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 Edward Harris, 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, and not like those of an impostor. 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
However in 1665 Greatrakes was invited to England his old commander Lord Broghill now Earl of Orrery to cure Anne, Viscountess Conway of an inveterate headache, he accepted the invitation arriving in England in early 1666 but failed to cure the Viscountess. As he passed through the country, the magistrates of the cities and towns through which he pasted begged him to come and cure their sick.
King Charles II, being informed of it, ordered him, by the Earl of Arlington, Secretary of State, to come to Whitehall. The Court, though not persuaded that he had a miraculous power, did not forbid him to make himself known.
He went every day to a particular part of London, where a prodigious number of sick persons of all ranks in society, and of both sexes, assembled. He did nothing but stroke them. Pains, the gout, rheumatism, convulsions and so forth, were driven by his touch from one part to another, to the utmost extremities of the body, after which they entirely ceased. This occasioned his being called The Stoker. He ascribed several disorders to evil spirit, which he divided into different kinds. It was alleged that as soon as the possessed saw him, or heard his voice, they fell on the ground, or into violent agitation. He cured them as he did other sick persons, by stroking.
Greatraks could not, however, convince every one of the reality of his miraculous gift; many wrote violently again him, but he found some zealous advocates, even among the Faculty. He himself published, in 1666, a letter addressed to the celebrated Robert Boyle, (President of the Royal Society of London), in which be gave a succinct history of his life, from which the above particulars are extracted. He annexed to this pamphlet a great number of certificates, signed by persons of known probity, and among others by Boyle, and by the celebrated Drs. Wilkins, Whichcot, Cudworth, and Patrick, who attested the truth of some wonderful cures that he had wrought.
Notwithstanding all this, Greatraks reputation did not last much longer than that of James Ayimar. It appeared at length that all these miraculous causes were only built on the credulity of the public.
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 1886), 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.
- Elmer 2013, pp. 17, 181.
- Urban 1779, p. 22.
- Gordon 1896, p. 143.
- Lalor 2003, p. 457.
- Urban 1779, p. 22 notes see a humorous account of his stroking, in King's Works, vol. II. p. 46.
- Urban 1779, p. 22 notes: This letter was entitled: A brief Account of Mr. Valentine Greatraks, and divers of the strange Cures by him performed &c.. See also The Miraculous Conformist &c. By Henry Stubbs, M. D. printed at Oxford, 1666.
- Urban 1779, pp. 22–23.
- James Ayimar was a peasant of Dauphiny, who made much noise in France in 1692–1693, by the supposed marvellous effect of his diving rod.
- Urban 1779, p. 23.
- Frahe 2001.
- Elmer 2013, p. 63.
- Elmer 2013, p. 181.
- 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.