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Touchpiece issued by Henry VIII, England, 1509-1547

From the Middle Ages, it was believed that English and French monarchs had the power to heal through touch. Henry VIII (1491-1547) gave the ‘royal touch’ to this touchpiece and passed it on to his subjects in the hope of curing scrofula, a form of tuberculosis also known as the King’s Evil. The touchpieces were pierced so that they could be suspended by a ribbon and worn around the neck. Some monarchs actually placed their hands on people with scrofula. This tradition of ‘royal touch’ began with Edward the Confessor (1003–66) and continued until the end of Queen Anne’s reign in 1714, with Charles II touching over 90,000 people before his death in 1685. The power to heal was believed to pass from monarch to monarch and, like the monarch’s power to rule, was deemed to be God-given. The touchpiece is shown here with three other examples (A125611, A152328, A641044).

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Glossary: touchpiece

Touchpieces are coins and medals that have attracted superstitious beliefs. Such pieces were believed to cure disease, bring good luck, or influence people’s behaviour.