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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 22, May 31, 2020, Article 12

THE ROYAL TOUCH AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

David Pickup submitted this timely article on touch pieces. -Editor

"God give you Better Health," he said, "and More Sense."

Henry VIII angel gold coin Continuing with the theme of coins and health we turn to touch pieces. They are coins, usually made of gold, that were linked to the ancient royal ceremony when monarchs touched people who had a disease called scrofula, a type of tuberculosis. The tradition started in the medieval ages and continued after the Reformation. The belief that a monarch could heal people by touch was central to be the principle of Divine Right, strongly held by Charles I, as demonstrated powers given by God. Charles' father, James I had been less enthusiastic because he thought it was too much like magic and witchcraft, a subject he had written a book on.

Charles II touched near a hundred thousand persons. In 1682 he performed the rite eight thousand five hundred times. In 1684, the throng was such that six or seven of the sick were trampled to death. The ceremony was expensive, costing a little less than £10.000.00 a year. Royal surgeons were employed to check the crowd to distinguish those who were ill from those who came for the gold coin. Demand for the royal touch became so high that bronze or copper admission tokens were introduced to keep a record of numbers. At the ceremony, the sufferer was presented with a gold touch-piece, which would commonly be hung on a ribbon and worn as a necklace.

When James II was deposed in 1688 the new joint rulers of William and Mary refused to participate in the 'royal touch'. Opponents considered their reluctance to participate reflected doubt on their royal legitimacy. William in particular was against these ceremonies. "It is a silly superstition," he said, when he heard that, at the end of Lent, his palace was besieged by a crowd of the sick. Perhaps he did not want to get too close to the public. "Give the poor creatures some money, and send them away." On one single occasion he was requested to lay his hand on a patient and replied, "God give you better health," he said, "and more sense." His successor, Queen Anne revived the practice possibly with some private reservations but her successor, George I refused and it died out.

The practice of the royal touch was however continued by the Jacobites, who were keen to demonstrate their legitimacy. All the Jacobite Stuarts, including Charles Edward Stuart and his brother Henry Benedict Stuart, were known to have carried out the ceremony to help cure their followers. There are a number of Jacobite touch pieces, the majority of which were made in silver, although there were some gold versions produced.

To read a Wikipedia article on touch pieces, see:
Touch piece (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touch_piece)

To read the earlier E-Sylum article (with links to still earlier ones), see:
ROYAL MINT MISHAPS (https://www.coinbooks.org/v23/esylum_v23n21a21.html)

Garrett Mid-American E-Sylum ad03d books


Wayne Homren, Editor

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The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: whomren@gmail.com

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