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The leper and the king: the patronage and perception of lepers and leprosy by King Henry III of England and King Louis IX of France

Phillips, K. (2018) The leper and the king: the patronage and perception of lepers and leprosy by King Henry III of England and King Louis IX of France. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00084923


This thesis explores the connections between leprosy and kingship in thirteenth-century England and France. The kings of England and France, through the anointment they received at their coronation ceremonies, were granted a particular connection with God, and with Jesus Christ. Lepers, because of the extremity of their suffering, which was believed to be purgatorial, were valued for their spirituality. Their intercessory prayers were sought by kings and queens throughout the Middle Ages. This thesis takes a comparative approach as far as is possible with the nature of the available source material. Beginning with the disease of leprosy, it considers the position of lepers in society, both within the religious enclosure and in secular society. The responses of both religious and lay groups towards leprosy were ambiguous, being at once inclusive and exclusive. Kings Henry III and Louis IX went beyond the contemporary expectations of kingship, which would have been sufficed by the provision of charity. They were both reported to have knelt before lepers, and kissed them as though praising and kissing Christ. In this they imitated the behaviour of some of their ancestors. There are connections also to the historic belief in the royal touch, for the cure of scrofula. The patronage of the kings to lepers and leper-houses sheds light on their piety, as well as on their sense of tradition. Leper-houses which had been the beneficiaries of royal patronage in the twelfth century continued, mostly, to receive alms in the thirteenth century. The nature of patronage is also discussed, as the concern for lepers’ material and spiritual welfare is very clear, particularly in the English sources. Although it is only Louis who has traditionally received recognition for his piety, Henry’s actions demonstrate that he too epitomised thirteenth-century spirituality in his reverence for lepers and their spiritual value.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Grant, L.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanites
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:84923


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