When a Touch of Gold Was Used to Heal the King’s Evil
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When a Touch of Gold Was Used to Heal the King’s Evil

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    • Alternative Title:
      Emerg Infect Dis
    • Description:
      Angel (Coin) of the Second Reign (1471–1483) of Edward IV. Gold, 29 mm, 5.1 g, 1473‒1477. British Museum, London, UK. Throughout history, divine approval has been claimed by many rulers in establishing legiti- macy of their monarchy and has been integral to governance in the development of many cultures. In ancient and Imperial China, a tradition of a mandate of heaven, as the will of the universe or natural law, was used to justify the position of the ruler. In the Inca Empire, the traditional ruler was considered the progeny of the sun god and in that capacity had to be accorded absolute power over the people, such as the sun itself has. European history is re- plete with similar traditions of monarchical claims for legitimacy. In Britain and in France, the evolu- tion of the concept of “the divine right of kings” and the resultant philosophic traditions favoring or op- posing such a concept shaped much of the history of the past millennium. Both monarchies claimed to rule by divine will, and to this day, the British Coronation service includes a sacred anointing of the new king or queen. Many religious traditions have had thaumaturgic (relating to supernatural powers) touch as a tradition. In Britain, reference to the monarch as having divine power in “the royal touch” dates to the 11th century, when it was believed that Edward the Confessor, last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, possessed powers to heal the sick through some form of laying on of hands. In official ceremonies in his and subsequent reigns, subjects could approach the monarch to seek the imperial touch, hoping to cure their ailments or dis- eases. For centuries, the disease that most readily lent itself to the occasional appearance of success in this regard was scrofula (i.e., lymphadenitis—most com- monly tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis), which would manifest itself with painful and visible sores that could go into remission and even go into resolu- tion, giving the impression of a royally induced cure. Scrofula is a term that has fallen into disuse like many other medical terms in English (e.g., catarrh, ague, quinsy, dropsy, and grippe), principally because of diagnostic advances and more precise disease char- acterization. However, because of the association of its spontaneous remission with the royal touch, tu- berculous lymphadenitis was also called “the king’s evil,” and throughout most of the past millennium, its presence in European populations was very common.
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