It could be thought that the times of the Renaissance and the Reformation dealt a fatal blow to all of the marvellous beliefs which surround the royal miracle. This did not happen, and the touching of scrofula would even benefit from considerable prestige during the XVIth Century. The account ledgers which have come down to us indicate the number of sick who were touched by the sovereigns over the course of a year. From October 1507 to October 1508, Louis XII touched five hundred and twenty-eight sick people. In 1528, Francois I touched one thousand, three hundred and twenty-six, then nine hundred and eighty-eight the following year, and one thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one in 1530. In 1569, the year of civil war which saw the victories of Jarnac and of Montcontour, young Charles IX had alms distributed to two thousand and ninety-two scrofulous people he had touched. The French kings also continue to let foreigners who expect healing from them to benefit from their powers. The Spanish, despite the numerous wars which pit them against the French, are particularly numerous to solicite their help. When they are in a foreign country, notably Italy, Charles VIII, Louis XII or Francois I do not hesitate to heal those who present themselves to them, in Naples, in Genes or in Bologna. In Rome, on 20 January 1495, Charles VIII touches five hundred people, which suscitates “extraordinary admiration among the Italians”. We have already evoked the episode when Francois I, arriving in Spain after having been taken prisoner at Pavie, is assailed by numerous scrofulous people who ask him to cure them, in Barcelona, then in Valencia. The President of Selve writes a few days later to the Paris Parliament to inform it “such a very great number of scofulous sick people… with great expectation of being healed that, in France were never seen in such great crowd”. The poet Lascaris is able to add, in Latin verse:
Here it is therefore that the king, with a gesture of his hand, heals scrofula;
A captive, he has not lost the favours of On High
By this indication, oh the most holy of kings
I think to recognize that your persecutors are hated by the gods.
Louis XI touches the sick once a week. The seances are spaced more under Charles VIII and his successors. In the course of his travels, Francois I consents, notably in Champagne, to perform the miracle, but things are organized so as the King only has to intervene on the occasion of the principal religious festivals, Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Assumption or Christmas. On 8 July 1530, the wedding of Francois I to Eleonor of Austria, celebrated at Roquefort near Mont-de-Marsan, is the occasion for the King to demonstrate the miraculous powers attributed to the dynasty. Such organization implies that the King is able to touch dozens, or even more than a hundred people in only one seance. In September 1528, Francois I touches two hundred and five scrofulous people at Notre-Dame de Paris. The day of the Assumption in 1527, he touches roughly the same number in the cloister of the episcopal palace in Amiens and, in a camp near Saint-Jean-d’Angely, Charles IX accomplishes the rite on All Saints’ Day in 1569. After verification that the sick are really ill, and after the King has taken Communion (both bread and wine), he touches the wounds with his naked hand and makes the sign of the cross, before pronouncing the consecrated formula:
“The King touches thee, God heals thee”.
The tradition continues also in Tudor England with Henry VII and Henry VIII, but the disappearance of the Chaplaincy archives, which contained the statement of the sums distributed to the sick, prevents us from precisely evaluating their number. The liturgy which accompanies the miraculous touching is more complex than in France. The King recites a Confiteor and receives the absolution of his Chaplain before hearing a reading of two passages from the Gospels, the verse of Saint Mark consecrated to the miracles performed by the Apostles and the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John, pronounced in all of the benediction formulae. The healer sovereign remains seated and the sick are brought to him one after the other. A first time, he touches their wounds then, when all have passed in this way before him, they come back a second time to be marked by the sign of the cross. This sign is traced with a gold coin pierced with a hole; immediately after his gesture, the sovereign hangs the coin around the sick person’s neck on a ribbon. In France, the scrofulous also receive alms but this is given discretely by an ecclesiastic (two royal ecus each). The big difference between the two rituals resides in the fact that the English coin, the angel, has by now become a talisman endowed with its own power, since the War of the Roses during which the Lancaster sovereign did everything to valorise the scrofula miracle. Already familiar with the medicinal rings which appeared in the XIVth Century, the King of England’s subjects are naturally disposed to believe in the curative virtues of this piece of gold. Certain believe so much in it that a fruitful trade in them starts to grow, leading some sick people to believe that any contact with the King is unnecessary, that the simple wearing of this talisman is enough to relieve them. These attempts grow so much that a royal proclamation in May 1625 makes it known that
“people who were previously cured, having disposed of the gold coins otherwise than it was intended, have by this suffered a relapse…”
A new attitude will of course question the reality of the royal miracle. A few lines, written in 1535 by Michel Servet in a translation, bears witness to the awakening of a certain scepticism:
“Two memorable things are reported about the Kings of France: firstly that there exists in the Reims Church a vase eternally full of chrism; sent from Heaven for the Coronation, with which all of the kings are anointed; secondly that the King, by his contact alone, heals scrofula. I have seen with my own eyes this King touch several sick people suffering from this affection. If they were really brought back to health, I didn’t see it.”
Six years later, a new edition of the work deletes the last sentence and replaces it with the following:
“I have heard it said that many sick people regained their health…”
In France, as well as England, one does not cast aspersions on the King’s miraculous powers. On the other hand, diverse foreigners will question the healing powers of the sovereigns. This is particularly the case of Italian thinkers, but their words are from original and curious minds; they cannot exercise the slightest influence on the mental representations which then prevail in the christian European societies.
To be continued.