The King’s Evil

From its very early days, St George’s Chapel possessed an extensive range of treasures, in the form of lavishly embroidered and jeweled vestments, relics and their elaborate containers, altar vessels in rich gold and silver, and many other jewels and ornaments to be displayed on the altar on grand occasions. Many of these were given by the Garter Knights to honour their connection to the home of the Order of the Garter.

In an inventory of plate and goods belonging to the Chapel taken in 1641 there is the following entry:

New plate Given (since 12 Dec: 1638) By the King Prince & other Knights of the ordr

One Common prayer booke of the same cover & worke, wth the Angell of incense on the one side, & the King Healing, & the mannor of or preaching & Christening engraven on the other;

From the Middle Ages onwards, it was believed that the touch of the Sovereign had healing powers granted by God, and by laying their hands on the afflicted, the King had the power to cure disease, in particular scrofula, a form of tuberculosis also known as the King’s Evil. From 1633, the act of touching for the King’s Evil was included in the Book of Common Prayer and grand ceremonies would be held where hundreds of those afflicted would kneel before the monarch for the traditional laying on of hands. The practice continued in Britain until the reign of George I, and continued in France until the mid nineteenth century.

Sadly, the year after this inventory was taken, the chapel was plundered by soldiers pretending to act by order of the King, and many of these items were lost. This book is not listed in the inventories of 1643 or 1667, suggesting that it was one of the items taken during the chaos of the Civil War.

Eleanor Cracknell, Assistant Archivist

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.