Hooting Yard: Scrofula and Penitence in the Middle Ages

Scrofula is the Latin word for brood sow, and it is the term applied to a tuberculous infection of the chain of lymph glands in the neck, creating swellings between the angle of the jaw and the top of the breastbone. It has been known to afflict people since antiquity, and during the Middle Ages was known as “the King’s Evil”, because it was thought that the monarch’s touch would cure it.

We may scoff at such naïveté, especially given the rather disturbing personal habits of kings and queens past and present. An early scoffer was Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666), a Cromwellian soldier during the English Civil War. In the revolutionary mood of the time, he correctly surmised that God could act through himself as well as through the royal personage, and did his own scrofula-healing by gently stroking his patients. He also applied poultices made from carrots, although it is unclear whether these were divinely inspired.

  • Introduction: Scrofula
  • Dream: The Glove of Ib
  • Glib Hatter
  • Waxy Insensibility
  • Saint Mungo
  • Poppy Nisbet’s Music Tips
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • Stakhanov, Coleman (and Ronald Colman)

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