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The Royal Touch: Scrofula and Defining Monarchy

      Abstract

      English monarchs have claimed the ability to heal scrofula since the turn of the first millennium. A disease with a self-limiting clinical course, scrofula helps to define a period of human political organization in Western Europe known as a monarchy. Termed the royal touch, the practice of touching subjects and curing them of scrofula demonstrates that the monarch belongs to the legitimate dynasty. Despite this, James VI & I (1566-1625) is unenthusiastic about touching his subjects, when he ostensibly has the most to gain from its symbolism; King James I is fanatical about the absolute political power of monarchs. Shakespeare's (1564-1616) inclusion of the royal touch in Macbeth, written as King James I ascends the English throne after Queen Elizabeth I's (1533-1603) death, may be a subtle nod at the outsider Scottish king to recognize the political value of the tradition. In contrast to King James, his descendants intend to improve their relationship with the royal touch, adapt the royal touch for a modern constitutional monarchy, and memorialize how those in their dynasty touched the skin of their most disfigured subjects.
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