By Jordan Ivie
Rebeckah Winche’s receipt book (Folger Vb 366) includes three recipes on page 62 that relate to the King’s Evil, one that detects the malady and two that cure it. These recipes consist of many ingredients that seem strange to the modern reader, including the leg of a live toad, turpentine, and worms; the oddest ingredient, however, was “the urine of a man childe he being not aboue 3 years old.” The recipe instructs that 3 spoonfulls of this urine be added to beeswax, turpentine, sheep’s suet, and barley flower, and then the whole concoction is boiled and formed into a plaster to lay on the patient’s sore. Putting aside any consideration of the efficacy of using urine in a remedy, the fact that it is included in a recipe for the King’s Evil says a great deal about early modern conceptions of the masculine body’s healing powers.
A remedy for the King’s Evil is already a recipe that speaks to the period’s faith in masculine curative powers. The King’s Evil, or scrofula, was commonly thought to be curable by the touch of the king (OED); therefore this malady is already charged with preconceptions related to both gender and class: the male ruler is a healer, spreading wellness to the common people. The belief interacts with the notion of using the urine of a man-child, specifically of a child younger than three years old. The ingredient is not related to class or authority, as is the general concept of the King’s Evil, but to age and gender, and perhaps the age restriction relates to purity or cleanliness. Nevertheless the common factor between the King’s touch and the man-child’s urine is gender. Rebekah Winche’s receipt book manifests the time’s preoccupation with gender and healthcare not only in this King’s Evil recipe but also in the one that follows it, which calls for a leg cut from a live frog and tied around the sufferer’s neck. Interestingly, “if it be a boy or man that is greeued then woman must kill the toade but if a girle or woman be ill then a man must kill it.” This recipe, unlike the preceding one, ascribes a degree of healing power to both men and women and highlights the idea that gender is as essential as the ingredients themselves; further, male bodies must aid in the healing of female bodies and female bodies are necessary to heal male bodies.
The presence of three separate recipes on this page show the prevalent fear and perhaps the common occurrence of the King’s Evil in the early modern period, and, while one recipe does give both men and women roles in the healing process, the use of the King’s touch and the urine of a man child as remedies suggest that early moderns put a great deal of faith in the male body’s ability to heal both sexes; somehow, health and vitality are not only inherent in maleness but also transferrable, able to overcome even the most dreaded and debilitating diseases.
Jordan Ivie, Master’s Student at the University of Texas, Arlington and student in Professor Amy Tigner’s graduate class, “Culinary Shakespeare”