Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


It has been pretended that divine power is appealed to in regard to this malady, because it is scarcely in human power to cure it.

Possibly some monks began by supposing that kings, in their character of representatives of the divinity, possessed the privilege of curing scrofula, by touching the patients with their anointed hands. But why not bestow a similar power on emperors, whose dignity surpasses that of kings, or on popes, who call themselves the masters of emperors, and who are more than simple images of God, being His vicars on earth? It is possible, that some imaginary dreamer of Normandy, in order to render the usurpation of William the Bastard the more respectable, conceded to him, in quality of God’s representative, the faculty of curing scrofula by the tip of his finger.

It was some time after William that this usage became established. We must not gratify the kings of England with this gift, and refuse it to those of France, their liege lords. This would be in defiance of the respect due to the feudal system. In short, this power is traced up to Edward the Confessor in England, and to Clovis in France.

The only testimony, in the least degree credible, of the antiquity of this usage, is to be found in the writings in favor of the house of Lancaster, composed by the judge, Sir John Fortescue, under Henry VI., who was recognized king of France at Paris in his cradle, and then king of England, but who lost both kingdoms. Sir John Fortescue asserts, that from time immemorial, the kings of England were in possession of the power of curing scrofula by their touch. We cannot perceive, however, that this pretension rendered their persons more sacred in the wars between the roses.

Queens consort could not cure scrofula, because they were not anointed in the hands, like the kings: but Elizabeth, a queen regnant and anointed, cured it without difficulty.

A sad thing happened to Mortorillo the Calabrian, whom we denominate St. Francis de Paulo. King Louis XI. brought him to Plessis les Tours to cure him of his tendency to apoplexy, and the saint arrived afflicted by scrofula.

“Ipse fuit detentus gravi, inflatura, quam in parte inferiori, genæ suæ dextrae circa guttur patiebatur. Chirugii dicebant, mortum esse scrofarum.”

The saint cured not the king, and the king cured not the saint.

When the king of England, James II., was conducted from Rochester to Whitehall, somebody proposed that he should exhibit a proof of genuine royalty, as for instance, that of touching for the evil; but no one was presented to him. He departed to exercise his sovereignty in France at St. Germain, where he touched some Hibernians. His daughter Mary, King William, Queen Anne, and the kings of the house of Brunswick have cured nobody. This sacred gift departed when people began to reason.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01