James I: The Royal Touch
A monarch’s divine ability to cure scrofula was an established ritual when James I came to the English throne in 1603. Initially sceptical of the Catholic characteristics of the ceremony, the king found ways to ‘Protestantise’ it and to reflect his own hands-on approach to kingship, writes Stephen Brogan.
Towards the end of 1603 the Venetian Secretary in London, Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, reflected on the death of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in March of that year and the new beginning represented by the accession of her successor, James VI and I (1566-1625). Scaramelli remembered that as soon as the Scottish king acquired his English crown he had said that, unlike his Tudor predecessors, he would not practise the most significant aspect of English sacral monarchy, the miraculous healing of scrofula by the royal touch, as he did not wish ‘to arrogate vainly to himself such virtue and divinity, as to be able to cure diseases by touch alone’. In June, during the preparations for his coronation, Scaramelli had also heard James say that he would not touch for scrofula ‘as the age of miracles is past, and God alone can work them’. These remarks might have been surprising given that James was an eloquent proponent of divine right monarchy, though the reason for them was partly that he had already ruled Scotland for 19 years, a country that had no tradition of royal healing. But James’ articulation of scepticism towards the royal touch, as far as is known the first ever expressed in public by a monarch of England, represented an extraordinary break with tradition.
This article is available to History Today online subscribers only. If you are a subscriber, please log in.
Please choose one of these options to access this article:
- Purchase an online subscription
- Purchase a print and online subscription
- If you are already a print subscriber, purchase the online archive upgrade
Call our Subscriptions department on +44 (0)20 3219 7813 for more information.
If you are logged in but still cannot access the article, please contact us
- Middle East
- North America
- South America
- Central America
- Early Modern
- 20th Century
- 21st Century
- Economic History
- Environmental History
- Historical Memory
- Science & Technology