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Touchpiece issued by Henry VII, England, monarch from 1485-1509

From the Middle Ages, it was believed that English and French monarchs had the power to heal through touch. Henry VII (1547-1509) gave the ‘royal touch’ to this touchpiece and passed it on to his subjects in the hope of curing scrofula, a form of tuberculosis that was also known as the ‘King’s Evil’. 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 in this way before his death in 1685. The power to heal was believed to pass from monarch to monarch and was deemed, like the monarch’s power to rule, to be God-given. The touchpiece is shown here with three other examples (A125611, A125612, A152328).

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Glossary: Contacting the spirits

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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.