The Royal Touch: Laying on of Hands

One of the fun things I got to play with during my protagonist, Elisha’s unexpected rise to the throne of England in book three was the idea of the king as a healer, specifically, as possessing the royal touch, wherein the monarch could heal certain conditions by laying his hands on the afflicted.  This is a historical phenomenon which apparently began with Edward the Confessor, the only English king holy enough for sainthood.

Elisha healing the prince in Elisha Magus

Elisha healing the prince in Elisha Magus

You may recall from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that we are told “the hands of a king are the hands of a healer.”  In that work, Aragorn, the True King in disguise uses a plant called King’s Foil (described by others as a weed) to heal when he pays a call to the Houses of Healing.

In England, the healing was more circumscribed, and applied only to a skin condition known as scrofula, or the “King’s evil”, a generic term which probably covered a variety of ailments.  The primary condition often cured on its own, lending support to the idea that the king’s touch had done the trick.

The claim to have this healing touch was often used for new dynasties and rulers of uncertain legitimacy (exactly as I have used it in Elisha Rex, when a cleric witnesses Elisha’s healing of a skin ailment and perceives this as another sign from the Lord as to Elisha’s being ordained the king).  Interestingly, the French monarchy also laid claim to the Royal Touch, and further tried to discredit Edward the Confessor as its originator, saying that the English only made the claim in imitation of their own Phillip I.

But the actual laying on of hands was relatively rare. In fact, the monarch often would touch a coin, and this coin would be conferred to the sufferer who would wear it, and thus be healed.  When the ritual was performed directly, it would be done during the winter months, when the likelihood of the monarch receiving a disease in return was thought to be reduced.

The roots of the concept go back to the New Testament, wherein Jesus heals at various times by laying on of hands.  And it continues even today, with questions like, “Was Jesus a Reiki Master?”  I have some Reiki-oriented friends who tell me that the quest to recapture Jesus’ healing energy is what led to the creation/discovery of Reiki practice.  From Jesus, to Edward the Confessor, to the present day, the tradition of healing touch goes on.

About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in books, Elisha Rex, England, historical medicine, religion, research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Royal Touch: Laying on of Hands

  1. Pingback: Crowned with Legitimacy: Recognizing a Ruler | E. C. Ambrose

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