A Valentine Story

So its that time of year again when the world becomes saturated with hearts, chocolate, and romance. This post will perhaps bring you a few moments of relief from all things romantic, as we take a look at Valentine Greatrakes (see the clever segue we did there)

In may 1665 Sir James Ware, Auditor general of Ireland from 1632 until he was expelled, had been back in Ireland for 7 years and recorded in his diary that in May that year he heard ‘A strange report of one Lord Valentine Gratrax of Afane in the County of Waterford that cured diseases by touching’.1

Valentine Greatrakes had shortly after the Restoration in 1660 comes to the ‘strange persuasion’ that he was blessed with the ability to cures the King’s Evil (scrofula). Despite concealing his gifts to start with and his wife telling him that it was his ‘strange imagination’, he couldn’t help himself and began to heal those around him. He eventually gained enough notoriety that he was called to Dublin to face interrogation by the Church. Indeed James Ware recorded in his diary for 24 July 1665 that

Lieutenant Valentine Gratrax who was said to have cured many in Munster of the King’s evil, rickets, sciatica, & other diseases by touching & prayers, came to Dublin where many likewise were said to be cured by him, yet very wary persons of note & abilities conceived him to be an impostor. Many I am sure were touched by him in the city who were not cured.2

The Church authorities instructed Greatrakes to stop stroking people, but he continued to employ his gifts. Sometime after his visit to Dublin, the famous healer was convinced to travel to England to try to cure the headaches of Lady Anne Conway. On his arrival at her home, Ragley Hall,

Ragley Hall illustrated by Jan Kip in Le Nouveau Theatre de la Grande Bretagne, 1697-99

Warwickshire, he employed his gifts on some of the tenants. Like Ware, though, not everyone was convinced by his supposed gifts. Her husband, Edward third Viscount Conway, complained that ‘Mr. Greatrakes hath been here a fortnight tomorrow, and my wife is not the better for him.’


Despite his lack of success Valentine moved on undeterred and toured the country offering his services. Eventually he was summoned to display his gifts for the King. Like others before, the King remained unconvinced of his talents, particularly after he failed to cure the courtier-poet Sir John Denham of his ‘distraction’. The King did not though forbid him to heal people.  Valentine left England in 1667, returning to Ireland, and to a life of farming.

If this has peaked your interest in Valentine and his talents, we recommend you have a look at Peter Elmer’s wonderful book on this enigmatic character,  The Miraculous Conformist: Valentine Greatrakes, the Body Politic, and the Politics of Healing in Restoration Britain (Oxford: OUP, 2013). He is also one of the colourful characters that can be found in Maladies & Medicine: exploring health and healing 1540-1740, which might just be an unconventional but very interesting gift to give someone on Valentine’s day.


1 Mark Empey (ed), The Diary of Sir James Ware, 1623 -66Analetica Hibernica, no. 45 (2014), 55-146, at 141.

2 Ibid, 142.


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