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Valentine Greatrakes (1628-83)

Valentine Greatrakes was an Irishman who served under Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War (1642-51). Shortly after Charles II was crowned king of England in 1661, Greatrakes claimed that a divine impulse informed him that he could cure the disease known as the King’s evil by touching the afflicted person. Responding to this, he embarked on a high-profile career as a healer.

His reputation attracted sufferers of many diseases, including the Viscountess Conway (he could not cure her chronic headaches). But far from being dismissed by the elite of the time, he was championed by intellectuals such as the famous scientist Robert Boyle, demonstrating the extent to which a belief in spiritual healing was accepted.

Greatrakes eventually took up residence in London, where it is claimed he healed many of the people who approached his lodgings. After a failed demonstration in front of Charles II in May 1666, he returned to Ireland.

 

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Bibliography

 R Porter (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (London: Penguin, 1991)

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