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King's Evil

Scrofula; so called from a notion which prevailed from the reign of Edward the Confessor to that of Queen Anne that it could be cured by the royal touch. The Jacobites considered that the power did not descend to William III. and Anne because the “divine” hereditary right was not fully possessed by them, but the office remained in our Prayer-Book till 1719. Prince Charles Edward, when he claimed to be Prince of Wales, touched a female child for the disease in 1745; but the last person touched in England was Dr. Johnson, in 1712, when only thirty months old, by Queen Anne. The French kings laid claim to the same divine power even from the time of Anne of Clovis, A.D. 481, and on Easter Sunday, 1686, Louis XIV. touched 1,600 persons, using these words: “Le roy te touche, Dieu te guerisse. ” The practice was introduced by Henry VII. of presenting the person “touched” with a small gold or silver coin, called a touchpiece. The one presented to Dr. Johnson has St. George and the Dragon on one side and a ship on the other; the legend of the former is Soli deo gloria, and of the latter Anna D:G.M.BR.F:ET.H. REG. (Anne, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland Queen.

We are told that Charles II. touched 92,107 persons. The smallest number in one year was 2,983, in 1669; and the largest number was in 1684, when many were trampled to death. (See Macaulay's History of England, chap. xiv.) John Brown, a royal surgeon, had to superintended the ceremony. (See Macbeth, iv. 3.)

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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