Recognizing that a temporal sovereign is capable of accomplishing miraculous cures, is to establish the sacred character of the monarchy, which is what the Gregorian Reformers want to avoid at any price… They will go as far as talking about “the false works” of those who claim that a prince is able to heal the sick, not because he is holy but by the simple fact that he reigns. This attack must be placed in the very precise context of ecclesiastic resistance to the survival of some traditional paganism. However, the Church does not wish to oppose popular opinion too openly, which is clever. It contents itself, for two centuries, with ignoring or pretending to ignore the touching of scrofula, which is almost never evoked in ecclesiastical literature.
The only two exceptions are found with two authors whom we have already met, Guibert de Nogent in France, Pierre de Blois in England, and all this doubtless explains the poverty of our sources concerning touching for the whole period up to the XIIIth Century. When, from this moment, allusions to the royal touch become more numerous, the aim clearly seems to be to accentuate the religious character of the royal rite. Geoffroi de Beaulieu therefore claims that Saint Louis [Louis IX of France] was the first to introduce the sign of the cross into this practice
“so that the cure was attributed more to the virtues of the cross than to the action of royal majesty”.
A few decades later, the conflict which opposes Philippe le Bel to the Papacy is the occasion for a vigorous affirmation of the healing powers of the Capetian sovereign.
A little treatise, drawn up at the time and translated under Charles V by Raoul de Presles, presents the proof which founds the just cause of the Kings of France. It is the constatation of
“these miracles which are known to everyone, which allow our Lord the King to pronounce the Word of the Gospels according to which Our Lord Jesus-Christ answered the lies of the Jews by saying to them:
” ‘If you do not want to believe in me, believe in my works.’
“As, by hereditary right, the son succeeds the father at the head of the kingdom, so also by a manner of hereditary right does one king succeed another in the power of performing these miracles that God accomplishes through them as if they were his ministers… “
The historian Guillaume Guiart and the monk Ive de Saint-Denis write similar words, and the Norman Dominican Guillaume de Sauqueville exposes, in a sermon, that the King of France merits the name of “son of David” for David signifies “valiant hand”, that hand so necessary for the healing of the sick:
“Any prince inheriting the Kingdom of France, as soon as he is anointed and crowned, receives from God that special grace and that particular virtue of healing the sick by the contact of his hands: so one sees those suffering from the King’s Evil coming to the King from many places and diverse lands… “
The considerable work accomplished by the Dominican Lucquois Tolomeo, who dies in 1327 while he is Bishop of Torcello, contributes more to installing this image of healer king. To contribute to the glory of Charles d’Anjou, the brother of Saint Louis, Tolomeo spreads propaganda on the miraculous effects of the Capetian royal touch. Completing the Traite du gouvernement des princes by Saint Thomas d’Aquin, he introduces into it passages concerning the healing of scrofula, passages which are therefore invested with all the authority from which, later on, Saint Thomas, the “Angelic Doctor”, will benefit. In 1280, it is Charles V himself who evokes his healing power, in a charter accorded to the Reims Chapter:
“It is by this chrism that Clovis himself and, after him, all the kings of France, my predecessors and myself in turn, during the Consecration and the Coronation, God being propitious, received the unction by which, under the influence of divine clemency, such virtue and such grace are poured into the kings of France that, by the contact of their hands alone, they defend the sick against the scrofula ill; which is clearly demonstrated by the evidence of the facts, tested on innumerable people.”
It is to be noted elsewhere, with Charles V’s reign, an evident tendency to valorize any supernatural dimension of monarchical power. It is also at this epoch that the Capetian sovereign takes the name of “very christian”. In fact, the kingdom is then coming out of a very serious crisis, marked by the defeats of Crecy and Poitiers, by the painful peace of Bretigny, by a bloody Jacquerie and by the rising-up of the Parisians led by Etienne Marcel. Those close to the sovereign therefore have an evident interest in promoting a royal propaganda which insists on the sacred dimension of the monarch. This will also be the case under Charles VI, with the treatise drawn up by the monk Etienne de Conty. In the XVth Century, reference to the healing powers of the kings of France and of England has become banal; it seems to be accepted by all, even if it manifestly annoys certain foreign authors and certain pontiffs. These last are worried that the supernatural virtues recognized in a Charles VII or a Louis XI would eventually justify their revendication of independence toward Rome.
The best proof of the success of the touching of scrofula at the end of the Middle Ages doubtless resides in the fact that it finally appears, in 1488, in the sacred iconography, on a stained-glass window which no longer exists, at Mont-Saint-Michel.
Recognized throughout the whole of Europe from the XVth Century, this thaumaturgical power of the kings of France and of England naturally suscitated, in other countries, attempts to attribute comparable virtues to princes from local dynasties. A few isolated witness reports and a few fabulations of posterior erudites were not enough to demonstrate the existence of such rites in Denmark, Hungary or in the territories of the Habsburgs.
It is possible that the kings of Castille had had a reputation for healing certain nervous illnesses. An Aragon, Carlos de Viana, enjoys the same reputation. Some miracles were attributed to him after his death, miracles in which Louis XI seems to have believed. Placed in the Poblet Abbey, his body is the object of a cult up until the XVIIth Century. Among his relics, his hand is particularly honoured, for tradition says that its contact is enough to deliver the scrofulous from their ill. The pretensions of the Spanish dynasty have no future, however, and in 1525, at the end of the Pavie disaster, Francois I, a prisoner in Spain, sees coming to him numerous scrofulous people who expect to be healed by the King of France, even though he has been defeated.
To be continued.