Greatrakes, Valentine (1629–1683)
Irish mesmerist, born in the county of Waterford. In 1662
Greatrakes dreamed that he had received the gift of healing by
laying on of hands. He ignored the dream, but when it recurred
on several occasions he experimented on his wife, which
proved quite successful. He subsequently practiced the laying
on of hands for practically all diseases and in 1666 went to London,
where he was summoned to court. While there he healed
many persons, but the insults of the courtiers proved too much
for him and he was forced to withdraw to a house near London,
where he continued his cures. In his Critical History of Animal
Magnetism (2 vols., 1813, 1819), J. P. F. Deleuze states
‘‘Amongst the most astonishing cures which history records, are
those of an Irish gentleman in London, Oxford, and other cities
of England and Ireland. He himself published in London
in 1666 a full account of them Val. Greatrakes Esq., of Waterford,
in the kingdom of Ireland, famous for curing several diseases and distempers
by the stroak of his hand only London, 1660.
Joseph Glanvill, a chaplain to Charles II, stated in a letter
that Greatrakes was a simple, amiable, and pious man, a stranger
to all deceit. A similar testimony was offered by George Rust,
bishop of Dromore in Ireland, who stated that Greatrakes was
at his house for three weeks, giving him an opportunity to observe
his sound morals and many of his cures. Through the
simple laying on of hands, said the bishop, he drove pain to the
extremities. Many times the effect was very rapid and as if by
magic. If the pain did not immediately subside he repeated his
rubbings and always drove the pain finally into the limbs to
expel it.
The Bishop further stated that ‘‘I can as eyewitness assert
that Greatrakes cured dizziness, very bad diseases of the eyes
and ears, old ulcers, goitre, epilepsy, glandular swellings, scirrhous
indurations, and cancerous swellings. I have seen swellings
disperse in five days which were many years old, but I do
not believe by supernatural means; nor did his practice exhibit
anything sacred. The cure was sometimes very protracted, and
the diseases only gave way through repeated exertions; some
altogether resisted his endeavours.’’
It appeared to the bishop that ‘‘something healing, something
balsamic’’ flowed from the healer. Greatrakes himself believed
that his power was a special gift of God. He healed even
epidemic complaints by his touch and believed it his duty to devote
himself to the cure of diseases.
To the bishop’s testimony may be added that of two physicians,
Faireklow and Astel, who assiduously inquired into the
reality of his cures. Faireklow noted, ‘‘I was struck with his gentleness
and kindness to the unhappy, and by the effects which
he produced by his hand.’’ Astel stated, ‘‘I saw Greatrakes in a
moment remove most violent pains merely by his hand. I saw
him drive a pain from the shoulder to the feet. If the pains in
the head or the intestines remained fixed, the endeavor to remove
them was frequently followed by the most dreadful crises,
which even seemed to bring the patient’s life into danger; but
by degrees they disappeared into the limbs, and then altogether.
I saw a scrofulous child of twelve years with such swellings
that it could not move, and he dissipated merely with his hand
the greatest part of them. One of the largest, however, he
opened, and so healed it with his spittle.’’
Astel stated that he saw a number of other cures, and repeated
the testimonies of Rust and Faireklow on the character of
Greatrakes.
The celebrated Robert Boyle, president of the Royal Society
of London, stated, ‘‘Many physicians, noblemen, clergymen,
etc., testify to the truth of Greatrakes’ cures, which he published
in London. The chief diseases which he cured were blindness,
deafness, paralysis, dropsy, ulcers, swellings, and all kinds of fevers.’’
Greatrakes was one of the most celebrated of the early mesmerists,
and there is no question that mesmerism owed some
of its popularity to his cures. According to accounts, he cured
the king’s evil, palsy, dropsy, epilepsy, ulcers, gallstones,
wounds and bruises, lameness, deafness, and partial blindness
by laying on of hands, stroking the pain out of its seat, and finally
driving it out at the extremities. The Royal Society published
accounts of his cures in their Transactions.
After several years of spectacular cures, Greatrakes seemed
to lose his power.
Sources
A Brief account of Mr. Valentine Greatrakes, and divers of the
strange cures by him lately Performed; written by himself in a letter addressed
to the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq. London, 1666. Reprint,
Dublin Samuel Dancer, 1688.
Greatrakes, V. Val. Greatrakes, Esq., of Waterford, in the kingdom
of Ireland, famous for curing several diseases and distempers by
the stroak of his hand only. London The Author, 1660.
Henry Stubbe The Miraculous Conformist; or an account of Several
Marvailous Cures performed by Mr. Valentine Greatarick. Oxford,
England, 1666.
Pechlin, J. N. Observationes Physico-Medicae. Hamburg, Germany,
1691.