Philip I of France and the Power to Heal Scrofula


The power to heal was not a new phenomenon, nor was it solely practised by the Capetian kings. In fact, many monarchs from a myriad of nations were able to heal. The ability to heal was the mark of a good and pious king as it demonstrated God’s favour towards that monarch.

Robert II, the First Capetian to heal

In his Life of Robert the Pious, Helgaud of Fleury, mentioned and described in great details the healing prowess of his subject, the former king, Robert II. His purpose was to place Robert along the lines of a warrior-bishop, one who governed and judged following the old Carolingian, and even the old Roman, ways. Not only was Robert judge and enforcer of God’s will, but Helgaud also wished to demonstrate God’s favour towards his king by granting him the power to heal.

Philip I and the Power to heal Scrofula

After Robert II, the sources hardly make reference of the king’s healing prowess. This lack of information maybe caused by the fact that neither Henry I nor Philip I had had Lives written by contemporaries to emphasise their holy qualities. It was not until the reign of Louis VI, Philip’s son, that the power to heal was once again focused upon.

Within his treatise, On Holy Relics, Guibert of Nogent mentioned that Louis’ ability to heal was quite specific. Guibert mentioned that Louis was able to touch for scrofula. He wrote: Ludovicus Grossus seu sextus, scrophas curat. Guibert further mentioned that that particular ability was also practised by his father, Philip I. He continued: cuius gloriam miraculi cum Philippus pater eius alacriter exerceret.

Guibert’s statement that Philip touched for scrofula is the earliest known example of a king possessing that ability. English sources, on the other hand, mention the ability as possessed by Edward the Confessor, however, March Bloch successfully demonstrated that those works were written by those in the service of Henry I of England.

Henry I of England and Claims of Touching for Scrofula:

Henry I had tried to strengthen his claim to the thrown by associating himself with the great Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor. Henry married a descendant of Anglo-Saxon stock, and when she gave birth to a son, he was claimed as the fulfilment of a prophecy that a king would combine the two royal houses.

In addition, it was known that Edward the Confessor had healed others. Henry’s court tried to emphasise that some of his miraculous healings were for scrofula. March Bloch concluded however that Edward did not touch for scrofula. His argument was based upon the evidence found in the sources. Since it was never mentioned, neither from an English source of the period nor from Guibert, who had specifically mentioned that no other monarch could heal for scrofula, it seems that Philip was the first to have exercised the ability.

Pious Behaviour and the Ability to heal Scrofula:

Guibert further added that the king’s ability to heal scrofula was not based on his royal lineage or his title but rather on his behaviour. Guibert noted that for a reason he was unaware of, Philip had lost his ability to touch for scrofula. If this was so, and there is no reason to doubt Guibert in his facts, then Philip’s perceived lost of his ability maybe linked with the difficulties he faced later in his life.

Philip had been twice excommunicated for his marital indecencies. This period of Philip’s reign also coincides with contemporary sources which state that Philip was unhealthy and rotting away in disease. How can a holy king be afflicted with diseases unless of course he had lost God’s favour?

Fortunately for Philip, he was reconciled with the Church near the end of his reign, which probably meant that his wondrous gift to touch for scrofula was returned to him as Guibert mentioned that it was lost for a time, which suggest it was practised afterwards.

The ability to heal was an important aspect in the image of the king, especially in the France of the Early Capetian. The counts of Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Provence, and Aquitaine were arguably more powerful than the king, however, the king was seen as God’s chosen, his power was granted by God, not by a bishop or another mortal, and God’s favour was shown through by the ability to heal for scrofula. No other could claim such divinity and, hence, the king was greater than those of his kingdom.