Valentine Greatrakes (14 February 1628 – 28 November 1682), also known as "Greatorex" or "The Stroker", was an Irish faith healer who toured England in 1666, claiming to cure people by the laying on of hands.
Greatrakes was born on 14 February 1618, at Affane, County Waterford, Ireland. He was the son of William Greatrakes (c. 1600–1643) and Mary (died c. 1656), daughter of Sir Edward Harris, Chief Justice of Munster, who were English Protestants settlers. He went to the free-school at Lismore until he was 13 years of age and was designed for the college of Dublin. However when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 broke out he and his mother fled into England, where he was received by his great uncle, Edmund Harris. After Harris died his mother placed him with John Daniel Getsius, a German minister, of Stoke Gabriel, in Devonshire.
War, the Commonwealth and Protectorate
After five or six years in England Greatrakes returned to his native country, which he found in a distracted state, and therefore spent a year in contemplation at the Castle of Cappoquin. In 1649 he was a lieutenant in Lord Broghill's regiment in the English Parliamentary army in Ireland, then campaigning in Munster against the Irish Royalists. In 1656, great part of the army being disbanded, so Greatrakes retired to Affine, his native place, and was made clerk of the peace for County Cork, Register for transplantation, and a Justice of the Peace. However he lost these positions after the Restoration.
Healer in Ireland
He seemed to have been very religious; his outlook was grave but simple. He said himself, that ever since that year 1662 he had felt a strange impulse or persuasion that he had the gift of curing the King's evil (scrofula); and this suggestion became so strong, that he stroked several persons, and cured them.
Three years after that, an epidemical fever was raging in the country, he was again persuaded that he could also cure that. He made the experiment, and he affirmed to his satisfaction that he cured all who came to him. At length, in April, 1665, another kind of inspiration suggested to him, that he had the gift of healing wounds and ulcers; and experience, he also said, proved that he was not deceived. He even found that he cured convulsions, the dropsy, and many other distempers.
On 6 April 1665 Robert Phayre, a former Commonwealth Governor of County Cork, was living at Cahermore, in that county, when he was visited by Greatrakes (who had served in his regiment in 1649). Greatrakes cured Phayre in a few minutes of an acute ague. John Flamsteed, the famous Astronomer, (then aged 19) went over to Ireland, in August 1665, to be touched by Greatrakes for a natural weakness of constitution, but received no benefit. Crowds flocked to him from all parts, and he performed such extraordinary cures, that he was summoned into the Bishop's court at Lismore, and, not having a licence for practising, was forbidden to lay hands on anyone else in Ireland.
Journey to England
In 1665 Greatrakes was invited to England by his old commander, Lord Broghill (now Earl of Orrery), to cure Anne, Viscountess Conway of an inveterate headache. He arrived in England in early 1666 but failed to cure the Viscountess. Undaunted, he traveled through the country, healing the sick.
Greatrakes went every day to a place in London where many sick persons, of all ranks in society, assembled. Pains, gout, rheumatism, convulsions and so forth were allegedly driven by his touch from one body part to another. Upon reaching the extremities, all symptoms of these ailments ceased. As the treatment consisted entirely of stroking, Greatrakes was called The Stroker. Greatrakes ascribed certain disorders to the work of evil spirits. When persons possessed by such spirits saw Greatrakes or heard his voice, the afflicted fell to the ground or into violent agitation. He then proceeded to cure them by the same method of stroking.
While many were skeptical, Greatrakes did find zealous advocates for the efficacy of his healing powers. He himself published, in 1666, a letter addressed to the celebrated Robert Boyle entitled A brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatrakes and divers of the strange Cures by him performed &c. See also The Miraculous Conformist &c. by Henry Stubbs, M.D., a pamphlet printed at Oxford in 1666, wherein the author gives a succinct history of Greatrakes' life. Appended to the pamphlet were a great number of certificates, signed by persons of known probity, attesting to the reality of Greatrakes' cures.
Return to Ireland and farming
Greatraks returned to Ireland in 1667, and resumed farming in 1668 on £1,000 a year. Although he lived for many years, he no longer kept up the reputation of performing those strange cures which have procured him a name. But in this his case is very singular, that on the strictest enquiry no sort of blemish was ever thrown upon his character, nor did any of those curious and learned persons, who espoused his cause, draw any imputation upon themselves.
Greatraks died on 28 November 1682 at Affane, County Waterford. He may be buried in Lismore Church or under the aisle of the old Affane Church near to his father (sources vary).
In the early 1660s Greatraks married Ruth (died 1678), daughter of Sir William Godolphin (1605–1663), and his first wife Ruth, daughter of Sir John Lambe. He married secondly Alice Tilson (died 1678 or 1684). He had three children:
- Williman (died 1686), who married Mary, daughter of Johah Wheeler.
- Edmund (died during 1691–1692), who married Anne, daughter of Thomas Wilcox.
- Mary, who married Edmund Browning.
- The public commotion which Greatraks caused gave rise to a novel (in French) by M. St. Evremond, entitled, The Irish Prophet, in which he finely plays on the credulity of the people, and the spirit of superstition. He also shows that there is no kind of conjugation which is able to lay this kind of Dæmon, which sometimes surfaces in society.
- A volume of correspondence between Greatrakes and Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey has been edited by Alan Marshall of Bath University.
- Greatrakes is mentioned briefly in Susannah Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. (p. 211)
- Blackwater Angel, a play about Greatrakes by Jim Nolan, was performed at the Finborough Theatre, London, in March 2006.
- Greatrakes is an important character in William Carleton's The Evil Eye or, The Black Spectre.
- Greatrakes (using the alternate spelling "Greatorex") features prominently in Iain Pears's "An Instance of the Fingerpost".
- Greatrakes is one of the main characters in the novel The Remedy by Michelle Lovric.
- Gordon, Alexander (1896). "Phayre, Robert". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 45. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 142–143.
- Lalor, Brian, ed. (2003). The Encyclopaedia of Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. p. 457. ISBN 0-7171-3000-2.
- Frahe, Willie (26 July 2001). "Valentine Greatrakes - 'The Stroker'". Waterford County Museum.
- Elmer, Peter (2013). The Miraculous Conformist: Valentine Greatrakes, the Body Politic, and the Politics of Healing in Restoration Britain (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780199663965.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Urban, ed. (1779), The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle 49, E. Cave, pp. 22–23
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Greatrakes, Valentine.|
|Wikisource has the text of an 1879 American Cyclopædia article about Valentine Greatrakes.|
- Greatrakes, Valentine (1666). A Brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatrakes and Divers of the Strange Cures by him lately performed (Addressed to the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq.).
- Boyle, Robert (1666). "Accounts of cures performed by Valentine Greatrakes". Work-diary XXVI. Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved November 2013.
- Carleton, William. "The Evil Eye; Or, The Black Spector". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved November 2013.