Friday, November 06, 2009

Question from Alexandra - Sources for medieval and early modern ideas of kingship

I've been keeping an eye on this excellent blog for a couple of years now (I usually pop up in the comments when there is a question about Latin), but now I have a question of my own.

I'm planning a paper for my Honours History of Medicine course in university about how attitudes towards kingship in medieval/early modern times made the king touching the neck of an afflicted person an acceptable cure for scrofula.

There are several primary source documents online that have to do with treating and curing scrofula, so I'm pretty much covered there. However, I have no idea where to start searching for primary sources on medieval/early modern ideas of kingship. I've found a lot of websites with a lot of primary sources; I just don't know what kind of documents I should concentrate on. Does anybody have any suggestions for sources I could use?


  1. Good topic!

    As a baseline, look at the coronation oaths, rituals (anointing with oil, consecration) and speeches of a couple monarchs.

    Not sure exactly what time frame you're looking at but you might consider James VI/I's 'Basilicon Doron'. It should be available online in a variety of places. In it he writes about what he considers the king's role to be in the care of his people.

    Other documents you might want to look at would be some of the writings of Elizabeth I printed in 'Elizabeth I: Collected Works' Marcus, Mueller and Rose (eds.). There are poems, speeches, and letters that show how Elizabeth considered her authority as monarch.

    Kingship/queenship is a topic that uses analysis of how authority and power was recognized within the body of the monarch. So you can use a wide variety of sources to discuss the potency of the 'king'.

    I'm sure others will have more ideas for you. But just about any document that discusses the power of the monarch will give you some material for your paper.

  2. The chronicler William of Malmesbury describes Edward the Confessor touching for the King's Evil, but Henry VII could have been the first to have a special ceremony where he healed the sufferers and gave them a coin.

    Comments on the healing powers of Francis I of France, Elizabeth I, Charles I etc from observers such as Wolsey, Cavendish & Pepys can be found at

    You can find King James's theories about the Divine Right of Kings in the speech he made to Parliament on 21 March 1609 (1610 new style) at

    It begins,

    'The State of Monarchie is the supremest thing upon earth: For Kings are not onely GODS Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon GODS throne, but even by GOD himselfe they are called Gods.'

    Also, his 'Trew Law of Free Monarchies' might interest you.

    Hope this helps. Interesting topic - would love to know how you get on.

  3. Marilyn R - Such very good suggestions!

  4. Thanks for that, kb.


    I forgot to include the following when I made my first post - it has a good chapter called ‘The Royal Touch’, with lots of references,

    'Primitive Psycho-Therapy & Quackery'
    Robert Means Lawrence, M.D.

    I’ve just come upon it quite by chance when Googling (Google images) ‘Queen Mary king’s evil’, where it came up as the first reference. The whole book is online here at Project Gutenberg.

    Google images also came up with the lovely decorated page showing Mary administering to a sufferer. Alas, I cannot remember where the page comes from! Perhaps you already know, or maybe someone else can help.

  5. Is this the image you're referring to Marilyn?

    I don't have the source at hand here at work, but I can look it up when I get home.

  6. That's the one!

  7. Argh! The only credits I keep finding for the image is "Westminster Cathedral Library" but no information on which book or manuscript it originally is from. By the way, there is another illustration that I assume is from the same source of "Mary Blessing Cramp Rings on Good Friday".

    It might require a little deeper digging to find the original source, but I'll keep an eye out for it while I slowly work my way through putting my new image database together.

  8. Oh wow! I've been holding off checking on this for a couple of days because I was worried this was too weird a topic and nobody would reply... I shouldn't have doubted.

    Thank you all so much for your ideas! These are exactly what I was looking for.

  9. Lara, I went scrounging for information on the two illustrations of Mary blessing the cramp rings and touching for scrofula and found that they both come from an illustrated vellum manuscript that belonged to Mary herself. The manuscript was later owned by Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865). I Googled "Cardinal Wiseman" and "cramp rings" and the first thing that showed up was "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London - Google Books result" I hit that and got a page describing Mary's manuscript as a manual for the ceremonies of blessing cramp rings and touching for the King's Evil. It also describes other illustrations such as the arms of Mary and Phillip.

  10. Alexandra,

    I was looking for something else in my files & I found this - any use?

    The 1662 Book of Common Prayer Website
    On-line edition including some supplementary materials, including texts removed since 1662. -

    At the Healing.

    PREVENT us, 0 Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help, that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    The Gospel (for Ascension-day) S. Mark xvi. 14-20.

    Let us pray.
    Lord have mercy upon us.
    Christ have mercy upon us.
    Lord have mercy upon us.

    OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.

    Then shall the infirm persons, one by one, be presented to the Queen upon their knees; and as every one is presented and while the Queen is laying her hands upon them, and putting the gold about their necks, the Chaplain that officiates, turning himself to her Majesty, shall say these words following:

    GOD give a blessing to this work; and grant that these sick persons on whom the Queen lays her hands may recover, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    After all have been presented, the Chaplain shall say,
    LORD, save thy servants;

    Answer. That put their trust in thee.

    Minister. Send unto them help from above.

    Answer. And evermore mightily defend them.

    Minister. Help us, O God our Saviour.

    Answer. And for the glory of thy Name deliver us; be merciful to us sinners, for thy Name's sake.

    Minister. O Lord, hear our prayer.
    Answer. And let our cry come unto thee.

    Let us pray.
    ALMIGHTY God, who art the Giver of all health, and the aid of them that seek to thee for succour, we call upon thee for thy help and goodness mercifully to be showed upon these thy servants, that they being healed of their infirmities may give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Then the Chaplain, standing with his face towards them that come to be healed, shall say,

    THE Almighty Lord, who is a most strong tower to all them that put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, do bow and obey, be now and evermore thy defence; and make thee know and feel, that there is none other Name under heaven given to man, in whom, and through whom, thou mayest receive health and salvation, but only the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

    THE grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.


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