The object above is an entrance ticket or pass dating from the reign of King Charles II. It measures 29.7 mm and weighs 11.15 grams and is bi-metallic comprising an inner brass core and an outer copper collar.
Unlike the tradesmen’s tokens which are the primary focus of this website the above ticket or pass had no monetary value at the time of its use between the 1660s to 1680s. It was issued by official agents of the Crown to sufferers of scrofula as a form of official entrance ticket or pass to one of Charles II’s royal healing or “touching” ceremonies. These were held in the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall throughout his reign.
The design of the ticket may be formally described as follows;
Obverse: CAR . II . D . G. M . B . FR . ET . HI . REX (six pointed star) around the depiction of a three masted ship sailing left (Note 1).
Reverse: SOLI DEO GLORIA (six pointed star) around the depiction of the angel Michael spearing a recumbent dragon at his feet.
Before considering the method of issue and use of the above types of ticket or pass it is worth explaining further the context of their use and the formal ceremony to which they gave their bearer access.
The Curative Royal Touch for King’s Evil and the presentation of Touch-Pieces
Historically in Britain scrofula or the “King’s Evil” was a name applied to a variety of skin diseases but in particular a form of tuberculosis, affecting the lymph nodes of the neck and which resulted in bulbous swellings and sores. It has been estimated that in 17th century London 1% of the population were suffers of the disease which effected people of all social classes.
From the reigns of King Edward the Confessor in England (1003 to 1066) and Philip I (1052 to 1108) in France it was believed that a touch from the king could cure diseases given that the monarch had been granted divine powers. Subsequent English and French kings were believed to have inherited this “royal touch”, which was taken as an indication of their god given right to rule. In grand ceremonies, kings touched hundreds of suffers afflicted by scrofula. In later years those attending such healing ceremonies also received a gold coin, typically an Angel, from the monarch which was also believed to be blessed with an extension of the monarch’s healing powers. These presentational coins became known as “touch-pieces” and over time became treated as amulets and were pierced for wearing around the recipient’s neck by a ribbon.
The last Angels to be minted for general circulation were issued in 1642(1) from the Royal Mint which was located in the Tower of London. After this date the mint was seized by Parliament at the start of the Civil War and in whose control it remained until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.
During the reign of James I the location of the royal touching ceremony was transferred from the Chapel Royal to the Banqueting House within the Palace of Whitehall(2) , Westminster. This continued to be the London venue for the ceremony throughout the reign of Charles I. During the Commonwealth period the practice ceased on British soil although it was continued by Charles II while in exile on the continent. On his restoration in 1660 he was quick to restore the ceremony, presumably as a means of re-affirming his rightful position as monarch through the practice of a divinely given gift (i.e. that of healing by touch).
In September 1660 Thomas Simon, the mint’s then chief engraver, was ordered to prepare sketches and dies for a new series of Angels(1).
While there was an obvious early intent by Charles II to restore the Angel into common circulation within the Kingdom, and for use as touch-pieces, it never happened. However, in February 1664/5 Charles commissioned a new supply of purpose made gold “touch-pieces” from the mint at the Tower of London(2). The first issue of these new presentational medalets was struck from dies which were almost certainly cut by John Roettiers who was one of the mint’s chief engravers. Over Charles II’s reign six separate sets of dies were commissioned for the on-going striking of touch-pieces. Although the same emblems as used on the old Angels (i.e. St. Michael spearing a fallen dragon plus a ship in full sail) were maintained on the new touch-pieces their designs were different to those of the earlier Angels in that the monarch’s titles were switched to appear on the side depicting the ship, thus making it the obverse whereas on the Angel it had been on the reverse side.
During Charles II’s reign the royal touching ceremony became immensely popular. It is estimated that between 1660 and 1684 the king administered the royal touch to no fewer than 105,000 people, all of whom would have received one of the touch-pieces which contained the equivalent of 10 shillings worth of 22 carat gold(2).
During the reign of Charles II the touching ceremonies were held on Fridays between 1st November and 18th December, then during the months of January and for a month over Easter. It was suspended over the warmer months of the year to lessen the risk of spreading infection of any diseases amongst the gathered masses.
The first of Charles II’s touching ceremonies was attended by 600 suffers. However, thereafter the number was reduced to a more manageable 200 per session. While most of those who attended the Whitehall touching ceremony would have been from London and the Home Counties there is evidence that some of those who attended were from much further afield. Records exist of a petition addressed to the local assembly of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (USA) which was presented by a colonial sufferer of scrofula who wanted financial assistance to travel to London to be receive the royal touch(2).
The first touching ceremony performed by Charles II after his restoration was held on Saturday 23rd June 1660. It was recorded by both the diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. Pepys’ diary entry relating to this event is only very brief(3).
“So to my Lord’s lodgings, where Tom Guy came to me, and there staid to see the King touch people for the King’s evil. But he did not come at all, it rayned so; and the poor people were forced to stand all the morning in the rain in the garden. Afterward he touched them in the Banquetting-house.”
John Evelyn’s account of the event however, is far more detailed despite the fact that it entered erroneously in his diary under the date 6th July(4).
“His Majesty began first to Touch for the Evil according to custome: Thus, his Majestie sitting under his State in the Banqueting house: The Chirurgeons cause the sick to be brought or led up to the throne, who kneeling, the King strokes their faces or cheekes with both his hands at once: at which instant a Chaplaine in his formalitie, says, He put his hand upon them, and he healed them, this is sayd, to everyone in particular: when they have been all touch’d they come up againe in the same order and the Chaperlaine kneeling and Angel gold, strung on white ribbon on his arme, delivers them one by one to his majestie: and Who puts them about the neck of the Touched as the passe: whilest the first Chaperlaine repeates: That is the true light who came into the World: Then followes an Epistle (as at first a Gospell) with the Liturgy prayers for the sick with some alteration: Lastly the blessing; And then the Lo: Chamberlaine and Comptroller of the household bring basin, Ewer and towell for his Majestie to wash:”
After Charles II’s death touching ceremonies continued under his brother King James II although it is understood that he was a less keen advocate of the practice as his older brother had been. After the succession of King William III and Queen Mary the ceremony was temporarily stopped until being resumed for a final period (in Britain at least) under the patronage of Queen Anne. She performed the ceremony for the last time on the 30th March 1712 in St. James’s Palace, Westminster.
Amongst the last 300 people that day who receive the royal touch and receive one of the last issued golden touch-pieces was a young boy of nearly three years of age who suffered from poor eyesight believed to be a result of scrofula. The little boy was the son of a book seller from Lichfield in Staffordshire. His family had been recommended to seek the royal touch for their son by Sir John Floyer, a former physician to Charles II. After making the three day journey to London with his parents and attaining an entrance ticket to the ceremony, after first being medically certified as eligible by an appointed doctor, he was admitted to the royal touching ceremony. The ceremony obviously made a marked impression on the young boy’s memory. As a grown man, many years later, he recalled his vague memories of the event and how he had met a lady wearing diamonds and a long black hood(2).While he may not have recalled receiving a golden touch-piece from her he undoubtedly did as he wore it on a ribbon around his neck for the rest of his life. After his death this touch-piece was kept safe and later found its way into the collection of the British Museum where it remains today. While this is not a particularly remarkable story it is made far more interesting once the identity boy is revealed. The boy grew up to become the famed Dr. Samuel Johnson the renowned poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.
Royal Touching Ceremony Entrance Tickets
The number of sufferers wishing to attend the royal touching ceremonies throughout the 17th century was considerable. While there was a genuine belief on the part of most attending such ceremonies that they could be healed there was also the allure of 10 shillings worth of gold in the form of the presentational touch-piece they would be given. While sufferers were only meant to attend one touch ceremony in their lifetime the temptation of receiving 10 shillings worth of gold meant that many fraudulently tried and did attend on multiple occasions(5). From the reign of Charles I onwards, in order to control the numbers of people attending each ceremony and to ensure that they didn’t attend on multiple occasions, certain control measures were put in place. The list of control measures were further extended after the restoration of Charles II and by then included the following;
1) Those wishing to attend the ceremony had to obtain a special certificate or declaration letter from their parish minister and church wardens confirming that they were suffering from the “King’s Evil” and that they had not previously attended a royal touching ceremony.
2) The day prior to the ceremony those wishing to take part were to attend the Sergeant-Surgeon whose duty it was to confirm them as suffering from the “King’s Evil”.
3) On the basis that those wishing to receive the royal touch had met the above two requirements they were given an admission ticket to the ceremony in the form of a metal token or ticket. On presenting this ticket to officials at the Banqueting House on the day of the ceremony the bearer was granted admission.
Both Charles I and II employed the use of entrance tickets to their touching ceremonies. None of the entrance tickets used during the reign of Charles I have survived whist those used during the time of his son have. The entrance tickets used under Charles II were almost identical in design to the gold touch-pieces medalets commissioned in 1664/5. However, at 29 mm as opposed to 22 mm, their diameter was slightly larger than the new touch-pieces. Also the tickets incorporated six pointed stars which separated the beginning from the end of their obverse and reverse legends. Like the new touch-pieces, the dies used to strike the admission tickets were probably engraved by John Roettiers of the Royal Mint in the Tower of London. There is no evidence to confirm when in Charles II’s reign the admission tickets were introduced. The similarity of their design to that of his new touch-pieces has led some to the conclusion that the tickets were a copy of touch-pieces and so were introduced shortly after the striking of the first batch of the new medalets. However, given that Charles was conducting touching ceremonies as early as July 1660, presumably using a supply of earlier dynastic Angels, there is no reason that the admission tickets weren’t struck early in his reign and that the design of the new touch-pieces of 1664/5 was based on those of the tickets. As early as July 1660 there is official mention in the Parliamentary Journal of “tickets” being issued to gain access to the touching ceremony(6).
“His Majesty hath for the future, appointed every Friday for the core; at which time, two hundred and no more are to be represented to him, who are first to repair to Mr. Knight, the king’s surgeon, living at the Cross Guns in Russel Street, Covent Garden over against the Rose Tavern, for their tickets. That none might lose their labour, he thought fit to make it known, that he will be at his home every Wednesday and Thursday, from two till six of the clock, to attend that service; and if any persons of quality shall send to him, he will wait upon them at their lodgings, upon notice given to him.”
It is possible that the tickets referred to in the contemporary account above could have been hand written or, less likely, metallic tickets-tokens previously used in the time of Charles I.
After their collection on the day of each touching ceremony the admission tickets were re-issued for use on future occasions. However, to further reduce the possibility of people gaining fraudulent entry to the ceremonies (possibly via the use of counterfeit tickets) the organising officials randomly alternated between the use of four different varieties of the tickets which, while obviously different in appearance, varied only in as much as the metal flans on which they were struck, i.e. copper, copper with a brass centre (as per the one illustrated at the beginning of this article) brass and brass with a copper centre. The bi-metallic copper & brass tickets are much rarer than the other two types. It is noted that some surviving examples of these entrance tickets have either one or two notches filed in their upper edges. The notches have been made purposely and in a non-haphazard fashion. It has been suggested that such identifying marks were made as a further method of establishing their validity and to counter-act fraudulent entry to the ceremonies(2).
The continual collection and re-issue of the tickets would help account for their comparative scarcity. Some will have inevitably been lost in the continual process of reuse. Some examples have been clearly pierced for suspension which has given rise to the idea that these examples, at least, were actually used as touch-pieces in place of the usual gold medalets. Alternatively these pierced base metal tickets may just have escaped collection and then been pierced for wearing in the belief that they posed the same healing powers as the gold touch-pieces.
1) The ship on both the touching ceremony entrance tickets and Charles II’s gold touch-pieces can be identified as “The Sovereign of the Seas” which was launched at Woolwich in 1637. At 1,637 tons with 102 guns the ship was the largest afloat at that time. She cost £65,000 to build which was ten times more than any other man-of-war of the time. It is ironic that Charles II should have selected an image of this ship to adorn his touch-pieces as it had contributed so much to his father’s downfall through the unpopular Ship Tax.
The ship was re-named “The Sovereign” in 1651 and then “The Royal Sovereign” in 1685. During her operational life she took part in the battles of Kentish Knock, Beachy Head and La Hogue. The vessel was accidentally destroyed by fire on 27th January 1696 at Chatham. A few days later the diarist John Evelyn wrote in his diary(4), “The R. Sovereign burnt at Chatham, that ship built in 1637 was perhaps the original Cause of all the after trouble to this day” – a judgement written seven years after the “Glorious Revolution”.
Farquhar, H. – Royal Charities. Part II – Touchpieces for the King’s Evil. – British Numismatic Journal. Volume 15. (London, 1919).
Woolf, N. – The Sovereign Remedy: Touch-Pieces and the King’s Evil – British Numismatic Journal. Volume 49. (London, 2011).
Latham, R.C. – The Diary of Samuel Pepys: Volume I – 1660 (Harper Collins, 2010).
De Beer, E.S. – The Diary of John Evelyn. (Everyman Edition. London 2006).
Lysons, Rev. D. – The Environs of London: Being an Historical Account of the Towns, Villages and Hamlets within 12 miles of the Capital. Volume I. County of Surrey. (London. 1792). Page 82, Footnote 40 siting Mercurious Politicus, 21st February 1661.
Lysons, Rev. D. – The Environs of London: Being an Historical Account of the Towns, Villages and Hamlets within 12 miles of the Capital. Volume I. County of Surrey. (London. 1792). Page 82-83, Footnote 41 siting Parliamentary Journal, 2 to 9th July 1661.