(Originally published on June 25, 2009)

The comical reaction I got from a television anchor may never leave my memory. When I told her that the people who lived under King Saint Louis IX of France were freer than we are now in America, she looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. If you are a Monarchist, or a “monsymp,” you have probably gotten similar reactions when a banal conversation about current events terminates in a statement challenging the fundamental and flawed presuppositions of modernity.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Monarchy is the only form of government that has merit, nor that it is impossible to have a Catholic social order in any other kind of society — save those, like communism or socialism, utterly inimical to Christian principles. And my principles here do not, by far, prevent me from being an American patriot. But I do hold that Monarchy is the ideal, not only for Catholics, but also for men in general, as it best accords with human nature.

Brother Francis, our venerable Superior, agrees, noting that every Catholic heart is a Monarchist heart because Monarchy “reflects the order of things in the Church,” Jesus Christ being a King whose power comes from above, not an elected official whose power comes from below.

For those, like me, whose history teachers brainwashed us against this perennial form of government, there is probably one overarching objection to Monarchy. It naturally leads to tyranny. Passing beyond the fact that the alternatives tend to bring on a tyranny of their own, we need to point out that this accusation is false on its very face. Historically, most Monarchs could not be tyrants, even if they wanted to; they simply did not have that much control. This confusion of Monarchy with absolutism is just that, confusion. This is not to deny that some Monarchs were tyrants. When Christian kings rebelled against tradition, there began a decline of Monarchy as kings usurped powers rightly belonging to the aristocracy and the Church, which served as “checks” to royal mischief. (This is something I outlined with the help of Godfrey Kurth in Boniface VIII and the Heresy of Statism.)

Given the notable lack of triumphalism in our day — the opposite of which, by the way, is properly called defeatism — waxing triumphal about Catholic Monarchy is only right and just. After all, it’s hard to glory in democratic or socialist heads of state, there being a notable lack of canonized ones. Even the ones most likely to be canonized — e.g., Gabriel Garcia Moreno — were themselves Monarchists.

One bit of Royal lore Catholics should know about is the healing power of certain Christian Monarchs. I cite Charles A. Coulombe’s Puritan’s Empire, A Catholic Perspective on American History (pp. 5-6; all [bracketed text] and  (parenthetical text) as in original; links and {bracketed text} provided by me for reference):

…the King had three roles: in a sense, he had a priestly character, conferred by his coronation. He was firstly the defender of the Church within his realm. A sort of sub-diaconal character was his, and various kings were often traditionally canons of one of several of their cathedral cities. Kings also often had liturgical roles, such as foot-washing on Maundy Thursday, and an honored place in Corpus Christi and other processions, and special Mass prayers said for them. In a few cases, he was believed to have miraculous powers. So the Kings of England and France cured scrofula (called “The King’s Evil”), the King of Denmark cured epilepsy, the King of Hungary jaundice, and the Holy Roman Emperor, successor of Charlemagne, was said to have some control over the weather (so in Germany fine warm weather is called Kaiserswetter). Isabel of Spain’s ancestors, the Kings of Castile, were resorted to by the possessed for exorcism, as we see in Alvarez Pelayo’s 1340 work, Speculum regum, written to King Alphonso XI:

“It is said that the kings of France and of England possess a [healing] power; likewise the most pious kings of Spain, from whom you are descended, possess a power which acts on the demoniacs and certain sick persons suffering from divers ills. When a small child, I myself saw your grandfather, King Sancho [Sancho II, 1284-1295], who brought me up, place his foot upon the throat of a demoniac who proceeded to heap insults upon him; and then, by reading words taken from a little book, drive out the demon from this woman, and leave her perfectly healed (quoted from Marc Bloch, The Royal Touch, p. 88 {BAM — Read some of this book online here.}.”

There are literary memorials of this regal power, probably many more than this writer can number. But I know of at least two. The first, based squarely upon history, finds its way into Shakespeare’s work. Macbeth includes a reference to Saint Edward the Confessor, to whose English court Malcolm, and then Macduff, have resorted during Macbeth’s mad, murderous, and illegitimate reign over Scotland.

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene III:

MALCOLM
Well; more anon.–Comes the king forth, I pray you?

Doctor
Ay, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great assay of art; but at his touch–
Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand–
They presently amend.

MALCOLM
I thank you, doctor.

Exit Doctor

MACDUFF
What’s the disease he means?

MALCOLM
‘Tis call’d the evil:
A most miraculous work in this good king;
Which often, since my here-remain in England,
I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,
Himself best knows: but strangely-visited people,
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery, he cures,
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
Put on with holy prayers: and ’tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue,
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
That speak him full of grace.

The Bard did not make up the legend, as it is attested to in Saint Edward’s life. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “St. Edward was the first King of England to touch for the ‘king’s evil,’ many sufferers from the disease were cured by him.” The Confessor was not the last King of England reputed to have this power. We are told by Dr. Michael Delahoyde that “Even Queen Elizabeth was sought for a laying on of the royal hands.”

This disease cured by the kings of England and France, scrofula (or scrophula or struma) is, according to the ever-informative Wikipedia, “any of a variety of skin diseases; in particular, a form of tuberculosis, affecting the lymph nodes of the neck.” Readers can consult that article for more information, including rather disturbing pictures of the affliction.

My other familiar literary reference to the healing power of kings is in J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. Aficionados of the real stuff will know that the books go into detail on a point only hinted at by the films. In The Return of the King, Aragorn is in a dilemma to prove his royal lineage, but by a wonderful happenstance — Faramir is near dead due to a pestilence spread by a Nazgûl, and the wardens of the House are unable to cure him — Gandalf hears a bit of the old lore of Gondor from Ioreth, an elderly woman of Minas Tirith:

“Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: hands of the king are the hands of the healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.”

And Gandalf, who stood by, said: “Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?” (Cf. “The Hands of a Healer”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Understanding of Kingship.)

The White Wizard hastens to tell Aragorn of the prophecy, and Aragorn seeks the “King’s Foil,” an herb whose potency was long forgotten in Gondor, but which he knew from his Elven upbringing can cure Faramir, and all others who lie sick of the pestilence. With his “royal touch” — the phrase comes from the true legends we’ve recounted — Aragorn’s popular acclaim begins as the prophecy Ioreth recalled is fulfilled: “hands of the king are the hands of the healer.”

Tolkien, the traditionalist Catholic Englishman, was a Monarchist, and well familiar with the king-as-healer stories from Christian history. One suspects he had in mind especially Saint Edward the Confessor while crafting Aragorn’s history. It was Edward’s death in 1066 that occasioned the Norman Conquest, when England began to be ruled by those Frenchmen with Viking blood (who, by the way, enriched the English language with words like beef, cuisine, pork, and… royal!).

Why is it we have so few real statesmen today? I will not overstate the case by saying that statesmanship is not possible in a society other than a Monarchy. That is simply not true. But I will say that a society that unmoors itself from history and mocks the paradigmatic statesman — the righteous king — is doomed to be ruled by something other than a statesman. If I may be permitted a bit of humorous exegesis on a Broadway tune, I think Stephen Sondheim may have said it best:

Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns
Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns

Worthy of note for curiosity if nothing else, is that the Protestant “Christian Healing Ministries”  chanced upon the Catholic healer-king legends and did not appear disturbed at the obvious contradictions to the anti-sacramental, anti-Catholic principles of the so-called Reformation that brought about their religion. Perhaps the hands of the nimbus-crowned Monarchs in heaven will reach down to give them the royal touch, and lead them to the true Church.


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