A ward at Hotel-Dieu in Paris.

The sick also received a small amount of money corresponding to a denier in England, higher in France but reserved for those who come from afar.  The accounts that the distribution of this money entails permit to evaluate the quantities of patients concerned by the rite of touching.  Several hundreds, often more than a thousand, each year, during the reign of Edward III of England, and the King’s Chaplain, Thomas Bradwardine, bore witness that the miracles accomplished by his master were confirmed

“by the healed sick, by the people present at the moment of the miracles or who had seen the effects, by the peoples of nations, by universal renown”.

The disappearance of the accounts established in France deprive us of comparable figures to those of England, but everything leads us to think that the sick who flock to the King in France are no less numerous than those who await their cure from the miraculous virtues of the English sovereign.  Many foreigners, Spaniards and Italians notably, made a long voyage to benefit from the royal touch.  Under Philippe le Bel, some of the sovereign’s subjects come from very far, from Toulouse, Bigorre, Auvergne, Bourgogne [Burgundy] or from Bretagne [Brittany] – although, at this epoch, it is still quasi independent.  It is interesting to note that the Capetian King is also solicited for his touch by sick people coming from Bordeaux, the continental capital of the King of England.  In December 1307, while the King is residing in Nemours, a certain Guilhelm, from Hauban, in Bigorre, comes to ask the grace of being touched, after having made for this, in the middle of Winter, the long and dangerous journey which has led him from the banks of the Adour to those of the Loing.  The fact that he had imposed such an ordeal upon himself says a lot about the prestige of his King’s healing powers.  They draw to him as many faithful as the great sanctuaries of the time.


Having remained silent for a long time about the healing of scrofula, the doctors of the Middle Ages begin to mention it in the XIIIth Century.  In Book III of his Compendium medicinae, Gilbert l’Anglais evokes

“scrofula, also called the King’s Evil because the kings cured them…”.

We have to wait for the French authors contemporary to Philippe le Bel for medical men to be more prolix.  Bernard de Gourdon, several anonymous authors and Henri de Mondeville, the King’s Surgeon, abundantly evoke His Majesty’s powers.  For Henri de Mondeville, the sovereign can be compared to Christ himself:

“In the same way that Our Saviour, Lord Jesus-Christ, in exercising the surgery of his hands, wanted to honour surgeons, in the same way and in the same fashion our Serene Sovereign, the King of France, honours them, themselves and their state, in healing scrofula by simple contact.”

The admiration that the thaumaturgical power suscitates is not unanimous however and, around 1325, a Flemish surgeon from Ypres, whose first name is Jean, is a lot more reserved:

“You will be told now that a lot of people believe that God has given the King of France the power of healing suppurating scrofula by a simple touching of the hand;  according to what these people believe, a lot of touched sick people are healed;  but sometimes do not heal.”

A few decades later, starting from the 1360’s, the writings of Doctors Guy de Chauliac, in France, John of Gaddesden and John of Mirfield, in England, give their “scientific” approval to the royal rite.  Elsewhere, foreign doctors (Italians or Aragons like the famous Arnaud de Villeneuve) remain silent on this subject, which concerns princes of whom they are not the subjects.  The medical practitioners of the time admit, however, that recourse to the healer sovereign is fully part of their therapeutic panoply and, in his Lis de la medecine, Bernard de Gourdon explains that you must

“have recourse to the surgeon; or otherwise, go to the kings…”.

In his Medicinal Practice, John of Gaddesden affirms that

“if the remedies are inefficient, the sick person must go to the King and be touched and blessed by him;  …  as a last resort, if all else fails, then he should deliver himself up to the surgeon”.

The doctors of the time are therefore the first to admit the therapeutic virtues of the royal touch but, at this epoch of faith and omnipresence of the divine, it goes without saying that the attitude adopted by the clerics to the thaumaturgical miracle takes on much greater importance.  It so happens that the Church, which has contributed to making the royal function sacred, notably at the Carolingian epoch, is worried, from the XIth Century, about the confusion thereby established between spiritual power and temporal power.  This confusion encourages a good number of sovereigns, the German Emperor, the Capetian King or the English Monarch, to make a stand several times against the Roman Pontiff.

To affirm the clear separation of the spiritual and the temporal, and to assure the subordination of the second to the first, the Church begins to put into place what could be called the Gregorian Reform, from the name of Pope Gregory VII who is one of its principal artisans.  Gregory VII is at the time engaged in the interminable conflict which has been opposing him for years to Henri IV of France.  The Pope draws up twenty-seven decisions united in the Dictatuo papae which attempts to diminish the laic grip on religious affairs.  So, the 1075 Council forbids, under threat of excommunication, a king or a lord to accord religious investiture to any ecclesiastic.  Henri IV does not submit to this, which provokes the Investitures Quarrel.  In 1081, in a letter which has remained famous, the Pope affirms that temporal sovereigns have no part in supernatural graces, whatever their terrestrial powers may be.  They are incapable of transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, and they cannot be assimilated to the exorcist,

“the constituted spiritual emperor for chasing out demons”.

The Pope even denies any miraculous power to the kings:

“Where among the emperors and kings do we find a man who, without even mentioning the Apostles or the martyrs, has equalled by his miracles Saint Martin, Saint Anthony or Saint Benedict?  Who is the emperor or the king who has ressuscitated the dead, given health back to lepers, and sight to the blind?  Look at Emperor Constantine, of pious memory, Theodose and Honorius, Charles and Louis, all friends of justice, propagators of the christian religion, protectors of churches.  The Holy Church praises and reveres them;  it does not indicate that they shone by the glory of such miracles…”

Gregory VII is mainly thinking here of the German Emperor, and he makes no precise allusion to the healing power attributed to the Capetians since Robert the Pious, that is to say, for three-quarters of a century.  It is clear that, from now on, the ecclesiastic apparatus is going to be wary of the kings’ pretensions to miracles.

To be continued.