireklow and Astel, who assiduously inquired into the reality of his cures. Faireklow noted, "I was struck with his gentleness and kindness to the unhappy, and by the effects which he produced by his hand." Astel stated, "I saw Greatrakes in a moment remove most violent pains merely by his hand. I saw him drive a pain from the shoulder to the feet. If the pains in the head or the intestines remained fixed, the endeavor to remove them was frequently followed by the most dreadful crises, which even seemed to bring the patient's life into danger; but by degrees they disappeared into the limbs, and then altogether. I saw a scrofulous child of twelve years with such swellings that it could not move, and he dissipated merely with his hand the greatest part of them. One of the largest, however, he opened, and so healed it with his spittle."

Astel stated that he saw a number of other cures, and repeated the testimonies of Rust and Faireklow on the character of Greatrakes.

The celebrated Robert Boyle, president of the Royal Society of London, stated, "Many physicians, noblemen, clergymen, etc., testify to the truth of Greatrakes' cures, which he published in London. The chief diseases which he cured were blindness, deafness, paralysis, dropsy, ulcers, swellings, and all kinds of fevers."

Greatrakes was one of the most celebrated of the early mesmerists, and there is no question that mesmerism owed some of its popularity to his cures. According to accounts, he cured the king's evil, palsy, dropsy, epilepsy, ulcers, gallstones, wounds and bruises, lameness, deafness, and partial blindness by laying on of hands, stroking the pain out of its seat, and finally driving it out at the extremities. The Royal Society published accounts of his cures in their Transactions.

After several years of spectacular cures, Greatrakes seemed to lose his power.


A Brief account of Mr. Valentine Greatrakes, and divers of the strange cures by him lately Performed; written by himself in a letter addressed to the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq. London, 1666. Reprint, Dublin: Samuel Dancer, 1688.

Greatrakes, V. Val. Greatrakes, Esq., of Waterford, in the kingdom of Ireland, famous for curing several diseases and distempers by the stroak of his hand only. London: The Author, 1660.

Henry Stubbe: The Miraculous Conformist; or an account of Several Marvailous Cures performed by Mr. Valentine Greatarick. Oxford, England, 1666.

Pechlin, J. N. Observationes Physico-Medicae. Hamburg, Germany, 1691.

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