Tuesday, January 15, 2008


In the first week I showed this cartoon from 1858 where Father Thames presents his 'offspring' to the fair city of London. The offspring are labeled 'Diptheria, Scrofula and Cholera.' I know you've all heard of Cholera, most of you have probably heard of Diptheria but I'm guessing that few of you have heard of 'scrofula'.

Scrofula is an old term for a variety of diseases that affected the lymph nodes in the neck. In children Tuberculosis can have this effect. In the Middle Ages it was believed that the touch of the sovereign of England or France, could cure the disease. Scrofula was therefore also known as the King's Evil. Some particularly benevolent Kings are believed to have touched hundreds of people to 'cure' them of the disease. King Henry IV of France is reported as often touching and healing as many as 1,500 individuals at a time. Charles II of England is said to have touched more than 90,000 victims between 1660 and 1682. The last royal healer in England was Queen Anne, who touched 200 victims in 1712. In France the ceremony persisted for another century and was even briefly revived by Charles X between 1824 and 1830.

Given what we now know about infectious disease it's a wonder that none of these monarchs died of an infectious disease they contracted with all that close contact and touching but thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia we have:
King Henry IV of France - assassinated
Charles II of England - probably died of kidney dysfunction
Queen Anne of England - died of gout (a type of arthritis) at age 49
Charles X of France - died from cholera in 1836 (long after he'd stopped bestowing the 'Royal Touch' on the sick.)

Disclaimer: despite being British I have never touched a monarch

1 comment:

Matt said...

Found your post searching for an image using the term: scrofula. Hopped in and decided to read the post too. Great writing! I love it. Wit & charm so well balanced. Keep writing. Never thought I'd turn anything up with that search term and I got more than I bargained for: a picture and a story.

PS- i'm going to borrow the picture