The King’s-Evil and sensory experience in Richard Wiseman’s Severall Chirurgicall Treatises

Adam S. Komorowski & Sang Ik Song
University of Limerick, Ireland (Spring 2017)

 

Charles II touching a patient for the King’s Evil (scrofula)

Throughout many centuries, the monarchs of England maintained as royal prerogative the ability to heal the sick by virtue of their miraculous touch alone. William of Malmesbury (c.1090-c.1143) first described the use of the thaumaturgic touch by King Edward the Confessor (1003-66), who healed a woman afflicted with scrofula.1,2,3 While this power to heal the scrofulous was initially ascribed to King Edward’s ‘saintliness’, it later became politically expedient to link the performance of miracle to the dynastic lineage in order to legitimize the right to rule.4  While the ritual changed significantly over the centuries, it often consisted of Scripture readings, prayers, the placement of a gold coin around the neck of the ill, and – most importantly – the imposition of the monarch’s hands on the ill as the central curative act.5 This ritual was legitimized in borrowing a custom from the Franks whereby the English monarchs were crowned and anointed with oil by a bishop, most notably on their hands: this placed the monarch in the same rhetorical space as priests, allowing them to claim a position as mediator between God and subject, further entrenching the legitimacy of their rule and allowing them the power to heal.6,7 Within this rhetoric, the body politic was conceived in corporeal terms. The monarch was its head: the subjects, the remainder of the body. The healing ritual in scrofula thus became subsumed in a politics of representation, wherein the monarch retained the autonomy over the bodies of his or her subjects.

This conception of the body politic became a liability to the ritual after the beheading of Charles I in 1649: by the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), the ability to perform the miracle was divorced from its liturgical meaning, becoming linked solely with the hereditary right to rule.8  The writings of Charles II’s Sergeant-Surgeon, Richard Wiseman (bap.1620?–1676), provide a captivating window through which the politics of representation in Restoration England may be analyzed.9 Wiseman influenced the practice of surgery in England with his 1676 publication Severall Chirurgicall Treatises,10 comprising treatises on the natural history, causes, prognostic indicators, and treatment of eight groups of diseases – notable among them, the King’s-Evil (scrofula).11 While Wiseman’s treatise on scrofula is valuable for its as-of-yet incompletely examined case histories contained therein, the overarching form of the treatise may yet reveal the underlying shift in attitude towards the thaumaturgic touch in Restoration England.12 In writing his treatise on scrofula, Wiseman is in a unique position: as the King’s Sergeant-Surgeon, he was both responsible for treating scrofulous patients and referring them to the King.13 It is interesting to note that in his writings, however, Wiseman suggests primacy to the ability of surgeons to treat the disease – “[w]ithal, as feeble as our Art is, this Treatise will shew you that it is not altogether ineffectual” – showing deference to the King’s thaumaturgy as the source of cure only after medical treatment has failed. While contemporary treatises on scrofula focused systematically on the manifestations of scrofula throughout the body, Wiseman privileged only two organs that  play a unique sensory role in the ritual of the thaumaturgic touch: the eyes and the salivary glands.14,15 The miracle of the monarch and that of Wiseman’s treatments rely on the transactional relationship of healer-patient, where the healer’s hands are as necessary in dispensing the cure as the eyes of the scrofulous are in receiving it. With Wiseman’s extensive use of a case series to elucidate medicine’s prowess in curing the disease, it is worth questioning whether he meant to elevate the King or his own Art in the writing of his treatise.

 

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the gracious assistance of Mr. Kevin Spears and Ms. Pattie Punch, Librarians of Wells Cathedral (Somerset, England) and the University of Limerick (Ireland) respectively, for their invaluable guidance in researching this topic.

 

Endnotes

  1. Thaumaturgic, from the Greek θαῦμα “miracle” and ἒργον “work”. For the seminal text exploring this tradition in both England and France, see Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges: Étude sur le Caractère Surnaturel Attribué à la Puissance Royale, Particulièrement en France et en Angleterre. Strasbourg, 1924.
  2. William of Malmesbury. De Gestis Regum Anglorum, ed. N.E.S.A. Hamilton, H.M. Stationery Office, London, 1887.
  3. Scrofula is now understood to be a tuberculous lymphadenitis most often caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis; however, tuberculous lymphadenitis may also be caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria. See Spelman, Denis. “Tuberculous lymphadenitis.” UpToDate. July 29, 2016. Accessed January 30, 2017. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/tuberculous-lymphadenitis.
  4. For a detailed overview of the evolution in form and function that accompanied this power to heal sufferers of scrofula throughout the various dynasties of English monarchs, see Turrell, James F. “The Ritual of Royal Healing in Early Modern England: Scrofula, Liturgy, and Politics.” Anglican and Episcopal History 68, no. 1 (March 1999): 3-36.
  5. Ibid.
  6. This connection was perhaps more rhetorically powerful during the periods of Catholic rule in England, since Catholic worship culminates in the transubstantiation whereby the bread and wine presented on the altar are believed to be transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, whereas Protestant worship disavows this Catholic doctrine and often abandoned ‘paraliturgical’ practices that incorporated such ritual in their praxis. This often presented a challenge for Protestant monarchs, who continued the ritual of the thaumaturgic touch into the 18th century CE. See Turrell, James F., “The Ritual of Royal Healing in Early Modern England: Scrofula, Liturgy, and Politics.” Anglican and Episcopal History 68, no. 1 (March 1999): 3-36; and Werrett, Simon. “Healing the Nation’s Wounds: Royal Ritual and Experimental Philosophy in Restoration England.” History of Science 38 (2000): 377-99.
  7. For a discussion on the anointing of English monarchs, see Rowell, Geoffrey. ”The Sacramental Uses of Oil in Anglicanism and the Churches of the Reformation,” in The Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition, ed. Martin Dudley and Geoffrey Rowell. London, 1993.
  8. Werrett, Simon. “Healing the Nation’s Wounds: Royal Ritual and Experimental Philosophy in Restoration England.” History of Science 38 (2000): 380-81.
  9. For a more detailed biography of Wiseman, see Kirkup, John. “Wiseman, Richard (bap. 1620?, d. 1676).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. January 2008. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29792.
  10. While originally titled Severall Chirurgical Treatises, the volume was later republished unchanged as Eight Chirurgical Treatises in 1696.
  11. Wiseman, Richard. Eight chirurgical treatises: on these following heads: I. Of tumours. II. Of Ulcers. III. Of Diseases of the Anus. IV. Of the King’s-Evil. V. Of Wounds. VI. Of Gun-shot Wounds. VII. Of Fractures and Luxations. VIII. Of the Lues Venerea. 4th ed. London. 1705.
  12. The assertion that Wiseman’s SCT amount to an untapped fount of historical information insofar as their extensively detailed case series (some of which include personal correspondences from patients) is also maintained by John Kirkup, a scholar and Wiseman biographer. See Kirkup, John. “Wiseman, Richard (bap. 1620?, d. 1676).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. January 2008. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29792.
  13. See McVaugh, Michael R. “Richard Wiseman and the Medical Practitioners of Restoration London.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 62, no. 2 (2007): 125-140; and Turrell, James F., “The Ritual of Royal Healing in Early Modern England: Scrofula, Liturgy, and Politics.” Anglican and Episcopal History 68, no. 1 (March 1999): 3-36.
  14. For the accounts of Wiseman’s contemporaries, see Browne, John. Adenochoiradelogia, or An Anatomick-Chirurgical Treatise of Glandules and Strumaes, or King’s-Evil Swellings. London, 1705; and Clowes, William. A Right Fruitful and Approved Treatise for the Artificial Cure of that Malady Called in Latin Struma. London, 1602.
  15. This privileging of two organs becomes key in a reading of Wiseman’s text, and points to a privileging of the senses. G.C. Spivak once remarked, “the political element comes out in the transaction between reader and text”, and we posit that this political element is most readily translated to the reader by means of the form of the text itself. This postmodern reading of a premodern text will be considered a reification by some; however, we posit that Derrida’s articulation that “you do not excuse a text for its historical aberrations, you admit that there is something in the text that can produce these readings” holds. In the least, this matter is worth exploring more fully in future analyses. See Spivak, Gayatri C. The post-colonial critic: interviews, strategies, dialogues. ed. Sarah Harasym. New York: Routledge, 1990: 50, 107.

 

References

  1. Bloch, Marc. Les Rois Thaumaturges: Étude sur le Caractère Surnaturel Attribué à la Puissance Royale, Particulièrement en France et en Angleterre. Strasbourg, 1924.
  2. Browne, John. Adenochoiradelogia, or An Anatomick-Chirurgical Treatise of Glandules and Strumaes, or King’s-Evil Swellings. London, 1705.
  3. Clowes, William. A Right Fruitful and Approved Treatise for the Artificial Cure of that Malady Called in Latin Struma. London, 1602.
  4. Kirkup, John. “Wiseman, Richard (bap. 1620?, d. 1676).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. January 2008. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29792
  5. McVaugh, Michael R. “Richard Wiseman and the Medical Practitioners of Restoration London.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 62, no. 2 (2007): 125-140.
  6. Rowell, Geoffrey. “The Sacramental Uses of Oil in Anglicanism and the Churches of the Reformation,” in The Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition, ed. Martin Dudley and Geoffrey Rowell. London, 1993.
  7. Spelman, Denis. “Tuberculous lymphadenitis.” UpToDate. July 29, 2016. Accessed January 30, 2017. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/tuberculous-lymphadenitis.
  8. Spivak, Gayatri C. The post-colonial critic: interviews, strategies, dialogues. ed. Sarah Harasym. New York: Routledge, 1990.
  9. Turrell, James F. “The Ritual of Royal Healing in Early Modern England: Scrofula, Liturgy, and Politics.” Anglican and Episcopal History 68, no. 1 (March 1999): 3-36.
  10. Werrett, Simon. “Healing the Nation’s Wounds: Royal Ritual and Experimental Philosophy in Restoration England.” History of Science 38 (2000): 377-99.
  11. William of Malmesbury. De Gestis Regum Anglorum, ed. N.E.S.A. Hamilton. H.M. Stationery Office, London. 1887.
  12. Wiseman, Richard. Eight chirurgical treatises: on these following heads: I. Of tumours. II. Of Ulcers. III. Of Diseases of the Anus. IV. Of the King’s-Evil. V. Of Wounds. VI. Of Gun-shot Wounds. VII. Of Fractures and Luxations. VIII. Of the Lues Venerea. 4th ed. London. 1705
  13. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Charles II touching a patient for the king’s evil (scrofula) surrounded by courtiers, clergy and general public. Engraving by R. White. after: Robert WhitePublished: -Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 


 

ADAM S. KOMOROWSKI is a second year medical student at the University of Limerick (Limerick, Ireland). He studied immunology and microbiology at the University of Toronto, completing research in protein engineering and bioinformatics, as well as cancer immunotherapy. His current interests in medical humanities lie in interrogating the intersection of medicine and the ecclesiastical ministry, as well as epistemic violence in medicine.

SANG IK SONG is a third year medical student at the University of Limerick (Limerick, Ireland). He studied history and East Asian studies at the University of Toronto. His work has been predominantly multidisciplinary with a specific interest in translating critical theory into viable clinical interventions. His current research interests lie in the multiplicity of bereavement, semi-structured narrative interventions in oncology, anthropological manifestations of suffering, and the persisting political nuances of representation involving colonial legacies.

 

Highlighted in Frontispiece Summer 2017 – Volume 9, Issue 3

Hektorama  | Moments In History