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Title: A History of Epidemics in Britain (Volume I of II) - from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of Plague
Author: Creighton, Charles
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A History of Epidemics in Britain (Volume I of II) - from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of Plague" ***

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  London: C. J. CLAY AND SONS,
  H. K. LEWIS,

  Leipzig: F. A. BROCKHAUS.


  from A.D. 664 to the Extinction of Plague



  [_All rights reserved._]



The title and contents-table of this volume will show sufficiently its
scope, and a glance at the references in the several chapters will show
its sources. But it may be convenient to premise a few general remarks
under each of those heads. The date 664 A.D. has been chosen as a
starting-point, for the reason that it is the year of the first pestilence
in Britain recorded on contemporary or almost contemporary authority, that
of Beda’s ‘Ecclesiastical History.’ The other limit of the volume, the
extinction of plague in 1665-66, marks the end of a long era of epidemic
sickness, which differed much in character from the era next following. At
or near the Restoration we come, as it were, to the opening of a new seal
or the outpouring of another vial. The history proceeds thenceforth on
other lines and comes largely from sources of another kind; allowing for a
little overlapping about the middle of the seventeenth century, it might
be continued from 1666 almost without reference to what had gone before.
The history is confined to Great Britain and Ireland, except in Chapter
XI. which is occupied with the first Colonies and the early voyages,
excepting also certain sections of other chapters, where the history has
to trace the antecedents of some great epidemic sickness on a foreign

The sources of the work have been the ordinary first-hand sources of
English history in general. In the medieval period these include the
monastic histories, chronicles, lives, or the like (partly in the editions
of Gale, Savile, Twysden, and Hearne, and of the English Historical
Society, but chiefly in the great series edited for the Master of the
Rolls), the older printed collections of State documents, and, for the
Black Death, the recently published researches upon the rolls of manor
courts and upon other records. From near the beginning of the Tudor
period, the Calendars of State Papers (Domestic, Foreign, and Colonial),
become an invaluable source of information for the epidemiologist just as
for other historians. Also the Reports of the Historical Manuscripts
Commission, together with its Calendars of private collections of papers,
have yielded a good many facts. Many exact data, relating more
particularly to local outbreaks of plague, have been found in the county,
borough, and parish histories, which are of very unequal value for the
purpose and are often sadly to seek in the matter of an index. The
miscellaneous sources drawn upon have been very numerous, perhaps more
numerous, from the nature of the subject, than in most other branches of

Medical books proper are hardly available for a history of English
epidemics until the Elizabethan period, and they do not begin to be really
important for the purpose until shortly before the date at which the
present history ends. These have been carefully sought for, most of the
known books having been met with and examined closely for illustrative
facts. In the latter part of the seventeenth century the best English
writers on medicine occupied themselves largely with the epidemics of
their own time, and the British school of epidemiology, which took a
distinguished start with Willis, Sydenham and Morton, was worthily
continued by many writers throughout the eighteenth century; so that the
history subsequent to the period here treated of becomes more and more
dependent upon medical sources, and of more special interest to the
profession itself.

Reference has been made not unfrequently to manuscripts; of which the more
important that have been used (for the first time) are a treatise on the
Sweating Sickness of 1485 by a contemporary physician in London, two
original London plague-bills of the reign of Henry VIII., and a valuable
set of tables of the weekly burials and christenings in London for five
years (almost complete) from 1578 to 1583, among the Cecil papers--these
last by kind permission of the Marquis of Salisbury.

Collecting materials for a British epidemiology from these various sources
is not an easy task; had it been so, it would hardly have been left to be
done, or, so far as one knows, even attempted, for the first time at so
late a period. Where the sources of information are so dispersed and
casual it is inevitable that some things should have been overlooked: be
the omissions few or many, they would certainly have been more but for
suggestions and assistance kindly given from time to time by various

The materials being collected, it remained to consider how best to use
them. The existing national epidemiologies, such as that of Italy by
Professor Corradi or the older ‘Epidemiologia Española’ of Villalba, are
in the form of Annals. But it seemed practicable, without sacrificing a
single item of the chronology, to construct from the greater events of
sickness in the national annals a systematic history that should touch and
connect with the general history at many points and make a volume
supplementary to the same. Such has been the attempt; and in estimating
the measure of its success it may be kept in mind that it is the first of
the kind, British or foreign, in its own department. The author can hardly
hope to have altogether escaped errors in touching upon the general
history of the country over so long a period; but he has endeavoured to go
as little as possible outside his proper province and to avoid making
gratuitous reflections upon historical characters and events. The greater
epidemic diseases have, however, been discussed freely--from the
scientific side or from the point of view of their theory.

It remains to acknowledge the liberality of the Syndics of the Cambridge
University Press in the matter of publication, and the friendly interest
taken in the work by their Chairman, the Master of Peterhouse.

_November, 1891._





  The plague of 664-684 described by Beda, and its probable
  relation to the plague of Justinian’s reign, 542-                      4

  Other medieval epidemics not from famine                               9

  Chronology of Famine Sicknesses, with full accounts of those
  of 1194-7, 1257-9, and 1315-16                                        15

  Few traces of epidemics of Ergotism; reason of England’s
  immunity from _ignis sacer_                                           52

  Generalities on medieval famines in England                           65



  Medieval meanings of _lepra_                                          69

  Biblical associations of Leprosy                                      79

  Medieval religious sentiment towards lepers                           81

  Leprosy-prevalence judged by the leper-houses,--their number
  in England, special destination, and duration                         86

  Leper-houses in Scotland and Ireland                                  99

  The prejudice against lepers                                         100

  Laws against lepers                                                  106

  Things favouring Leprosy in the manner of life--Modern analogy
  of Pellagra                                                          107



  Arrival of the Black Death, and progress through Britain, with
  contemporary English and Irish notices of the symptoms               114

  Inquiry into the extent of the mortality                             123

  Antecedents of the Black Death in the East--Overland China
  trade--Favouring conditions in China                                 142

  The Theory of Bubo-Plague                                            156

  Illustrations from modern times                                      163

  Summary of causes, and of European favouring conditions              173



  Efforts to renew the war with France                                 177

  Direct social and economic consequences in town and country          180

  More lasting effects on farming, industries and population           190

  Epidemics following the Black Death                                  202

  Medieval English MSS. on Plague                                      208

  The 14th century chronology continued                                215

  The public health in the 15th century                                222

  Chronology of Plagues, 15th century                                  225

  Plague &c. in Scotland and Ireland, 1349-1475                        233



  The First invasion of the Sweat in 1485                              237

  The Second outbreak in 1508                                          243

  The Third Sweat in 1517                                              245

  The Fourth Sweat in 1528                                             250

  Extension of the Fourth Sweat to the Continent in 1529               256

  The Fifth Sweat in 1551                                              259

  Antecedents of the English Sweat                                     265

  Endemic Sweat of Normandy                                            271

  Theory of the English Sweat                                          273

  Extinction of the Sweat in England                                   279



  Chronology of the outbreaks of Plague in London, provincial
  towns, and the country generally, from 1485 to 1556                  282

  The London Plague of 1563                                            304

  Preventive practice in Plague-time under the Tudors                  309

  Sanitation in Plantagenet and Tudor times                            322

  The disposal of the dead                                             332

  Chronology of Plague 1564-1592--Vital statistics of London
  1578-1583                                                            337

  The London Plague of 1592-1593                                       351

  Plague in the Provinces, 1592-1598                                   356

  Plague in Scotland, 1495-1603--Skene on the Plague (1568)            360

  Plague in Ireland in the Tudor period                                371



  The Black Assizes of Cambridge, 1522                                 375

  Oxford Black Assizes, 1577                                           376

  Exeter Black Assizes, 1586                                           383

  Increase of Pauperism, Vagrancy, &c. in the Tudor period             387

  Influenzas and other “strange fevers” and fluxes, 1540-1597          397



  Meagreness of English records                                        414

  Evidence of its invasion of Scotland and England, in 1497 and
  subsequent years                                                     417

  English writings on the Pox in the Elizabethan period, with
  some notices for the Stuart period                                   423

  The circumstances of the great European outbreak in 1494--
  Invasion of Italy by Charles VIII.                                   429



  First accounts of Smallpox in Arabic writings--Nature of the
  disease                                                              439

  European Smallpox in the Middle Ages                                 445

  Measles in medieval writings--Origin of the names “measles”
  and “pocks”                                                          448

  First English notices of Smallpox in the Tudor period                456

  Great increase of Smallpox in the Stuart period                      463

  Smallpox in Continental writings of the 16th century                 467



  Growth of London in the Tudor and Stuart periods                     471

  The London Plague of 1603                                            474

  Annual Plague in London after 1603                                   493

  Plague in the Provinces, Ireland and Scotland, in 1603 and
  following years                                                      496

  Malignant Fever preceding the Plague of 1625                         504

  The London Plague of 1625                                            507

  Plague in the Provinces in 1625 and following years                  520

  The London Plague of 1636                                            529

  Fever in London and in England generally to 1643                     532

  War Typhus in Oxfordshire &c. and at Tiverton, 1643-44               547

  Plague in the Provinces, Scotland and Ireland during the
  Civil Wars                                                           555

  Fever in England 1651-52                                             566

  The Influenzas or Fevers of 1657-59                                  568



  Scurvy in the early voyages, north and south                         579

  The remarkable epidemic of Fever in Drake’s expedition of
  1585-6 to the Spanish Main                                           585

  Other instances of ship-fevers, flux, scurvy, &c.                    590

  Scurvy &c. in the East India Company’s ships: the treatment          599

  Sickness of Virginian and New England voyages and colonies           609

  Early West Indian epidemics, including the first of Yellow
  Fever--The Slave Trade                                               613

  The epidemic of 1655-6 at the first planting of Jamaica              634



  Literature of the Great Plague                                       646

  Antecedents, beginnings and progress of the London Plague of
  1665                                                                 651

  Mortality and incidents of the Great Plague--Characters of the
  disease                                                              660

  Plague near London and in the Provinces, 1665-66                     679

  The Plague at Eyam 1665-66                                           682

  The Plague at Colchester, 1665-66, and the last of Plague in
  England                                                              688


At p. 28 line 4, _for_ “for” _read_ “at.” At p. 126 line 2 _for_ “1351”
_read_ “1350;” same change at p. 130, lines 6 and 9. At p. 185 note 1
_read_ “Ochenkowski.” At p. 264 line 18, and at p. 554 line 11 from
bottom, read “_pathognomonicum_.” At p. 401, note 3 _for_ “1658” _read_
“1558.” At p. 420, line 17, _for_ “Henry IV.,” _read_ “Henry V.” At p.
474, line 4, _for_ “more” _read_ “less.” At p. 649 line 22 _omit_



The Middle Age of European history has no naturally fixed beginning or
ending. The period of Antiquity may be taken as concluded by the fourth
Christian century, or by the fifth or by the sixth; the Modern period may
be made to commence in the fourteenth, or in the fifteenth or in the
sixteenth. The historian Hallam includes a thousand years in the medieval
period, from the invasion of France by Clovis to the invasion of Italy by
Charles VIII. in 1494. We begin, he says, in darkness and calamity, and we
break off as the morning breathes upon us and the twilight reddens into
the lustre of day. To the epidemiologist the medieval period is rounded
more definitely. At the one end comes the great plague in the reign of
Justinian, and at the other end the Black Death. Those are the two
greatest pestilences in recorded history; each has no parallel except in
the other. They were in the march of events, and should not be fixed upon
as doing more than their share in shaping the course of history. But no
single thing stands out more clearly as the stroke of fate in bringing the
ancient civilization to an end than the vast depopulation and solitude
made by the plague which came with the corn-ships from Egypt to Byzantium
in the year 543; and nothing marks so definitely the emergence of Europe
from the middle period of stagnation as the other depopulation and social
upheaval made by the plague which came in the overland track of Genoese
and Venetian traders from China in the year 1347. While many other
influences were in the air to determine the oncoming and the offgoing of
the middle darkness, those two world-wide pestilences were singular in
their respective effects: of the one, we may say that it turned the key of
the medieval prison-house; and of the other, that it unlocked the door
after eight hundred years.

The Black Death and its after-effects will occupy a large part of this
work, so that what has just been said of it will not stand as a bare
assertion. But the plague in the reign of Justinian hardly touches British
history, and must be left with a brief reference. Gibbon was not
insensible of the part that it played in the great drama of his history.
“There was,” he says, “a visible decrease of the human species, which has
never been repaired in some of the fairest countries of the globe.” After
vainly trying to construe the arithmetic of Procopius, who was a witness
of the calamity at Byzantium, he agrees to strike off one or more ciphers,
and adopts as an estimate “not wholly inadmissible,” a mortality of one
hundred millions. The effects of that depopulation, in part due to war,
are not followed in the history. So far as Gibbon’s method could go, the
plague came for him into the same group of phenomena as comets and
earthquakes; it was part of the stage scenery amidst which the drama of
emperors, pontiffs, generals, eunuchs, Theodoras, and adventurers
proceeded. Even of the comets and earthquakes, he remarks that they were
subject to physical laws; and it was from no want of scientific spirit
that he omitted to show how a plague of such magnitude had a place in the
physical order, and not less in the moral order.

A new science of epidemiology has sprung up since the time of Gibbon, who
had to depend on the writings of Mead, a busy and not very profound Court
physician. More particularly the Egyptian origin of the plague of the
sixth century, and its significance, have been elucidated by the brilliant
theory of Pariset, of which some account will be given at the end of the
chapter on the Black Death. For the present, we are concerned with it only
in so far as it may have a bearing upon the pestilences of Britain. The
plague of the sixth century made the greatest impression, naturally, upon
the oldest civilized countries of Europe; but it extended also to the
outlying provinces of the empire, and to the countries of the barbarians.
It was the same disease as the Black Death of the fourteenth century, the
bubo-plague; and it spread from country to country, and lasted from
generation to generation, as that more familiar infection is known to have

Renewals of it are heard of in one part of Europe or another until the end
of the sixth century, when its continuity is lost. But it is clear that
the seeds of pestilence were not wanting in Rome and elsewhere in the
centuries following. Thus, about the year 668, the English
archbishop-elect, Vighard, having gone to Rome to get his election
confirmed by the Pope Vitalianus, was shortly after his arrival cut off by
pestilence, with almost all who had gone with him[2]. Twelve years after,
in 680, there was another severe pestilence in the months of July, August
and September, causing a great mortality at Rome, and such panic at Pavia
that the inhabitants fled to the mountains[3]. In 746 a pestilence is said
to have advanced from Sicily and Calabria, and to have made such
devastation in Rome that there were houses without a single inhabitant
left[4]. The common name for all such epidemics is _pestis_ or
_pestilentia_ or _magna mortalitas_, so that it is open to contend that
some other type than bubo-plague, such as fever or flux, may have been at
least a part of them; but no type of infection has ever been so mortal as
the bubo-plague, and a mortality that is distinguished by a chronicler as
causing panic and devastation was presumably of that type.

Pestilence in England and Ireland in the Seventh Century.

It is more than a century after the first great wave of pestilence had
passed over Europe in the reign of Justinian, before we hear of a great
plague in England and Ireland. Dr Willan, the one English writer on
medicine who has turned his erudition to that period, conjectures that the
infection must have come to this country from the continent at an earlier
date. From the year 597, he says, the progress of conversion to the
Christian religion “led to such frequent intercourse with Italy, France
and Belgium, that the epidemical and contagious disease prevailing on the
continent at the close of the sixth century must necessarily be
communicated from time to time through the Heptarchy[5].” Until we come to
the _Ecclesiastical History_ of Beda, the only authorities are the Irish
annals; and in them, the first undoubted entry of a great plague
corresponds in date with that of Beda’s history, the year 664. It is true,
indeed, that the Irish annals, or the later recensions of them, carry the
name that was given to the plague of 664 (_pestis ictericia_ or _buide
connaill_) back to an alleged mortality in 543, or 548, and make the
latter the “first _buide connaill_”; but the obituary of saints on that
occasion is merely what might have occurred in the ordinary way, and it is
probable, from the form of entry, that it was really the rumour of the
great plague at Byzantium and elsewhere in 543 and subsequent years that
had reached the Irish annalist[6].

The plague of 664 is the only epidemic in early British annals that can be
regarded as a plague of the same nature, and on the same great scale, as
the devastation of the continent of Europe more than a century earlier,
whether it be taken to be a late offshoot of that or not. The English
pestilence of 664 is the same that was fabled long after in prose and
verse as the great plague “of Cadwallader’s time.” It left a mark on the
traditions of England, which may be taken as an index of its reality and
its severity; and with it the history of epidemics in Britain may be said
to begin. It was still sufficiently recent to have been narrated by
eyewitnesses to Beda, whose _Ecclesiastical History_ is the one authentic
source, besides the entry in the Irish annals, of our information
concerning it.

The pestilence broke out suddenly in the year 664, and after
“depopulating” the southern parts of England, seized upon the province of
Northumbria, where it raged for a long time far and wide, destroying an
immense multitude of people[7]. In another passage Beda says that the same
mortality occurred also among the East Saxons, and he appears to connect
therewith their lapse to paganism[8].

The epidemic is said to have entered Ireland at the beginning of August,
but whether in 664 or 665 is not clear. According to one of those vague
estimates which we shall find again in connexion with the Black Death, the
mortality in Ireland was so vast that only a third part of the people were
left alive. The Irish annals do, however, contain a long list of notables
who died in the pestilence[9].

Beda follows his general reference to the plague by a story of the
monastery of Rathmelsigi, identified with Melfont in Meath, which he
heard many years after from the chief actor in it. Egbert, an English
youth of noble birth, had gone to Ireland to lead the monastic life, like
many more of his countrymen of the same rank or of the middle class. The
plague in his monastery had been so severe that all the monks either were
dead of it or had fled before it, save himself and another, who were both
lying sick of the disease. Egbert’s companion died; and he himself, having
vowed to lead a life of austerity if he were spared, survived to give
effect to his vow and died in the year 729 with a great name for sanctity
at the age of ninety.

The plague of 664 is said, perhaps on constructive evidence[10], to have
continued in England and Ireland for twenty years; and there are several
stories told by Beda of incidents in monasteries which show, at least,
that outbreaks of a fatal infection occurred here or there as late as 685.
Several of these relate to the new monastery of Barking in Essex, founded
for monks and nuns by a bishop of London in 676. First we have a story
relating to many deaths on the male side of the house[11], and then two
stories in which a child of three and certain nuns figure as dying of the
pestilence[12]. Another story appears to relate to the plague in a
monastery on the Sussex coast, seemingly Selsea[13]. Still another, in
which Beda himself is supposed to have played a part, is told of the
monastery of Jarrow, the date of it being deducible from the context as
the year 685.

Of the two Northumbrian monasteries founded by Benedict, that of Wearmouth
lost several of its monks by the plague, as well as its abbot Easterwine,
who is otherwise known to have died in March, 685. The other monastery of
Jarrow, of which Ceolfrith was abbot, was even more reduced by the
pestilence. All who could read, or preach, or say the antiphonies and
responses were cut off, excepting the abbot and one little boy whom
Ceolfrith had brought up and taught. For a week the abbot conducted the
shortened services by himself, after which he was joined by the voice of
the boy; and these two carried on the work until others had been
instructed. Beda, who is known to have been a pupil of Ceolfrith’s at
Jarrow, would then have been about twelve years old, and would correspond
to the boy in the story[14].

The nature of these plagues, beginning with the great invasion of 664, can
only be guessed. They have the look of having been due to some poison in
the soil, running hither and thither, as the Black Death did seven
centuries after, and remaining in the country to break out afresh, not
universally as at first, but here and there, as in monasteries. The
hypothesis of a late extension to England and Ireland of the great
European invasion of bubo-plague in 543, would suit the facts so far as we
know them. The one medical detail which has been preserved, on doubtful
authority, that the disease was a _pestis ictericia_, marked by yellowness
of the skin, and colloquially known in the Irish language as _buide
connaill_, is not incompatible with the hypothesis of bubo-plague, and is
otherwise unintelligible[15].

For the next seven centuries, the pestilences of Britain are mainly the
results of famine and are therefore of indigenous origin. So strongly is
the type of famine-pestilence impressed upon the epidemic history of
medieval England that the chroniclers and romancists are unable to
dissociate famine from their ideas of pestilence in general. Thus Higden,
in his reference to the outbreak of the Justinian plague at
Constantinople, associates it with famine alone[16]; and the metrical
romancist, Robert of Brunne, who had the great English famine of 1315-16
fresh in his memory, describes circumstantially the plague of 664 or the
plague of Cadwallader’s time, as a famine-pestilence, his details being
taken in part from the account given by Simeon of Durham of the harrying
of Yorkshire by William the Conqueror, and in part, doubtless, from his
own recent experience of a great English famine[17]. But before we come to
these typical famine-pestilences of Britain, which fill the medieval
interval between the foreign invasion of plague in Beda’s time and the
foreign invasion of 1348, it remains to dispose in this place of those
outbreaks on English soil which do not bear the marks of famine-sickness,
but, on the other hand, the marks of a virulent infection arising at
particular spots probably from a tainted soil. These have to be collected
from casual notices in the most unlikely corners of monastic chronicles;
but it is just the casual nature of the references that makes them
credible, and leads one to suppose that the recorded instances are only
samples of epidemics not altogether rare in the medieval life of England.

Early Epidemics not connected with Famine.

The earliest of these is mentioned in the annals of the priory of Christ
Church, Canterbury. In the year 829, all the monks save five are said to
have died of pestilence, so that the monastery was left almost desolate.
The archbishop Ceolnoth, who was also the abbot of the monastery, filled
up the vacancies with secular clerks, and he is said to have done so with
the consent of the five monks “that did outlive the plague.” The incident
comes into the Canterbury MS. of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle[18] under the
year 870, in connexion with the death of Ceolnoth and the action of his
successor in expelling the seculars and completing the original number of
regulars. So far as the records inform us, that great mortality within the
priory of Christ Church two centuries after it was founded by Augustine,
was an isolated event; the nearest general epidemic to it in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was a great mortality of man and beast about the
year 897 following the Danish invasion which Alfred at length repelled.

That such deadly intramural epidemics in monasteries were not impossible
is conclusively proved by the authentic particulars of a sudden and severe
mortality among the rich monks of Croyland at a much more recent
date--between the years 1304 and 1315. In the appendix to the chronicle of
Ramsey Abbey[19] there is printed a letter from Simon, abbot of Croyland,
without date but falling between the years above given, addressed to his
neighbours the abbots of Ramsey, Peterborough and Thorney, and the prior
of Spalding. The letter is to ask their prayers on the occasion of the
sudden death of thirteen of the monks of Croyland and the sickness of
others; that large number of the brethren had been cut off within fifteen
days--“potius violenter rapti quam fataliter resoluti[20].” The letter is
written from Daddington, whither abbot Simon had doubtless gone to escape
the infection.

These are two instances of deadly epidemics within the walls of English
monasteries. In the plague-years 664-685, and long after in the Black
Death, the mortalities among the monks were of the same degree, only there
was an easy explanation of them, in one if not in both cases, as being
part of an imported infection universally diffused in English soil. What
the nature of the occasional outbreaks in earlier times may have been, we
can only guess: something almost as deadly, we may say, as the plague
itself, and equally sudden. The experience was not peculiar to England. An
incident at Rome almost identical with that of Vighard in 668 is related
in a letter sent home in 1188, by Honorius the prior of Canterbury, who
had gone with others of the abbey on a mission to Rome to obtain judgment
in a dispute between the archbishop and the abbey, that the whole of his
following was stricken with sickness and that five were dead. John de
Bremble, who being also abroad was ordered to go to the help of the prior,
wrote home to the abbey that when he reached Rome only one of the brethren
was alive, and he in great danger, and that the first thing he had to do
on his arrival was to attend the cook’s funeral[21].

There is no clue to the type of these fatal outbreaks of sickness within
monastic communities. One naturally thinks of a soil-poison fermenting
within and around the monastery walls, and striking down the inmates by a
common influence as if at one blow. There are in the medieval history
previous to the Black Death a few instances of local pestilences among the
common people also, which differ from the ordinary famine-sicknesses of
the time. The most significant of these is a story told by William of
Newburgh at the end of his chronicle and probably dating from the
corresponding period, about the year 1196[22]. For several years there had
been, as we shall see, famine and fever in England; but the particular
incident does not relate to the famine, although it may join on to it. It
is the story of a ghost walking, and it comes from the village of Annan on
the Solway, having been related to the monk of Newburgh in Yorkshire by
one who had been an actor in it. A man who had fled from Yorkshire and
taken refuge in the village under the castle of Annan, was killed in a
quarrel about the woman whom he had married, and was buried without the
rites of the church. His unquiet ghost walked, and his corpse tainted the
air of the village; pestilence was in every house, so that the place which
had been populous looked as if deserted, those who escaped the plague
having fled. William of Newburgh’s informant had been in the midst of
these calamities, and had taken a lead in mitigating them; he had gone to
certain wise men living “in sacra dominica quae Palmarum dicitur,” and
having taken counsel with them, he addressed the people: “Let us dig up
that pestilence and let us burn it with fire” (_effodiamus pestem illam et
comburamus igni_). Two young men were, accordingly, induced to set about
the task. They had not far to dig: “repente cadaver non multa humo egesta
nudaverunt, enormi corpulentia distentum, facie rubenti turgentique supra

The story, like others of the kind with a mixture of legend in them, is
more symbolical than real. The wise men of Annan may have been in error in
tracing the plague of their village to a single corpse, but they were
probably on the right lines of causation. It is curious to observe in
another chronicler of the same period, Ralph of Coggeshall in Essex, and
in a part of his chronicle which relates to the last years of Richard I.,
and first years of John, a comment upon the action of Pope Innocent III.
(about 1200 A.D.) in interdicting all Christian rites save baptism by the
clergy in France: “O how horrible ... to refuse the Christian rite of
burial to the bodies of the dead, so that they infected the air by their
foetor and struck horror into the souls of the living by their ghastly
looks[23].” The same pope’s interdict of decent burial and of other
clerical rites extended to England in 1208, the famous Interdict of the
reign of John. It was the papal method of checkmating the kingdoms of this
world; that it was subversive of traditional decency and immemorial
sanitary precaution was a small matter beside the assertion of the
authority of Peter.

Rightly or wrongly, taught by experience or misled by fancy, the medieval
world firmly believed that the formal and elaborate disposal of the dead
had a sanitary aspect as well as a pious. The infection of the air, of
which we shall hear much more in connexion with the plague, was a current
notion in England for several centuries before the Black Death. Especially
does the dread of it find expression where corpses were unburied after a
battle, massacre, or calamity of nature. The exertions made in these
circumstances to bury the dead, even when all pious and domestic feeling
was hardened to the barest thought of self-preservation, are explained in
set terms as instigated by the fear of breeding a pestilence. The instinct
is as wide as human nature, and there is clear evidence in our own early
writers that its sanitary meaning was recognised. One such instance may be
quoted from the St Albans annalist of the time of John and first years of
Henry III.[24] In the year 1234, an unusually savage raid was made by the
Welsh as far as Shrewsbury; they laid waste the country by fire and sword;
wayfarers were horrified at the sight of naked and unburied corpses
without number by the road sides, preyed on by ravenous beasts and birds;
the foetor of so much corruption infected the air on all sides, so that
even the dead slew the living. The chronicler’s language, “quod etiam
homines sanos mortui peremerunt,” is marked by the perspicacity or
correctness which distinguishes him. When the bubo-plague came to be
domesticated in English soil more than a century later, the disposal of
the dead became a sanitary question of obvious importance. But even in the
centuries before the Black Death, and most of all in the times when the
traditional practices of decent burial were interdicted by Popes or turned
to mercenary purposes by clergy[25], we shall perhaps not err in looking
for one, at least, of the causes of localised outbreaks of pestilence in
the tainting of the soil and the air by the corruption of corpses
insufficiently buried and coffined.

There still remains, before we come to famine-sickness as the common type
of pestilence in medieval England, to discover from the records any
evidence of pestilence due to war and invasion. The domestic history from
first to last is singularly free from such calamities. The whole history
of Mohammedan conquest and occupation is a history of infection following
in the train of war; and in Western Europe, at least from the invasion of
Italy by Charles VIII., when the medieval period (according to Hallam)
closes, the sieges, battles, and campaigns are constantly associated with
epidemic sickness among the people as well as among the troops. There is
only one period in the history of England, that of the civil wars of the
Parliament and the Royalists, in which the people had a real taste of the
common continental experience. The civil wars of York and Lancaster, as we
shall see, touched the common people little, and appear to have bred no

Apart from civil war, there were invasions, by the Welsh and Scots on the
western and northern marches, and by the Danes. One instance of pestilence
following a Welsh raid in the thirteenth century has been given from Roger
of Wendover. A single instance is recorded in the history of the Danish
invasions. It has been preserved by several independent chroniclers, with
some variation in details; and it appears to have been distinguished by so
much notice for the reason that it illustrates the magnanimity, sanctity,
and miraculous power of St Elphege, archbishop of Canterbury.

In the year 1010 (or 1011 according to some), the Danes had stormed
Canterbury, burnt the fair city, massacred the inhabitants, or carried
them captive to their ships at Sandwich. The archbishop Elphege was put
on board a small vessel and taken (doubtless by the inland channel which
was then open from the Stour to the Thames) to Greenwich, where he was
imprisoned for seven months[26]. A council had assembled in London for the
purpose of raising forty thousand pounds to buy off the invaders.
According to the account used by Higden[27], Elphege refused to sanction
the payment of a ransom of three thousand pounds for his own person: he
was accordingly taken from prison, and on the 13th of the Calends of May,
1010, was stoned to death by the Danes disappointed of his ransom.
Therefore a pestilence fell upon the invaders, a _dolor viscerum_, which
destroyed them by tens and twenties so that a large number perished. The
earlier narrative of William of Malmesbury[28] is diversified by the
introduction of a miracle, and is otherwise more circumstantial. While the
archbishop was held in durance, a deadly sickness broke out among the
Danes, affecting them in troops (_catervatim_), and proving so rapid in
its effects that death ensued before they could feel pain. The stench of
their unburied bodies so infected the air as to bring a plague upon those
of them who had remained well. As the survivors were thrown into a panic,
“sine numero, sine modo,” Elphege appeared upon the scene, and having
administered to them the consecrated bread, restored them to health and
put an end to the plague.

Disregarding what is fabulous, we may take these narratives to establish
the fact that a swift and fatal pestilence did break out among the Danes
in Kent. It had consisted probably of the same forms of camp sickness,
including dysentery (as the name _dolor viscerum_ implies), which have
occurred in later times. It is the only instance of the kind recorded in
the early history.

Medieval Famine-pestilences.

The foregoing are all the instances of pestilence in early English
history, unconnected with famine, that have been collected in a search
through the most likely sources. The history of English epidemics,
previous to the Black Death, is almost wholly a history of famine
sicknesses; and the list of such famines with attendant sickness, without
mentioning the years of mere scarcity, is a considerable one.


  Year            Character                       Authority

  679     Three years’ famine in Sussex    Beda, _Hist. Eccles._ § 290
            from droughts

  793     General famine and severe        Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, _sub
            mortality                        anno_. Roger of Howden.
                                             Simeon of Durham

  897     Mortality of men and cattle      Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Florence
            for three years during and       of Worcester. Annales
            after Danish invasion            Cambriae (_anno_ 896)

  962     Great mortality: “the great      Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
            fever in London”

  976     Famine                           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Roger of

  984 }   Famine. Fever of men and         Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Roger of
  986 }     murrain of cattle                Howden. Simeon of Durham.
  987 }                                      Malmesbury. _Gest. Pontif.
                                             Angl._ p. 171. Flor. of
                                             Worcester. Roger of Wendover,
                                             _Flor. Hist._ Bromton (in
                                             Twysden). Higden

  1005    Desolation following expulsion   Henry of Huntingdon
            of Danes

  1036 }  Famine                           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Henry of
  1039 }                                     Huntingdon

  1044    Famine                           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

  1046    Very hard winter; pestilence     Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
            and murrain

  1048 }  Great mortality of men and       Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (_sub
  1049 }    cattle                           anno_ 1049). Roger of Howden.
                                             Simeon of Durham (_sub anno_

  1069    Wasting of Yorkshire             Simeon of Durham, ii. 188

  1086 }  Great fever-pestilence.          Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  1087 }    Sharp famine                     Malmesbury. Henry of
                                             Huntingdon, and most

  1091    Siege of Durham by the Scots     Simeon of Durham, ii. 339

  1093 }  Floods; hard winter; severe      Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Annals
  1095 }    famines; universal               of Winchester. William of
  1096 }    sickness and mortality           Malmesbury. Henry of
  1097 }                                     Huntingdon. Annals of Margan.
                                             Matthew Paris, and others

  1103 }  General pestilence and           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Roger of
  1104 }    murrain                          Wendover
  1105 }

  1110 }  Famine                           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Roger of
  1111 }                                     Wendover

  1112    “Destructive pestilence”         Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Annals
                                             of Osney. Annales Cambriae

  1114    Famine in Ireland; flight        Annals of Margan
            or death of people

  1125    Most dire famine in all          Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. William
            England; pestilence and          of Malmesbury, _Gest. Pont._
            murrain                          p. 442. Henry of Huntingdon.
                                             Annals of Margan. Roger of

  [1130   Great murrain                    Annals of Margan. Anglo-Saxon
                                             Chronicle (_sub anno_ 1131)]

  1137 }  Famine from civil war;           Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Annals
  1140 }    mortality                        of Winchester. Henry of
                                             Huntingdon (1138)

  1143    Famine and mortality.            Gesta Stephani, p. 98. William
                                             of Newburgh. Henry of

  1171    Famine in London in Spring       Stow, _Survey of London_

  1172    Dysentery among the troops       Radulphus de Diceto, _Imag.
            in Ireland                       Hist._ i. 348

  1173    “Tussis quaedam mala et          Chronica de Mailros

  1175    Pestilence; famine               Benedict of Peterborough. Roger
                                             of Howden

  1189    Famine and mortality             Annals of Margan. Giraldus
                                             Cambrensis, _Itin. Walliae_

  1194}   Effects of a five years’         Annals of Burton. William of
  1195}     scarcity; great mortality        Newburgh. Roger of Howden
  1196}     over all England                 iii. 290. Rigord. Bromton
  1197}                                      (in Twysden col. 1271).
                                             Radulphus de Diceto (_sub
                                             anno_ 1197)

  1201    Unprecedented plague of          Chronicon de Lanercost (probably
            people and murrain of            relates to 1203)

  1203    Great famine and mortality       Annals of Waverley. Annals of
                                             Tewkesbury. Annals of Margan.
                                             Ralph of Coggeshall (_sub
                                             anno_ 1205)

  1210    Sickly year throughout           Annals of Margan

  1234    Third year of scarcity;          Roger of Wendover. Annals of
            sickness                         Tewkesbury

  1247    Pestilence from September        Matthew Paris. Higden
            to November; dearth and          Annales Cambriae (_sub anno_
            famine                            1248)

  1257}   Bad harvests; famine and         Matthew Paris. Annals of
  1258}     fever in London and the          Tewkesbury. Continuator of M.
  1259}     country                          Paris (1259). Rishanger

  1268    Probably murrain only.           Chronicon de Lanercost

  1271    Great famine and pestilence      Continuator of William of
            in England and Ireland           Newburgh ii. 560 [doubtful]

  [1274   Beginning of a great imported    Rishanger (also _sub anno_
            murrain among                    1275). Contin. Fl. of
            sheep                            Worcester _sub anno_ 1276]

  1285    Deaths from heat and             Rishanger

  1294    Great scarcity; epidemics        Rishanger. Continuator of
            of flux                          Florence of Worcester p. 405.

  1315}   General famine in England;       Trokelowe. Walsingham, _Hist.
  1316}     great mortality from fever,      Angl._ i. 146. Contin.
            flux &c.; murrain                Trivet, pp. 18, 27. Rogers,
                                             _Hist. of Agric. and Prices_

  1322    Famine and mortality in          Higden. Annales Londinenses
            Edward II.’s army in
            Scotland; scarcity in

The period covered by this long list is itself a long one; and the
intervals between successive famine-pestilences are sometimes more than a
generation. A history of epidemics is necessarily a morbid history. In
this chapter of it, we search out the lean years, saying nothing of the
fat years; and by exclusively dwelling upon the dark side we may form an
entirely wrong opinion of the comforts or hardships, prosperity or
adversity, of these remote times. English writers of the earliest period,
when they use generalities, are loud in praise of the advantages of their
own island; until we come to the fourteenth century poem of ‘The Vision of
Piers the Ploughman’ we should hardly suspect, from their usual strain,
that England was other than an earthly paradise, and every village an
Auburn, “where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain.” There is a
poem preserved in Higden’s _Polychronicon_ by one Henricus, who is almost
certainly Henry archdeacon of Huntingdon in the time of Henry I., although
the poem is not included among the archdeacon’s extant verse. The subject
is ‘De Praerogativis Angliae,’ and the period, be it remarked, is one of
the early Norman reigns, when the heel of the conquering race is supposed
to have been upon the neck of the English. Yet this poem contains the
famous boast of ‘Merry England,’ and much else that is the reverse of

  “Anglia terra ferax et fertilis angulus orbis.
   Anglia plena jocis, gens libera, digna jocari;
   Libera gens, cui libera mens et libera lingua;
   Sed lingua melior liberiorque manus.
   Anglia terrarum decus et flos finitimarum,
   Est contenta sui fertilitate boni.
   Externas gentes consumptis rebus egentes,
   Quando fames laedit, recreat et reficit.
   Commoda terra satis mirandae fertilitatis
   Prosperitate viget, cum bona pacis habet[29].”

Or, to take another distich, apparently by Alfred of Beverley,

  “Insula praedives, quae toto non eget orbe,
   Et cujus totus indiget orbis ope.”

Or, in Higden’s own fourteenth century words, after quoting these earlier
estimates: “Prae ceteris gulae dedita, in victu et vestitu multum

On the other hand there is a medieval proverbial saying which places
England in a light strangely at variance with this native boast of
fertility, plenty, and abundance overflowing to the famished peoples
abroad: “Tres plagae tribus regionibus appropriari solent, Anglorum fames,
Gallorum ignis, Normannorum lepra”--three afflictions proper to three
countries, famine to England, St Anthony’s fire to France, leprosy to
Normandy[31]. Whatever the “lepra Normannorum” may refer to, there is no
doubt that St Anthony’s fire, or ergotism from the use of bread containing
the grains of spurred rye, was a frequent scourge of some parts of France;
and, in common repute abroad, famine seems to have been equally
characteristic of England. Perhaps the explanation of England’s evil name
for famines is that there were three great English famines in the medieval
history, before the Black Death, separated by generations, no doubt, but
yet of such magnitude and attended by so disgraceful circumstances that
the rumour of them must have spread to foreign countries and made England
a by-word among the nations. These were the famines of 1194-96, 1257-59,
and 1315-16. Of the first we have a tolerably full account by William of
Newburgh, who saw it in Yorkshire; of the second we have many particulars
and generalities by Matthew Paris of St Albans, who died towards the end
of it; and of the third we have an account by one of his successors as
historiographer at St Albans, John Trokelowe. All other references to
famine in England are meagre beside the narratives of these competent
observers, although there were probably two or three famines in the Norman
period equally worthy of the historian’s pen. For the comprehension of
English famine-pestilences in general, we ought to take the best recorded
first; but it will be on the whole more convenient to observe the
chronological order, and to introduce, as occasion offers, some
generalities on the types of disease which famine induced, the extent of
the mortalities, and the conditions of English agriculture and food-supply
which made possible occasional famines of such magnitude.

From the great plague “of Cadwallader’s time,” which corresponds in
history to the foreign invasion of pestilence in 664, until nearly the end
of the Anglo-Saxon rule, there is little recorded of famines and
consequent epidemic sickness. It does not follow that the period was one
of plenty and prosperity for the people at large. The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle is at no period detailed or circumstantial on the subject of
famines and pestilences; and although the entries become more numerous in
the last hundred years before the Chronicle came to an end in 1137, their
paucity in the earlier period probably means no more than the imperfection
of the record. Some of the generalities of Malthus might be applied to
help the imagination over a period of history which we might otherwise be
disposed to view as the Golden Age. One of these, originally written for
the South Sea Islands, is applicable to all romantic pictures of “rude
plenty,” such as the picture of the Anglo-Saxon household in _Ivanhoe_. It
has been remarked of Scott as a novelist that he always feeds everyone
well; but the picture, grateful to the imagination though it be, is
probably an illusion. “In a state of society,” says Malthus, “where the
lives of the inferior order of the people seem to be considered by their
superiors as of little or no value, it is evident that we are very liable
to be deceived with regard to the appearances of abundance”; and again:
“We may safely pronounce that among the shepherds of the North of Europe,
war and famine were the principal checks that kept the population down to
the level of their scanty means of subsistence.” The history of English
agriculture is known with some degree of accuracy from the thirteenth
century, and it is a history of prices becoming steadier and crops more
certain. It is not to be supposed that tillage was more advanced before
the Conquest than after it. On the other hand the probabilities are that
England had steadily emerged from a pastoral state. It would be unfair to
judge of the state of rural England at any time by the state of Wales in
the twelfth century, as it is described by Giraldus Cambrensis, or by the
condition of Ireland as described from the same traveller’s observations.
But in the absence of any concrete view of primitive England itself, the
picture of the two neighbouring provinces may be introduced here.

Ireland, says Giraldus, closely following Beda, is a fertile land
neglected; it had no agriculture, industries or arts; its inhabitants were
rude and inhospitable, leading a purely pastoral life, and living more
upon milk than upon meat. At the same time there was little sickness; the
island had little need of physicians; you will hardly ever find people ill
unless they be at the extremity of death; between continuous good health
and final dissolution there was no middle term. The excessive number of
children born blind, or deaf, or deformed, he ascribes to incestuous
unions and other sexual laxities[32].

The picture of Wales is that of a not less primitive society[33]. The
Welsh do not congregate in towns, or in villages, or in fortified places,
but live solitary in the woods; they build no sumptuous houses of stone
and lime, but only ozier booths, sufficient for the year, which they run
up with little labour or cost. They have neither orchards nor gardens, and
little else than pasture land. They partake of a sober meal in the
evening, and if there should be little or nothing to eat at the close of
day, they wait patiently until the next evening. They do not use
table-cloths nor towels; they are more natural than neat (_naturae magis
student quam nitori_). They lie down to sleep in their day clothes, all in
one room, with a coarse covering drawn over them, their feet to the fire,
lying close to keep each other warm, and when they are sore on one side
from lying on the hard floor, they turn over to the other. There are no
beggars among this nation. It is of interest, from the point of view of
the “positive checks” of Malthus, to note that Giraldus more than hints at
the practice of a grosser form of immorality than he had charged the Irish
with. Spinning and weaving were of course not unknown, for the hard and
rough blanket mentioned above was a native product. By the time that
Higden wrote (about 1340), he has to record a considerable advance in the
civilization of Wales. Having used the description of Giraldus, he adds:
“They now acquire property, apply themselves to agriculture, and live in
towns[34].” But in the reign of Henry II., it was found easy to bring the
rebellious Welsh to terms by stopping the supplies of corn from England,
upon which they were largely dependent[35].

Of the condition of Scotland in the twelfth century we have no such sketch
as Giraldus has left for Wales and Ireland. Uncivilized compared with
England, the northern part of the island must certainly have been, if we
may trust the indignant references by Simeon of Durham and Henry of
Huntingdon to the savage practices of the Scots who swarmed over the
border, with or without their king to lead them, or the remark by William
of Malmesbury concerning the Scots who went on the Crusade leaving behind
them the insects of their native country.

Giraldus intended to have written an itinerary or topography of England
also, but his purpose does not appear to have been fulfilled. Higden, his
immediate successor in that kind of writing a century and a half later, is
content, in his section on England, to reproduce the generalities of
earlier authors from Pliny downwards. Of these, we have already quoted the
‘Prerogatives of England’ by Henry of Huntingdon, from which one might
infer that the British Isles, under the Norman yoke, were the Islands of
the Blest. On the other hand, the impression made by the details of the
Domesday survey upon a historian of the soundest judgment, Hallam, is an
impression of poor cultivation and scanty sustenance. “There cannot be a
more striking proof,” he says, “of the low condition of English
agriculture in the eleventh century than is exhibited in Domesday book.
Though almost all England had been partially cultivated, and we find
nearly the same manors, except in the north, which exist at present, yet
the value and extent of cultivated ground are inconceivably small. With
every allowance for the inaccuracies and partialities of those by whom
that famous survey was completed, we are lost in amazement at the constant
recurrence of two or three carucates in demesne, with folkland occupied by
ten or a dozen villeins, valued all together at forty shillings, as the
return of a manor which now would yield a competent income to a

    Whether, the population at the Domesday survey were nearer two
    millions than one, the people were almost wholly on the land. Of the
    size of the chief towns, as the Normans found them, we may form a not
    incorrect estimate from the Domesday enumeration of houses held of the
    king or of other superiors[37]. London, Winchester and Bristol do not
    come at all into the survey. Besides these, the towns of the first
    rank are Norwich, York, Lincoln, Thetford, Colchester, Ipswich,
    Gloucester, Oxford, Cambridge, and Exeter.

    Norwich had 1320 burgesses in the time of Edward the Confessor; in the
    borough were 665 English burgesses rendering custom, and 480 bordarii
    rendering none on account of their poverty; there were also more than
    one hundred French households. Lincoln had 970 inhabited houses in
    King Edward’s time, of which 200 were waste at the survey. Thetford
    had 943 burgesses before the Conquest, and at the survey 720, with 224
    houses vacant. York was so desolated just before the survey that it is
    not easy to estimate its ordinary population; but it may be put at
    about 1200 houses. Gloucester had 612 burgesses. Oxford seems to have
    had about 800 houses; and for Cambridge we find an enumeration of the
    houses in nine of the ten wards of the town in King Edward’s time, the
    total being about 400. Colchester appears to have had some 700 houses,
    Ipswich 538 burgesses, with 328 houses “waste” so far as tax was
    concerned. Exeter had 300 king’s houses, and an uncertain number more.
    Next in importance come such places as Southampton, Wallingford,
    Northampton, Leicester, Warwick, Shrewsbury, Nottingham, Coventry,
    Derby, Canterbury, Yarmouth, Rochester, Dover, Sandwich (about 400
    houses), and Sudbury. In a third class may be placed towns like
    Dorchester, Ilchester, Bridport, Wareham, Shaftesbury, Bath,
    Chichester, Lewes, Guildford, Hythe, Romney, Pevensey, Windsor, Bath,
    Chester, Worcester, Hereford, Huntingdon, Stamford, Grantham,
    Hertford, St Albans, Torchesey, Maldon, each with from 100 to 200
    burgesses. Dover and Sandwich each supplied twenty ships, with crews
    of twenty-four men, for King Edward’s service during fifteen days of
    the year. In Hereford there were six smiths, each rendering one penny
    a year for his forge, and making 120 nails of the king’s iron. Many of
    these houses were exceedingly small, with a frontage of seven feet;
    the poorest class were mere sheds, built in the ditch against the
    town wall, as at York and Canterbury.

It would be within the mark to say that less than one-tenth of the
population of England was urban in any distinctive sense of the term.
After London, Norwich, York, and Lincoln, there were probably no towns
with five thousand inhabitants. There were, of course, the simpler forms
of industries, and there was a certain amount of commerce from the Thames,
the East Coast, and the Channel ports. The fertile soil of England
doubtless sustained abundance of fruit trees and produced corn to the
measure of perhaps four or six times the seed. There were flocks of sheep,
yielding more wool than the country used, herds of swine and of cattle.
The exports of wool, hides, iron, lead, and white metal gave occasion to
the importation of commodities and luxuries from Flanders, Normandy, and
Gascony. If there was “rude plenty” in England, it was for a sparse
population, and it was dependent upon the clemency of the skies. A bad
season brought scarcity and murrain, and two bad seasons in succession
brought famine and pestilence.

Of the general state of health we may form some idea from the Anglo-Saxon
leechdoms, or collections of remedies, charms and divinations, supposed to
date from the eleventh century[38]. The maladies to which the English
people were liable in these early times correspond on the whole to the
everyday diseases of our own age. There were then, as now, cancers and
consumptions, scrofula or “kernels,” the gout and the stone, the falling
sickness and St Vitus’ dance, apoplexies and palsies, jaundice, dropsies
and fluxes, quinsies and anginas, sore eyes and putrid mouth, carbuncles,
boils and wildfire, agues, rheums and coughs. Maladies peculiar to women
occupy a chief place, and there is evidence that hysteria, the outcome of
hardships, entered largely into the forms of sickness, as it did in the
time of Sydenham. Among the curiosities of the nosology may be mentioned
wrist-drop, doubtless from working in lead. One great chapter in disease,
the sickness and mortality of infants and children, is almost a complete
blank. It ought doubtless to have been the greatest chapter of all. The
population remained small, for one reason among others, that the children
would be difficult to rear. There is no direct evidence; but we may infer
from analogous circumstances, that the inexpansive population meant an
enormous infant mortality. The sounds which fell on the ear of Æneas as he
crossed the threshold of the nether world may be taken as prophetic, like
so much else in Virgil, of the experience of the Middle Ages:

  “Continuo auditae voces, vagitus et ingens
   Infantumque animae flentes, in limine primo:
   Quos dulcis vitae exsortes, et ab ubere raptos,
   Abstulit atra dies, et funere mersit acerbo.”

We come, then, to the chronology of famine-pestilences, and first in the
Anglo-Saxon period. The years from 664 to 685 are occupied, as we have
seen, by a great plague, probably the bubo-plague, which returned in 1348
as the Black Death, affecting, like the latter, the whole of England and
Ireland on its first appearance, and afterwards particular monasteries,
such as Barking and Jarrow. But it is clear that famine-sickness was also
an incident of the same years. The metrical romancist of the fourteenth
century, Robert of Brunne, was probably mistaken in tracing the great
plague of “Cadwaladre’s time” to famine in the first instance; there is no
such suggestion in the authentic history of Beda. But that historian does
make a clear reference to famine in Sussex about the year 679[39].
Describing the conversion of Sussex to Christianity by Wilfrid, he says
that the province had been afflicted with famine owing to three seasons of
drought, that the people were dying of hunger, and that often forty or
fifty together, “inedia macerati,” would proceed to the edge of the Sussex
cliffs, and, joining hands, throw themselves into the sea. But on the very
day when the people accepted the Christian baptism, there fell a
plenteous rain, the earth flourished anew, and a glad and fruitful season

The anarchy in Northumbria which followed the death of Beda (in 735), with
the decline of piety and learning in the northern monasteries, is said to
have led to famine and plague[41]. It is not until the year 793 that an
entry of famine and mortality occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is
in keeping with the disappointing nature of all these early records that
Simeon of Durham and Roger of Howden, the two compilers who had access to
lost records, are more particular in enumerating the portents that
preceded the calamity than in describing its actual circumstances. Then a
whole century elapses (but for a vague entry under the year 822) until we
come to the three calamitous years, with 897 as the centre, which followed
Alfred’s famous resistance to the Danes. In that mortality, many of the
chief thanes died, and there was a murrain of cattle, with a scarcity of
food in Ireland. Two generations pass before the chronicle contains
another entry of the kind: in 962 there was a great mortality, and the
“great fever” was in London. At no long intervals there are two more
famines, in 976 and 986. That of 986 (or 987) would appear to have been
severe; the church plate at Winchester was melted for the benefit of the
starving[42], and there was “a fever of men and a murrain of cattle[43].”
After the expulsion of the Danes in 1005, says Henry of Huntingdon, there
was such desolation of famine as no one remembered. Then in 1010 or 1011
comes the incident of St Elphege, already given. From 1036 to 1049 we find
mention of four, or perhaps five, famines, those of the years 1046 and
1049 being marked by a great mortality of men and murrain of cattle.

Except in Yorkshire, the Norman Conquest had no immediate effects upon the
people of England in the way of famine and pestilence. From the last great
mortality of 1049, a period of nearly forty years elapses until we come to
the great pestilence and sharp famine in the last year of the Conqueror’s
reign (1086-7). The harrying of Yorkshire, however, is too important a
local incident to be passed over in this history. Of these ruthless
horrors in the autumn of 1069 we have some particulars from the pen of
Simeon of Durham, who has contemporary authority. There was such hunger,
he says, that men ate the flesh of their own kind, of horses, of dogs, and
of cats. Others sold themselves into perpetual slavery in order that they
might be able to sustain their miserable lives on any terms (like the
Chinese in later times). Others setting out in exile from their country
perished before their journey was ended. It was horrible to look into the
houses and farmyards, or by the wayside, and see the human corpses
dissolved in corruption and crawling with worms. There was no one to bury
them, for all were gone, either in flight or dead by the sword and famine.
The country was one wide solitude, and remained so for nine years. Between
York and Durham no one dwelt, and travellers went in great fear of wild
beasts and of robbers[44]. William of Malmesbury says that the city of
York was so wasted by fire that an old inhabitant would not have
recognized it; and that the country was still waste for sixty miles at the
time of his writing (1125)[45]. In the Domesday survey we find that there
were 540 houses so waste that they paid nothing, 400 houses “not
inhabited,” of which the better sort pay one penny and others less, and
only 50 inhabited houses paying full dues.

The same local chronicler who has left particulars of the devastation of
1069-70, has given also a picture of the siege of Durham by Malcolm
Canmore in 1091, which may serve to realize for us what a medieval siege
was, and what the Scots marches had to endure for intervals during several

    Malcolm advancing drives the Northumbrians before him, some into the
    woods and hills, others into the city of Durham; for there have they
    always a sure refuge. Thither they drive their whole flocks and herds
    and carry their furniture, so that there is hardly room within the
    town for so great a crowd. Malcolm arrives and invests the city. It
    was not easy for one to go outside, and the sheep and cattle could not
    be driven to pasture: the churchyard was filled with them, and the
    church itself was scarcely kept clear of them. Mixed with the cattle,
    a crowd of women and children surrounded the church, so that the
    voices of the choristers were drowned by the clamour. The heat of
    summer adds to the miseries of famine. Every-where throughout the town
    were the sounds of grief, ‘et plurima mortis imago,’ as in the sack of
    Troy. The siege is raised by the miraculous intervention of St

The wasting of Yorkshire by William and the five incursions of the Scots
into Northumberland and Durham in the reign of Malcolm Canmore had the
effect of reducing a large part of the soil of England to a comparatively
unproductive state. The effacement of farms (and churches) in Hampshire,
for the planting of the New Forest, had the same effect in a minor degree.
The rigorous enforcement of the forest laws in the interests of the Norman
nobles must have served also to remove one considerable source of the
means of subsistence from the people. Whether these things, together with
the general oppression of the poor, contributed much or little to what
followed, it is the fact that the long period from the last two years of
William to the welcomed advent of Henry II. to the throne in 1154, is
filled with a record of famines, pestilences, and other national
misfortunes such as no other period of English history shows.

The first general famine and pestilence under Norman rule was in the years
1086 and 1087, the last of the Conqueror’s reign. It is probable from the
entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that the aggravation (for which we
must always look in order to explain a historical famine and pestilence)
was due to two bad harvests in succession. The year 1086 was “heavy,
toilsome and sorrowful,” through failure of the corn and fruit crops owing
to an inclement season, and through murrain of cattle[47]. Some form of
sickness appears to have been prevalent between that harvest and the next.
Almost every other man, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was stricken with
fever, and that so sharply that many died of it. “Alas! how miserable and
how rueful a time was then! when the wretched men lay driven almost to
death, and afterwards came the sharp famine and destroyed them quite.” It
is probably a careless gloss upon that, by a historian of the next
generation[48], when he says that “a promiscuous fever destroyed more than
half the people,” and that famine, coming after, destroyed those whom the
fever had spared[49]. But there can be no question that this was one of
those great periodic conjunctions of famine and fever (λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ
λοιμόν), of which we shall find fuller details in the chronicles of the
twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is easy to understand
that England, with all her wealth of fruits and corn in a good season, had
no reserve for the poor at least, and sometimes not even for the rich, to
get through two or more bad seasons with. How much the corn crop in those
days depended on the season is clear from the entry in the chronicle two
years after (1089), that reaping was still in progress at Martinmas (11
November) and even later. Fields cultivated to yield an average of only
four or six times the seed were, of course, more at the mercy of the
seasons than the highly cultivated corn-land of our own time.

The next famine with pestilence in England, seven years later, or in the
seventh year of William Rufus, introduces us to a new set of
considerations. It was the time when the exactions of tribute for the
king’s wars in Normandy, or for the satisfaction of his greed and that of
his court, were severely felt both by the church and the people. England,
says one[50], was suffocated and unable to breathe. Both clergy and
laity, says another[51], were in such misery that they were weary of life.
But the most remarkable phraseology is that of William of Malmesbury, the
chief historian of the period, who seldom descends from the region of high
political and ecclesiastical affairs to take notice of such things as
famine and pestilence. In the 7th year of Rufus, he says, “agriculture
failed” on account of the tributes which the king had decreed from his
position in Normandy. The fields running to waste, a famine followed, and
that in turn was succeeded by a mortality so general that the dying were
left untended and the dead unburied[52]. The phrase about the lack of
cultivation is a significant and not incredible statement, which places
the England of Rufus in the same light as certain belated feudal parts of
India within recent memory.

    In the villages of Gujerat, when the festival comes round early in
    May, the chief of a village collects the cultivators and tells them
    that it is time for them to commence work. They say: “No! the
    assessment was too heavy last year, you lay too many taxes upon us.”
    However, after much higgling, and presents made to the more important
    men, a day is fixed for cultivation to begin, and the clearing and
    manuring of the fields proceeds as before[53]. But while Gujerat was
    still possessed by hundreds of petty feudal chiefs under the Mahratta
    rule, previous to the establishment of the British Agency in 1821, the
    exactions of tribute by the Baroda government were so extreme, and
    enforced by so violent means[54], that cultivation was almost
    neglected; the towns and villages swarmed with idlers, who subsisted
    upon milk and ghee from their cows, while indolence and inactivity
    affected the whole community[55]. A dreadful famine had “raged with
    destructive fury” over Gujerat and Kattiwar for more than one year
    about 1812-13-14, which was followed, not by a contagious fever, but
    by the true bubo-plague.

If the English historian’s language, “agricultura defecit,” with
reference to the tribute exacted by Rufus, have that fitness which we have
reason to expect from him,--Higden varies it to “ita ut agricultura
cessaret et fames succederet,”--then the famine and mortality about the
years 1094-5 were due to no less remarkable a cause than a refusal to
cultivate the land. It is not to be supposed that the incubus of excessive
tribute passed away with the accession of Henry I. The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle repeats the complaint of heavy taxation in connexion with bad
harvests and murrains in 1103, 1105 and 1110[56]. Severe winters, or
autumn floods, with murrains and scarcity, are recorded also for the years
1111, 1115, 1116, 1117, 1124 and 1125, the famine of 1125 having been
attended with a mortality, and having been sufficiently great and general
to be mentioned by several chroniclers[57]. In the midst of these years of
scarcity and its effects upon the population, there occurs one singular
entry of another kind in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under the year 1112:
“This was a very good year, and very abundant in wood and in field; but it
was a very sad and sorrowful one, through a most destructive
pestilence[58].” Under the year 1130, the annalist of the Welsh monastery
of Margan, who is specially attentive to domestic events, records a
murrain of cattle all over England, which lasted several years so that
scarcely one township escaped the pest, the pigsties becoming suddenly
empty, and whole meadows swept of their cattle. It is to the same murrain
that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers under the year 1131: in towns where
there had been ten or twelve ploughs going there was not one left, and the
man who had 200 or 300 swine had not one left; after that died the
domestic fowls.

These things happened from time to time in the comparatively prosperous
reign of Henry I. But with the death of Henry in 1135, there began a state
of misery and lawlessness lasting almost to the accession of Henry II. in
1154, beside which the former state of England was spoken of as “most
flourishing[59].” Besides the barbarities of the Scots and the Welsh on
the northern and western marches[60], there were the civil wars of the
factions of King Stephen and the Empress Maud, and the cruelties and
predations of the unruly nobles under the walls of a thousand newly-built
strongholds. A graphic account of the condition of England remains to us
from the pen of an eyewitness, the observant author of the _Gesta
Stephani_[61]. Under the year 1143 he writes that there was most dire
famine in all England; the people ate the flesh of dogs and horses or the
raw garbage of herbs and roots. The people in crowds pined and died, or
another part entered on a sorrowful exile with their whole families. One
might see houses of great name standing nearly empty, the residents of
either sex and of every age being dead. As autumn drew near and the fields
whitened for the harvest, there was no one to reap them, for the
cultivators were cut off by the pestilent hunger which had come between.
To these home troubles was added the presence of a multitude of barbarous
adventurers, without bowels of pity and compassion, who had flocked to the
country for military service. The occasion was one of those which cause
the archdeacon of Huntingdon to break out into his elegiac verse:

  “Ecce Stygis facies, consimilisque lues[62].”

“And in those days,” says another, “there was no king in Israel[63].” The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which comes to an end in this scene of universal
gloom, describes how one might go a day’s journey and never find a man
sitting in a town, or the land tilled, and how men who once were rich had
to go begging their bread, concluding with the words, “And they said
openly that Christ and His saints slept.”

Among the penances of Henry II. after the murder of Becket, there is
recorded his charity in feeding during a dearth ten thousand persons daily
from the first of April, 1171, until the harvest[64]. But, apart from a
reference to a flux among the troops in Ireland in 1172, from errors of
diet[65], the long reign of Henry II. is marked by only one record of
general pestilence. It is recorded by the best contemporary writer,
Benedict of Peterborough, and it is the first instance in which the number
of burials in a day (perhaps at Peterborough) is given. In the year 1175,
he says, there was in England and the adjacent regions a pestilential
mortality of men, such that on many days seven or eight corpses were
carried out to be buried. And immediately upon that pestilential mortality
there followed a dire famine[66]. It is to be observed that the famine is
explicitly stated to have come after the pestilence, just as in the great
mortality of 1087; and, as in the latter case, it may be that a hard
winter, with scarcity of food, brought a general sickness, and that the
scarcity had been raised to famine point by a second bad harvest. The
entry in the chronicle of Melrose for 1173 may refer to Scotland only: a
bad kind of cough, unheard of before, affected almost everyone far and
wide, whereof, “or from which pest,” many died. This is perhaps the only
special reference to “tussis” as epidemic until the influenzas of the
seventeenth century.

The comparative freedom of the long reign of Henry II. from famines and
national distress probably arose as much from good government as from the
clemency of the seasons. The country was growing rich by foreign trade. In
1190 the two leading Jews of York, Joyce and Benedict, were occupying
residences in the heart of the town like royal palaces in size and in the
sumptuousness of their furniture. The same historian, William of
Newburgh, who records the king’s protection of these envied capitalists,
mentions also his protection of “the poor, the widows and the orphans,”
and his liberal charities. That the king’s protection of his poorer
subjects was not unneeded, would be obvious if we could trust the
extraordinary account of the keen traders of London which is put by
Richard of Devizes into the mouth of a hostile witness[67]. The peoples of
all nations, it appears, flocked to London, each nationality contributing
to the morals of the capital its proper vices and manners. There was no
righteous person in London, no, not one; there were more thieves in London
than in all France[68]. In the entirely different account, of the same
date, by an enthusiastic Londoner, the monk Fitz-Stephen, the only
“plagues” of London are said to be “the immoderate drinking of fools and
the frequency of fires.” The city and suburbs had one hundred and
twenty-six small parish churches, besides thirteen greater conventual
churches; and it was a model to all the world for religious observances.
“Nearly all the bishops, abbots, and magnates of England are, as it were,
citizens and freemen of London; having there their own splendid houses, to
which they resort, where they spend largely when summoned to great
councils by the king or by their metropolitan, or drawn thither by their
own private affairs[69].” The archdeacon of London, of the same date,
Peter of Blois, in a letter to the pope, Innocent III., concerning the
extent of his duties and the smallness of his stipend, gives the parish
churches in the city at one hundred and twenty, and the population at
forty thousand[70]. The Germans who came in the train of Richard I. on
his return to England in 1194, after his release from the hands of the
emperor, were amazed at the display of wealth and finery which the
Londoners made to welcome back the king; if the emperor had known the
riches of England, they said, he would have demanded a heavier ransom[71].
The ransom, all the same, required a second, or even a third levy before
it was raised, owing, it was said, to peculation; and the ecclesiastics,
who held a large part of the soil, appear to have had so little in hand to
pay their share that they had to pledge the gold and silver vessels of the

The year of Richard’s accession, 1189, is given by the annalist of the
Welsh monastery of Margan, as a year of severe famine and of a mortality
of men. Probably it was a local famine, and it may well have been the same
in which Giraldus Cambrensis says that he himself saw crowds of poor
people coming day after day to the gates of the monastery of Margan, so
that the brethren took counsel and sent a ship to Bristol for corn[73].
The great and general famine with pestilence in Richard’s time was in the
years 1193, 1194, 1195, 1196 and 1197, and it appears to have been felt in
France, in the basin of the Danube, and over all Europe, as well as in
England. Of the pestilence which came with it in England we have an
exceptionally full account from the pen of William of Newburgh. The
monastery in which William wrote his history was situated among woods by
the side of a stream under the Hambledon hills in Yorkshire, on the road
between York and the mouth of the Tees; so that when he says of this
famine and pestilence, “we speak what we do know, and testify what we have
seen,” he may be taken as recording the experience of a sufficiently
typical region of rural England.

His narrative of the pestilence[74] is given under the year 1196, which
was the fourth year of the scarcity or famine: After the crowds of poor
had been dying on all sides of want, a most savage plague ensued, as if
from air corrupted by dead bodies of the poor. This pestilence showed but
little respect even for those who had abundance of food; and as to those
who were in want, it put an end to their long agony of hunger. The disease
crept about everywhere, always of one type, namely that of an acute fever.
Day after day it seized so many, and finished so many more, so that there
were scarcely to be found any to give heed to the sick or to bury the
dead. The usual rites of burial were omitted, except in the case of some
nobler or richer person; at whatever hour anyone died the body was
forthwith committed to the earth, and in many places great trenches were
made if the number of corpses was too great to afford time for burying
them one by one. And as so many were dying every day, even those who were
in health fell into low spirits, and went about with pale faces,
themselves the living picture of death. In the monasteries alone was this
pestilence comparatively unfelt. After it had raged on all sides for five
or six months, it subsided when the winter cold came.

Those lean years were doubtless followed by seven fat years; for it is not
until 1203, the fourth year of John, that we again meet with the records
of famine and pestilence. From various monasteries, from Waverley in
Sussex, Tewkesbury in Gloucester and Margan in Glamorgan, we have the same
testimony--“fames magna et mortalitas,” “fames valida, et saeva mortalitas
multitudinem pauperum extinguit,” “maxima fames.” The monks of Waverley
had to leave their own house and disperse themselves through various
monasteries. Two years after, 1205, there came so hard a season that the
winter-sown seed was almost killed by frost. The Thames was crossed on the
ice, and there was no ploughing for many weeks. An Essex annalist says
there was a famine, and quotes the famine prices: a quarter of wheat was
sold for a pound in many parts of England, although in Henry II.’s time it
was often as low as twelve pence; a quarter of beans ten shillings; a
quarter of oats forty pence, which used to be four pence[75]. The annalist
at Margan enters also the year 1210 as a sickly one throughout

We are now come to the period when we can read the succession of these
events in the domestic life of the people from the more trustworthy
records of the St Albans school of historians. Of the scarcity and
sickness among the poor in 1234 we have some suggestive particulars by
Roger of Wendover[77], and for the series of famines and epidemics from
1257 to 1259 we have a comparatively full account by his famous successor
in the office of historiographer to the abbey, Matthew Paris[78]. The next
St Albans _scriptorius_, Rishanger[79], notes the kind of harvest every
year from 1259 to 1305, and for only one of those years after the scarcity
of 1259 was past, namely the year 1294, does he speak of the people dying
of hunger. His successor, John Trokelowe[80], carries on the annals to
1323, and gives us some particulars, not without diagnostic value, of the
great famine-sickness of 1315-16, and of the succession of dear years of
which the epidemic was an incident. It is on these contemporary accounts
by the St Albans school, together with the record for the year 1196 by
William of Newburgh, that our knowledge of the famine-pestilences of
England must be based.

With the harvest of 1259 begins the tabulation of agricultural prices from
farm-bailiffs’ accounts, by Professor Thorold Rogers, a work of vast
labour in which the economic history of the English people is written in
indubitable characters, and by means of which we are enabled to check the
more general and often rhetorical statements of the contemporary

Although the history of the last year or two of John and of the earlier
years of Henry III. is full of turbulence and rapine, yet we hear of no
general distress among the cultivators of the soil. The contemporary
authority, Roger of Wendover, has no entry of the kind until 1234,
excepting a single note under the year 1222, that wheat rose to twelve
shillings the quarter. We hear of king John and his following as
plundering the rich churchmen and laymen all the way from St Albans to
Nottingham, of William Longspée, earl of Salisbury, carrying on the same
practices in the counties of Essex, Middlesex, Hertford, Cambridge and
Huntingdon, of the spoliation of the Isle of Ely, and of the occupation of
towns and villages in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk by Louis, Dauphin of
France, the king-elect, or broken reed, on whom the Barons of Magna Charta
thought for a time to lean[81]. But the whole of that period, and of the
years following until 1234, is absolutely free from any record of
wide-spread distress among the lower class. We are reminded of the
observation by Philip de Comines, with the civil wars of York and
Lancaster in his mind, a saying which is doubtless true of all the
struggles in England for the settlement of the respective claims of king
and aristocracy: “England has this peculiar grace,” says the French
statesman, “that neither the country, nor the people, nor the houses are
wasted or demolished; but the calamities and misfortunes of the war fall
only upon the soldiers and especially the nobility, of whom they are more
than ordinarily jealous: for nothing is perfect in this world.” That
cannot apply of course to the barbarous incursions of the Scots and the
Welsh; for the northern marches were often reduced to desolation during a
period of three hundred years after the Conquest and were never more
desolate than in the reign of Richard II.; while the marches of Wales were
subject to not less ruthless spoliations until the concessions to the
Welsh by Edward I. Nor is the immunity of the peasantry from the troubles
of civil war to be taken as absolute; for we find under the year 1264,
when Simon de Montfort was in the field against the king, an explicit
statement that the small peasantry were plundered even to the poor
furniture of their cottages. But on the whole we may take it that the
paralysing effect of civil war seldom reached to the English lower classes
in the medieval period, that the tenour of their lives was seldom
disturbed except by famine or plague, and that kings and nobles were left
to fight it out among themselves.

We become aware, however, from the time of the Great Charter, and during
the steady growth of the country’s prosperity, of a widening chasm between
the rich and the poor within the ranks of the commons themselves, and that
too, not only in the centres of trade (as we shall see), but also in
country districts. The claims of feudal service did not prevent some among
the villagers from adding house to house, and field to field, thereby
marking in every parish the interval between the thriving and comfortable
and a residuum of _pauperes_ composed of the less capable or the less
fortunate. A curious story, told by Roger of Wendover of the village of
Abbotsley near St Neots, will serve as an illustration of a fact which we
might be otherwise well assured of from first principles[82].

The year 1234 was the third of a succession of lean years. So sharp was
the famine before the harvest of that year, that crowds of the poor went
to the fields in the month of July, and plucked the unripe ears of corn,
rubbing them in their hands and eating the raw grain. The St Albans monk
is full of indignation against the prevailing spirit of avarice which
reduced some of the people to that sad necessity: Alms had everywhere gone
out of fashion; the rich, abounding in all manner of temporal goods, were
so smitten with blind greed that they suffered Christian men, made in the
image of God, to die for want of food. Some, indeed, were so impious as to
say that their wealth was due to their own industry, and not to the gift
of God. Of that mind seem to have been the more prosperous cultivators of
the village of Abbotsley “who looked on the needy with an eye of

    The following story is told of them. Seeing the poor making free with
    their corn in the ear, they assembled in the parish church on a Sunday
    in August, and assailed the parson with their clamours, demanding that
    he would forthwith pronounce the ban of the Church upon those who
    helped themselves to the ears of corn. The parson, notwithstanding a
    well-known precedent in the Gospels, was about to yield to their
    insistence, when a man of religion and piety rose in the congregation
    and adjured the priest, in the name of God and all His saints, to
    refrain from the sentence, adding that those who were in need were
    welcome to help themselves to his own corn. The others, however,
    insisted, and the parson was just beginning to ban the pilferers, when
    a thunderstorm suddenly burst, with hail and torrents of rain. When
    the storm had passed, the peasants went out to find their crops
    destroyed,--all but that one simple and just man who found his corn

We have only to recall the minute subdivisions of the common field, or
fields, of the parish into half-acre strips separated by balks of turf,
and the fact that no two half-acres of the same cultivator lay together,
to realize how nice must have been the discrimination[84].

But the moral of the story is obvious. It is an appeal to the teaching and
the sanction of the Gospels, against the rooted belief of the natural man
that he owes what he has to his own industry and thrift, and that it is no
business of his to part with his goods for the sustenance of a helpless
and improvident class.

The spirit of avarice, according to Wendover, permeated all classes at
this period, from high ecclesiastics downwards. Walter, archbishop of
York, had his granaries full of corn during the scarcity, some of it five
years old. When the peasants on his manors asked to be supplied from these
stores in the summer of 1234, the archbishop instructed his bailiffs to
give out the old corn on condition of getting new for it when the harvest
was over. It need not be told at length how the archbishop’s barns at
Ripon were found on examination to be infested with vermin, how the corn
had turned mouldy and rotten, and how the whole of it had to be destroyed
by fire[85]. Of the same import are the raids upon the barns of the alien
or Italian clergy in 1228, in the diocese of Winchester and elsewhere, and
the ostentatious distribution by the raiders of doles to the poor[86].

The somewhat parallel course of public morality in the centres of trade,
or, as Wendover would call it, the prevalence of avarice, demands a brief
notice for our purpose.

In every state of society, there will of course be rich and poor. But a
class of _pauperes_ seems to emerge more distinctly in the life of England
from about the beginning of the thirteenth century. The period corresponds
to the appearance on the scene of St Francis and his friars. Doubtless St
Francis was inspired by a true sense of what the time needed, even if it
be open to contend that his ministrations of charity brought out,
consolidated, and kept alive a helpless class who would have been less
heard of if they had been left to the tender mercies of economic
principles. The mission of the friars was not merely to the poor; it was
also to the rich, whether of the church or of the world, “to soften the
hardness of their hearts by the oil of preaching[87].” It was one of these
interpositions, ever needed and never wanting, to reduce the inequalities
of the human lot, not by preaching down-right theoretical communism, but,
more by force of rhetoric than of logic, to extort from the strong some
concessions to the weak, to mitigate the severity of the struggle for
existence, and to bring the respectable vices of greed and sharp practice
to the bar of conscience.

As early as 1196 there is the significant incident, in the city of London,
of the rising of the poorer class and the middling class, headed by
Fitzosbert Longbeard, himself one of the privileged citizens, against an
assessment in which the class represented by the mayor and aldermen were
alleged to have been very tender of their own interests[88]. Longbeard was
hailed as “the friend of the poor,” and, having lost his life in their
cause (whether in the street before Bow Church, or on a gallows at Tyburn,
or at the Smithfield elms, the narratives are not agreed), he is
celebrated by the sympathetic Matthew Paris as “the martyr of the
poor[89].” That historian continues, after the manner of his predecessor
Wendover, to speak of Londoners as on the one hand the “mediocres,
populares et plebei,” and on the other hand the “divites.” In 1258 the
latter class overreached themselves: they were caught in actual vulgar
peculation of money raised by assessment for repairing the city walls;
some of them were thrown into prison and only escaped death through the
royal clemency at the instance of the notorious pluralist John Mansel, and
on making restitution of their plunder; but one of them, the mayor, never
recovered the blow to his respectability, and died soon after of
grief[90]. Whether it meant a wide-spread spirit of petty fraud, or some
unadjusted change in value, the young king in 1228, during a journey from
York to London, took occasion along his route to destroy the “false
measures” of corn, ale and wine, to substitute more ample measures, and to
increase the weight of the loaf.

The scarcity or famine of 1234, to which the Abbotsley incident belongs,
was accompanied, says the St Albans annalist, by a mortality which raged
cruelly everywhere. On the other hand the annalist of Tewkesbury may be
credited when he says that, although the year was one of scarcity, corn
being at eight shillings, yet “by the grace of God the poor were better
sustained than in other years[91].”

There was an epidemic in 1247, but it is not clear whether it was due to
famine. Although Higden, quoting from some unknown record, says that there
was dearth in England in that year, wheat being at twelve shillings the
quarter, yet he does not mention sickness at all; and Matthew Paris, who
was then living, is explicit that the harvest of 1247 was an abundant one,
and that the mortality did not begin until September of that year. There
does appear, however, to have been a sharp famine in Wales; and it is
recorded that the bishop of Norwich, “about the year 1245,” in a time of
great dearth, sold all his plate and distributed it to the poor[92]. All
that we know of this epidemic is the statement of Matthew Paris, that it
began in September and lasted for three months; and that as many as nine
or ten bodies were buried in one day in the single churchyard of St
Peter’s at Saint Albans[93].

Matthew Paris notes the quality of the harvest and the prices of grain
every year, and his successor Rishanger continues the practice. The prices
noted appear, from comparison with those tabulated by Thorold Rogers from
actual accounts, to have been the lowest market rates of the year. The
harvest of 1248 was plentiful, and wheat sold at two shillings and
sixpence a quarter. In 1249 and 1250 it was at two shillings, oats being
at one shilling. But those years of exceptional abundance were followed at
no long interval by a series of years of scarcity or famine, which brought
pestilential sickness of the severest kind.

The scarcity or famine in the years 1256-59 was all the more acutely felt
owing to the dearth of money in the country. The burden of the history of
Matthew Paris before he comes to the famine is that England had been
emptied of treasure by the exactions of king and pope. Henry III. was
under some not quite intelligible obligation of money to his brother, the
earl of Cornwall. The English earl was a candidate for the Imperial crown,
and had got so far towards the dignity of emperor as to have been made
king of the Germans. It was English money that went to pay his German
troops, and to further his cause with the electoral princes; but the
circulating coin of England does not appear to have sufficed for these and
domestic purposes also. The harvest of 1256 had been spoiled by wet, and
the weather of the spring of 1257 was wretched in the extreme. All England
was in a state of marsh and mud, and the roads were impassable. Many sowed
their fields over again; but the autumn proved as wet as the rest of the
year. “Whatever had been sown in winter, whatever had germinated in
spring, whatever the summer had brought forward--all was drowned in the
floods of autumn.” The want of coins in circulation caused unheard-of
poverty. At the end of the year the fields lay untilled, and a multitude
of people were dead of famine. At Christmas wheat rose to ten shillings a
quarter. But the year 1257 appears to have had “lethal fevers” before the
loss of the harvest of that year could be felt. Not to mention other
places, says the St Albans historian, there was at St Edmundsbury in the
dog-days so great a mortality that more than two thousand bodies were
buried in its spacious cemetery[94].

The full effects of the famine were not felt until the spring of 1258. So
great was the pinch in London from the failure of the crops and the want
of money that fifteen thousand[95] are said to have died of famine, and of
a grievous and wide-spread pestilence that broke out about the feast of
the Trinity (19 May).

The earl of Cornwall (and king of Germany) who had relieved the country of
a great part of its circulating coin, took the opportunity to buy up corn
in Germany and Holland for the supply of the London market. Fifty great
ships, says Matthew Paris, arrived in the Thames laden with wheat, barley,
and other grain. Not three English counties had produced as much as was
imported. The corn was for such as could buy it; but the king interposed
with an edict that, whereas greed was to be discouraged, no one was to buy
the foreign corn in order to store it up and trade in it. Those who had no
money, we are expressly told, died of hunger, even after the arrival of
the ships; and even men of good position went about with faces pinched by
hunger, and passed sleepless nights sighing for bread. No one had seen
such famine and misery, although many would have remembered corn at higher
prices. The price quoted about this stage of the narrative, although not
with special reference to the foreign wheat, is nine shillings the
quarter. Elsewhere the price is said to have mounted up to fifteen
shillings, which may have been the rate before the foreign supply came in.
But such was the scarceness of money, we are told, that if the price of
the quarter of wheat had been less, there would hardly have been found
anyone to buy it. Even those who were wont to succour the miserable were
now reduced to perish along with them. It is difficult to believe that the
historian has not given way to the temptations of rhetoric, and it is
pleasing to be able to give the following complement to his picture. After
some 15,000 had died in London, mostly of the poorer sort, one might hear
a crier making proclamation to the starving multitude to go to a
distribution of bread by this or that nobleman, at such and such a place,
mentioning the name of the benefactor and the place of dole.

In other passages, which may be taken as picturing the state of matters in
the country, the historian says that the bodies of the starved were found
swollen and livid, lying five or six together in pig-sties, or on
dungheaps, or in the mud of farmyards. The dying were refused shelter and
succour for fear of contagion, and scarcely anyone would go near the dead
to bury them. Where many corpses were found together, they were buried in
capacious trenches in the churchyards.

We come now to the harvest of 1258. After a bleak and late spring the
crops had come forward well under excessive heat in summer, and the
harvest was an unusually abundant, although a late one. Rains set in
before the corn could be cut, and at the feast of All Saints (1 November)
the heavy crops had rotted until the fields were like so many dungheaps.
Only in some places was any attempt made to carry the harvest home, and
then it was so spoiled as to be hardly worth the trouble. Even the mouldy
grain sold as high as sixteen shillings a quarter. The famishing people
resorted to various shifts, selling their cattle and reducing their
households. How the country got through the winter, we are not told.
Matthew Paris himself died early in 1259, and the annalist who added a few
pages to the _Chronica Majora_ after his death, merely mentions that the
corn, the oil and the wine turned corrupt, and that as the sun entered
Cancer a pestilence and mortality of men began unexpectedly, in which many
died. Among others Fulk, the bishop of London, died of pestilence in the
spring of 1259; and, to say nothing of many other places, at Paris
----thousand (the number is left blank) were buried.

The vagueness of the last statement reminds us that we are now deprived of
the comparatively safe guidance of Matthew Paris. His successor in the
office of annalist at St Albans, Rishanger, is much less trustworthy. He
sums up the year 1259 in a paragraph which repeats exactly the facts of
the notorious year 1258, and probably applies to that alone; for the year
1260 his summary is that it was more severe, more cruel and more terrible
to all living things than the year before, the pestilence and famine being
intolerable. There is, however, no confirmation of that in the authentic
prices of the year collected by Thorold Rogers. Parcels of wheat of the
harvest of 1259 were sold at about five and six shillings, and of the
harvest of 1260 at from three shillings and sixpence to six shillings. For
a number of years, corresponding to the Barons’ war and the war in Wales,
the price is moderate or low, the figures of extant bailiffs’ accounts
agreeing on the whole with Rishanger’s summary statements about the
respective harvests[96]. The years from 1271 to 1273 were dear years, and
for the first of the series we find a doubtful record by the Yorkshire
continuator of William of Newburgh that there was “a great famine and
pestilence in England and Ireland[97].” The harvest of 1288 was so
abundant that the price of wheat in the bailiffs’ accounts is mostly about
two shillings, ranging from sixteen pence to four and eightpence.
Rishanger’s prices for the year are sufficiently near the mark: in some
places wheat sold at twenty pence the quarter, in others at sixteen pence,
and in others at twelve pence. From that extremely low point, a rise
begins which culminates in 1294. The chronicler’s statement for 1289, that
in London the bushel of wheat rose from threepence to two shillings, is
not borne out by the bailiffs’ accounts, which show a range of from two
shillings and eightpence to six shillings the quarter. But these accounts
confirm the statement that the years following were dear years, and that
1294 was a year of famine prices, wheat having touched fourteen shillings
at Cambridge, in July. Rishanger’s two notes are that the poor perished of
hunger, and that the poor died of hunger on all sides, afflicted with a
looseness (_lienteria_)[98]. The two years following are also given as
hard for the poor, but not as years of famine or sickness; the country was
at the same time heavily taxed for the expenses of the war which Edward I.
was waging against the Scots. Ordinary prosperity attends the cultivators
of the soil until the end of Rishanger’s chronicle in 1305; and from the
beginning of Trokelowe’s in 1307, the year of Edward II.’s accession,
there is nothing for our purpose until we come to the great famine of

It is clear, however, that prices were high in every year from 1309 until
that famine, with the single exception of the harvest of 1311. At the
meeting of Parliament in London before Easter in 1315, the dearth was a
subject of deliberation, and a King’s writ was issued attempting to fix
the prices at which fat oxen, cows, sheep, pigs, geese, fowls, capons,
chickens, pigeons and eggs should be sold on demand, subject to
confiscation if the sale were refused. The statute was ineffective (it was
repealed the year after), and provisions became dearer than ever. The
quarter of wheat, beans and peas sold for twenty shillings, of oats for
ten shillings, and of salt for thirty-five. When the king stopped at St
Albans at the feast of St Lawrence, says Trokelowe, it was hardly possible
to buy bread for the use of his household. The scarcity was most felt from
the month of May until the harvest. With the new crop, ruined as it was by
rains and floods, the scarcity lessened somewhat, but not before many had
felt the pinch of hunger, and others were seen (as the St Albans annalist
says he saw them) lying squalid and dead in the villages and by the
road-sides. At Midsummer, 1316, wheat rose to thirty shillings, and after
that as high as forty shillings (the highest price found by Thorold Rogers
is twenty-six shillings and eightpence at Leatherhead in July). The
various forms of famine-sickness are mentioned:--dysentery from corrupt
food, affecting nearly everyone, an acute fever which killed many, or a
putrid sore throat (_pestis gutturuosa_). To show the extremities to which
England was reduced, Trokelowe specially inserts the following: Ordinary
flesh was not to be had, but horse-flesh was eaten, fat dogs were stolen
to eat, and it was rumoured abroad that in many places both men and women
secretly ate the flesh of their own children, or of the children of
others. But the detail which Trokelowe justly thinks posterity will be
most horrified to read, is that prisoners in gaols set upon the thieves
newly brought in and devoured them alive.

It is probably the same famine and pestilence that we find worked into the
metrical romance of Robert of Brunne (1338), under the guise of the plague
‘in Cadwaladre’s time,’ that is, the pestilence recorded by Beda for the
year 664. The Lincolnshire romancist must have seen the famine and
pestilence of 1315-16, for he was then in the prime of life, and probably
he transferred his own experiences of famine and pestilence to the remote
episode of the seventh century, to which he devotes thirty-eight lines of
his romance. In Cadwaladre’s time the corn fails and there is great
hunger. A man may go for three days before he can buy any food in burgh,
or in city, or in upland; he may indeed catch wild creatures, or fishes,
or gather leaves and roots. Worse still, a plague comes, from rotten air
and wicked winds, so that hale men fall down suddenly and die; gentle and
bondmen all go, hardly any are left to till the land, the living cannot
bury the dead, those who try fall dead in the grave. Men leave house and
land, and few are left in the country. Eleven years does Britain lie waste
with but few folk to till the land[100].

After the famine of 1315-16, the third and last of the great and, one may
say, disgraceful famines which gave rise to the by-word “Anglorum fames,”
prices continued at their ordinary level for several years. But from 1320
to 1323 they again came to a height. To that period probably belongs a
mortality which is entered, in a chronicle of the next century[101], under
the year 1325. On the contemporary authority of Higden we know that, in
1322, the king went to Scotland about the feast of St Peter ad Vincula,
“and though he met not with resistance, lost many of his own by famine and
disease.” After that period of scarcity comes a long succession of cheap
years, covering the interval to the next great event in the annals of
pestilence that concerns us, the arrival of the Black Death in the autumn
of 1348. With that great event the history of English epidemics enters
upon a new chapter. There were, of course, years of dearth and scarcity in
the centuries following, but there were no great famine-pestilences like
those of 1196, 1258 and 1315.

The period of the great famines ought not to be left without another
reference to the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and the
keenness of traders which led them sometimes to incur the restraints of
government and the punishments of justice.

On 26 March, 1269, was issued one of those ordinances against
forestalling, of which many more followed for several centuries: no
citizen to go outside the city of London, either by road or river, to meet
victuals coming to market. In the 7th year of Edward I., clipping or
debasing the coinage was carried on so systematically that nearly three
hundred persons, mostly of the Hebrew race, were drawn and hanged for it.
In the 11th year of Edward I. (1283) a statute had been directed against
cheating by bakers and millers. Meanwhile the nobility retaliated by
plundering the traders and merchants at Boston fair, and the king settled
the account with these marauding nobles by hanging them. A statute of
1316, the second year of the famine, to fix the price of ale, has an
interest on account of its motive--“ne frumentum ulterius per potum
consumeretur.” The proportion of the corn of the country turned into malt,
or the amount diverted from bread to beer, may be guessed from the fact
that in London, for which the beer ordinance was first made, there were in
1309, brewhouses to the number of 1334, and taverns to the number of
354[102]. In the very year of great famine, 1316, an ordinance was issued
(in French, dated from King’s Langley) against extravagant
housekeeping[103]. In the year of great scarcity and mortality, 1322,
there was such a crowd for a funeral dole at Blackfriars (for the soul of
Henry Fingret) that fifty-five persons, children and adults, were crushed
to death in the scramble[104]. At the same time the prior of Christ
Church, Canterbury, was sitting down to dinners of seventeen dishes, the
cellarer had thirty-eight servants under him, the chamberlain and sacrist
had large numbers of people employed as tailors, furriers, launderers and
the like, and the servants and equipages of the one hundred and forty
brethren were numerous and splendid[105]. The monasteries, on which the
relief of the poor mostly depended, have been thus characterized:

    “From the end of the twelfth century until the Reformation,” says
    Bishop Stubbs, “from the days of Hubert Walter to those of Wolsey, the
    monasteries remained magnificent hostelries: their churches were
    splendid chapels for noble patrons; their inhabitants were bachelor
    country gentlemen, more polished and charitable, but little more
    learned or more pure in life than their lay neighbours; their estates
    were well managed, and enjoyed great advantages and exemptions; they
    were, in fact, an element of peace in a nation that delighted in war.
    But, with a few noble exceptions, there was nothing in the system that
    did spiritual service[106].”

There is little to be said, at this period, of the profession most
directly concerned with sickness, epidemic or other, namely the medical.
We become aware of its existence on rare occasions: as in the account of
the death of William the Conqueror at Rouen on 9 September, 1087, of the
illness and death of Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, on 13 July, 1205,
at one of his manors on a journey to Rochester[107], or in the reference
by William of Newburgh, to the noted Jewish physician of King’s Lynn,
whose honourable repute among the citizens for skill and modesty did not
save him from the murderous fanaticism against his race in 1190[108], or
in occasional letters of the time[109]. There were doubtless benevolent
men among the practitioners of medicine, then as now; but the profession
has never been one in which individuals could rise conspicuously above the
level of their age, and the moral standard of those centuries was a poor
one. It is not surprising, then, that John of Salisbury, indulging a taste
for epigram, should have characterized the profession of medicine in the
twelfth century as follows: “They have only two maxims which they never
violate, ‘Never mind the poor; never refuse money from the rich’[110].”

The one English physician whose writings have come down to us from the
period that we are still engaged with, is John of Gaddesden. There is
every reason to think that he was practising at the time of the famine and
pestilence of 1315-16; but it is not from his bulky treatise on medicine
that we learn the nosological types of the epidemic maladies of those
years. Some account of his _Rosa Anglica_ will be found in the chapter on
Smallpox; it must suffice to say here that he was a verbalist compiler
from other books, themselves not altogether original, and that, according
to Dr Freind, he displays no great knowledge of his profession.

It is nothing strange, therefore, that Gaddesden throws no light upon the
famine-pestilences of England, such as those of 1315-16, which he lived
through. Dysentery and lientery, he treats of almost in the very words of
Gilbertus Anglicus; but those maladies might have been among the dwellers
in another planet, so far as native experience comes in. He reproduces
whole chapters from his predecessors, on _synochus_ and _synocha_, without
a hint that England ever witnessed such scenes of hunger-typhus as the St
Albans chroniclers have recorded for us from their own observation. The
reference by Trokelowe to the prevalence of _pestis gutturuosa_ in 1316,
is one that a medical writer of the time might well have amplified; but
Gaddesden missed the opportunity of perhaps anticipating Fothergill’s
description of putrid sore-throat by more than four hundred years.

Epidemics of St Anthony’s Fire, or Ergotism.

One form of epidemic malady, intimately connected with bad harvests and a
poor state of agriculture, namely Ergotism, from the mixture of poisoned
grains in the rye or other corn, is conspicuously missed from English
records of the medieval period, although it plays a great part in the
history of French epidemics of the Middle Ages, under such names as _ignis
sacer_, _ignis S. Antonii_, or _ignis infernalis_. According to the
proverbial saying already quoted, France was as notorious for _ignis_ as
England for famine, and Normandy for lepra: “Tres plagae tribus regionibus
appropriari solent, Anglorum fames, Gallorum ignis, Normannorum
lepra[111].” The malady was of a nature to attract notice and excite pity;
it is entered by chroniclers, and is a frequent topic in French legends of
the Saints. Its occurrence in epidemic form can be traced in France, with
a degree of probability, as far back as 857 (perhaps to 590); six great
outbreaks are recorded in the tenth century, seven in the eleventh, ten in
the twelfth, and three in the thirteenth, the medieval series ending with
one in the year 1373. The estimates of mortality in the several epidemics
of ergotism over a larger or smaller area of France, range as high as
40,000, and 14,000, which numbers may be taken to be the roughest of
guesses; but in later times upwards of 500 deaths from ergotism have been
accurately counted in a single outbreak within a limited district. The
epidemics have been observed in particular seasons, sometimes twenty years
or more elapsing without the disease being seen; they have occurred also
in particular provinces--in the basin of the Loire, in Lorraine, and,
since the close of the medieval period, especially in the Sologne. The
disease has usually been traced to a spoiled rye crop; but there is
undoubted evidence from the more recent period that a poison with
corresponding effects can be produced in some other cereals, even in wheat

In a field of rye, especially after a wet sowing or a wet season of
growth, a certain proportion of the heads bear long brown or purple corns,
one or more upon a head, projecting in the shape of a cock’s spur, whence
the French name of ergot. The spur appears to be, and probably is, an
overgrown grain of rye; it is grooved like a rye-corn, occupies the place
of the corn between the two chaff-coverings, and contains an abundant
whitish meal. Microscopic research has detected in or upon the spurred rye
the filaments of a minute parasitic mould; so that it is to the invasion
by a parasite that we may trace the enormous overgrowth of one or more
grains on an ear, and it is probably to the ferment-action of the fungus
that we should ascribe the poisonous properties of the meal. The
proportion of all the stalks in a field so affected will vary
considerably, as well as the proportion of grains on each affected head of
corn[112]. Rye affected with ergot is apt to be a poor crop at any rate;
one or more spurred corns on a head tend to keep the rest of the grains
small or unfilled; and if there be many stalks in the field so affected,
the spurred grain will bulk considerably in the whole yield. When the
diseased grains are ground to meal along with the healthy grains, the meal
and the bread will contain an appreciable quantity of the poison of ergot;
and if rye-bread were the staple food, there would be a great risk, after
an unusually bad harvest, of an outbreak of the remarkable constitutional
effects of ergotism. Rye-bread with much ergot in it may be rather blacker
than usual; but it is said to have no peculiar taste.

It is almost exclusively among the peasantry that symptoms of ergotism
have been seen, and among children particularly. The attack usually began
with intense pains in the legs or feet, causing the victims to writhe and
scream. A fire seemed to burn between the flesh and the bones, and, at a
later stage, even in the bowels, the surface of the body being all the
while cold as ice. Sometimes the skin of affected limbs became livid or
black; now and then large blebs or blisters arose upon it, as in bad kinds
of erysipelas. Gangrene or sloughing of the extremities followed; a foot
or a hand fell off, or the flesh of a whole limb was destroyed down to the
bones, by a process which began in the deeper textures. The spontaneous
separation of a gangrenous hand or foot was on the whole a good sign for
the recovery of the patient. Such was the _ignis sacer_, or _ignis S.
Antonii_ which figures prominently, I am told, in the French legends of
the Saints, and of which epidemics are recorded in the French medieval
chronicles. Corresponding effects of ergotism may or may not have occurred
during the medieval period in other countries of Europe where rye was

The remarkable thing is, that when we do begin in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries to obtain evidence of agrarian epidemics in Germany,
Sweden and Russia, which have eventually come to be identified, in the
light of more recent knowledge, with ergotism, the type of the disease is
different, not perhaps fundamentally or in the ultimate pathological
analysis, but at all events different as being a functional disorder of
the nervous system, instead of a disorder, on nervous lines, affecting the
nutrition of parts and their structural integrity. This newer form,
distinctive of Germany and north-eastern Europe, was known by the name of
Kriebelkrankheit, from the creeping or itching sensations in the limbs at
the beginning of it; these heightened sensibilities often amounted to
acute pain, as in the beginning of the gangrenous form also; but the
affection of the sensory nerves, instead of leading to a breakdown in the
nutrition of the parts and to gangrene, was followed by disorder of the
motor nerves,--by spasms of the hands and arms, feet and legs, very often
passing into contractures of the joints which no force could unbend, and
in some cases passing into periodic convulsive fits of the whole body like
epilepsy, whence the name of convulsive ergotism[113].

Side by side with these German, Swedish and Russian outbreaks of
convulsive ergotism, or Kriebelkrankheit (called by Linnaeus in Sweden by
the Latin name _raphania_), there had been a renewal or continuance of the
medieval epidemics in France, notably in the Sologne; but the French
ergotism has retained its old type of _ignis_ or gangrene. It was not
until the eighteenth century that the learned world became clear as to the
connexion between either of those forms of disease among the peasantry and
a damaged rye-crop, although the country people themselves, and the
observant medical practitioners of the affected districts, had put this
and that together long before. Thus, as late as 1672-75, there were
communications made to the Paris Academy of Medicine[114] by observers in
the Sologne and especially around Montargis, in which ergot of rye is
clearly described, as well as the associated symptoms of gangrenous
disease in the peasantry; but the connexion between the two was still
regarded as open to doubt, and as a question that could only be settled by
experiment; while there is not a hint given that these modern outbreaks
were of the same nature as the notorious medieval _ignis sacer_. According
to Häser, it was not until the French essay of Read (Strasbourg, 1771)
that the identity of the old _ignis_ with the modern gangrenous ergotism
was pointed out.

The result of the modern study of outbreaks of ergotism, including the
minute record of individual cases, has been to show that there is no hard
and fast line between the gangrenous and convulsive forms, that the French
epidemics, although on the whole marked by the phenomena of gangrene, have
not been wanting in functional nervous symptoms, and that the German or
northern outbreaks have often been of a mixed type. Thus, in the French
accounts of 1676, “malign fevers accompanied with drowsiness and raving,”
are mentioned along with “the gangrene in the arms but mostly in the legs,
which ordinarily are corrupted first.”

Again, the observations of Th. O. Heusinger[115] on an outbreak near
Marburg in 1855-56, led him decidedly to conclude for the essential
sameness of _ignis_ and Kriebelkrankheit, and for the existence of a
middle type, although undoubtedly the sensory and motor disorders,
including hyperaesthesia, pain and anaesthesia on the one hand, and
contractures of the joints, choreic movements and convulsions on the
other, were more distinctive of the epidemics of ergotism on German or
northern European soil.

Thus far the foreign experience of ergotism, both medieval and modern, and
of its several types. We shall now be in a position to examine the English
records for indications of the same effects of damaged grain.

In the English medieval chronicles an occasional reference may be found to
_ignis_ or wild fire. The reference to wild fire in Derbyshire in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 1049, probably means some
meteorological phenomenon, elsewhere called _ignis sylvaticus_: “Eac þ
wilde fyr on Deorbyscire micel yfel dyde[116].” Whatever the _ignis
sylvaticus_ or _ignis aereus_ was, which destroyed houses as well as
crops, there appears to be no warrant for the conclusion of C. F.
Heusinger that it was the same as the _ignis sacer_ of the French
peasantry[117]. An undoubted reference to _ignis infernalis_ as a human
malady occurs in the _Topography of Ireland_ by Giraldus Cambrensis: a
certain archer who had ravished a woman at St Fechin’s mill at Fore was
overtaken by swift vengeance, “igne infernali in membro percussus, usque
in ipsum corpus statim exarsit, et nocte eadem exspiravit.” Taking the
incident as legendary, and the diagnosis as valueless, we may still
conclude that the name, at least, of _ignis infernalis_ was familiar to
English writers. But in all the accounts of English famines and
wide-spread sicknesses in the medieval period which have been extracted
from the nearest contemporary authorities, I have found no mention of any
disease that might correspond to ergotism[118].

The first undoubted instance of ergotism in England belongs to the
eighteenth century. On or about the 10th of January, 1762, a peasant’s
family (father, mother, and six children) of Wattisham in Suffolk, were
attacked almost simultaneously with the symptoms of gangrenous ergotism,
several of them eventually losing portions of their limbs. The disease
began with intense pain in the legs, and contractures of the hands and
feet. It was proved that they had not been using rye flour; but their
bread for a short time before had been made exclusively from damaged
wheat, grown in the neighbourhood and kept apart from the farmer’s good
corn so as not to spoil his sample. It had been sent to the mill just
before Christmas, and had been used by some others besides the family who
developed the symptoms of ergotism[119].

In that authentic instance of ergotism (although not from rye), there was
one symptom, the contractures of the hands and feet, which is distinctive
of the convulsive form; so that the English type may be said to have been
a mixture of the French form and of the form special to the north-eastern
countries of Europe. With that instance as a type, let us now inquire
whether any epidemics in England at earlier periods may not be brought
under the head of ergotism. It is to be kept in mind that none of the
medieval outbreaks were called by their present name, or traced to their
true source, until centuries after; so that our task is, not to search the
records for the name of ergotism, but to scrutinize any anomalous outbreak
of disease, or any outbreak distinguished in the chronicles by some
unusual mark, with a view to discovering whether it suits the hypothesis
of ergotism. I shall have to speak of three such outbreaks in the
fourteenth century, and of one in Lancashire and Cheshire in 1702[120].

The first of these is given by Knighton for a period and a locality that
may have been within his own cognizance. In the summer of 1340 there
happened in England generally, but especially in the county of Leicester,
a certain deplorable and enormous infirmity. It was marked by paroxysms or
fits, attended by intolerable suffering; while the fit lasted, the victims
emitted a noise like the barking of dogs. A “great pestilence,” or perhaps
a great mortality, is said to have ensued[121]. In that record the salient
points are, firstly the wide or epidemic incidence of the malady, at all
events in Leicestershire, which was Knighton’s own county; secondly the
paroxysmal nature of the attacks, and the strange noises emitted
therewith; thirdly the intolerable suffering (_poena_) that attended each
fit (_passio_). Except for the clear indication of pain, one might think
of the strange hysterical outbreaks, extending, by a kind of psychical
contagion, to whole communities, which were observed about the same period
in some parts of the continent of Europe. But of these medieval
psychopathies, as they are called, there is hardly any trace in England.
The Flagellants came over from Zealand to London in 1349, and gave
exhibitions at St Paul’s, but that pseudo-religious mania does not appear
to have taken hold among the English. The epidemic recorded by Knighton
had probably a more material cause. To illustrate the somewhat meagre
reference by Knighton to the strange epidemic of 1340, I shall proceed at
once to the remarkable outbreak in Lancashire and Cheshire in 1702, which
was clearly not a psychopathy or hysterical outbreak, and yet had a
seemingly hysterical element in it. An account of it was sent to the Royal
Society by Dr Charles Leigh “of Lancashire[122].”

    “We have this year [1702] had an epidemical fever, attended with very
    surprising symptoms. In the beginning, the patient was frequently
    attacked with the colica ventriculi; convulsions in various parts,
    sometimes violent vomitings, and a dysentery; the jaundice, and in
    many of them, a suppression of urine; and what urine was made was
    highly saturated with choler. About the state of the distemper, large
    purple spots appeared, and on each side of ’em two large blisters,
    which continued three or four days: these blisters were so placed
    about the spots that they might in some measure be term’d satellites
    or tenders: of these there were in many four different eruptions. But
    the most remarkable instance I saw in the fever was in a poor boy of
    Lymm in Cheshire, one John Pownel, about 13 years of age, who was
    affected with the following symptoms:--

    “Upon the crisis or turn of the fever, he was seized with an aphonia,
    and was speechless six weeks [? days], with the following convulsions:
    the distemper infested the nerves of both arms and legs which produced
    the Chorea Sancti Viti, or St Vitus’s dance; and the legs sometimes
    were both so contracted that no person could reduce them to their
    natural position. Besides these, he had most terrible symptoms, which
    began in the following manner: [description of convulsions follows]
    ... and then he barked in all the usual notes of a dog, sometimes
    snarling, barking, and at the last howling like an hound. After this
    the nerves of the mandibles were convulsed, and then the jaws clashed
    together with that violence that several of his teeth were beaten out,
    and then at several times there came a great foam from his mouth....
    These symptoms were so amazing that several persons about him believed
    he was possessed. I told them there was no ground for such
    suppositions, but that the distemper was natural, and a species of an
    epilepsy, and by the effects I convinced them of the truth of it; for
    in a week’s time I recovered the boy his speech, his senses returned,
    his convulsions vanished, and the boy is now very cheerful. There have
    been other persons in this country much after the same manner.”

This epidemic of 1702 in Lancashire and Cheshire was recorded as something
unusual. It had certain intestinal symptoms such as colic, which may well
have followed the use of poisoned food and are indeed described among the
symptoms of ergotism; there were also convulsions, large purple spots with
blisters coming and going on the skin near them, and, in the single case
that is given with details, there were contractures of the legs “so that
no person could reduce them to their natural position,” and a continuance
for several days of painful epileptiform fits attended with noises like
the barking of a dog, or the hissing of a goose, “all which different
sounds (I take it) proceed from the different contractions of the lungs
variously forcing out the air.” The remarkable case of the boy, certified
by several witnesses, is expressly given as one belonging to the general
epidemic of the locality, others having been affected “much after the same
manner.” Whatever suggestion there may be of ergotism in these
particulars, nothing is said of gangrene of the limbs, although the livid
spots and blisters are part of the symptoms of gangrenous ergotism, just
as the convulsions and contractures are of convulsive ergotism. In the
Suffolk cases of 1762 there were both contractures of the limbs and

Knighton’s mention of the barking noises emitted by the sufferers of 1340
has suggested to Nichols, the author of the _History of
Leicestershire_[123], a comparison of them with the cases investigated by
Dr Freind in the year 1700, at the village of Blackthorn in Oxfordshire.
Having heard a great rumour in the summer of that year that certain girls
at that Oxfordshire village were taken with frequent barkings like dogs,
Dr Freind made a journey to the place to investigate the cases[124].

    He found that this _pestis_ or plague had invaded two families in the
    village, on terms of close intimacy with each other. Two or three
    girls in each family are specially referred to: they were seized at
    intervals of a few hours with spasms of the neck and mouth, attended
    by vociferous cries; the spasmodic movements increased to a climax,
    when the victims sank exhausted. The fits had kept occurring for
    several weeks, and had appeared in the second family at a considerable
    interval after the first. The symptoms, said Freind, were those that
    had been described by Seidelius--distortion of the mouth, indecorous
    working of the tongue, and noises emitted like barking. He found
    nothing in the girls’ symptoms that could not be referred to a form of
    St Vitus’ dance or to hysteria, in which maladies, laughter, howling
    and beating of the breast are occasionally seen as well as the
    spasmodic working of the neck and limbs.

The question remains whether the cases of 1700 in the Oxfordshire village,
assuming Dr Freind’s reading of them to be correct, were as illustrative
of the outbreak of 1340 as the cases of 1702 in Lancashire and Cheshire,
which were probably too numerous and too much complicated with symptoms
of material toxic disorder to be explained as hysterical. There is,
indeed, a larger question raised, whether the so-called psychopathies of
the medieval and more recent periods may not have had a beginning, at
least, in some toxic property of the staple food. The imagination readily
fixes upon such symptoms as foaming at the mouth and barking noises,
exalts these phenomena over deeper symptoms that a physician might have
detected, and finds a simple explanation of the whole complex seizure as
demoniac possession or, in modern phrase, as a psychopathy. Without
questioning the subjective or imitative nature of many outbreaks which
have been set down to hysteria, it may be well to use some discrimination
before we exclude altogether an element of material poisoning such as
ergot in the staple food, more especially in the case of the wide-spread
hysterical epidemics of Sweden, a country subject to ergotism also[125].

These eighteenth-century instances have been brought in to illustrate
Knighton’s account of the epidemic of 1340. The next strange outbreak of
the fourteenth century is recorded by the St Albans historian
(“Walsingham”) under a year between 1361 and 1365, probably the year 1362.
Like so many more of the medieval records of epidemic sickness, it is a
meagre and confused statement: “Numbers died of the disease of lethargy,
prophesying troubles to many; many women also died by the flux; and there
was a general murrain of cattle[126].” Along with that enigmatical entry,
we may take the last of the kind that here concerns us. At Cambridge, in
1389, there occurred an epidemic of “phrensy;” it is described as “a great
and formidable pestilence, which arose suddenly, and in which men were
attacked all at once by the disease of phrensy of the mind, dying without
the _viaticum_, and in a state of unconsciousness[127].” The names of
phrensy and lethargy occur in the manuscript medical treatises of the time
in the chapters upon diseases of the brain and nerves[128]; strictly they
are names of symptoms, and not of forms or types of disease, and they may
be used loosely of various morbid states which have little in common. A
lethargy would in some cases be a name for coma in fever, or for a
paralytic stroke; a phrensy might be actual mania, or it might be the
delirium of plague or typhus fever. The “lethargy” of 1362 is alleged of a
number of people as if in an epidemic, whatever the singular phrase
“prophetantes infortunia multis” may mean; and the “phrensy of the mind”
of which many died suddenly at Cambridge in 1389, does not look as if it
had been a symptom of plague or pestilential fever. The judicious reader
will make what he can of these disappointingly meagre details. But for his
guidance it may be added that the French accounts of ergotism in 1676 give
one of the poisonous effects as being “to cause sometimes malign fevers
accompanied with drowsiness and raving,” which terms might stand for
lethargy and phrensy; also that it has not always been easy, in an
epidemic among the peasantry after a bad harvest, to distinguish the cases
of ergotism from the cases of typhus, the contractures of the limbs, which
seem so special to ergotism, having been described also for undoubted
cases of typhus[129].

Whether these anomalous epidemics in medieval England were instances of
convulsive ergotism or not, the English records are on the whole wanting
in the evidence of such wide-spread and frequent disasters from a poisoned
harvest as distinguish the French annals of the same period. One reason of
our immunity may have been that the grain was better grown; another reason
certainly is that rye was a comparatively rare crop in England, wheaten
bread being preferred, although bread made from beans and barley was not
uncommon. Thorold Rogers says: “Rye was scantily cultivated. An occasional
crop on many estates, it is habitually sown in few. It is regularly sown
in Cambridgeshire and some other of the eastern counties. As the period
before us passes on [1259-1400], it becomes still more rare, and as will
be seen below, some of the later years of this enquiry contain no entries
of its purchase and sale[130].” But it is clear from the entries in
chronicles, more particularly about the very period of the fourteenth
century to which the three epidemics suggestive of ergotism belong, that
the English peasantry suffered from the poisonous effects of damaged food,
even if they suffered little from spurred rye. Thus, under the year 1383,
in the history known as Walsingham’s, there is an unmistakeable reference
to many fatalities, as well as serious maladies, caused by the eating of
damaged fruit[131]. Again, under 1391, it is stated that this was “a hard
and difficult year for the poor owing to a dearth of fruits, which had now
lasted two years; whence it happened that at the time of the nuts and
apples, many of the poor died of dysentery brought on by eating them; and
the pestilence would have been worse had it not been for the laudable
diligence of the Mayor of London, who caused corn to be brought to London
from over sea[132].”

Generalities on Medieval Famines in England.

Summing up the English famine-pestilences of the medieval period, we find
that they included the usual forms of such sickness--spotted fever of the
nature of typhus, dysentery, lientery or looseness (such as has often
subsequently accompanied typhus or famine-fever in Ireland), and putrid
sore-throat. That some of these effects were due to spoiled grain and
fruits, as well as to absolute want, we may reasonably conclude; for
example the harvest of 1258 rotted on the ground, and yet the mouldy corn
was sold at famine prices. With all those records of famines and their
attendant sicknesses in England, it is significant that there is little
indication of ergotism. The immunity of England from ergotism, with such a
record of famines as the annals show, can only have been because little
rye was grown and little black bread eaten. The standard of living would
appear to have been higher among the English peasantry than among the
French. A bad harvest, still more two bad harvests in succession, made
them feel the pinch of famine more acutely, perhaps, than if they had
accommodated themselves to the more sober level of rye bread. Hence the
somewhat paradoxical but doubtless true saying of the Middle
Ages--“Anglorum fames, Francorum ignis.” The saying really means, not that
England was a poor country, which would be an absurd repute for foreigners
to have fixed upon her; but that the English were subject to alternating
periods of abundance and scarcity, of surfeit and starvation. The earliest
English work which deals fully and concretely with the social condition of
the country is the fourteenth-century poem of “The Vision of Piers the
Ploughman.” A few passages from that poem will be of use as throwing light
upon the famines of England, before we finally leave the period of which
they are characteristic.

Langland’s poem describes the social state of England in peculiar
circumstances, namely, after the upheaval and dislocation of the Great
Mortality of 1349; and in that respect it has an interest for our subject
which comes into a later chapter. But in so far as it illustrates the
alternating periods of abundance and scarcity, the vision of medieval
England concerns us here before we quit the subject of famine-pestilences.
The average industrious ploughman, represented by Piers himself, fares but
soberly until Lammas comes round[133]:--

  “I have no penny, quod Piers, pullets for to buy,
   Ne neither geese nor pigs, but two green cheeses,
   A few cruddes and cream, and an haver-cake,
   And two loaves of beans and bran ybake for my fauntis.
   And yet I say, by my soul, I have no salt bacon,
   Nor no cookeney, by Christ, collops for to maken.
   And I have percil and porettes and many kole-plantes,
   And eke a cow and a calf, and a cart-mare
   To draw afield my dung the while the drought lasteth.
   And by this lyflode me mot live till lammas time;
   And by that I hope to have harvest in my croft;
   And then may I digte thy dinner as me dear liketh.”

Some are worse off than the ploughman in the slack time before the

  “All the poor people tho pesecoddes fetched,
   Beans and baken apples they brought in their lappes,
   Chibolles and chervelles and ripe cherries many,
   And proferred Piers this present to plead with Hunger.
   All Hunger ate in haste, and axed after more.
   Then poor folk for fear fed Hunger eagerlie,
   With green poret and pesen, to poison Hunger they thought.
   By that it nighed near harvest, new corn came to chipping.
   Then was folk fain, and fed Hunger with the best,
   With good ale, as glutton taught, and gerte Hunger go sleep.
   And though would waster not work but wandren about,
   Ne no beggar eat bread that beans in were,
   But of cocket or clerematyn or else of clean wheat:
   Ne no halfpenny ale in none wise drink,
   But of the best and of the brownest that in burgh is to sell.
   Labourers that have no land to live on, but their hands,
   Deigned nought to dine a-day night-old wortes.
   May no penny ale them pay ne no piece of bacon,
   But if it be fresh flesh other fish fried other bake.”

The waster being now in his season of plenty falls to abusing the Statute
of Labourers:

  “And then cursed he the king and all his council after,
   Such laws to loke, labourers to grieve.
   But whiles Hunger was their master there would none of them chide,
   Nor strive against _his_ statute, so sternly he looked.
   And I warn you, workmen, wynneth while ye mowe,
   For Hunger hitherward hasteth him fast.
   He shall awake with water wasters to chasten.
   Ere five year be fulfilled such famine shall arise
   Through floods and through foul weathers fruits shall fail.
   And so said Saturn, and sent you to warn ...
   Then shall death withdraw and dearth be justice,
   And Daw the dyker die for hunger,
   But if God of his goodness grant us a truce.”

He proposes to feed the lazy wasters on beans:

  “And gif the groomes grudge, bid them go swynk,
   And he shall sup the sweeter when he hath deserved.”

The ploughman asks Hunger the reason why both himself and his servants are
unable to work:

  “I wot well, quod Hunger, what sickness you aileth.
   Ye have maunged over much, and that maketh you groan ...
   Let not sir Surfeit sitten at thy board ...
   And gif thy diet be thus, I dare lay mine ears
   That Physic shall his furred hoods for his food sell,
   And his cloak of calabre with all the knaps of gold,
   And be fain, by my faith, his physic to let,
   And learn to labour with land, for lyflode is sweet:
   For murtherers are many leeches, Lord them amend!
   They do men kill through their drinks, or destiny it would.
   By Saint Poul, quod Piers, these aren profitable words.”

In another place, Hawkin the minstrel confesses to gluttony:

  “And more meat ate and drank than nature might digest,
   And caught sickness some time for my surfeits oft.”

A liking for the best of food, and plenty of it, when it was to be had,
has clearly been an English trait from the earliest times. Conversely
thrift does not appear to have been a virtue or a grace of the labouring
class in England. Thus a bad harvest brought wide-spread scarcity, and two
bad harvests brought famine and famine-pestilences. The contrasts were
sharp because the standard of living was high. And although three, at
least, of the English famines were disgraceful to so rich a country, and
were probably the occasion of the foreign reproach of “Anglorum fames;”
yet the significant fact remains that the disease of the European
peasantry, which is the truest index of an inferior diet, namely ergotism,
has little or no place in our annals of sickness.



The history of leprosy in Britain can hardly be the history of leprosy
alone, but of that disease along with others which were either mistaken
for it or conveniently and euphemistically included under it. That there
was leprosy in the country is undoubted; but it is just as certain that
there was _lues venerea_; that the latter as a primary lesion led an
anonymous existence or was called _lepra_ or _morphaea_ if it were called
anything; that the remote effects of the lues were not known as such,
being taken for detached or original outcomes of the disordered humours
and therefore in the same general class as leprous manifestations; and
that the popular and clerical notions of leprosy were too superstitious
and inexact, even if the diagnostic intention had been more resolute than
it was, to permit of any clear separation of the leprous from the
syphilitic, to say nothing of their separation from the poor victims of
lupus and cancer of the face, of scrofulous running sores, or of neglected
skin-eruptions more repulsive to the eye than serious in their nature. I
shall give some proof of each of those assertions--as an essential
preliminary to any correct handling of the historical records of British

Leprosy in Medieval Medical Treatises.

The picture given of true leprosy in the medieval treatises on medicine is
unmistakeable. There are two systematic writers about the year 1300 who
have left a better account of it than the Arabian authors from whom they
mostly copied. While the writers in question have transferred whole
chapters unaltered from Avicenna, Rhazes and Theodoric, they have improved
upon their models in the stock chapter ‘De Lepra.’ It so happens that
those two writers, Bernard Gordonio and Gilbertus Anglicus, bear names
which have been taken to indicate British nationality, and the picture of
leprosy by the latter has actually been adduced as a contemporary account
of the disease observed in England[134]. Gordonio was a professor at
Montpellier, and his experience and scholarship are purely foreign. The
circumstances of Gilbert the Englishman are not so well known; but it is
tolerably certain that he was not, as often assumed, the Gilbert Langley,
Gilbert de l’Aigle, or Gilbertus de Aquila, who was physician to Hubert,
archbishop of Canterbury († 13 July, 1205)[135], having been a pupil at
Salerno in the time of Aegidius of Corbeil (about 1180). The treatise of
Gilbertus Anglicus bears internal evidence of a later century and school;
it is distinguished by method and comprehensiveness, and is almost exactly
on the lines of the _Lilium Medicinae_ by Gordonio, whose date at
Montpellier is known with some exactness to have been from 1285 to about
1307. Future research may perhaps discover where Gilbert taught or was
taught; meanwhile we may safely assume that his scholarship and system
were of a foreign colour. The medical writer of that time in England was
John of Gaddesden, mentioned in the end of the foregoing chapter; he is
the merest plagiary, and the one or two original remarks in his chapter
‘De Lepra’ would almost justify the epithet of “fatuous” which Guy de
Chauliac applied to him.

Although we cannot appeal to Gilbertus Anglicus for native English
experience any more than we can to his _alter ego_, Gordonio, yet we may
assume that the picture of leprosy which they give might have been
sketched in England as well as in Italy or in Provence. The conditions
were practically uniform throughout Christendom; the true leprosy of any
one part of medieval Europe is the true leprosy of the whole.

Gilbert’s picture[136], as we have said, is unmistakeable, and the same
might be said of Bernard’s[137]--the eyebrows falling bare and getting
knotted with uneven tuberosities, the nose and other features becoming
thick, coarse and lumpy, the face losing its mobility or play of
expression, the raucous voice, the loss of sensibility in the hands, and
the ultimate break-up or _naufragium_ of the leprous growths into foul
running sores. The enumeration of nervous symptoms, which are now
recognised to be fundamental in the pathology of leprosy, shows that
Gilbert went below the surface. Among the “signa leprae generalia” he
mentions such forms of hyperaesthesia as _formicatio_ (the creeping of
ants), and the feeling of “needles and pins;” and, in the way of
anaesthesia, he speaks of the loss of sensibility from the little finger
to the elbow, as well as in the exposed parts where the blanched spots or
thickenings come--the forehead, cheeks, eyebrows, to which he adds the
tongue. Gilbert’s whole chapter ‘De Lepra’ is an obvious improvement upon
the corresponding one in Avicenna, who says that _lepra_ is a cancer of
the whole body, cancer being the _lepra_ of a single member, and is
probably confusing lupus with leprosy when he describes the cartilages of
the nose as corroded in the latter, and the nostrils destroyed by the same
kind of _naufragium_ as the fingers and toes. All students of the history
or clinical characters of leprosy, from Guy de Chauliac, who wrote about
1350, down to Hensler and Sprengel, have recognised in Gilbert’s and
Bernard’s account of it the marks of first-hand observation; so that we
may take it, without farther debate, that leprosy, as correctly diagnosed,
was a disease of Europe and of Britain in the Middle Ages.

Having got so far, we come next to a region of almost inextricable
confusion, a region of secrecy and mystification, as well as of real
contemporary ignorance. We may best approach it by one or two passages
from Gilbert and Gordonio themselves. The systematic handling of _lepra_
in their writings is one thing, and their more concrete remarks on its
conditions of origin, its occasions, or circumstances are another. What
are we to make of this kind of leprosy?--“In hoc genere, causa est
accessus ad mulierem ad quam accessit prius leprosus; et corrumpit
velocius vir sanus quam mulier a leproso.... Et penetrant [venena] in
nervos calidos et arterias et venas viriles, et inficiunt spiritus et
bubones, et hoc velocius si mulier,” etc. Or to quote Gilbert again: “Ex
accessu ad mulieres, diximus superius, lepram in plerisque generari post
coitûs leprosos[138].” Or in Gordonio: “Et provenit [lepra] etiam ex nimia
confibulatione cum leprosis, et ex coitu cum leprosa, et qui jacuit cum
muliere cum qua jacuit leprosus[139].” That these circumstances of
contracting _lepra_ were not mere verbal theorizings inspired by the
pathology of the day and capable of being now set aside, is obvious from a
_historia_ or case which Gordonio introduces into his text. “I shall tell
what happened,” he says; and then proceeds to the following relation:[140]

“Quaedam comtissa venit leprosa ad Montem Pessulanum [Montpellier], et
erat in fine in cura mea; et quidam Baccalarius in medicina ministrabat
ei, et jacuit cum ea, et impregnavit eam, et perfectissime leprosus factus
est.” Happy is he therefore, he adds, who learns caution from the risks of

Here we have sufficient evidence, from the beginning of the fourteenth
century, of a disease being called _lepra_ which does not conform to the
conditions of leprosy as we now understand them. The same confusion
between leprosy and the _lues venerea_ prevailed through the whole
medieval period. Thus, in the single known instance of a severe edict
against lepers in England, the order of Edward III. to the mayor and
sheriffs of London in 1346[141], the reasons for driving lepers out of the
City are given,--among others, because they communicate their disease “by
carnal intercourse with women in stews and other secret places,” and by
their polluted breath. It was pointed out long ago by Beckett in his
paper on the antiquity of the _lues venerea_[142], that the polluted
breath was characteristic of the latter, but not of leprosy. Of course the
pollution of their breath might have meant no more than the theoretical
reasoning of the books (as in Gilbert, where the breath of lepers, as well
as the mere sight of them, is said to give the disease, p. 337), but the
breath was probably obnoxious in a more real way, just as we know, from
Gordonio’s case at Montpellier, that the other alleged source of “leprous”
contagion was no mere theoretical deduction. As the medieval period came
to an end the leper-houses (in France) were found to contain a
miscellaneous gathering of cases generically called leprous; and about the
same time, the year 1488, an edict of the same purport as Edward III.’s
London one of 1346, was issued by the provost of Paris against _les
lépreux_ of that city. The year 1488 is so near the epidemic outburst of
the _morbus Gallicus_ during the French campaigns on Italian soil in
1494-95, that the historian has not hesitated to set down that sudden
reappearance of leprous contagion, in a proclamation of the State, to a
real prevalence already in Paris of the contagious malady which was to be
heard of to the farthest corners of Europe a few years after[143].

There is no difficulty in producing evidence from medieval English records
of the prevalence of _lues venerea_, which was not concealed under the
euphemistic or mistaken diagnosis of leprosy. Instances of a very bad
kind, authenticated with the names of the individuals, are given in
Gascoigne’s _Liber Veritatum_, under the date of 1433[144].

In the medieval text-books of Avicenna, Gilbert and others, there are
invariably paragraphs on _pustulae et apostemata virgae_. In the only
original English medical work of those times, by John Ardern, who was
practising at Newark from 1349 to 1370, and came afterwards to London,
appearances are described which can mean nothing else than
condylomata[145]. From a manuscript prescription-book of the medieval
period, in the British Museum, I have collected some receipts (or their
headings) which relate, as an index of later date prefixed to the MS.
says, to “the pox of old[146].”

Some have refused to see in such cases any real correspondence with the
modern forms of syphilis because only local effects are described and no
constitutional consequences traced. But no one in those times thought of a
primary focus of infection with its remoter effects at large, in the case
of any disease whatsoever. Even in the great epidemic of syphilis at the
end of the fifteenth century, the sequence of primary and secondary
(tertiaries were unheard of until long after), was not at first
understood; the eruption of the skin, which was compared to a bad kind of
variola, the imposthumes of the head and of the bones elsewhere, together
with all other constitutional or general symptoms, were traced, in good
faith, to a disordered liver, an organ which was chosen on theoretical
grounds as the _minera morbi_ or laboratory of the disease[147]. The
circumstances of the great epidemic were, of course, special, but they
were not altogether new. No medieval miracle could have been more of a
suspension of the order of nature than that _luxuria_, _immunditia_, and
_foeditas_, with their attendant _corruptio membrorum_, should have been
free from those consequences, in the individual and in the community,
which are more familiar in our own not less clean-living days merely
because the sequence of events is better understood. That such vices
abounded in the medieval world we have sufficient evidence. They were
notorious among the Norman conquerors of England, especially notorious in
the reign of William Rufus[148]; hence, perhaps, the significance of the
phrase _lepra Normannorum_. That particular vice which amounts to a felony
was the subject of the sixth charge (unproved) in the indictment of the
order of the Templars before the Pope Clement V. in 1307. Effects on the
public health traceable to such causes, for the most part _sub rosa_, have
been often felt in the history of nations, from the Biblical episode of
Baal-peor down to modern times. The evidence is written at large in the
works of Astruc, Hensler and Rosenbaum. We are here concerned with a much
smaller matter, namely, any evidence from England which may throw light
upon the classes of cases that were called leprous if they were called by
a name at all.

Under the year 1258, Matthew Paris introduces a singular paragraph, which
is headed, “The Bishop of Hereford smitten with polypus.” The bishop, a
Provençal, had made himself obnoxious by his treacherous conduct as the
agent of Henry III. at the Holy See in the matter of the English subsidies
to the pope. Accordingly it was by the justice of God that he was deformed
by a most disgraceful disease, to wit, _morphea_, or again, “morphea
polipo, vel quadam specie leprae[149].” According to the medical teaching
of the time, as we find it in Gilbertus Anglicus, _morphaea_ was an
infection producing a change in the natural colour of the skin; it was
confined to the skin, whereas _lepra_ was in the flesh also; the former
was curable, the latter incurable; _morphaea_ might be white, red, or
black[150]. The account of _morphaea_ by Gordonio is somewhat fuller. All
things, he says, that are causes of _lepra_ are causes of _morphaea_; so
that what is in the flesh _lepra_ is _morphaea_ in the skin. It was a
patchy discoloration of the skin, reddish, yellowish, whitish, dusky, or
black, producing _terribilis aspectus_; curable if recent, incurable if of
long standing; curable also if of moderate extent, but difficult to cure
if of great extent[151]. In this description by Gordonio a modern French
writer on leprosy[152] discovers the classical characters of the syphilis
of our own day: “not one sign is wanting.”

No doubt the medical writers drew a distinction between _morphaea_ and
_lepra_, as we have seen in quoting Gilbert and Gordonio. Gaddesden, also,
who mostly copies them, interpolates here an original remark. No one
should be adjudged leprous, he says, and separated from his fellows,
merely because the “figure and form” (the stock phrase) of the face are
corrupted: the disease might be “scabies foeda,” or if in the feet, it
might be “cancer.” Nodosities or tubercles should not be taken to mean
leprosy, unless they are confirmed (inveterate) in the face[153]. But how
uncertain are these diagnostic indications, as between _lepra_ and
_morphaea_, _lepra_ and “scabies foeda,” _lepra_ and “cancer in pedibus!”
If there were any object in calling the disease by one name rather than
another, it is clear that the same disease might be called by a euphemism
in one case and by a term meant to be opprobrious in another. Although
leprosy was not in general a disease that anyone might wish to be credited
with, yet there were circumstances when the diagnosis of leprosy had its
advantages. It was of use to a beggar or tramp to be called a leper: he
would excite more pity, he might get admission to a hospital, and he might
solicit alms, under royal privilege, although begging in ordinary was
punishable. It is conceivable also that the diagnosis of leprosy was a
convenient one for men in conspicuous positions in Church and State. It is
most improbable that the “lepra Normannorum” was all leprosy; it is absurd
to suppose that leprosy became common in Europe because returning
Crusaders introduced it from the East, as if leprosy could be “introduced”
in any such way; and it is not easy to arrive at certitude, that all the
cases of leprosy in princes and other high-placed personages (Baldwin IV.
of Jerusalem who died at the age of twenty-five,[154] Robert the Bruce of
Scotland,[155] and Henry IV. of England[156]) were cases that would now be
diagnosed leprous.

Instances may be quoted to show that the name of leper was flung about
somewhat at random. Thus, in an edict issued by Henry II., during the
absence of Becket abroad for the settlement of his quarrel with the king,
it was decreed that anyone who brought into the country documents relating
to the threatened papal interdict should have his feet cut off if he were
a regular cleric, his eyes put out if a secular clerk, should be hanged if
a layman, and be burned if a _leprosus_--that is to say, a beggar or
common tramp. Again, in the charges brought for Henry III. against the
powerful minister Hubert de Burg in 1239, one item is that he had
prevented the marriage of our lord the king with a certain noble lady by
representing to the latter and to her guardian that the king was “a
squinter, and a fool, and a good-for-nothing, and that he had a kind of
leprosy, and was a deceiver, and a perjurer, and more of a craven than any
woman[157]” etc.

There is also a curious instance of the term leprous being applied to the
Scots, evidently in the sense in which William of Malmesbury, and many
more after him, twitted that nation with their cutaneous infirmities. When
the Black Death of 1348-9 had reached the northern counties of England,
the Scots took advantage of their prostrate state to gather in the forest
of Selkirk for an invasion, exulting in the “foul death of England.”
Knighton says that the plague reached them there, that five thousand of
them died, and that their rout was completed by the English falling upon
them[158]. But the other contemporary chronicler of the Black Death,
Geoffrey le Baker[159], tells the story with a curious difference. The
Scots, he says, swearing by the foul death of the English, passed from the
extreme of exultation to that of grief; the sword of God’s wrath was
lifted from the English and fell in its fury upon the Scots, “et [Scotos]
per lepram, nec minus quam Anglicos per apostemata et pustulos, mactavit.”
The _apostemata_ and _pustuli_ were indeed the buboes, boils and
carbuncles of the plague, correctly named; but what was the _lepra_ of the
Scots? It was probably a vague term of abuse; but, if the clerk of Osney
attached any meaning to it, it is clear that he saw nothing improbable in
a disease called _lepra_ springing up suddenly and spreading among a body
of men.

We conclude, then, that _lepra_ was a term used in a generic sense because
of a real uncertainty of diagnosis, or because there was some advantage to
be got from being called _leprosus_, or because it was flung about at
random. But there is still another reason for the inexact use of the terms
_lepra_ and _leprosus_ in the medieval period, namely, the dominant
influence of religious tradition. The heritage or accretion of religious
sentiment not only perverted the correct use of the name, but led to
regulations and proscriptions which were out of place even for the real

The Biblical Associations of Leprosy.

Among the synonyms for _leprosi_ we find the terms “pauperes Christi,
videlicet Lazares,” the name of “Christ’s poor” being given to lepers by
Aelred in the twelfth century and by Matthew Paris in the thirteenth. The
association of ideas with Lazarus is a good sample of the want of
discrimination in all that pertains to medieval leprosy. The Lazarus of St
Luke’s Gospel, who was laid at the rich man’s gate full of sores, is a
representative person, existing only in parable. On the other hand, the
Lazarus of St John’s Gospel, Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Martha and
Mary, the man of many friends, is both a historical personage and a saint
in the calendar. But there is nothing to show that he was a leper. He had
a remarkable experience of restoration to the light of day, and it was
probably on account of an episode in his life that made so much talk that
he received posthumously the name of Lazarus, or “helped of God[160].” The
name of the man in the parable is also generic, just as generic as that
of his contrast Dives is; but specifically there was nothing in common
between the one Lazarus and the other. Yet St Lazarus specially named as
the brother of Martha and Mary (as in the charter of the leper-house at
Sherburn) became the patron of lepers. The ascription to Lazarus of
Bethany of the malady of Lazarus in the parable has done much for the
prestige of the latter’s disease; in the medieval world it brought all
persons full of sores within a nimbus of sanctity, as being in a special
sense “pauperes Christi,” the successors at once of him whom Jesus loved
and of “Lazarus ulcerosus.” Doubtless the lepers deserved all the charity
that they got; but we shall not easily understand the interest
exceptionally taken in them, amidst abounding suffering and wretchedness
in other forms, unless we keep in mind that they somehow came to be
regarded as Christ’s poor.

Next to the image of Lazarus, or rather the composite image of the two
Lazaruses, the picture of leprosy that filled the imagination was that of
the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Leviticus. That picture is even
more composite than the other, and for leprosy in the strict sense it is
absolutely misleading. The word translated “leprosy” is a generic term for
various communicable maladies, most of which were curable within a
definite period, sometimes no longer than a week. It rested with the skill
of the priesthood to discriminate between the forms of communicable
disease, and to prescribe the appropriate ceremonial treatment for each;
the people had one common name for them all, and beyond that they were in
the hands of their priests, who knew quite well what they were about. The
Christian Church dealt with all those archaic institutions of an Eastern
people in a child-like spirit of verbal or literal interpretation,
doubtless finding the greater part of them a meaningless jargon. But some
verses would touch the imagination and call up a real and vivid picture,
such verses, for example, as the following:

    “And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and
    his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and
    shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be
    in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone;
    without the camp shall his habitation be.”

Even in that comparatively plain direction, the obvious suggestion that
the unclean person would not always be unclean, and that there was a term
to his stay outside the camp, would go for little in reading the
scripture. The medieval religious world took those parts of the Jewish
teaching that appealed to their apprehension, and applied them to the
circumstances of their own time with as much of zeal as the common sense
of the community would permit. We have clear evidence of the effect of the
Levitical teaching about “leprosy” upon English practice in the ordinances
of the St Albans leper hospital of St Julian, which will be given in the

The Medieval Religious Sentiment towards Lepers.

Several incidents told of lepers by the chroniclers bring out that
exaggerated religious view of the disease. Roger of Howden has preserved
the following mythical story of Edward the Confessor. Proceeding one day
from his palace to the Abbey Church in pomp and state, he passed with his
train of nobles and ecclesiastics through a street in which sat a leper
full of sores. The courtiers were about to drive the wretched man out from
the royal presence, when the king ordered them to let him sit where he
was. The leper, waxing bold after this concession, addressed the king, “I
adjure thee by the living God to take me on thy shoulders and bring me
into the church;” whereupon the king bowed his head and took the leper
upon his shoulders. And as the king went, he prayed that God would give
health to the leper; and his prayer was heard, and the leper was made
whole from that very hour, praising and glorifying God[161].

It is not the miraculous ending of this incident that need surprise us
most; for the Royal touch by which the Confessor wrought his numerous
cures of the blind and the halt and the scrofulous, continued to be
exercised, with unabated virtue, down to the eighteenth century, and came
at length to be supervised by Court surgeons who were fellows of the Royal
Society. It is the humility of a crowned head in the presence of a leper
that marks an old-world kind of religious sentiment. The nearest approach
to it in our time is the feet-washing of the poor by the empress at Vienna
on Corpus Christi day.

A similar story, with a truer touch of nature in it, is told of Matilda,
queen of Henry I.; and it happens to be related on so good authority that
we may believe every word of it. Matilda was a Saxon princess, daughter of
Margaret the Atheling, the queen of Malcolm Canmore. The other actor in
the story was her brother David, afterwards king of Scots and, like his
mother, honoured as a saint of the Church. The narrator is Aelred, abbot
of Rievaulx, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, celebrated for his Latin
style and his care for Saxon history. The abbot was a friend of St David,
whose virtues he celebrates at length; the incident of queen Matilda and
the lepers was one that he often heard from David’s own lips (quod ex ore
saepe Davidis regis audivi). The princess Matilda, taking more after her
mother than her father, had been brought up in an English convent under
her aunt, the abbess of it. When it came to a marriage between her and
Henry I., an alliance which was meant to reconcile the Saxons to Norman
rule, the question arose in the mind of Anselm whether the princess
Matilda had not actually taken the veil, and whether he could legally
marry her to the king. Questioned as to the fact, the princess made answer
that she had indeed worn the veil in public, but only as a protection from
the licentious insolence of the Norman nobles. She had no liking for the
great match arranged for her, and consented unwillingly although the king
was enamoured of her. Such was her humility that Aelred designates her
“the Esther of our times.” The marriage was on the 15th of November, 1100;
and in the next year, according to the usual date given, the young queen
sought relief and effusion for her religious instincts by founding the
leper hospital of St Giles in the Fields, “with a chapel and a sufficient
edifice.” Matthew Paris, a century and a half after, saw it standing as
queen Matilda had built it, and made a sketch of it in colours on the
margin of his page, still remaining to us in a library at Cambridge, with
the description, “Memoriale Matild. Regine.”

The story which her brother David told to the abbot of Rievaulx is as

    When he was serving as a youth at the English Court, one evening he
    was with his companions in his lodging, when the queen called him into
    her chamber. He found the place full of lepers, and the queen standing
    in the midst, with her robe laid aside and a towel girt round her.
    Having filled a basin with water, she proceeded to wash the feet of
    the lepers and to wipe them with the towel, and then taking them in
    both her hands, she kissed them with devotion. To whom her brother:
    “What dost thou, my lady? Certes if the king were to know this, never
    would he deign to kiss with his lips that mouth of thine polluted with
    the soil of leprous feet.” But she answered with a smile: “Who does
    not know that the feet of an Eternal King are to be preferred to the
    lips of a mortal king? See, then, dearest brother, wherefore I have
    called thee, that thou mayest learn by my example to do so also. Take
    the basin, and do what thou hast seen me do.” “At this,” said David,
    narrating to the abbot, “I was sore afraid, and answered that I could
    on no account endure it. For as yet I did not know the Lord, nor had
    His Spirit been revealed to me. And as she proceeded with her task, I
    laughed--_mea culpa_--and returned to my comrades[162].”

The example of his sister, however, was not lost upon him; for when he
acquired the earldom and manor of Huntingdon, and so became an opulent
English noble, he founded a leper-hospital there. Aelred sees him in
Abraham’s bosom with Lazarus.

The meaning of all this devotion to lepers is shown in the name which
Aelred applies to them--_pauperes Christi_. In washing their feet the
pious Matilda was in effect washing the feet of an Eternal King; and that,
in her estimation, was better than kissing the lips of a mortal king.

Again, in the Life of St Hugh of Lincoln we see the good bishop moved to
treat the leprous poor with a sort of attention which they can hardly have
needed or expected, merely because they were, as his biographer says, the
successors of _Lazarus ulcerosus_, and the special _protegés_ of Jesus.
Not a few, says the biographer, were kept in seclusion owing to that
disease, both men and women. Bishop Hugh would take up his abode among
them and speak to them words of good cheer, promising them the flowers of
Paradise and an immortal crown. Having sent the women lepers out of the
way, he would go round among the men to kiss them, and when he came to one
who was more atrociously marked by the disease than another, he would hold
him in a longer and more gracious embrace. It was too much for the
bishop’s biographer: “Spare, good Jesus, the unhappy soul of him who
relates these things”--horrified, as he says he was, at seeing the
“swollen and livid faces, deformed and sanious, with the eyelids everted,
the eyeballs dug out, and the lips wasted away, faces which it were
impossible to touch close or even to behold afar off[163]”. But these
horrible disfigurements of the face are by no means the distinctive marks
of leprosy. The dragging down of the eyelids is an effect of leprosy but
as likely to happen in lupus or rodent ulcer. The loss of the eyeball may
be a leprous sign, or perhaps from tumour. The wasting of the lips is a
characteristic feature of lupus, after it has scarred, or if there be an
actual loss of substance, of epithelial cancer; in leprosy, on the other
hand, the lips, as well as other prominent folds of the face, undergo
thickening, and will probably remain thickened to the end. The sufferers
who excited the compassion of St Hugh must have merited it; only they were
not all lepers, nor probably the majority of them[164].

Two leper-stories are told to the honour of St Francis of Assisi. Seeing
one day a friar of his order named James the Simple, consorting on the way
to church with a leper from the hospital under his care, St Francis
rebuked the friar for allowing the leper to be at large. While he thus
admonished the friar, he thought that he observed the leper to blush, and
was stricken with a sudden remorse that he should have said anything to
hurt the wretched man’s feelings. Having confessed and taken counsel, he
resolved, by way of penance, to sit beside the leper at table and to eat
with him out of the same dish, a penance all the greater, says the
biographer, that the leper was covered all over with offensive sores and
that the blood and sanies trickled down his fingers as he dipped them in
the dish. The other story is a more pleasing one. There was a certain
leper among those cared for by the friars, who would appear from the
description of him to have been one of the class of truculent impostors,
made all the worse by the morbid consideration with which his disease, or
supposed disease, was regarded. One of his complaints was that no one
would wash him; whereupon St Francis, having ordered a friar to bring a
basin of perfumed water, proceeded to wash the leper with his own

These four tales, all of them told of saints except that of Matilda--she
somehow missed being canonised along with her mother St Margaret and her
brother St David--will serve to show what a halo of morbid exaggeration
surrounded the idea of leprosy in the medieval religious mind. We live in
a time of saner and better-proportioned sentiment; but the critical
spirit, which has set so much else in a sober light, has spared the
medieval tradition of leprosy. Not only so, but our more graphic writers
have put that disease into the medieval foreground as if it had been the
commonest affliction of the time. We are taught to see the figures of
lepers in their grey or russet gowns flitting everywhere through the
scene; the air of those remote times is as if filled with the dull
creaking of St Lazarus’s rattle. Our business here is to apply to the
question of leprosy in medieval Britain the same kind of scrutiny which
has been applied to the question of famines and famine-fevers, and remains
to be applied next in order to the great question of plague--the kind of
scrutiny which no historian would be excused from if his business were
with politics, or campaigns, or economics, or manners and customs. The
best available evidence for our purpose is the history of the
leper-houses, to which we shall now proceed.

The English Leper-houses.

The English charitable foundations, or hospitals of all kinds previous to
the dissolution of the monasteries, including almshouses, infirmaries,
Maisons Dieu and lazar-houses, amount to five hundred and nine in the
index of Bishop Tanner’s _Notitia Monastica_. In the 1830 edition of the
_Monasticon Anglicanum_, the latest recension of those immense volumes of
antiquarian research, there are one hundred and four such foundations
given, for which the original charters, or confirming charters, or reports
of inquisitions, are known; and, besides these, there are about three
hundred and sixty given in the section on “Additional Hospitals,” the
existence and circumstances of which rest upon such evidence as casual
mention in old documents, or entries in monastery annals, or surviving
names and traditions of the locality. Our task is to discover, if we can,
what share of this charitable provision in medieval England, embracing at
least four hundred and sixty houses, was intended for the class of
_leprosi_; what indications there are of the sort of patients reckoned
_leprosi_; how many sick inmates the leper-houses had, absolutely as well
as in proportion to their clerical staff; and how far those refuges were
in request among the people, either from a natural desire to find a refuge
or from the social pressure upon them to keep themselves out of the way.

It is clear that the endowed hospitals of medieval England were in no
exclusive sense leper-hospitals, but a general provision, under religious
discipline, for the infirm and sick poor, for infirm and ailing monks and
clergy, and here or there for decayed gentlefolk. The earliest of them
that is known, St Peter’s and St Leonard’s hospital at York, founded in
936 by king Athelstane, and enlarged more especially on its religious side
by king Stephen, was a great establishment for the relief of the poor,
with no reference to leprosy; it provided for no fewer than two hundred
and six bedesmen, and was served by a master, thirteen brethren, four
seculars, eight sisters, thirty choristers and six servitors. When
Lanfranc, the first Norman archbishop of Canterbury, set about organising
the charitable relief of his see in 1084, he endowed two hospitals, one
for the sick and infirm poor in general, and the other for _leprosi_[166].
The former, St John Baptist’s hospital, was at the north gate, a
commodious house of stone, for poor, infirm, lame or blind men and women.
The latter was the hospital of Herbaldown, an erection of timber, in the
woods of Blean about a mile from the west gate, for persons _regia
valetudine fluentibus_ (?), who are styled _leprosi_ in a confirming
charter of Henry II.[167] The charge of both these houses was given to the
new priory of St Gregory, over against St John Baptist’s hospital, endowed
with tithes for secular clergy. The leper-house at Herbaldown was divided
between men and women; but in a later reign (Henry II.) a hospital
entirely for women (twenty-five leprous sisters) was founded at
Tannington, outside Canterbury, with a master, prioress and three priests.
There was still a third hospital at Canterbury, St Lawrence’s, founded
about 1137, for the relief of leprous monks or for the poor parents and
relations of the monks of St Augustine’s.

London had two endowed leper-hospitals under ecclesiastical government, as
well as certain spitals or refuges of comparatively late date. The
hospital and chapel of St Giles in the Fields was founded, as we have
seen, by Matilda, queen of Henry I., in 1101, and was commonly known for
long after as Matilda’s hospital. It was built for forty _leprosi_, who
may or may not all have lived in it; and it was supported in part by the
voluntary contributions of the citizens collected by a proctor. Its staff
was at first exceptionally small for the number of patients,--a chaplain,
a clerk and a messenger; but as its endowments increased several other
clerics and some matrons were added. By a king’s charter of 1208 (10th
John), it was to receive sixty shillings annually. It is next heard of, in
the Rolls of Parliament, in connexion with a petition of 1314-15 (8 Ed.
II.), by the terms of which, and of the reply to it, we can see that there
were then some lepers in the hospital but also patients of another kind.
It is mentioned by Wendover, under the year 1222, as the scene of a trial
of strength between the citizens and the _comprovinciales extra urbem
positos_[168]: at that date it stood well in the country, probably near to
where the church of St Giles now stands at the end of old High Holborn.
The drawing of the hospital on the margin of Matthew Paris’s manuscript
shows it as a house of stone, with a tower at the east end and a smaller
one over the west porch, and with a chapel and a hall, but probably no
dormitories for forty lepers[169].

The other endowed leper-house of the metropolis was the hospital of St
James, in the fields beyond Westminster. It was of ancient date, and
provided for fourteen female patients, who came somehow to be called the
_leprosae puellae_[170], although youth is by no means specially
associated with leprosy. This house grew rich, and supported eight
brethren for the religious services of the sixteen patients[171].

It is usual to enumerate five, and sometimes six, other leper-hospitals,
in the outskirts of London--at Kingsland or Hackney, in Kent Street,
Southwark (the Lock), at Highgate, at Mile End, at Knightsbridge and at
Hammersmith. But the earliest of these were founded in the reign of Edward
III. (about 1346) at a time when the old ecclesiastical leper-houses were
nearly empty of lepers. It would be misleading to include them among the
medieval leper-houses proper, and I shall refer to them in a later part of
this chapter.

The example of archbishop Lanfranc at Canterbury and of queen Matilda in
London was soon followed by other founders and benefactors. The movement
in favour of lepers--there was probably too real an occasion for it to
call it a craze--gained much from the appearance on the scene of the
Knights of the Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem. Those knights were the
most sentimental of the orders of chivalry, and probably not more
reputable than the Templars or the main body of the Hospitallers from
which they branched off. If we may judge of them by modern instances, they
wanted to do some great thing, and to do it in the most theatrical way,
with everybody looking on. What real services they may have rendered to
the sick poor, leprous or other, there is little to show. The
head-quarters of the order were at Jerusalem, the Grand Master and the
Knights there being all _leprosi_--doubtless in a liberal sense of the
term. We should be doing them no injustice if we take them to have been
Crusaders so badly hit by their vices or their misfortunes as to be marked
off into a separate order by a natural line. However, many others enlisted
under the banner of St Lazarus who were not _leprosi_; these established
themselves in various countries of Europe, acquired many manors and built
fine houses[172]. In England their chief house was at Burton in
Leicestershire; it was not by any means a great leper-hospital, but a
Commandery or Preceptory for eight whole knights, with some provision for
an uncertain number of poor brethren--the real Lazaruses who, like their
prototype, would receive the crumbs from the high table. The house of
Burton Lazars gradually swallowed up the lands of leper-hospitals
elsewhere, as these passed into desuetude, and at the valuation of Henry
VIII. it headed the list with an annual rental of £250. Their
establishment in England dates from the early part of the twelfth century,
and although the house at Burton appears to have been their only
considerable possession, they are said, on vague evidence, to have
enlisted many knights from England, and, curiously enough, still more from
Scotland. A letter is extant by the celebrated schoolman, John of
Salisbury, afterwards bishop of Chartres, written in the reign of Henry
II. to a bishop of Salisbury, from which it would appear that the “Fratres
Hospitales” were regarded with jealousy and dislike by the clerical
profession; “rapiunt ut distribuant,” says the writer, as if there were
something at once forced and forcible in their charities[173].

Coincidently with the appearance in England of the Knights of St Lazarus,
we find the monasteries, and sometimes private benefactors among the
nobility, beginning to make provision for lepers, either along with other
deserving poor or in houses apart. After the hospitals at Canterbury and
London (as well as an eleventh-century foundation at Northampton, which
may or may not have been originally destined for _leprosi_), come the two
leper-houses founded by the great abbey of St Albans. As these were
probably as good instances as can be found, their history is worth

In the time of abbot Gregory (1119 to 1146), the hospital and church of St
Julian was built on the London road, for six poor brethren (_Lazares_ or
_pauperes Christi_) governed by a master and four chaplains. The
mastership of St Julian’s is twice mentioned in the abbey chronicles as a
valuable piece of preferment. In 1254 the lands of the hospital were so
heavily taxed, for the king and the pope, that the _miselli_, according to
Matthew Paris, had barely the necessaries of life. But a century after,
in 1350, the revenues were too large for its needs, and new statutes were
made; the accommodation of its six beds was by no means in request, the
number of inmates being never more than three, sometimes only two, and
occasionally only one[174]. The fate of the other leper-house of St Albans
abbey, that of St Mary de Pratis for women, is not less instructive. The
date of its foundation is not known, but in 1254 it had a church and a
hospital occupied by _misellae_[175]. A century later we hear of the house
being shared between illiterate sisters and nuns. The former are not
called lepers, but simply poor sisters; whatever they were, the nuns and
they did not get on comfortably together, and the abbot restored harmony
by turning the hospital into a nunnery pure and simple[176]. Similar was
the history of one of the richest foundations of the kind, that of Mayden
Bradley in Wiltshire. It was originally endowed shortly before or shortly
after the accession of Henry II. (1135) by a noble family for an unstated
number of poor women, generally assumed to have been _leprosae_, and for
an unstated number of regular and secular clerics to perform the religious
offices and manage the property. It had not existed long, however, when
the bishop of Salisbury, in 1190, got the charter altered so as to assign
the revenues to eight canons and--poor sisters, and so it continued until
the valuation of Henry VIII., when it was found to be of considerable
wealth. In like manner the hospital of St James, at Tannington near
Canterbury, founded in the reign of Henry II. for twenty-five “leprous
sisters,” was found, in the reign of Edward III. (1344), to contain no
lepers, its “corrodies” being much sought after by needy gentlewomen[177].

Another foundation of Henry II.’s reign was the leper-hospital of St Mary
Magdalen at Sponne, outside the walls of Coventry. It was founded by an
Earl of Chester, who, having a certain leprous knight in his household,
gave in pure alms for the health of his soul and the souls of his
ancestors his chapel at Sponne with the site thereof, and half a carucate
of land for the maintenance of such lepers as should happen to be in the
town of Coventry. There was one priest to celebrate, and with him were
wont to be also certain brethren or sisters together with the lepers,
praying to God for the good estate of all their benefactors. “But clear it
is,” says Dugdale, “that the monks shortly after appropriated it to their
own use.” However, they were in time dispossessed by the Crown, to which
the hospital belonged until the 14th of Edward IV[178].

One of the most typical as well as earliest foundations was the hospital
of the Holy Innocents at Lincoln, endowed by Henry I. We owe our knowledge
of its charter to an inquisition of Edward III. It was intended for ten
_leprosi_, who were to be of the outcasts (_de ejectibus_) of the city of
Lincoln, the presentation to be in the king’s gift or in that of the mayor
or other good men of the city, and the administration of it by a master or
warden, two chaplains and one clerk. In the space of two centuries from
its foundation the character of its inmates had gradually changed. Edward
III.’s commissioners found nine poor brethren or sisters in it; only one
of them was _leprosus_, and he had obtained admission by a golden key;
also the seven poor women had got in _per viam pecuniam_. In Henry VI.’s
time provision was made for the possibility of lepers still requiring its
shelter--_quod absit_, as the new charter said.

In the same reign (end of Henry I.) the hospital of St Peter was founded
at Bury St Edmunds by abbot Anselm, for priests and others when they grew
old and infirm, leprous or diseased. The other hospital at Bury, St
Saviour’s, had no explicit reference to leprosy at all. It was founded by
the famous abbot Samson about 1184, for a warden, twelve chaplain-priests,
six clerks, twelve poor gentlemen, and twelve poor women. About a hundred
years later the poor sisters had to go, in order to make room for old and
infirm priests.

Sometime before his death in 1139, Thurstan, archbishop of York, founded a
hospital at Ripon for the relief of “all the lepers in Richmondshire;” the
provision was for eighteen patients, a chaplain and sisters. At an
uncertain date afterwards the house was found to contain a master, two or
three chaplains and some brethren, who are not styled _leprosi_; and from
the inquisition of Edward III. we learn that its original destination had
been for the relief as much of the poor as the leprous (_tam pauperum quam
leprosorum_), and that there was no leprous person in it at the date of
the inquisition.

The mixed character of hospitals commonly reckoned leper-hospitals is
shown by several other instances. St Mary Magdalene’s at Lynn (1145)
provided for a prior and twelve brethren or sisters, nine of whom were to
be whole and three leprous. St Leonard’s at Lancaster (time of king John)
was endowed for a master, a chaplain, and nine poor persons, three of them
to be leprous. St Bartholomew’s at Oxford provided for a master, a clerk,
two whole brethren and six infirm or leprous brethren; but the infirm or
leprous brethren had all been changed into whole brethren by the time of
Edward III[179]. So again the Normans’ spital at Norwich was found to be
sheltering “seven whole sisters and seven half-sisters.”

The leper-hospital at Stourbridge, near Cambridge, was founded for lepers
by king John, the one king in English history who cared greatly about his
leprous subjects. It was committed to the charge of the burgesses of
Cambridge, but it was shortly after seized by Hugo de Norwold, bishop of
Ely, and within little more than fifty years from its foundation (7 Ed.
I.) it was found that the bishop of Ely of that day was using it for some
purposes of his own, but “was keeping no lepers in it, as he ought, and as
the custom had been[180].”

The ostentatious patronage of lepers by king John, of which something more
might be said, was preceded by a more important interposition on their
behalf by the third Council of the Lateran in 1179 (Alexander III.). The
position of _leprosi_ in the community had clearly become anomalous, and
one of the decrees of the Council was directed to setting it right.
Lepers, who were “unable to live with sound persons, or to attend church
with them, or to get buried in the same churchyard, or to have the
ministrations of the proper priest,” were enjoined to have their own
presbytery, church, and churchyard, and their lands were to be exempt from
tithe[181]. Within two or three years of that decree, in or near 1181, we
find a bishop of Durham, Hugh de Puiset, endowing the greatest of all the
English leper-hospitals, at Sherburn, a mile or more outside the city of
Durham. The bishop was a noted instance of the worldly ecclesiastic of his
time. He was accused by the king of misappropriating money left by the
archbishop of York, and his defence was that he had spent it on the blind,
the deaf, the dumb, the leprous, and such like deserving objects[182].
William of Newburgh has left us his opinion of the bishop’s charity: it
was a noble hospital lavishly provided for, “but with largess not quite
honestly come by” (_sed tamen ex parte minus honesta largitione_[183]).
The hospital of bishop Hugh, dedicated to the Saviour, the Blessed Virgin,
St Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, still exists as Christ’s
Hospital, a quadrangular building enclosing about an acre in a sunny
valley to the south of the city, with a fine chapel, a great hall (of
which the ancient raftered roof existed into the present century), a
master’s lodge, and a low range of buildings on the west side of the
square for the poor brethren, with their own modest hall in the middle of
it. The original foundation was certainly on a princely scale, as things
then went: it was for five “convents” of lepers, including in all
sixty-five persons of both sexes, with a steward or guardian to be their
own proper representative or protector, three priests, four attendant
clerks, and a prior and prioress. We hear nothing more of the hospital for
a century and a half, during which time it had doubtless been filled by a
succession of poor brethren, or sick poor brethren, but whether leprous
brethren, or even mainly leprous, may well be doubted after the recorded
experiences of Ripon, Lincoln and Stourbridge. Its charter was confirmed
by bishop Kellaw about 1311-1316; and in an ordinance of 1349 we still
read, but not without a feeling of something forced and unreal, of the
hospital ministering to the hunger, the thirst, the nakedness of the
leprous, and to the other wants and miseries by which they are incessantly
afflicted. But within ninety years of that time (1434) the real state of
the case becomes apparent; the poor brethren had been neglected, and the
estates so mismanaged or alienated to other uses, that new statutes were
made reducing the number of inmates to thirteen poor brethren and two
lepers, the latter being thrown in, “if they can be found in these parts,”
in order to preserve the memory of the original foundation[184].

To these samples, which are also the chief instances of English
leper-hospitals, may be added two or three more to bring out another side
of the matter. In the cases already given, it has been seen that the
provision for the clerical staff was either a very liberal one at first or
became so in course of time. The hospitals, whether leprous or other, were
for the most part dependencies of the abbeys, affording occupation and
residence to so many more monks, just as if they had been “cells” of the
abbey. The enormous disproportion of the clerical staff to the inmates of
hospitals (not, however, leprous) is seen in the instances of St Giles’s
at Norwich, St Saviour’s at Bury and St Cross at Winchester. The provision
was about six for the poor and half-a-dozen for the monks. But even the
purely nosocomial part of these charities was in not a few instances for
the immediate relief of the monasteries themselves. St Bartholomew’s at
Chatham, one of the earliest foundations usually counted among the
leper-hospitals, was for sick or infirm monks. The hospital at
Basingstoke, endowed by Merton College, Oxford, was for incurably sick
fellows and scholars of Merton itself. The leper-hospital at Ilford in
Essex was founded about 1180 by the rich abbey of Barking, for the leprous
tenants and servants of the abbey, the provision being for a secular
master, a leprous master, thirteen leprous brethren, two chaplains and a
clerk. St Lawrence’s at Canterbury (1137) was for leprous monks or for the
poor parents and relations of monks. St Peter’s at Bury St Edmunds,
founded by abbot Anselm in the reign of Henry I., was for priests and
others when they grew old, infirm, leprous, or diseased.

The instances which have been detailed in the last few pages, perhaps not
without risk of tediousness, have not been chosen to give a colour to the
view of medieval leprosy; they are a fair sample of the whole, and they
include nearly all those leper-hospitals of which the charters or other
authentic records are known[185]. It is possible by using every verbal
reference to leprosy that may be found in connexion with all the five
hundred or more medieval English hospitals in Bishop Tanner’s _Notitia
Monastica_ or in Dugdale’s _Monasticon_, to make out a list of over a
hundred leper-hospitals of one kind or another. But there are probably not
thirty of them for which the special destination of the charity is known
from charters or inquisitions; and even these, as we have seen, were not
all purely for lepers or even mainly for lepers. As to the rest of the
list of one hundred, the connexion with leprosy is of the vaguest kind.
Thus, four out of the five hospitals in Cornwall are called lazar-houses
or leper-hospitals, but they were so called merely on the authority of
antiquaries subsequent to the sixteenth century. The same criticism
applies almost equally to the eight so-called leper-hospitals, out of a
total of fourteen medieval hospitals of all kinds, in Devonshire. It is
clear that “lazar-house” became an even more widely generic term than the
terms _lepra_ and _leprosus_ themselves[186].

Thus our doubts as to the amount of true leprosy that once existed in
England, and was provided for in the access of chivalrous sentiment that
came upon Christendom in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, tend to
multiply in a compound ratio. We doubt whether many of the so-called
leper-houses or lazar-houses in the list of one hundred, more or less,
that may be compiled from the _Monasticon_, were not ordinary refuges for
the sick and infirm poor, like the three or four hundred other religious
charities of the country. We know that, in some instances of
leper-hospitals with authentic charters, the provision for the leprous was
in the proportion of one to three or four of non-leprous inmates. We know
that as early as the end of the thirteenth century the _leprosi_ were
disappearing or getting displaced even from hospitals where the intentions
of the founder were explicit. And lastly we doubt the homogeneity of the
disease called _lepra_ and of the class called _leprosi_.

As to the foundations of a later age they were no longer under
ecclesiastical management, and they seem to have been mostly rude shelters
on the outskirts of the larger towns. In 1316 a burgess of Rochester, who
had sat in Parliament, left a house in Eastgate to be called St
Katharine’s Spital, “for poor men of the city, leprous or otherwise
diseased, impotent and poor”--or, in other words, a common almshouse. The
remarkable ordinance of Edward III. in 1346, for the expulsion of lepers
from London, seems to have been the occasion of the founding of two
so-called lazar-houses, one in Kent Street, Southwark, called “the
Loke[187],” and the other at Hackney or Kingsland. These are the only two
mentioned in the subsequent orders to the porters of the City Gates in
1375; and as late as the reign of Henry VI. they are the only two, besides
the ancient Matilda’s Hospital in St Giles’s Fields, to which bequests
were made in the will of Ralph Holland, merchant taylor[188]. Another of
the suburban leper-spitals was founded at Highgate by a citizen in
1468[189], and it is not until the reign of Henry VIII. that we hear of
the spitals at Mile End, Knightsbridge and Hammersmith[190]. By that time
leprosy had ceased to be heard of in England; but another disease,
syphilis, had become exceedingly common; and it is known that those
spitals, together with the older leper-hospitals, were used for the poorer
victims of that disease. Stow is unable to give the exact date of any of
these foundations except that at Highgate. He assumes that the others were
all built on the occasion of the ordinance of 20 Edward III.; but it is
probable that only two of them, the Lock and the Kingsland or Hackney
spital were built at that time[191].

An early instance of a leper-spital or refuge apparently without
ecclesiastical discipline is mentioned in a charter roll of 1207-8, in
which king John grants to the leprosi of Bristol a croft outside the
Laffard gate, whereon to reside under the king’s protection and to beg
with impunity. On the roads leading to Norwich there were four such
shelters, outside the gates of St Mary Magdalene, St Bennet, St Giles and
St Stephen respectively; these houses were each under a keeper, and were
supported by the alms of the townsfolk or of travellers; only one of the
four is alleged to have had a chapel attached. The date of these is
unknown, but they were probably late. On the roads leading from Lynn,
there were three such erections, at Cowgate, Letchhythe and West Lynn,
which are first mentioned in a will of 1432. These non-religious and
unendowed leper-spitals were probably rude erections on the outskirts of
the town, at the door of which, or on the roadside near, one or more
lepers would sit and beg. The liberty of soliciting alms was one of their
privileges, only they were not allowed to carry their importunity too far;
hence the ordinance of most countries that the lepers were not to enter
mills and bake-houses; and hence some ordinances of the Scots parliament
limiting the excursions of the leper folk. One of the most considerable
privileges to lepers was granted to the lepers of Shrewsbury in 1204 by
king John, who did not lose the chance of earning a cheap reputation for
Christian charity by his ostentatious patronage of the _pauperes Christi_:
they were entitled to take a handful of corn or flour from all sacks
exposed in Shrewsbury market.

Leper-houses in Scotland and Ireland.

Most of the leper-spitals of Scotland would appear to have been of the
poorest kind, unendowed and unprovided with priests. The richest
foundation for lepers in Scotland was at Kingcase, near Prestwick in
Ayrshire, endowed with lands and consisting of a hospital of eight beds.
One or more leper-hospitals were built by the rich abbeys on the Tweed (at
Aldcambus in Berwickshire and probably at another place). Another great
ecclesiastical centre in Scotland, Elgin, had a leper-house at Rothfan,
with accommodation for seven lepers, a chaplain, and a servant. After
these, the Scots leper-houses may be taken to have been mere refuges, in
which the lepers supported themselves by begging. One such secular
hospital was in the Gorbals of Glasgow, founded in 1350. Liberton, near
Edinburgh, is supposed to mean Leper-town, and to have been a resort of
the sick on account of its medicinal spring. The hospital at Greenside,
then outside Edinburgh, was built in 1589. There was a leper-spital
outside the Gallow-gate of Aberdeen, on a road which still bears the name
of the Spital. Similar shelters may be inferred to have existed at Perth,
Stirling, Linlithgow and other places. James IV., in his journeys, used to
distribute small sums to the sick folk in the “grandgore” (syphilis), to
the poor folk, and to the lipper-folk, “at the town end[192].”

There were some leper-hospitals in Ireland, but it is not easy to
distinguish them in every case from general hospitals for the sick poor.
Thus the hospital built by the monks of Innisfallen in 869 is merely
called _nosocomium_, although it is usually reckoned an early foundation
for lepers in Ireland. A hospital at Waterford was “confirmed to the poor”
by the Benedictines in 1185. St Stephen’s in Dublin (1344) is specially
named as the residence of the “poor lepers of the city” in a deed of gift
about 1360-70; a locality of the city called Leper-hill was perhaps the
site of another refuge. Lepers also may have been the occupants of the
hospitals at Kilbrixy in Westmeath (St Bridget’s), of St Mary Magdalene’s
at Wexford (previous to 1408), of the house at “Hospital,” Lismore (1467),
at Downpatrick, at Kilclief in county Down, at Cloyne, and of one or more
of four old hospitals in or near Cork. The hospital at Galway, built “for
the poor of the town” about 1543, was not a leper-house, nor is there
reason to take the old hospital at Dungarvan as a foundation specially for

The Prejudice against Lepers.

It will have been inferred, from many particulars given, that the
segregation of lepers in the Middle Ages was far from complete, and that
many ministered to them without fear and without risk. The same hospital
received both _leprosi_ and others, the hospitals were served by staffs of
chaplains, clerks and sometimes women attendants; and yet nothing is
anywhere said of contagion being feared or of the disease spreading by
contagion. The experience of these medieval hospitals was doubtless the
same as in the West Indies and other parts of the world in our own day.
It is true that the medical writers pronounce the disease to be
contagious, _ut docet Avicenna_; but the public would seem to have been
unaware of that, and they certainly lost nothing by their ignorance of the
medical dogma, which, in the text-books, is merely the result of a
concatenation of verbalist arguments. At the same time it is clear that
there was a certain amount of segregation of the leprous. The inmates of
the hospital at Lincoln are significantly described as “de ejectibus” of
the city. The third Lateran Council based one of its decrees upon what
must have been a common experience, namely, that lepers were unable to mix
freely with others, and that they were objected to in the same church, and
even as corpses in the same churchyard. There are some particular
indications of that feeling to be gathered from the chroniclers.

One of the most remarkable histories is that of a high ecclesiastic in the
pre-Norman period. In the year 1044, Aelfward, bishop of London, being
stricken with leprosy (_lepra perfusus_) sought an asylum in the monastery
of Evesham, of which he was the prior. The monks may have had more than
one reason for not welcoming back their prior; at all events they declined
to let him stay, so that he repaired to the abbey of Ramsey, where he had
passed his noviciate and been shorn a monk. He carried off with him from
Evesham certain valuables and relics; and his old comrades at Ramsey,
undeterred by his leprosy or counter-attracted by his treasures, took him
in and kept him until his death. The incident can hardly be legendary for
it is related in the annals of Ramsey Abbey by one who wrote within a
hundred years of the event[194].

Another case, which may also be accepted as authentic, is given by Eadmer
in his _Life of Anselm_. Among the penitents who sought counsel and
consolation of Anselm while he was still abbot of Bec in Normandy, with a
great name for sanctity, was a certain powerful noble from the marches of
Flanders. He had been stricken with leprosy in his body, and his grief was
all the greater that he saw himself despised beneath his hereditary rank,
and shunned by his peers _pro obscenitate tanti mali_[195].

Besides such notable cases, we find more evidence in the ordinances of the
hospital of St Julian at St Albans, which have been preserved more
completely than those of any other leper-house. Forasmuch as the disease
of leprosy is of all infirmities held the most in contempt, the
unfortunate person who is about to be received into the St Albans house is
directed to work himself up into a state of the most factitious
melancholy; he is reminded, not only of the passage in Leviticus about
“Unclean, unclean!”, but also of the blessed Job, who was himself a leper
(in the 14th century his boils became identified with the plague, and in
the end of the 15th century the patriarch was claimed as an early victim
of the _lues venerea_); and further of the verse in the 53rd of Isaiah:
“Et nos putavimus eum leprosum, percussum a Deo, et humiliatum[196].” The
St Albans house, with its six beds, appears to have been carefully
managed, and its inmates well provided for; but the unreal atmosphere of
the place had been too much for the leprous or other patients of the
district; for we find it on record that they could hardly be persuaded to
don its russet uniform, and submit themselves for the rest of their lives
to its discipline.

There can be no question, then, that persons adjudged leprous were
shunned, driven out or ostracised by public opinion, and even legislated
against. The reality of these practices should not be confounded with a
real need for them. Least of all should they be ascribed to a general
belief in the contagiousness of the disease. In practice no one heeded the
medical dogma of leprous contagion, because no one attached any concrete
meaning to it or had any real experience of it. There was prejudice
against lepers, partly on account of Biblical tradition, and partly
because the “terribilis aspectus” of a leper was repulsive or uncanny.
Further, in genuine leprosy, the most wretched part of the victim’s
condition was not his appearance (which in a large proportion of cases
may present little that is noticeable to passing observation), but his
unfitness for exertion, his listlessness, and depression of spirits, owing
to the profound disorganisation of his nerves. A leprous member of a
family would be a real burden to his relatives; and in a hard and cruel
age he would be little better off than the stricken deer of the herd or
the winged bird of the flock. To become a beggar was his natural fate; and
as a beggar he became privileged, by royal patent or by prescription,
while beggars in ordinary were under a ban.

It is undoubted that the privilege of begging accorded to lepers was
abused, and was claimed by numbers who feigned to be lepers[197]. The one
severe edict against lepers in England was the ordinance of Edward III.
for the exclusion of lepers from London in 1346; it is clear, however,
from the text of the ordinance that the occasion of it was not any fixed
persuasion of the need for isolating leprous subjects, but some
intolerable behaviour of lepers or of those who passed as such. The mayor
and sheriffs are ordered to procure that all lepers should avoid the city
within fifteen days, for the reason that persons of that class, as well by
the pollution of their breath, etc. “as by carnal intercourse with women
in stews and other secret places, detestably frequenting the same, do so
taint persons who are sound, both male and female, to the great injury
etc.[198]” That is the old confusion which we have already noticed in
Bernard Gordonio and Gilbert; it is an edict against _lepra_ in its
generic sense, and against the same class that William Clowes
characterizes so forcibly in his book on the _morbus Gallicus_ in 1579. At
a date intermediate between those two, in 1488, an order was made by the
provost of Paris, that “lepers” should leave the city; but that is too
late a date for leprosy, although not too early for syphilis. On the 24th
August, 1375, the porters of the City Gates were sworn to prevent lepers
from entering the city, or from staying in the same, or in the suburbs
thereof; and on the same date, the foreman at ‘Le Loke’ (the Lock Hospital
in Southwark) and the foreman at the leper-spital of Hackney took oath
that they will not bring lepers, or know of their being brought, into the
city, but that they will inform the said porters and prevent the said
lepers from entering, so far as they may[199].

When all word of leprosy had long ceased in England the porters of the
City Gates had the same duties towards beggars in general. Thus in
Bullein’s _Dialogue_ of 1564, the action begins with a whining beggar from
Northumberland saying the Lord’s Prayer at the door of a citizen. The
citizen asks him, “How got you in at the gates?” whereupon it appears that
the Northumbrian had a friend at Court: “I have many countrymen in the
city,” among the rest an influential personage, the Beadle of the

While it cannot be maintained that lepers were tolerated or looked upon
with indifference, yet it was for other reasons than fear of contagion
that they were objectionable. The prejudices against them have been
already illustrated from periods as early as the eleventh century. They
were, to say the least, undesirable companions, and in certain occupations
they must have been peculiarly objectionable. Thus, on the 11th June,
1372, in the city of London, John Mayn, baker, who had often times before
been commanded by the mayor and aldermen to depart from the city, and
provide for himself some dwelling without the same, and avoid the common
conversation of mankind, seeing that he the same John was smitten with the
blemish of leprosy--was again ordered to depart[201]. It does not appear
whether the baker departed that time, nor is there any good diagnosis of
his leprosy; there was certainly a prejudice against him, but the occasion
of it may have been nothing more than the eczematous crusts on the hands
and arms, sometimes very inveterate, which men of his trade are subject

It is clear also from a singular case in the _Foedera_, that a false
accusation of leprosy was sometimes brought against an individual, perhaps
out of enmity, like an accusation of witchcraft. In 1468 a woman accused
of leprosy appealed to Edward IV., who issued a chancery warrant for her

    The writ of 3rd July, 1468, is to the king’s physicians, “sworn to the
    safe-keeping of our person,” William Hatteclyff, Roger Marschall, and
    Dominic de Serego, doctors of Arts and Medicine; and the subject of
    the inquisition is Johanna Nightyngale of Brentwood in Essex, who was
    presumed by certain of her neighbours to be infected by the foul
    contagion of _lepra_, and for whose removal from the common
    intercourse of men a petition had been laid in Chancery. She had
    refused to remove herself to a solitary place, _prout moris est_; the
    physicians are accordingly ordered to associate with themselves
    certain legal persons, to inquire whether the woman was leprous, and,
    if so, to have her removed to a solitary place _honestiori modo quo
    poteris_. On the 1st of November, 1468, the court of inquiry reported
    that they found the woman to be in no way leprous, nor to have been.
    The woman had been brought before them: they had passed in review
    twenty-five or more of the commonly reputed signs of _lepra_, but they
    had not found that she could be convicted of leprosy from them, or
    from a sufficient number of them; again, passing in review each of the
    four species of lepra (_alopecia_, _tinia_, _leonina_, and
    _elephantia_) and the forty or more distinctive signs of the species
    of _lepra_, they found not that the woman was marked by any of the
    species of _lepra_, but that she was altogether free and immune from
    every species of _lepra_[202].

Laws against Lepers.

The ordinance of 21 Edward III. (1346) against the harbouring of lepers in
London is the only one of the kind (so far as I know) in English history;
the Statutes of the realm contain no reference to lepers or leprosy from
first to last; the references in the Rolls of Parliament are to the taxing
of their houses and lands. The laws which deprived lepers of marital
rights and of heirship appear to have been wholly foreign; in England,
leprosy as a bar to succession was made a plea in the law courts. It
appears, however, that a law against lepers was made by a Welsh king in
the tenth century[203]. It is not easy to realize the state of Welsh
society in the tenth century; but we know enough of it in the twelfth
century, from the description of Giraldus Cambrensis, to assert with some
confidence that “leprosy” might have meant anything--perhaps the “lepra

In Scotland the laws and ordinances, civil and ecclesiastical, against
lepers have been more numerous. In 1242 and 1269, canons of the Scots
Church were made, ordering that lepers should be separated from society in
accordance with general custom. In 1283-84, the statutes of the Society of
Merchants, or the Guildry, of Berwick provided that lepers should not
enter the borough, and that “some gude man sall gather alms for them.” In
1427 the Parliament of Perth authorised ministers and others to search the
parishes for lepers[205].

We conclude, then, that little was made of leprosy by English legislators
(rather more by the Scots), just as we have found that in the endowment of
charities, the leprous had only a small share, and that share a somewhat
exaggerated one owing to the morbid sentimentality of the chivalrous
period. The most liberal estimate of the amount of true leprosy at any
time in England would hardly place it so high as in the worst provinces of
India at the present day. In the province of Burdwan, with a population of
over two millions, which may be taken to have been nearly the population
of England in the thirteenth century, there are enumerated 4604 lepers, or
2·26 in every thousand inhabitants. But even with that excessive
prevalence of leprosy, and with no seclusion of the lepers, a traveller
may visit the province of Burdwan, and not be aware that leprosy is
“frightfully common” in it. In medieval England the village leper may have
been about as common as the village fool; while in the larger towns or
cities, such as London, Norwich, York, Bristol, and Lincoln, true lepers
can hardly have been so numerous as the friars themselves, who are
supposed to have found a large part of their occupation in ministering to
their wants. A rigorous scepticism might be justified, by the absence of
any good diagnostic evidence, in going farther than this. But the
convergence of probabilities does point to a real prevalence of leprosy in
medieval England; and those probabilities will be greatly strengthened by
discovering in the then habits of English living a _vera causa_ for the

Causes of Medieval Leprosy.

What was there in the medieval manner of life to give rise to a certain
number of cases of leprosy in all the countries of Europe? Granting that
not all who were called _leprosi_ and _leprosae_, were actually the
subjects of _lepra_ as correctly diagnosed, and that the misnomer was not
unlikely to have been applied in the case of princes, nobles and great
ecclesiastics, we have still to reckon with the apparition of leprosy
among the people in medieval Europe and with its gradual extinction, an
extinction that became absolute in most parts of Europe before the Modern
period had begun.

Of the “importation” of leprosy into Britain from some source outside
there can be no serious thought; the words are a meaningless phrase, which
no one with a real knowledge of the conditions, nature and affinities of
leprosy would care to resort to. The varying types of diseases, or their
existence at one time and absence at another, are a reflex of the
variations in the life of the people--in food and drink, wages, domestic
comfort, town life or country life, and the like. No one doubts that the
birth-rate and the death-rate have had great variations from time to time,
depending on the greater or less abundance of the means of subsistence, on
overcrowding, or other things; and the variation in the birth-rate and
death-rate is only the most obvious and numerically precise of a whole
series of variations in vital phenomena, of which the successions,
alternations, and novelties in the types of disease are the least simple,
and least within the reach of mere notional apprehension or mere
statistical management. The apparition and vanishing of leprosy in
medieval Europe was one of those vital phenomena. It may be more easily
apprehended by placing beside it a simple example from our own times.

The pellagra of the North Italian peasantry (and of Roumania, Gascony and
some other limited areas) is the nearest affinity to leprosy among the
species of disease. Strip leprosy of all its superficial and sentimental
characters, analyse its essential phenomena, reduce its pathology to the
most correct outlines, and we shall find it a chronic constitutional
malady not far removed in type from pellagra. In both diseases there are
the early warnings in the excessive sensibility, excessive redness and
changes of colour, at certain spots of skin on or about the face or on the
hands and feet. In both diseases, permanent loss of sensibility follows
the previous exaggeration, blanching of the skin will remain for good at
the spots where redness and discoloration were apt to come and go, and
these affections of the end-regions of nerves will settle, in less
definite way, upon the nervous system at large,--the cerebro-spinal
nervous system, or the organic nervous system, or both together. What
makes leprosy seem a disease in a different class from that, is the
formation of nodules, or lumps, in the regions of affected skin in a
certain proportion of the cases. If leprosy were all anaesthetic leprosy,
its affinities to pellagra would be more quickly perceived; it is because
about one-half of it has more or less of the tuberculated character that a
diversion is created towards another kind of pathology. But the fact that
some cases of leprosy develop nodules along the disordered nerves does not
remove the disease as a whole from the class to which pellagra belongs. In
both diseases we are dealing essentially with a profound disorder of the
nerves and nerve-centres, commencing in local skin-affections which come
and go and at length settle, proceeding to implicate the nervous functions
generally, impairing the efficiency of the individual, and bringing him to
a miserable end. The two diseases diverge each along its own path, leprosy
becoming more a hopeless disorder of the nerves of tissue-nutrition, and
so taking on a structural character mainly but not exclusively, and
pellagra becoming more a hopeless disorder of the organic nervous system
(digestion, circulation, etc.) with implication of the higher nervous
functions, such as the senses, the intellect, and the emotions, and so
taking on a functional character mainly but not exclusively. The
correlation of structure and function is one that goes all through
pathology as well as biology; and here we find it giving character to each
of two chronic disorders of the nervous system, according as the
structural side or the functional side comes uppermost.

What, then, are the circumstances of pellagra, and do these throw light
upon the medieval prevalence of leprosy? Pellagra has been proved with the
highest attainable scientific certainty to be due to a staple diet of
bread or porridge made from damaged or spoilt maize. It followed the
introduction of maize into Lombardy at an interval of two or three
generations, and its distribution corresponds closely to the poorer kinds
of maize on colder soils, and to the class of the peasantry who get the
worst kind of corn or meal for their food. The cases of the disease among
the peasantry of Lombardy and some other maize-growing provinces of
Northern Italy, were about one hundred thousand when last estimated; the
endowed charitable houses and lunatic asylums are full of them. The
connexion of the disease with its causes is perfectly well understood; but
the economic questions of starvation wages, of truck, of large farms with
bailiffs, and of agricultural usage, have proved too much for the chambers
of commerce and the Government; so that there is as yet little or no sign
of the decline of pellagra in the richest provinces of Italy. This disease
is not mentioned in the Bible, therefore it has no traditional vogue; it
is not well suited to knight-errantry, because it is a common evil of
whole provinces; its causes are economic and social, therefore there is no
ready favour to be earned by systematic attempts to deal with them; and
there is absolutely no opening for heroism and self-sacrifice of the more
ostentatious kind. These are among the reasons why this great
object-lesson of a chronic disorder of nutrition, proceeding steadily
before our eyes, has been so little perceived. It is in pellagra, however,
that we find the key to the ancient problem of leprosy. The two diseases
are closely allied in the insidious approach of their symptoms, in their
implicating the tissue-nutrition through the nerves, or the nervous
functions through the nutrition, in their cumulating and incurable
character, and in their transmissibility by inheritance. Thus
nosologically allied, they may be reasonably suspected of having analogous
causes; and as we know the cause of modern pellagra to be something
noxious in the habitual diet of the people, we may look for the cause of
medieval leprosy in something of the same kind.

The dietetic cause is not far to seek, and it cannot be stated better than
in the following well-known passage by the philosophical Gilbert White in
his _Natural History of Selborne_[206]:--

    “It must, therefore, in these days be, to a humane and thinking
    person, a matter of equal wonder and satisfaction, when he
    contemplates how nearly this pest is eradicated, and observes that a
    leper is now [1778] a rare sight. He will, moreover, when engaged in
    such a train of thought, naturally inquire for the reason. This happy
    change perhaps may have originated and been continued from the much
    smaller quantity of salted meat and fish now eaten in these kingdoms;
    from the use of linen next the skin; from the plenty of bread; and
    from the profusion of fruits, roots, legumes, and greens, so common in
    every family. Three or four centuries ago, before there were any
    enclosures, sown-grasses, field-turnips, or field-carrots, or hay, all
    the cattle which had grown fat in summer, and were not killed for
    winter use, were turned out soon after Michaelmas to shift as they
    could through the dead months; so that no fresh meat could be had in
    winter or spring. Hence the marvellous account of vast stores of
    salted flesh found in the larder of the eldest Spencer even so late in
    the spring as the 3rd of May (600 bacons, 80 carcases of beef, and 600
    muttons)[207]. It was from magazines like these that the turbulent
    barons supported in idleness their riotous swarms of retainers, ready
    for any disorder or mischief. But agriculture is now arrived at such
    pitch of perfection, that our best and fattest meats are killed in the
    winter; and no man needs eat salted flesh, unless he prefers it, that
    has money to buy fresh.

    “One cause of this distemper might be no doubt the quantity of
    wretched fresh and salt fish consumed by the commonalty at all seasons
    as well as in Lent, which our poor now would hardly be persuaded to
    touch.... The plenty of good wheaten bread that now is found among all
    ranks of people in the south, instead of that miserable sort which
    used, in old days, to be made of barley or beans, may contribute not a
    little to the sweetening their blood and correcting their juices.”

Let us add to this, that the meat diet of the poorer class, whether serfs
or freemen, would be apt to consist of the more worthless portions, the
semi-putrid pieces in the salted sides of bacon, mutton or beef, and that
badly-cured pork was in many parts the usual kind of flesh-food; and we
shall have no difficulty in finding the noxious element in the diet of the
Middle Ages, which the dietetic hypothesis of leprosy requires. Some who
have advocated that hypothesis for modern leprosy, have laid themselves
open, notwithstanding the ability and industry of their research, to
plausible objections which have no bearing if the hypothesis be
sufficiently safe-guarded. Leprosy, like every other _morbus miseriae_,
needs a number of things working together to produce it, its more or less
uniform specific character or distinctive mark being determined by the
presence of one factor in particular. The special factor should be
generalised as much as possible, so as to cover the whole circumstances of
leprosy: it is not only half-cured or semi-putrid fish[208], but
half-cured or semi-putrid flesh of any kind. The most general expression
for leprosy is a semi-putrid or toxic character of animal food, just as
for the allied pellagra, it is a semi-putrid or toxic character of the
bread or porridge. Moreover it is that noxious or unnatural thing in the
food, not once and again, or as a _bonne bouche_, but somewhat steadily
from day to day as a chief part of the sustenance, and from year to year.
As the rain-drops wear the stones, so the poison in the daily diet tells
upon the constitution. Once more, such special causes may be present in a
country generally, among the poor of all the towns, villages and hamlets,
and yet only one person here and there may show specific effects that are
recognisable as a disease to which we give a name. Unless there be present
the aiding and abetting things, the special factor will hardly make itself
felt; and if there be not the special factor, there may be some other
_morbus miseriae_ but there will not be that one. These aiding things are
for the most part the usual concomitants of poverty and hardships, wearing
out the nerves far more than is commonly supposed and producing in
ordinary an excessive amount of nervous affections among the poor. But
among the poor themselves, as well as among the well-to-do, there are
special susceptibilities in individuals and in families. One person may
have the same unwholesome surroundings as another and the same poisonous
element in his diet, but he may fall into no such train of symptoms as his
leprous neighbour because he is not formed in quite the same way, because
he has “no nerves,” or is of a hardier stock, or because his unwholesome
manner of life comes out in some other form of disease (scrofula perhaps,
less probably gout), or for some other reason deeply hidden in his
ancestry and his personal peculiarities. The chances would be always
largely against that particular combination of factors needed to make
leprosy. It was a _morbus miseriae_ of the Middle Ages, but on the whole
not a very common one; and it was easily shaken off by the national life
when the conditions changed ever so little. It was all the more easily
shaken off by reason of the facilities for divorce, the prohibition of
marriage, and the monastic discipline.

The staple diet as a cause of leprosy was suspected in the Middle Ages,
and by writers as ancient as Galen. It is not without significance that
the minute directions for the dieting of the lepers in the rich hospital
of Sherburn, near Durham, urge special caution as to the freshness of the
fish: when fresh fish was not to be had, red herrings might be
substituted, but only if they were well cured, not putrid nor corrupt.
Those directions were in accordance with the best medical teaching of the
time on the dietetics of leprosy, or on how to prevent leprosy, as it is
given with considerable minuteness in Gordonio and Gilbert[209].

On the other hand we find a singular ordinance of the Scots Parliament at
Scone in 1386, or some forty years after the date of the Durham
regulations: “Gif ony man brings to the market corrupt swine or salmond to
be sauld, they sall be taken by the Bailie and incontinent without ony
question sall be sent to the lepper-folke; and gif there be na
lepper-folke, they sall be destroyed alluterlie[210].” Nothing could be
more significant for the prevalence and persistence of leprosy in
Scotland[211]. Putrid fish and pork did actually come to market; the
dangers of them as regarded the production of leprosy were unsuspected;
and the lepers (genuine or mistaken) were actually directed to be fed with
them. Such food for “lepers” could only have fed the disease; and if it be
the case that genuine leprosy was met with in Edinburgh and Glasgow more
than two centuries after it ceased to be heard of in England, we need be
at no loss to assign the reason why the disease was more inveterate in the
one country than in the other.



The most likely of the fourteenth-century English annalists to have given
us a good account of the Black Death was the historian Ranulphus Higden,
author of the _Polychronicon_, who became a monk of St Werburgh’s abbey at
Chester about the beginning of the century, and lived to see the
disastrous year of 1349[212]. That part of his history which relates to
his own period he brings down year by year to 1348, with less fulness of
detail in the later years, as if old age were making him brief. Under the
year 1348 he begins the subject of the great mortality, speaks of the
incessant rains of the second half of the year from Midsummer to
Christmas, refers to the ravages of the plague at Avignon, the then
ecclesiastical capital of Christendom, just mentions England and Ireland,
and then lets the pen fall from his hand. Higden is believed to have
resumed his annals after 1352; but he was then a very old man, and the
last entries are unimportant. But the period from 1348 to 1352 is an
absolute blank. He comes to the edge of the great subject of that time, as
if he had intended to deal with it comprehensively, beginning with a
notice of the previous weather, which is by no means irrelevant, and after
two or three lines more he breaks off. Most of the monastic chronicles are
interrupted at the same point; if there is an entry at all under the year
1349 it is for the most part merely the words magna mortalitas. The
prevailing sense of desolation and despair comes out in the record made by
a friar of Kilkenny, who kept a chronicle of passing events, and escaped
the fate of his brethren in the convent only long enough to record a few
particulars of the great mortality[213]:

    “And I, friar John Clyn, of the Order of Friars Minor, and of the
    convent of Kilkenny, wrote in this book those notable things which
    happened in my time, which I saw with my eyes, or which I learned from
    persons worthy of credit. And lest things worthy of remembrance should
    perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to
    come after us, I, seeing these many evils, and the whole world lying,
    as it were, in the wicked one, among the dead waiting for death till
    it come--as I have truly heard and examined, so have I reduced these
    things to writing; and lest the writing should perish with the writer,
    and the work fail together with the workman, I leave parchment for
    continuing the work, if haply any man survive, and any of the race of
    Adam escape this pestilence and continue the work which I have

There is nothing in the English chronicles so directly personal as that,
but there are some facts recorded of the mortality in four of them which
have contemporary value, or almost contemporary. The best of these
accounts, as a piece of history, is that of Henry Knighton, canon of
Leicester[214], who acknowledges his indebtedness to Higden’s
_Polychronicon_ for the events down to 1326, but after that date either
writes from his own observation or takes his facts from some unknown
contemporary source. The next in importance is Geoffrey le Baker[215], a
clerk of the abbey of Osney, near Oxford, whose account of the arrival of
the Black Death in England has obtained wide currency as copied literally
in the 1605 edition of Stow’s _Annals_. The third is Robert de
Avesbury[216], whose _History of Edward III._ serves as a chronicle for
the city of London more particularly. The fourth is the Malmesbury monk
who wrote, about 1367, the chronicle known as the _Eulogium_[217].

From the systematic paragraphs of those writers, and from various other
incidental notices, an outline of the progress of the pestilence in
England, Scotland and Ireland, may be traced. It entered English soil at a
port of Dorsetshire--said in the _Eulogium_ to have been Melcombe
(Weymouth)--in the beginning of August, 1348. It is said to have spread
rapidly through Dorset, Devon and Somerset, almost stripping those
counties of their inhabitants, and to have reached Bristol by the 15th of
August. The people of Gloucester in vain tried to keep out the infection
by cutting off all intercourse with Bristol; from Gloucester it came to
Oxford, and from Oxford to London, reaching the capital at Michaelmas,
according to one account, or at All Saints (1st November) according to
another. Although the 15th of August is definitely given as the date of
its arrival at Bristol from the Dorset coast, it must not be assumed that
the infection covered the ground so quickly as that in the rest of its
progresses. We have a measure of the rate of its advance south-westward
through Devonshire to Cornwall, in a contemporary entry in the register of
the Church of Friars Minor at Bodmin[218]: confirming the independent
statements that the pestilence entered England at the beginning of August,
the register goes on to record that it reached the town of Bodmin shortly
before Christmas, and that there died in that town about fifteen hundred
persons, as estimated.

The corporation records of Bridport, a town near to the place in Dorset
where the infection landed, show that four bailiffs held office, instead
of two, in the 23rd of Edward III., _in tempore pestilentiae_; the 23rd of
Edward III. would begin 25 Jan. 1349, but the municipal year would
probably have extended from September 1348, so that Bridport may have had
the infection before the end of that year[219]. It seems probable that the
smaller towns, and the villages, all over the South-west, had been
infected in the end of 1348, but somewhat later than Bristol and
Gloucester. The mandate of Ralph, bishop of Bath and Wells, “On
confessions in the time of the pestilence,” is dated Wynchelcomb, 4. id.
Jan. M.CCC.XLVIII. (10 January, 1349) and it speaks of the contagion
spreading everywhere, and of many parish churches and other cures in his
diocese being left without curate and priest to visit the sick and
administer the sacraments[220].

The autumn of 1348 may be taken, then, as correct for the South-west; and
there is no doubt that the infection had been severe enough in London
before the end of that year to move the authorities to action.

“Owing to the increasing severity of the sudden plague day by day at
Westminster and places adjoining,” Parliament was prorogued on the 1st of
January, 1349[221]. There was a further prorogation on the 10th of March,
for the reason given that “the pestilence was continuing at Westminster,
in the city of London, and in other places, more severely than before”
(_gravius solito_)[222]. This agrees with Avesbury’s statement that the
epidemic in London reached a height (_in tantum excrevit_) after
Candlemas, 1349, and that it was over about Pentecost. One of the best
proofs of the season and duration of the Black Death in London is got from
the number of wills enrolled in the Husting Court of the city in the
successive months. Those who died of the plague leaving wills were, of
course, but a small fraction of the whole mortality; but the wills during
some eight months of 1349 are ten or fifteen times more numerous than in
any other year before or after, excepting perhaps the year of the _pestis
secunda_, 1361. Starting from 3 in November, 1348 (none in December), the
probates rise to 18 in January, 1349, 42 in February, 41 in March, none in
April (owing to paralysis of business, doubtless), but 121 in May, 31 in
June, 51 in July, none in August and September, 18 in October, 27 in
November, and then an ordinary average[223]. Thus it would have had a
duration of some seven or eight months in the capital, with a curve of
increase, maximum intensity, and decrease, just as the great London
epidemics of the same disease in the 16th and 17th centuries are known
from the weekly bills to have had.

It does not appear to have been felt at all in Norwich and other places in
the Eastern Counties until the end of March, 1349, its enormous ravages in
that part of England falling mostly in the summer. There is a definite
statement that it began at York about the feast of the Ascension, by which
time it had almost ceased in London, and that it lasted in the capital of
the northern province until the end of July. The infection almost emptied
the abbey of Meaux, in Holdernesse, of its monks, and the abbey lands of
their tenants; and the date given in the abbey chronicle is the month of
August, 1349. The spring and summer of that year appear to have been the
seasons of the great mortality all over England, excepting perhaps in the
southern counties where the outbreak began; even at Oxford, which is one
of the towns mentioned as on the route of the pestilence from Dorsetshire
to London, the mortality is entered under the year 1349, which was also
the year of its enormous prevalence among the farmers and peasants on the
manor of Winslow, in the county of Bucks.

Its invasion of the mountainous country of Wales (by no means exempt from
plague in the 17th century) may have been a season later--_anno sequenti_,
says Le Baker, which may mean either 1349 or 1350. In the Irish annals,
the first mention of the pestilence is under the year 1348; but it was
probably only the rumour of the mortality at Avignon and elsewhere abroad
that caused the alarm in Ireland among ecclesiastics and in gatherings of
the people. It was first seen on the shores of Dublin Bay, at Howth and
Dalkey, and a little farther north on the coast at Drogheda; it raged in
Dublin “from the beginning of August until the Nativity[224],” which may
mean the year 1348, although the year 1349 is the date given for the great
mortality in Ireland in later chronicles.

The experience of Scotland illustrates still farther the slow progression
of the plague, and its dependence to some extent upon the season of the
year. Two English chroniclers (Le Baker and Knighton) mention that it got
among the Scots assembled in the forest of Selkirk for an invasion at the
time when the mortality was greatest in the northern counties, the autumn
of 1349. But the winter cold must have held it in check as regards the
rest of Scotland; for it is clear from Fordoun that its great season in
that country generally was the year 1350. Thus the Black Death may be said
to have extended over three seasons in the British Islands--a partial
season in the south of England in 1348, a great season all over England,
in Ireland and in the south of Scotland in 1349, and a late extension to
Scotland generally in 1350. The experience of all Europe was similar, the
Mediterranean provinces receiving the infection as early as 1347, and the
northern countries, on the Baltic and North Seas, as late as 1350.

Symptoms and Type of the Black Death.

This sweeping pestilence was part of a great wave of infection which
passed over Europe from the remote East, and of which we shall trace the
antecedents in the latter part of this chapter. The type and symptoms of
the disease are sufficiently well-known from foreign descriptions--by Guy
de Chauliac and Raymond de Chalin, both of Avignon, by Boccaccio, and by
the Villani of Florence. It was the bubo-plague, a disease which is known
to have existed in Egypt in the time of the Ptolemies, and made its first
great incursion from that country into Europe in the reign of Justinian in
the year 543 (see Chapter I.). Its second great invasion, but from a new
direction, was the Black Death of 1347-9; and from that time it remained
domesticated in the soil of Europe for more than three hundred years as
“the plague.” The first medical descriptions of it by native British
writers are comparatively late. Manuscript treatises or “ordinances” on
the plague circulated in England from the reign of Richard II., most of
them being copies of a short work of no great value by one John of
Burgoyne or John of Bordeaux. There is also extant an English translation
in manuscript, assigned to the 14th century (but belonging to the end of
it, if not to the 15th), of a really good work on the plague by the bishop
of Aarhus, in Denmark, of which I shall have more to say in the next
chapter. But none of these give English experience; and the earliest of
our 16th century plague-books, by Phaer, is a compilation mostly, if not
entirely, from the Danish bishop’s treatise, the latter having been
printed in its English form in or near 1480. It is not until we come to
the work of Dr Gilbert Skene of Edinburgh, printed in 1568, that we find a
treatise on plague showing traces of first-hand observation and
reflection. Then follow the essay of Simon Kellwaye on the London plague
of 1593, and that of the well-known Elizabethan poet and physician Thomas
Lodge, on the plague of 1603. Thus the reign of the plague in Britain was
approaching an end before the native medical profession began to write
upon it. Its eventful history from its arrival in 1348 down to a
comparatively late period has to be constructed from other materials than
the records or systematic writings of the faculty.

The type of the Black Death in England is sufficiently indicated by Le
Baker, who was probably living at Osney, near Oxford, when the infection
began, and indubitably by friar Clyn of Kilkenny. Le Baker mentions the
_apostemata_ or swellings in diverse parts, their sudden eruption, and
their extreme hardness and dryness, so that hardly any fluid escaped when
they were lanced according to the usual method of treating them[225]. He
speaks also of a peculiarly fatal form, from which few or none recovered;
it was characterised by “small black pustules” on the skin, probably the
livid spots or “tokens” which came to be considered the peculiar mark of
the plague, and were certainly the index of a malignant type of it, just
as the corresponding haemorrhages are in pestilential fever (or typhus)
and in yellow fever. The disease, he adds, was swift in doing its work:
one day people were in high health and the next day dead and buried.
Knighton also says, with special reference to Bristol, that the attack was
fatal sometimes within twelve hours, and usually within three days at the
most. The treatment, which would have been, according to all subsequent
experience, the privilege only of those who could pay for it, would appear
to have consisted in lancing the risings or botches in the armpits, neck,
or groins; these were the lymph-glands enlarged to the size of a walnut or
of a hen’s egg, and of a livid colour,--the most striking and certain of
all the plague-signs.

Clyn’s account of the disease, as he saw it at Kilkenny in 1349, is
important for including one remarkable symptom on which great importance
has been laid as distinctive of the Black Death among the epidemics of
bubo-plague, namely haemorrhage from the lungs: “For many died from
carbuncles, and boils, and botches which grew on the legs and under the
arms; others from passion of the head, as if thrown into a frenzy; others
by vomiting blood[226].” It was so contagious, he says, that those who
touched the dead, or even the sick, were incontinently infected that they
died, and both penitent and confessor were borne together to the same
grave. Such was the fear and horror of it that men scarce dared exercise
the offices of pity, namely, to visit the sick and bury the dead. Clyn’s
list of symptoms includes all the most prominent features of the plague as
we shall find them described for the great epidemics of the Stuart
period--the botches in the armpits or groins, the carbuncles, the boils
(or blains), and the frenzy or delirium, as well as the special symptom of
the great mortality--vomiting of blood.

Of the botch, which was the most striking sign of the plague, the
following description, by Woodall (1639), may be introduced here, to
supplement the more meagre accounts of the bubo-plague on its first
appearance. Woodall had himself suffered from the bubo or botch on two
occasions, in its comparatively safe suppurating form; his description
relates to the hard, tense, and dry botch, especially mentioned by Le
Baker for 1349, and always the index of great malignity:

    “But the pestilential bubo or boyle commeth ever furiously on, and as
    in a rage of a Feaver, and as being in haste; sometimes it lighteth on
    or near the inguen thwart, but more often lower upon the thigh,
    pointing downward with one end, the upper end towards the belly being
    commonly the biggest or the fullest part of the bubo, the whole thigh
    being also inflamed[227].”

Of this disease, says Le Baker, few of the first rank died, but of the
common people an incalculable number, and of the clergy and the cleric
class a multitude known to God only. It was mostly the young and strong
who were cut off, the aged and weakly being commonly spared. No one dared
come near the sick, and the bodies of the dead were shunned. Both Le Baker
and Knighton speak of whole villages and hamlets left desolate, and of
numbers of houses, both great and small, left empty and falling to ruin.
It was not merely one in a house that died, says friar Clyn of Kilkenny,
but commonly husband, wife, children and domestics all went the same way
of death; the friar himself wrote as one _inter mortuos mortem expectans_.
Without naming the locality, Avesbury says that in a single day, twenty,
forty, sixty or more corpses were buried in the same trench[228]. The
stereotyped phrase in the monastic chronicles is that not more than a
tenth part of the people were left alive. However, the author of the
_Eulogium_, a monk of Malmesbury who brought his history down to 1366,
gives a numerical estimate at the other extreme. He says that the plague
entered England at Melcumbe, destroyed innumerable people in Dorset, Devon
and Somerset, and, having left few alive in Bristol, proceeded northwards,
leaving no city, nor town, nor hamlet, nor scarcely a house, in which it
did not cut off the greater part of the people, or the whole of them; but
he adds, somewhat inconsequently, “so that a fifth part of the men, women
and children in all England were consigned to the grave[229].” These are
the vague contemporary estimates of the mortality--ranging from
nine-tenths to one-fifth of the whole population. It is possible, however,
to come much nearer to precision by the systematic use of documents; and
in that exercise we shall now proceed, in an order from the more general
to the more particular.

Estimates of the Mortality.

There are two State documents the language of which favours the more
moderate kind of estimate. In a letter of the king[230], dated 1 December,
1349, or after the epidemic was over, to the mayor and bailiffs of
Sandwich, ordering them to watch all who took ship for foreign parts so as
to arrest the exit of men and money, the preamble or motive is: “Quia non
modica pars populi regni nostri Angliae praesenti Pestilentia est
defuncta.” (Forasmuch as no mean part of the people of our kingdom of
England is dead of the present pestilence.) The Statute of Labourers, 18
November, 1350, begins: “Quia magna pars populi, et maximé operariorum et
servientium jam in ultima pestilentia est defuncta.” (Forasmuch as a great
part of the people, principally of artisans and labourers, is dead in the
late pestilence.) The statute would have emphasized the loss of artizans
and labourers as these were its special subjects, but the _maximé
operariorum et servientium_ may be fairly taken in a literal sense to mean
that the adult and able-bodied of the working class suffered most. One of
the contemporary chronicles says that the women and children were sent to
take the places of the men in field labour[231]. It is also significant
that the “second plague” of 1361 is named by two independent chroniclers
the _pestis puerorum_, or plague of the juveniles, as if it were now their
turn. The _pestis secunda_ was also notable, both in England and on the
Continent, for the numbers of the nobility which it carried off, and in
that respect it was contrasted with the Black Death.

Next we come to certain numerical statements as to the mortality of 1349,
which have an air of precision. They relate to Leicester, Oxford, Bodmin,
Norwich, Yarmouth and London. In Leicester, according to Knighton, who was
a canon there at the time or shortly after, the burials from the Black
Death were more than 700 in St Margaret’s churchyard, more than 400 in
Holy Cross parish (afterwards St Martin’s), more than 380 in St Leonard’s
parish, which was a small one, and in the same proportion in the other
parishes, which were three or four in number, and none of them so large as
the two first named. Knighton’s round numbers for three parishes are not
improbable, considering that Leicester was a comparatively populous town
at the time of the poll-tax of 1377: the numbers who paid the tax were
2101, which would give, by the usual way of reckoning, a population of
3939. The population of the same three parishes in 1558, or shortly after
the period when English towns were described in the statute of 32 Henry
VIII. as being much decayed, would have been about 820 in St Margaret’s,
800 in St Martin’s (Holy Cross), and 160 in St Leonard’s[232]. In 1712,
when the hosiery industry had been flourishing for thirty years, the
population of St Margaret’s was about 1900 and of St Martin’s about 1750,
the estimated population of the whole town having been 6450, or about
one-half more than we may assume it to have been in 1349.

In order to realise what the pestilence of 1349 meant to these parishes of
Leicester, let us take the actual burials from the parish register of one
of them, St Martin’s, in the comparatively mild plague years of 1610 and
1611, a period when the population, as calculated from the annual averages
of births and deaths, would have been from 3000 to 3500, probably less,
therefore, by some hundreds than it was in the years before the Black
Death. In 1610 there were 82 burials in St Martin’s parish, or about twice
the average of non-plague years; in 1611 there were 128 burials, or three
to four times the annual average[233]. Knighton’s 400 deaths for the same
parish in 1349 would mean that the ordinary burials were multiplied about
ten times; while his figures for two other parishes would mean a still
greater ratio of increase[234].

For Oxford the estimate is not less precise or more moderate. “’Tis
reported,” says Anthony Wood, under the year 1349, “that no less than
sixteen bodies in one day were carried to one churchyard[235].”

The information for Bodmin, in Cornwall, comes from William of
Worcester[236] who read it, about a century after the event, in the
register of the Franciscan church in that town. The entry in the register
was doubtless made at the time, and as made by Franciscans familiar with
burials it deserves some credit for approximate accuracy. The deaths are
put down in round numbers at fifteen hundred, which may seem large for
Bodmin at that date. But the truth is that the Cornish borough was a
place of relatively greater importance then than afterwards. In the king’s
writ of 1351, for men-at-arms, in which each town was rated on the old
basis before the Black Death, Bodmin comes fourteenth in order, being
rated at eight men, while such towns as Gloucester, Hereford and
Shrewsbury are rated at ten each. It may well have had a population of
three or four thousand, of which the numbers said to have died in the
great mortality would be less than one-half.

Perhaps the most satisfactory reckoning of the dead from contemporary
statements is that which can be made for London. The disease, as we know,
reached the capital at Michaelmas or All Souls (1st November), and its
prevalence led to a prorogation of Parliament on the 1st of January, and
again on the 10th of March, the reason assigned for the farther
prorogation being that the pestilence was raging _gravius solito_--more
severely than usual. The winter mortality must have been considerable,
although doubtless the season of the year kept it in check, as in all
subsequent experience. But there is evidence that three more
burying-places became necessary early in the year 1349. One of these, of
no great extent, was on the east side of the City, in the part that is now
the Minories[237]; and two were on the north side, not far apart. Of the
latter, one formerly called Nomansland, in West Smithfield, was also of
small extent[238]; but the other was a field of thirteen acres and a rood,
which became in the course of years the property of the Carthusians and
the site of the Charterhouse (partly covered now by Merchant Taylors
School). The larger burial-ground, called Manny’s cemetery after its donor
sir Walter Manny, the king’s minister and high admiral, was consecrated by
the bishop of London and opened for use at Candlemas, 1349. Now comes in
the testimony of Avesbury, the only chronicler of good authority for
London in those years. The mortality increased so much, he says (_in
tantum excrevit_), that there were buried in Manny’s cemetery from the
feast of the Purification (when it was opened) until Easter more than 200
in a single day (_quasi diebus singulis_), besides the burials in other
cemeteries[239]. The language of the chronicler implies that the burials
in the new cemetery rose to a maximum of 200 in a day. The Black Death
must have been like the great London plagues of later times in this
respect, at least, that it rose to a height, remained at its highest level
for some two, three or four weeks, and gradually declined. A maximum of
200 in a day, in the cemetery which would have at that stage received
nearly all the dead, would mean a plague-mortality from first to last, or
an epidemic curve, not unlike that of the London plague of 1563, for which
we have the exact weekly totals[240]: the five successive weeks at the
height of that plague (Sept. 3 to Oct. 8) produced mortalities of 1454,
1626, 1372, 1828 and 1262; and the epidemic throughout its whole curve of
intensity from June to December caused a mortality of 17,404. If
Avesbury’s figures had been at all near the mark, the Black Death in
London would have been a twenty-thousand plague, or to make a most liberal
allowance for burials in other cemeteries than Manny’s when the epidemic
was at its worst, it might have been a thirty-thousand plague. Even at the
smaller of those estimates it would have been a much more severe
visitation upon the London of Edward III. than the plague with 17,404
deaths was upon the London of the 5th of Elizabeth.

The mortality of London in the Black Death has been usually estimated at a
far higher figure than 20,000 or 30,000. There was a brass fixed to a
stone monument in the Charterhouse churchyard (Manny’s cemetery), bearing
an inscription which was read there both by Stow and Camden. Stow gives
the Latin words, of which the following is a translation: “Anno Domini
1349, while the great pestilence was reigning, this cemetery was
consecrated, wherein, and within the walls of the present monastery, were
buried more than fifty thousand bodies of the dead, besides many more from
that time to the present, on whose souls may God have mercy. Amen.” Camden
says the number on the brass was forty thousand, but his memory had
probably misled him[241]. This has been accepted as if trustworthy,
apparently because it was inscribed upon a monument in the cemetery; and
it has been argued that if one cemetery received 50,000 corpses in the
plague, the other cemeteries and parish churchyards of London would have
together received as many more, so that the whole mortality of London
would have been 100,000[242].

But that mode of reckoning disregards alike the scrutiny of documents and
the probabilities of the case. The inscription bears upon it that it was
written subsequent to the erection of the Carthusian monastery, which was
not begun until 1371[243]. The round estimate of 50,000 is at least
twenty-two years later than the mortality to which it relates, and may
easily have been magnified by rumour in the course of transmission. Even
if it had contemporary value we should have to take it as the roughest of
guesses. The latter objection applies in a measure to Avesbury’s estimate
of 200 burials in a day at the height of the epidemic; but clearly it is
easier to count correctly up to 200 in a day than to 50,000 in the space
of three or four months. On the ground of probability, also, the number of
50,000 in one cemetery (or 100,000 for all London) is wholly incredible.
The evidence to be given in the sequel shows that the mortality was about
one-half the population. Assuming one-half as the death-rate, that would
have brought the whole population of London in the 23rd of Edward III. up
to about 200,000--a number hardly exceeded at the accession of James I.,
after a great expansion which had proceeded visibly in the Elizabethan
period under the eyes of citizens like John Stow, had crowded the
half-occupied space between the City gates and the bars of the Liberties,
and had overflowed into the out-parishes to such an extent that
proclamations from the year 1580 onwards were thought necessary for its

Hardly any details of the Black Death in London are known, but the few
personal facts that we have are significant. Thus, in the charter of
incorporation of the Company of Cutlers, granted in 1344, eight persons
are named as wardens, and these are stated in a note to have been all dead
five years after, that is to say, in the year of the Black Death, 1349,
although their deaths are not set down to the plague[245]. Again, in the
articles of the Hatters’ Company, which were drawn up only a year before
the plague began (Dec. 13, 1347), six persons are named as wardens, and
these according to a note of the time were all dead before the 7th of
July, 1350[246], the cause of mortality being again unmentioned probably
because it was familiar knowledge to those then living. It is known also
that four wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Company died in the year of the Black
Death. These instances show that the plague, on its first arrival, carried
off many more of the richer class of citizens than it did in the
disastrous epidemics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The same
is shown by the number of wills, already given. Perhaps the greatest of
the victims of plague in London was Bradwardine, “doctor profundus,” the
newly-appointed archbishop of Canterbury, who died at Lambeth, with the
fatal botch in the armpits, on 26 Aug. 1349, just a week after landing at
Dover from Avignon.

The often-quoted figures for Norwich, 57,374 deaths in the city from the
pestilence of 1349, are wholly incredible. They are derived from an entry
in the borough records in the Gildhall[247]: “In yis yere was swiche a
Dethe in Norwic that there died of ye Pestilence LVII Mil III C LXXIIII
besyd Relygius and Beggars.” We should probably come much nearer the truth
by reading “XVII Mil.” for “LVII Mil.” It does not appear at what time the
entry was made, nor by what computation the numbers were got. Norwich was
certainly smaller than London; in the king’s writ of 1351 for men-at-arms,
London’s quota is 100, and that of Norwich 60; the next in order being
Bristol’s, 20, and Lynn’s, 20. These were probably the old proportions,
fixed before the Black Death, and re-issued in 1351 without regard to what
had happened meanwhile, and they correspond on the whole to the number of
parishes in each city (about 120 in London and 60 in Norwich[248]).
Norwich may have had from 25,000 to 30,000 people before the pestilence,
but almost certainly not more. The city must have suffered terribly in
1349, for we find, by the returns in the Subsidy Roll showing the amount
raised by the poll-tax of 1377 and the numbers in each county and town on
whom it was levied, that only 3952 paid the tax in Norwich, whereas 23,314
paid it in London[249]. That is a very different proportion from the 60 to
100, as in the writ for men-at-arms; and the difference is the index of
the decline of Norwich down to the year 1377. In that year, the
population, by the usual reckoning from the poll-tax, would have been
about 7410; and it is conceivable that at least twice that number had died
of the plague within the city during the spring and summer of 1349.

The figures given of the mortality at Yarmouth, 7052, are those inscribed
upon a document or a brass that once stood in the parish church; it was
seen there in the fifteenth century by William of Worcester, a squire of
the Fastolf family connected with Yarmouth, who gives the numbers as 7000,
giving also the exact dimensions of the great church itself[250]. They are
adduced by the burgesses of Yarmouth in a petition of 17 Henry VII.
(1502), as follows: “Buried in the parish church and churchyard of the
said town 7052 men.” Yarmouth, like Norwich, suffered unusually from the
Black Death; in 1377, by the poll-tax reckoning, its population was about
3639. It may be assumed to have lost more than half its people; but it
recovered quickly, was made a seat of the wool-staple, and threatened to
rival Norwich.

Clyn’s statement that 14,000 died in Dublin from the beginning of August
until Christmas may also be taken merely as illustrating the inability of
early writers to count correctly up to large numbers.

The most trustworthy figures of mortality in the Black Death which were
recorded at the time are those given for the inmates of particular
monasteries; and these are such as to give colour to the remark
interpolated in Higden’s _Polychronicon_ that “in some houses of religion,
of twenty there were left but twain.”

At St Albans, the abbot Michael died of the common plague at Easter, 1349,
one of the first victims in the monastery. The mortality in the house
increased daily, until forty-seven monks, “eminent for religion,” and
including the prior and sub-prior, were dead, besides those who died in
large numbers in the various cells or dependencies of the great religious
house[251]. At the Yorkshire abbey of Meaux, in Holdernesse, the
visitation was in August, although the epidemic in the city of York was
already over by the end of July[252]. The abbot Hugh died at Meaux on the
12th of August, and five other monks were lying unburied the same day.
Before the end of August twenty-two monks and six lay-brethren had died,
and when the epidemic was over there were only ten monks and lay-brethren
left alive out of a total of forty-three monks (including the abbot) and
seven lay-brethren. The chronicler adds that the greater part of the
tenants on the abbey lands died also[253]. In the Lincolnshire monastery
of Croxton, all the monks died save the abbot and prior[254]. In the
hospital of Sandon, Surrey, the master and brethren all died[255].

At Ely 28 monks survived out of 43[256]. In the Irish monasteries the
mortality had been equally severe: in the Franciscan convent at Drogheda,
25 friars died; in the corresponding fraternity at Dublin, 23; and in that
of Kilkenny 8 down to the 6th of March[257], with probably others (Clyn
himself) afterwards.

The following mortalities have been collected for East Anglian religious
houses: At Hickling, a religious house in Norfolk, with a prior and nine
or ten canons (‘Monasticon’), only one canon survived. At Heveringham in
the same county the prior and canons died to a man. At the College of St
Mary in the Fields, near Norwich, five of the seven prebendaries died. Of
seven nunneries in Norfolk and Suffolk, five lost their prioress as well
as an unknown number of nuns[258]. At the nunnery of Great Winthorp on the
Hill, near Stamford, all the nuns save one either died of the plague or
fled from it, so that the house fell to ruin and the lands were annexed by
a convent near it[259].

The experience of Canterbury appears to have been altogether different,
and was perhaps exceptional. In a community of some eighty monks only four
died of the plague in 1349[260]. It is known, however, that when the new
abbot of St Albans halted at Canterbury on his way to Avignon after his
election at Easter, one of the two monks who accompanied him was there
seized with plague and died[261].

These monastic experiences in England were the same as in other parts of
Europe. At Avignon, in 1348, sixty-six Carmelite monks were found lying
dead in one monastery, no one outside the walls having heard that the
plague was amongst them. In the English College at Avignon the whole of
the monks are said to have died[262].

What remains to be said of the death-rate in the great mortality of 1349
is constructive or inferential, and that part of the evidence, not the
least valuable of the whole, has been worked out only within a recent
period. The enormous thinning of the ranks of the clergy was recorded at
the time, in general terms, by Knighton, and the difficulty of supplying
the parishes with educated priests is brought to light by various things,
including the founding of colleges for their education at Cambridge
(Corpus Christi) and at Oxford (Durham College). The first to examine
closely the number of vacancies in cures after the great mortality was
Blomefield in the third volume of the _History of Norfolk_ published in
1741. The Institution Book of the diocese of Norwich, he says (with a
reference to No. IV. of the _Lib. Instit._), shows 863 institutions to
benefices in 1349, “the clergy dying so fast that they were obliged to
admit numbers of youths, that had only devoted themselves for clerks by
being shaven, to be rectors of parishes[263].” A more precise use of
Institution Books, but more to show how zealous the clergy had been in
exposing themselves to infection than to ascertain the death-rate, was
made (1825) for the archdeaconry of Salop. It was found that twenty-nine
new presentations, after death-vacancies, had been made in the single year
of 1349, the average number of death vacancies at the time having been
three in two years[264]. The first systematic attempt to deduce the
mortality of 1349 from the number of benefices vacant through death was
made in 1865 by Mr Seebohm, by original researches for the diocese of York
and by using Blomefield’s collections for the diocese of Norwich[265]. In
the archdeaconry of the West Riding there were 96 death vacancies in 1349,
leaving only 45 parishes in which the incumbent had survived. In the East
Riding 60 incumbents died out of 95 parishes. In the archdeaconry of
Nottingham there were deaths of priests in 65 parishes, and 61 survivals.
In the diocese of Norwich there were 527 vacancies by death or transfer,
while in 272 benefices there was no change. Thus the statement made to the
pope by the bishop of Norwich, that two-thirds of the clergy had died in
the great mortality is almost exact for his own diocese as well as for the
diocese of York. These figures of mortality among the Norfolk clergy were
confirmed, with fuller details, by a later writer[266]: the 527 new
institutions in the diocese of Norwich fall between the months of March
and October--23 before the end of April; 74 in May; 39 from 30th May to
10th June; 100 from 10th June to 4th July; 209 in July; and 82 more to
October. According to another enumeration of the same author for East
Anglia, upwards of 800 parishes lost their parsons from March 1349 to
March 1350, 83 parishes having been twice vacant, and 10 three times.

There is no mistaking the significance of these facts as regards the
clergy: some two-thirds of a class composed of adult males in moderate
circumstances, and living mostly in country villages, were cut off by the
plague in Norfolk and Suffolk, in Yorkshire and Shropshire, and probably
all over England. That alone would suffice to show that the virus of the
Black Death permeated the soil everywhere, country and town alike. It is
this universality of incidence that chiefly distinguishes the Black Death
from the later outbreaks of plague, which were more often in towns than in
villages or scattered houses, and were seldom in many places in the same
year. But there remains to be mentioned, lastly, evidence inferential from
another source, which shows that the incidence in the country districts
was upon the people at large. That evidence is derived from the rolls of
the manor courts.

It was remarked in one of the earliest works (1852) upon the history of an
English manor and of its courts, that “the real life or history of a
nation is to be gathered from the humble and seemingly trivial records of
these petty local courts[267],” and so the researches of the generation
following have abundantly proved. Much of this curious learning lies
outside the present subject and is unfamiliar to the writer, but some of
it intimately concerns us, and a few general remarks appear to be called

The manor was the unit of local government as the Normans found it. The
lord of the manor and the cultivators of the soil had respectively their
rights and duties, with a court to exact them. There are no written
records of manor courts extant from a period before the reign of Edward
I., when justice began to be administered according to regular forms. But
in the year 1279 we find written rolls of a manor court[268]. From the
reign of Edward III. these rolls begin to be fairly numerous; for example,
there is extant a complete series of them for the manor of Chedzey in
Somerset from 1329-30 to 1413-14. The court met twice, thrice, or four
times in the year, and the business transacted at each sitting was
engrossed by the clerk upon a long roll of parchment. The business related
to fines and heriots payable to the lord by the various orders of tenants
on various occasions, including changes in tenancy, successions by
heirship, death-duties, the marriages of daughters, the births of
illegitimate children, the commission of nuisances, poaching, and all
matters of petty local government. The first court of the year has usually
the longest roll, the parchment being written on one side, perhaps to the
length of twenty or twenty-four inches; the margin bears the amount of
fines opposite each entry; there are occasionally jury lists where causes
had to be tried. Of the community whose business was thus managed a notion
may be formed from the instance of the Castle Combe manor[269]: in 1340 it
had two open fields, each of about 500 acres, on its hill-slopes,
cultivated by 10 freemen tenants, 15 villeins, 11 other bondsmen
cultivating a half-acre each; 8 tenants of cottages with crofts, 12
tenants of cottages without crofts, as well as 3 tenants of cottages in

It will be readily understood that an unusual event such as the great
mortality of 1348-49 would leave its mark upon the rolls of the manor
courts; the death-vacancies, with their fines and heriots, and all entries
relating to changes in tenancy, would be unusually numerous. Accordingly
we find in the rolls for that year that there was much to record; at the
first glance the parchments are seen to be written within and without,
like the roll in the prophet’s vision; and that is perhaps all that the
inspection will show unless the student be expert in one of the most
difficult of all kinds of ancient handwriting,--most difficult because
most full of contractions and conventional forms. But by a few those
palaeographic difficulties have been surmounted (doubtless at some cost of
expert labour), and the results as regards the great mortality of 1349
have been disclosed.

The manor of Winslow, in Buckinghamshire, belonging to the great abbey of
St Albans, was a large and typical one[270]. Besides the principal village
it had six hamlets. At the manor courts held in 1348-9 no fewer than 153
holdings are entered as changing hands from the deaths of previous
holders, the tenancies being either re-granted to the single heir of the
deceased or to reversioners, or, in default of such, retained by the lord.
Of the 153 deceased tenants, 28 were holders of virgates and 14 of
half-virgates; or, in other words, there died 42 small farmers,
cultivating from forty to fifteen acres each, in half-acre strips
scattered all over the common fields of the manor. These 42 held twice as
much land as all the remaining 111 together; the latter more numerous
class were the crofters, who cultivated one or more half-acre strips: they
would include the various small traders, artisans and labourers of the
village and its hamlets; while the former class represented “the highest
grades of tenants in villenage.”

Of both classes together 153 had died in the great mortality. What
proportion that number bore to the whole body of tenants on the manor may
be inferred from the following: out of 43 jurymen belonging almost
exclusively to the class of larger holders, who had served upon the petty
jury in 1346, 1347 and 1348, as many as 27 had died in 1349; so that we
may reckon three out of every five adult males to have died in the Winslow
district, although it would be erroneous to conclude that the same
proportion of adult women had died, or of aged persons, or of infants and
young children.

Another more varied body of evidence has been obtained from researches in
the rolls of manor courts in East Anglia[271].

In the parish of Hunstanton, in the extreme north of Norfolk, with an area
of about 2000 to 2500 acres, 63 men and 15 women had been carried off in
two months: in 31 of these instances there were only women and children to
succeed, and in 9 of the cases there were no heirs at all; the whole
number of tenants of the manor dead in eight months was 172, of whom 74
left no heirs male, and 19 others had no blood relations left to claim the
inheritance. The following is the record of the manor court of Cornard
Parva, a small parish in Suffolk: on 31st March, 1349, 6 women and 3 men
reported dead; on 1st May, 13 men and 2 women, of whom 7 had no heirs; at
the next meeting on 3 November, 36 more deaths of tenants, of whom 13 left
no heirs. At Hadeston, a hamlet of Bunwell, twelve miles from Norwich,
which could not possibly have had 400 inhabitants, 54 men and 14 women
were carried off in six months, 24 of them without anyone to inherit. At
the manor court of Croxton, near Thetford, on 24th July, 17 deaths are
reported since last court, 8 of these without heirs. At the Raynham court,
on the same day, 18 tenements had fallen into the lord’s hands, 8 of them
absolutely escheated, and the rest retained until the heir should appear.
At other courts, the suits set down for hearing could not be proceeded
with owing to the deaths of witnesses (e.g. 11 deaths among 16 witnesses)
or of principals. The manor court rolls of Lessingham have an entry, 15th
January, 1350, that only thirty shillings of tallage was demanded,
“because the greater part of those tenants who were wont to render tallage
had died in the previous year by reason of the deadly pestilence[272].”

Further research upon the records of the manor courts will doubtless show
that the experience of Buckinghamshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Lancashire
was not singular. From the Castle Combe rolls nothing has been extracted
as to the mortality in 1348-9, except one entry (Nov. 13, 1357) that a
certain tenement was ruinous, having remained in the lord’s hands since
the time of the pestilence for want of a purchaser; but it would be unsafe
to conclude that this sequestered manor of Wiltshire had not shared the
common fate. The accounts of certain manors in Hertfordshire were headed,
for thirty years after the Black Death, with a list of those who had
vacated tenancies by death in that pestilence[273]. A decayed inscription
cut in the stone of the parish church of Ashwell, in the same county,
records the great mortality of 1349 and the great tempest in January,
1362[274]. The tenants of the abbey of Meaux, in the Holdernesse division
of Yorkshire, were nearly all dead, as well as the monks within the
monastery walls. On the manor of Ensham, near Oxford, “there remained
hardly two tenants[275].”

The immediate effects of the great mortality were not so striking as might
have been supposed. Although it fell upon town and country in one terrific
blow, yet some places had recovered from it before others felt it; it was
over in Bristol (so far as we know) before it came to a height in London,
and nearly over in London before it began in York. The dead were
expeditiously buried in trenches; vacancies among the clergy were promptly
filled; the manor courts met and transacted business, and had their
records engrossed for the most part in the usual clerkly style. So great a
dislocation of society naturally gave rise to some irregularities:
stripping the dead is reported from one district in Norfolk, fights and
quarrels came into court more often than ever in 1349 and 1350, and we
read of two women who each had three husbands in as many months[276].
Knighton says that sheep and cattle were left to wander about untended,
and that they often perished in ditches by the wayside. A murrain occurred
the same year; at one place five thousand sheep died in the pasture and
were left to putrefy[277]. The price of a horse fell from forty shillings
to half a marc; a fat ox could be bought for four shillings, a cow for
twelve pence, a heifer for sixpence, a fat sheep for four pence, a stone
of wool for nine pence[278]. On the other hand, when the harvest of 1349
had to be gathered, the price of labour rose enormously. According to
Knighton, a reaper got eightpence a day, with his food, and a mower
twelvepence. The extant accounts tabulated by Thorold Rogers confirm the
contemporary statement: the rates for threshing the harvest of 1349 were
those of panic and compulsion, being unparalleled, whether before or
after, in the Eastern, Midland and Southern counties; the immediate effect
of the scarcity of hands was to nearly double the wages of labour for the
time being. Many villeins or bondsmen took the opportunity of escaping to
the towns or to distant manors, where they could make their own terms. Of
the last kind of incident, probably a very common one, we have an instance
recorded[279]: At an inquest, some years after the Black Death, upon
sundry manors near Oxford belonging to Christ Church, it was ascertained
that, “in the time of the mortality or pestilence, which was in the year
1349, there remained hardly two tenants in the said manor [Ensham], and
these had wished to leave, had not brother Nicholas de Upton, then abbot
of the said manor, compounded anew with them, as well as with other
tenants who came in.”

So far as regards the immediate effects of the great mortality. Its
after-effects, felt within a year or two, upon the economics and morals of
the country, upon the power of the old governing class, upon the
dispersion of industries and the new life of towns, upon the system of
farming, upon the development of the legal profession in London, and upon
various other things, are a much more intricate and disputable subject,
some part of which will be dealt with in the next chapter in connexion
with the subsequent history of plague or its domestication upon the soil
of England. Many things in England were noted as having happened “sithen
the Pestilence,” to quote the stock phrase of the ‘Vision of Piers the
Ploughman,’ and not the least of them was the frequent recurrence of
plague, or a prevalence of sickness so steady that the poet compares it to
the rain coming in through a leaky roof.

Some historians have doubted whether after all the Black Death made so
very much difference to the course of affairs[280]. It is perhaps
inevitable that scholars, accustomed to deal only with obvious human
causation, should look with some distrust upon the large claims made, in
the way of moral and social consequences, for a phenomenon which has been
apt to be classed with comets and earthquakes. The sudden thinning of the
population may indeed become a subject for economists without any regard
to the causation, and irrespectively of the means by which the numbers
were reduced; and that has been the only historic interest of the great
mortality hitherto. But the operation of pestilence is peculiar; the
thinning of the population is not effected as if in the due course of
nature; the analogy is closer with a decimating or exterminating war. The
invasion of the Black Death was part of the great human drama, just as if
a swarming people or a barbarous conqueror had been visibly present in it.
If things were moving in the fourteenth century towards a particular
issue, as historians find in their retrospect that they were, then the
coming of a great plague was part of that movement, organically bound up
with the other forces of it, and no more arbitrary than they. Thus it
becomes of interest to trace the antecedents of the Black Death before we
attempt to follow out its consequences; and it is not the less of interest
to do so, that the train of events leads us as far eastwards as the soil
of China, and to the incidents that attended the collapse of the greatest
government of the Middle Ages, the empire of the Great Khan.

The Antecedents of the Black Death.

When the Black Death in its progress westwards came to Constantinople in
1347, the emperor-historian, John Cantacuzenes, was present in his capital
to witness the arrival of the pestilence; in his history he wrote that it
came among them from the country of the hyperborean Scythians, that is to
say, the Tartars of the Crimea. The other contemporary Byzantine
historian, Nicephorus Gregoras, says that the pestilence began among the
Scythians in the Crimea and at the mouths of the Don. The Russian annals,
which are an independent source, and likely enough to have a correct
tradition, also say that the plague was God’s punishment on the people of
the Don territory and of several other localities with obsolete names,
including the famous city of Sarai on the Volga[281]. The Chersonese, and
the country from the Don to the Volga, or from the Euxine to the Caspian,
are the regions thus clearly indicated as the scene of the first outburst
of the Black Death; but there was no clue to its unaccountable appearance
there, or to the connexion between its outburst on the confines of Europe
and the distant home in the East which the rumour of the day vaguely
assigned to it. The more definite association of the Black Death with
China dates from 1757, when the abbé Des Guignes, in his _Histoire des
Huns_[282], took up the old tradition of the Arab historian, Aboel
Mahasin, that the plague began in Tartary, that the smell of corpses
spread on every side, that the infection passed from Cathay or Tartary to
the Tartars of the Kaptchac (Crimea), and from them to Constantinople and
Europe on the one hand, and to Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and North Africa
on the other. He pointed out also that the overland caravan trade was a
ready means of transport for the infection. That which specially attracted
his attention as the historian of the Mongol power was the other statement
of the Arab historian in the same context, that China had been visited by
floods so disastrous that men, beasts, and even birds perished, and that
the country was almost depopulated. Upon that hint Des Guignes collected
from the Chinese annals of the first half of the fourteenth century a
considerable list[283] of calamities, which had actually happened--floods
causing the loss of millions of lives, earthquakes, and the like,
appending the catalogue without comment as a note to the text where he has
occasion to mention the Black Death. Des Guignes’ note was reproduced
verbatim by Hecker in his essay on the Black Death in 1832, and the
unwonted series of phenomena in China was made the basis of certain
mystical speculations as to the effect of earthquakes in causing a
“progressive infection of the zones,” a perturbation of “the earth’s
organism,” a “baneful commotion of the atmosphere,” or the like. In that
nebulous and unsatisfactory state the old tradition of the Black Death
originating in China has remained to the present hour; the intuition of
the Peking Jesuit had merely been appropriated and set forth in his own
way by the German “Naturphilosoph[284].”

Meanwhile, in 1842 a clue to Des Guignes’ conjecture of a connexion
between the importation of the Black Death and the China land-route was
found (but not followed up) in the discovery by Henschel of a Latin
manuscript in the Rhediger Library at Breslau[285]. This was a narrative
compiled by one Gabriel de Mussis, a jurist of Piacenza, who had been
practising as a notary or advocate among the Genoese and Venetians trading
around the shores of the Euxine and Caspian, and had been an eyewitness of
the outbreak of the plague in that region. De Mussis has no theory of the
origin of the plague; he merely narrates the events as they unfolded
themselves before his own eyes; so much was he in the midst of them that
he was a passenger on board the very ship which brought the first seeds of
the Black Death direct from the Crimea to Genoa as early as the spring of

    The substance of this story is that the Italian merchants, who were
    then settled in considerable numbers at the various termini or
    entrepôts of the overland trade from China and Central Asia by the
    more northern route, were harassed by the Tartar hordes; that they had
    stood a siege in Tana, on the Don, but had been driven out of it, and
    had sought refuge for themselves and their merchandise within the
    walls of Caffa, a small fortified post on the Crimean Straits (of
    Kertch), built by Genoese not long before; that Caffa was besieged in
    due course by the Tartar barbarians; that the investment lasted nearly
    three years; that the merchants and others, crowded into the narrow
    space within the walls, were put to great straits and could hardly
    breathe, being only partially relieved by the arrival of a ship with
    supplies; that the plague broke out among the besieging Tartar host
    and daily destroyed thousands; that the Tartars threw the pestilent
    dead bodies inside the walls by their engines of siege, so that the
    infection took hold of those within the fort; that the Tartars
    dispersed in panic and spread the infection all over the shores of the
    Euxine, Caspian and Levant; that such of the Italian traders as were
    able, De Mussis himself with them, escaped from Caffa in a ship; and
    that the infection appeared in Genoa in its most deadly form a day or
    two after the arrival of the ship, although none of those on board
    were suffering from the plague.

These are all the circumstances related by De Mussis of the beginning of
the outbreak as known to himself at first hand: the rest of his narrative
is occupied with various incidents of the plague in Europe, with pious
reflections, and accounts of portents. His single reference to China is as
follows: “In the Orient, about Cathay, where is the head of the world and
the beginning of the earth, horrible and fearful signs appeared; for
serpents and frogs, descending in dense rains, entered the dwellings and
consumed countless numbers, wounding them by their venom and corroding
them with their teeth. In the meridian parts, about the Indies, regions
were overturned by earthquakes, and cities wasted in ruin, tongues of
flame being shot forth. Fiery vapours burnt up many, and in places there
were copious rains of blood and murderous showers of stones.” De Mussis
has certainly no scientific intention; nor can it be said that any
scientific use has been made of his manuscript since its discovery. For
Häser, its editor, merely reproduces in his history the passage from
Hecker on the three overland routes between Europe and the East, without
remarking on the fact that De Mussis definitely places the outbreak of the
plague at the European terminus of one of them: its remote origin is
involved in “impenetrable obscurity;” all we can say is that it came from
the East, “the cradle of the human race[286].”

But the entirely credible narrative by De Mussis of the outbreak of plague
at the siege of Caffa is just the clue that was wanting to unravel the
meaning of the widespread rumour of the time, that the plague came from
China. Let us first examine somewhat closely the source of that rumour. It
finds its most definite expression in an Arabic account of the Black Death
at Granada, by the famous Moorish statesman of that city,
Ibn-ul-Khatib[287]. Besides giving the local circumstances for Granada, he
makes various remarks on the nature of the plague, and on its mode of
spreading, which are not exceeded in shrewdness and insight by the more
scientific doctrines of later times. Its origin in China he repeats on the
authority of several trustworthy and far-travelled men, more particularly
of his celebrated countryman Ibn-Batuta, or “the Traveller,” whose story
was that the plague arose in China from the corruption of many corpses
after a war, a famine, and a conflagration.

The mention of Ibn-Batuta, as the authority more particularly, has a
special interest. That traveller was actually in China from 1342 to 1346.
In his book of travels[288] he tells us how on his way back (he took the
East-Indian sea-route to the Persian Gulf) he came at length to Damascus,
Aleppo and Cairo in the summer of 1348, and was a witness of the Black
Death at each of those places, and of the mixed religious processions at
Damascus of Jews with their Hebrew Scriptures and Christians with their
Gospels. But he says not one word anywhere as to the origin of the plague
in China, whence he was journeying homewards. He continued his journey to
Tangier, his birthplace, and crossed thence to Spain about the beginning
of 1350. At Granada he spent some days among his countrymen, of whom he
mentions in his journal four by name; but the most famous of them,
Ibn-ul-Khatib, he does not mention. However, here was Ibn-Batuta at
Granada, a year or two after the Black Death, discoursing on all manner of
topics with the most eminent Moors of the place; and here is one of them,
Ibn-ul-Khatib, in an account of the Black Death at Granada, quoting the
report of Ibn-Batuta that the pestilence arose in China from the
corruption of unburied corpses. None of the other statements of an Eastern
origin can compare with this in precision or in credibility; they all
indeed confuse the backward extension of the plague from the Euxine
eastwards to Khiva, Bokhara and the like, with its original progress
towards Europe from a source still farther east. The authority of
Ibn-Batuta himself is not, of course, that of historian or observer;
although he was in China during part, at least, of the national calamities
which the Chinese Annals record, he says nothing of them, and probably
witnessed nothing of them. But the traveller was a likely person to have
heard correctly the gossip of the East and to have judged of its
credibility; so that there is a satisfaction in tracing it through him.

The siege of Caffa, and the general circumstances of it, we may take as
historical on the authority of the Italian notary who was there; but it
may be doubted whether the plague began, as he says, among the nomade
hordes outside the fort. In sieges it has been not unusual for both sides
to suffer from infective disease; and although it is not always easy to
say where the disease may have begun, the presumption is that it arose
among those who were most crowded, most pressed by want, and most
desponding in spirit. It is, of course, not altogether inconceivable that
the Tartar besiegers of Caffa had bred a pestilential disease in their
camp; the nomades of the Cyrenaic plateau have bred bubo-plague itself
more than once in recent years in their wretched summer tents, and plague
has appeared from time to time in isolated or remote Bedouin villages on
the basaltic plateaus of Arabia. There is nothing in the nomade manner of
life adverse to pestilential products, least of all in the life of nomades
encamped for a season. But such outbreaks of bubo-plague or of typhus
fever have been local, sporadic, or non-diffusive. On the other hand the
plague which arose at the siege of Caffa was the Black Death, one of the
two greatest pestilences in the history of the world. Let us then see
whether there is any greater likelihood of finding inside the walls of
Caffa the lurking germs of so great a pestilence. Within the walls of the
Genoese trading fort were the Italian merchants driven in from all around
that region, with their merchandise--as De Mussis says, _fugientes pro
suarum tutione personarum et rerum_. Previous to their three years’ siege
in Caffa they, or some of them, had stood a siege in Tana, and had
retreated to the next post on the homeward route. Tana was at the
eastward bend of the Don, whence the road across the steppe is shortest to
the westward bend of the Volga; a little above the bend of the Volga was
the great city of Sarai--whence the caravans started on their overland
journey along northern parallels, across mountain ranges and the desert of
Gobi, to enter China at its north-western angle, just within the end of
the Great Wall[289]. The merchandise of Sarai and Tana was the return
merchandise of China--the bales of silks and fine cloths, spices and
drugs, which had become the articles of a great commerce between China and
Europe since Marco Polo first showed the way, and which continued to reach
Europe by the caravan routes until about 1360: then the route was closed
owing to the final overthrow of the authority of the Great Khan, which had
once secured a peaceful transit from the Yellow Sea to the Black Sea--so
completely closed that men forgot, two hundred years after, that it had
ever existed.

Did these bales of Chinese stuffs, carried into Caffa for protection,
contain the seeds of the Black Death? There is, at least, nothing
improbable in the seeds of plague lurking in bales of goods; that mode of
transmission was afterwards recognized as highly characteristic of the
plague during its Levantine days. Nor is there anything improbable in the
seeds of an infection being carried thousands of miles across the deserts
of Central Asia; cholera came in that way from India in 1827-8 by the
caravan-route to Cabul, Balkh, Bokhara, Khiva and the Kirghiz Steppe to
Orenburg, and again in 1847 to Astrakhan; and the slow land-borne viruses
of those two great epidemics exceeded in virulence the later importations
of cholera by the sea route from the East. Still farther, there is nothing
improbable in the germs of plague lying latent for a long time, or in the
disease existing as a potency although not manifested in a succession of
cases. The next stage of its progress, from Caffa to Genoa, illustrates
that very point; for we know that there were no cases of plague on board
ship, although the very atmosphere or smell of the new arrival seemed
sufficient to taint the whole air of Genoa, and to carry death to every
part of the city within a couple of days. And lastly the long imprisonment
of a virus in bales of goods, the crowding of merchants and merchandise
into the narrow space of a walled seaport, amidst the almost inevitable
squalor and fœtor of a three years’ siege, were the very circumstances
needed to raise the potency of the assumed virus to an unusual height, to
give it a degree of virulence that would make it effective, and a power of
diffusion that would spread and continue the liberated infection after the
manner of the greatest of pestilences.

Thus, if we have to choose between the origin of the plague-virus among
the Tartar hordes besieging the China merchants within the walls of Caffa,
and the pre-existence of that virus, for a long time latent, among the
goods or effects of the besieged, the latter hypothesis must be accorded
the advantage in probability. Accepting it, we follow the virus back to
Tana on the Don, from Tana to Sarai on the Volga, from Sarai by a
well-trodden route which need not be particularized[290], for many weeks’
journey until we come to the soil of China. According to a dominant school
of epidemiologists it is always enough to have traced a virus to a remote
source, to the “roof of the world” or to the back of the east wind, and
there to leave it, in the full assurance that there must have been
circumstances to account for its engendering there, perhaps in an equally
remote past, if only we knew them. If, however, we follow the trail back
definitely to China, it is our duty to connect it there with an actual
history or tradition, immemorial if need be, of Chinese plague. But there
is no such history or tradition to be found. We know something of the
China of Kublai Khan, fifty years before, from the book of Marco Polo; and
the only possible reference to plague there is an ambiguous statement
about “carbuncles” in a remote province, which was probably Yun-nan. Not
only so, but if we scrutinize the Chinese Annals closely, we shall find
that the thirty years preceding the Black Death were indeed marked by many
great calamities and loss of life on a vast scale, by floods, droughts,
earthquakes, famines and famine-fevers, but not by pestilence unconnected
with these; on the other hand, the thirty or forty years after the Black
Death had overrun Europe, beginning with the year 1352, are marked in the
Chinese Annals (as summarized in the _Imperial Encyclopædia_ of Peking,
1726) by a succession of “great plagues” in various provinces of the
Empire, which are not associated with calamitous seasons, but stand alone
as disease-calamities pure and simple[291]. If the Black Death connects at
all with events in China, these events were natural calamities and their
attendant loss of life, and not outbreaks of plague itself; for the
latter, assuming them to have been bubo-plague, were subsequent in China
to the devastation of Europe by the plague.

We are left, then, to make what we can of the antecedent calamities of
China; and we may now revert to the curious rumour of the time that the
relevant thing in China was the corruption of many corpses left unburied
after inundation, war and conflagration. So far as war and conflagration
are concerned they are quite subordinate; there was no war except an
occasional ineffective revolt in some remote western province, and the
conflagrations were minor affairs, noticed, indeed, in the Annals, but
lost among the greater calamities. The floods, droughts and famines were
events of almost annual recurrence for many years before, so that no
period in the Annals of China presents such a continuous picture of
national calamity, full as Chinese history has at all times been of
disasters of the same kind. It was the decadence of the great Mongol
empire, founded by Genghiz and carried by Kublai to that marvellous height
of splendour and prosperity which we read of in the book of Marco Polo.
The warlike virtues of the earlier Mongol rulers had degenerated in their
successors into sensual vices during the times of peace; and the history
of the country, priest-ridden, tax-burdened, and ruled by women and
eunuchs, neglected in its thousand water-ways and in all the safeguards
against floods and famine which wiser rulers had set up, became from year
to year an illustration of the ancient Chinese maxim, that misgovernment
in the palace is visited by the anger of the sky.

    The following epitome of the calamities in China is taken from De
    Mailla’s _Histoire générale de la Chine_. Paris, 1777, 9 vols. 4to., a
    translation of the abridged official annals.

    The year 1308 marks the beginning of the series of bad seasons.
    Droughts in some places, floods in others, locusts and failure of the
    crops, brought famine and pestilence. The people in Kiang-Hoaï were
    reduced to live on wild roots and the bark of trees. In Ho-nan and
    Chan-tong the fathers ate the flesh of the children. The imperial
    granaries were still able to supply grain, but not nearly enough for
    the people’s wants. The provinces of Kiang-si and Che-kiang were
    depopulated by the plague or malignant fever which followed the
    famine. The ministers sent in their resignations, which were not

    In 1313 the same events recur, including the resignations of
    ministers. An epidemic carried off many in the capital, and the whole
    empire was desolated by drought. At a council of ministers to devise
    remedies and avert further calamities it was proposed by some to copy
    the institutions of ancient empires celebrated for their virtue, and
    by others to abolish the Bhuddist priesthood of Foh as the cause of
    all misfortunes. The throne is now occupied by Gin-tsong, an emperor
    of a serious and ascetic disposition. In 1314 he revived the old
    Chinese system of competitive examinations and the distinctive dress
    among the grades of mandarins, which the earlier Mongol rulers had
    been able to dispense with. Next year there is a public distribution
    of grain, and a check to the exactions of tax-gatherers in the
    distressed districts. In 1317, it appears that the provincial
    mandarins, in defiance of express orders, had neglected the laws of
    Kublai with reference to the distribution of grain, although it was
    dangerous to defer such public aid longer; they had failed also to
    relax their rigour in collecting the taxes. One day the emperor found
    at Peking a soldier in rags from a distant garrison, and discovered
    that a system of embezzlement in the army clothing department had been
    going on for five years. Gin-tsong is reported to have said to his
    ministers, “My august predecessors have left wise laws, which I have
    always had at heart to follow closely; but I see with pain that they
    are neglected, and that my people are unhappy.”

    In 1318 we read of a great flood in one province, of multitudes
    drowned, and of a public distribution of grain. In 1320, forty of the
    Censors of the Empire remonstrated against the cruel exactions of
    “public leeches,” and against a practice of calumniating honest men so
    as to get them out of the way. The emperor Gin-tsong died in that
    year, aged thirty-three, and with his death the last serious attempt
    to check the flood of corruption came to an end. In 1321 there is
    drought in Ho-nan, followed by famine. In 1324 we read of droughts,
    locusts, inundations and earthquakes. The emperor demanded advice of
    the nobles, ministers and wise men, and received the following answer:
    “While the palace of the prince is full of eunuchs, astrologers,
    physicians, women, and other idle people, whose maintenance costs the
    State an enormous sum, the people are plunged in extreme misery. The
    empire is a family, and the emperor its father: let him listen to the
    cries of the miserable.” In 1325 famine follows the disasters of the
    year before; and we learn that the people were supplied from the full
    granaries of the rich, who were paid, not out of the State treasury,
    but by places in the mandarinate! In 1326 the tyranny and
    licentiousness of the Bhuddist lamas reaches a climax, and an edict is
    issued against them. The year 1327 is marked by a series of calamities
    and portents--drought, locusts, ruined crops, earthquakes,
    inundations. In 1330, again floods and the harvest destroyed, a cruel
    famine in Hou-Kouang, millions of acres of land ruined, and 400,000
    families reduced to beggary. In 1331 the harvest is worse than in the
    year before--in Che-kiang there were more than 800,000 families who
    did not gather a single grain of corn or rice,--and all the while
    enormous taxes were ground out of universal poverty.

    In 1333 begins the long and calamitous reign of Shun-ti, who came to
    the throne a weak youth of thirteen. Next year the misfortunes of
    China touch their highest point. Inundations ruined the crops in
    Chan-tong; a drought in Che-kiang brought famine and pestilence; in
    the southern provinces generally, famine and floods caused the deaths
    of 2,270,000 families, or of 13,000,000 individuals. In 1336
    inundations in Chan-tong ruined the harvest; in Kiang-nan and
    Che-kiang the first harvest was a failure from drought, multitudes
    perished of hunger, and a plague broke out. The emperor, insensible to
    the misfortunes of his people, abandons himself to his pleasures. Next
    year sees the first of those provincial revolts, led by obscure
    Chinese peasants, which eventually overthrew the dynasty in 1368.
    Floods occurred in more than one river basin, by which multitudes of
    men and beasts were drowned; in the valley of the Kiang (a tributary
    of the Hoang-ho) four millions perished. For several years we read of
    numerous and repeated shocks of earthquakes, in 1341 of a great
    famine, in 1342 of a famine so severe that human flesh was eaten, in
    1343 of seven towns submerged, in 1344 of a great tract of country
    inundated by the sea in consequence of an earthquake, in 1345 of
    earthquakes in Pe-chili, in 1346 of earthquakes for seven days in
    Chan-tong, and of a great famine in Chan-si. In 1347 earthquakes in
    various provinces, and drought in Ho-tong, followed by many deaths.
    The record of disasters in De Mailla’s abridged annals, and in Des
    Guignes, who had clearly access to fuller narrations, comes to an end
    for a time at the year 1347.

It will be observed that in these records there is comparatively little
said of epidemic sickness. The references to pestilence would in no case
suggest more than the typhus fever which has been the usual attendant upon
Chinese famines, and has never shown the independent vitality and
diffusive properties of plague. But the minor place occupied by actual
pestilence in China, in the years before the Black Death in Europe, is
brought out even more clearly on comparing that period with the section of
the Chinese annals for the generation following. In the chronology of
Chinese epidemics drawn up by Gordon (London, 1884) from the Peking
_Encyclopædia_ of 1726, there are, from 1308-1347, just the same entries
of pestilence as are given above from De Mailla’s and Des Guignes’ French
adaptation of the Annals. (Gordon makes the obvious mistake of attributing
to pestilence the enormous loss of life which the Annals clearly assigned
to floods and famines, with their attendant sickness.) But with the year
1352 we enter upon a great pestilential period, as clearly marked in the
history of China by the annual recurrence of vast epidemics as the decades
before it were marked by the unusual frequency of floods, famines and
earthquakes. Every year from 1352 to 1363, except 1355, has an entry of
“great pestilence” or “great plague” (yi-li), in one province or another,
although the old tale of floods and famines has come to an end in the
Annals. The last of the nearly continuous series of great pestilences is
in 1369, when there was a great pest in Fukien, and “the dead lay in heaps
on the ground.” There is then a break until 1380, and after that a longer
break until 1403. It would thus appear as if the great pestilential period
of China in the fourteenth century had not coincided with the succession
of disastrous seasons, but had followed the latter at a distinct interval.
Conversely the years of plague from 1352 to 1369 do not appear to have
been years of inundations and bad harvests; they stand out in the
chronology, by comparison, as years of plague-sickness pure and simple;
and although nothing is said to indicate the type of bubo-plague, yet the
disease can hardly be assumed to have been the old famine fevers or other
sickness directly due to floods and scarcity, so long as not a word is
said of floods and famines in that context or in the Annals generally. The
suggestion is that the soil of China may not have felt the full effects of
the plague virus, originally engendered thereon, until some few years
after the same had been carried to Europe, having produced there within a
short space of time the stupendous phenomenon of the Black Death. If
there be something of a paradox in that view, it is the facts themselves
that refuse to fall into what might be thought the natural sequence.

The historian Gaubil thinks that the national Annals make the most of
these recurring calamities, having been written by the official scribes of
the next dynasty, who sought to discredit the Mongol rule as much as
possible[292]; but it is not suggested that the compilers had invented the
series of disasters,--now in one province or river basin, now in another,
at one time with thirteen millions of lives lost, at another with four
hundred thousand families reduced to beggary, this time a drought, and
next time a flood, and in another series of years a succession of
destructive earthquakes.

We are here concerned with discovering any possible relation that these
disasters, coming one upon another almost without time for recovery, can
have had to the engendering of the plague-virus. According to the rumours
of the time, it was the corruption of unburied corpses in China which
caused the Black Death; and certainly the unburied corpses were there, a
_vera causa_, if that were all. Recent experiences in China make it easy
for us to construct in imagination the state of the shores of rivers after
those fatal inundations of the fourteenth century, or of the roadsides
after the recurring famines. Thus, of the famine of 1878 it is said[293]:
“Coffins are not to be got for the corpses, nor can graves be prepared for
them. Their blood is a dispersed mass on the ground, their bones lie all
about.... Pestilence [it is otherwise known to have been typhus fever]
comes with the famine, and who can think of medicine for the plague or
coffins for the multitude of the dead?” Or, again, according to a memorial
in the official Peking Gazette of 16 January, 1878, “the roads are lined
with corpses in such numbers as to distance all efforts for their

There is much of sameness in the history of China from century to century;
what happened in 1878, and again on a lesser scale two or three years
ago, must have happened on an unparalleled scale year after year during
the ill-starred period which ended about 1342; there must have been no
ordinary break-down in the decencies and sanitary safeguards of interment
in such years as 1334, when thirteen millions (two million, two hundred
and seventy thousand families) were swept away by the floods of the
Yang-tsi, or destroyed by hunger and disease. But we are not left
altogether to the exercise of the imagination. A strangely vivid picture
remains to us of a scene in China in those years, which a returning
missionary saw as in a vision. The friar Odoric, of Pordenone, had spent
six years in Northern China previous to 1327 or 1328, when he returned to
Italy by one of the overland routes. The story of his travels[295] was
afterwards taken down from his lips, and it is made to end with one
gruesome scene, which is brought in without naming the time or the place.
It is a vision of a valley of death, invested with the same air of
generality as in Bunyan’s allegory of the common lot.

    “Another great and terrible thing I saw. For, as I went through a
    certain valley which lieth by the River of Delights (_flumen
    deliciarum_) I saw therein many dead corpses lying. And I heard also
    therein sundry kinds of music, but chiefly nakers, which were
    marvellously played upon. And so great was the noise thereof that very
    great fear came upon me. Now, this valley is seven or eight miles
    long; and if any unbeliever enter therein, he quitteth it never again,
    but perisheth incontinently. Yet I hesitated not to go in that I might
    see once for all what the matter was. And when I had gone in I saw
    there, as I have said, such numbers of corpses as no one without
    seeing it could deem credible. And at one side of the valley, in the
    very rock, I beheld as it were the face of a man very great and
    terrible, so very terrible indeed that for my exceeding great fear my
    spirit seemed to die in me. Wherefore I made the sign of the Cross,
    and began continually to repeat _Verbum caro factum_, but I dared not
    at all come nigh that face, but kept at seven or eight paces from it.
    And so I came at length to the other end of the valley, and there I
    ascended a hill of sand and looked around me.”

Narrated as it is of no specified place and of no one year of his journey,
it may stand, and perhaps it was meant to stand, for a common experience
of China in the period of Mongol decadence. Whether he left the country by
the gorges of the Yang-tsi and the Yun-nan route, or along the upper
basin of the Hoang-ho by the more usual northern route to the desert of
Gobi, his vision of a Valley of Corpses is equally significant.

The Theory of the Plague-Virus.

The question that remains is the connexion, in pathological theory,
between the bubo-plague and the corruption of the unburied dead or of the
imperfectly buried dead. Some such connexion was the rumour of the time,
before any scientific theory can well have existed. Also the factor in
question was undoubtedly there among the antecedents, if it were not even
the most conspicuous of the antecedents. But we might still be following a
wandering light if we were to trust the theory of the Black Death to those
empirical suggestions, striking and plausible though they be. It is not
for the Black Death only, but for the great plagues of the Mohammedan
conquests, which preceded the Black Death by many centuries and also
followed that great intercurrent wave until long after in their own strict
succession, for the circumscribed spots of plague in various parts of Asia
and Africa in our own day, and above all for the great plague of
Justinian’s reign,--it is for them all that a theory of bubo-plague is
needed. A survey of the circumstances of all these plagues will either
weaken or strengthen, destroy or establish, the theory that the virus of
the Black Death had arisen on the soil of China from the cadaveric poison
present in some peculiar potency, and had been carried to Europe in the
course of that overland trade at whose terminus we first hear of its
virulence being manifested.

The theory of the origin of the plague-virus from the corruption of the
dead was a common one in the sixteenth century. It was held by Ambroise
Paré among others, and it was elaborately worked out for the Egypt of his
day by Prosper Alpinus, physician to the Venetian Consulate at Cairo
towards the end of the same century. But the most brilliant exposition of
it, one of the finest exercises of diction and of reasoning that has ever
issued from the profession of medicine, was that given for the origin in
Egypt of the great plague of Justinian’s reign by Etienne Pariset,
secretary to the Académie de Médecine and commissioner from France to
study the plague in Syria and Egypt in 1829[296].

In the plague-stricken Egypt of that time, overburdened with population
and still awaiting the beneficent rule of Mehemet Ali, Dr Pariset had his
attention forcibly directed to the same contrast between the modern and
ancient manner of disposing of the dead, and to the insuitability of the
former to the Delta, which had been remarked by Prosper Alpinus in 1591,
and by De Maillet, French consul at Cairo, in 1735, and had been specially
dwelt upon by _philosophes_ of the eighteenth century, such as
Montesquieu, Volney and De Pauw. On the one hand he saw under his eyes
various revolting things in the Delta,--brick tombs invaded by water, an
occasional corpse floating at large, canals choked with the putrefying
bodies of bullocks dead of a murrain, the courtyards of Coptic and Jewish
houses, and the floors of mosques, churches and monasteries filled with
generations of the dead in their flooded vaults and catacombs. On the
other hand he saw, on the slopes of the Libyan range and on the edge of
the desert beyond the reach of the inundation, the occasional openings of
a vast and uncounted series of rock-grottoes in which the Egyptians of the
pre-Christian era had carefully put away every dead body, whether of bird,
or of beast, or of human kind. He was persuaded of the truth of Volney’s
remark, “In a crowded population, under a hot sun, and in a soil filled
deep with water during several months of every year, the _rapid_
putrefaction of bodies becomes a leaven of plague and of other
disease[297].” The remark of De Pauw, although it is not adduced, was
equally to the point: “Neither men nor beasts are any longer embalmed in
Egypt; but the ancient Egyptians seem to have done well in following that
mode, and in keeping the mummies in the deepest recesses of excavated
rocks.... Were we to note here all that those two nations [Arabs and
Turks] have left undone, and everything that they ought not to have done,
it would be easy to understand how a country formerly not altogether
unhealthy, is now become a hotbed of the plague[298].” These
eighteenth-century reflections, casual and discursive after the manner of
the time, were amplified by Pariset to scientific fulness and order, and
set in permanent classical form. Like De Pauw and Volney, he extolled the
ancient sanitary wisdom of Egypt, and excused the priestly mask of
superstition for the implicit obedience that it secured. De Pauw had
pointed out that the towns most remarkable for the worship of
crocodiles,--Coptos, Arsinöe (Crocodilopolis), and Athribis,--were all
situated on canals at some distance from the Nile; the crocodiles could
never have got to them unless the canals were kept clear; according to
Aelian and Eusebius the crocodile was the symbol of water fit to drink; so
that the superstitious worship of the animal was in effect the motive for
keeping the canals of the Nile in repair. The priests of Egypt, says
Pariset, with their apparatus of fictions and emblems, sought to veil from
the profane eyes of the vulgar and of strangers the secrets of a sublime
philosophy[299]. They made things sacred so as to make them binding, so as
to constrain by the force of religion, as Moses did, their disciple. They
had to reckon with the annual overflow of the Nile, with a hot sun, and a
crowded population. Suppose that all the dead animal matter, human or
other, were to be incorporated with the soil under these rapid changes of
saturation and drying, of diffusion and emanation, what a mass of poison,
what danger to the living! What foresight they showed in avoiding it, what
labour and effort, but what results! Can anyone pretend that a system so
vast, so beautiful, so coherent in all its parts, had been engendered and
conserved merely by an ignorant fanaticism, or that a people who had so
much of wisdom in their actions had none in their thoughts? Looking around
him at the Egypt of the Christian and Mohammedan eras, he asks, What has
become of that hygiene, attentive, scrupulous and enlightened, of that
marvellous police of sepulture, of that prodigious care to preserve the
soil from all admixture of putrescible matters? The ancient learning of
Egypt, the wisdom taught by hard experience in remote ages and perfected
in prosperous times, had gradually been overthrown, first by the Persian
and Greek conquests which weakened the national spirit, then by the Roman
conquest which broke it, then by the prevalence of the Christian
doctrines, and lastly by the Mohammedan domination, more hostile than all
the others to sanitary precaution.

Pariset’s remaining argument was that ancient Egypt, by its systematic
care in providing for a slow mouldering of human and animal bodies beyond
the reach of the inundation, had been saved from the plague; in the
historic period there had been epidemics, but these had been of typhus or
other sickness of prisons, slavery, and famines. According to Herodotus,
Egypt and Libya were the two healthiest countries under the sun. But when
St Paul’s vehement argument as to the natural and the spiritual body began
to make way, when men began to ask the question, “How are the dead raised
up, and with what body do they come?” the ancient practice of Egypt was
judged to be out of harmony with Christian doctrine. Embalming was
denounced as sinful by St Anthony, the founder of Egyptian monachism, in
the third century; and by the time that the church of North Africa had
reached its point of highest influence under St Augustine, bishop of
Hippo, the ancient religious rites of Egypt had everywhere given place to
Christian burial[300]. Bubo-plague had already been prevalent in at least
one disastrous epidemic in Lower Egypt at the time of the great massacres
of Christians in the episcopate of Cyprian; and in the year 542 it broke
out at Pelusium, one of the uncleannest spots in the Delta, spread thence
on the one hand along the North African coast, and on the other hand by
the corn ships to Byzantium, and grew into the disastrous world-wide
pestilence which has ever since been associated with the reign of

After the Mohammedan conquest things went from bad to worse; and from the
tenth century until the year 1846, plague had been domesticated on the
soil of Egypt.

The theory of Pariset was communicated by him to the Académie de Médecine
on 12 July, 1831, and finally published in a carefully designed and highly
finished essay in 1837. It was received with much disfavour; according to
his colleague Daremberg, the learned librarian of the Academy, nothing but
its brilliant style could have saved it from being forgotten in a week. It
was vigorously opposed by Clot Bey, on behalf of Egyptian officialdom,
because it fixed upon Egypt the stigma of holding in the soil an inherent
and abiding cause of the plague[301]. Besides the general objection that
it was the theorizing of a _philosophe_, exception was taken to particular
parts of the argument. Thus Labat demonstrated by arithmetic that the
mummied carcases of all the generations of men and animals in Egypt for
three thousand years would have required a space as large as the whole of
Egypt, which should thus have become one vast ossuary. And as to the fact,
he added, embalming was the privilege of the rich, and of some sacred
species of animals. Clot Bey asserted that the whole class of slaves were
not thought worthy of embalming. He found also, in the language used by
Herodotus, evidence that the people of Egypt felt themselves to be under
“the continual menace” of some great epidemic scourge and took precautions
accordingly--the very ground on which Pariset based his theory. The
objection which weighed most with Daremberg was the fact that, just about
the time when Pariset had asserted the immunity of Egypt from plague in
her prosperous days, evidence had been found, in the newly-discovered
collections of Oribasius, that a bubonic disease was recorded for Egypt
and Libya by a Greek physician two centuries before the Christian era, and
by another Greek medical writer about the beginning of our era.

It does not appear to have occurred to the opponents of Pariset’s theory
that the two chief objections, first that embalming was far from general,
and second that cases of plague did occur in ancient Egypt, answered each
other. But, as matter of fact, it can be shown that there were cheaper
forms of embalming practised for the great mass of the people. Again, it
was found by De Maillet that bodies not embalmed at all, but laid in
coarse cloths upon beds of charcoal under six or eight feet of sand at an
elevation on the edge of the great plain of mummies at Memphis, and beyond
the reach of the water, were as perfectly preserved from putrid decay as
if they had been embalmed, the dry air and the nitrous soil contributing
to their slow and inoffensive decomposition[302]. These facts tended to
support the notion that it was not ceremony which really determined the
national practice, but utility, into which neither art nor religion
necessarily entered. The existence also of bubonic disease in the period
of the Ptolemies proved that the risk assumed in Pariset’s theory was a
real risk, the precautions having been not always sufficient to meet it.

The plague which overran the known world in Justinian’s reign (542) was,
according to this theory, the effect on a grand scale of an equally grand
cause, namely, the final overthrow of a most ancient religion and national
life, which had not been built up for nothing and had a true principle
concealed beneath its superstitions. The parallelism between China and
ancient Egypt has been a favourite subject. In China whatever of religion
there is runs upon the Egyptian lines--reverence for the dead or worship
of ancestors. The Chinese do not indeed embalm their dead, but they
practise an equivalent art of preservation which may be read in almost
identical terms in the book of Marco Polo and in modern works on the
social life of China[303]. To prevent the products of cadaveric decay from
passing into the soil may be said to be the object of their practices. The
pains taken to secure dry burial-places are especially obvious in those
parts of the country, such as the “reed lands” of the Yang-tsi, which are
subject to inundations, annual or occasional[304]. Much of the national
art of Feng-shui is concerned, under the mask of divination, with these
common-sense aims.

Both Egypt and China are liable to have their river-basins flooded at one
time and parched to dust at another. These extreme fluctuations of the
ground water are now known to scientific research to be the cause of
peculiar and unwholesome products of putrefaction in the soil: given a
soil charged with animal matters, the risk to those living upon it is in
proportion to the range of fluctuation of the ground water. If it happen
as an annual thing that the pores of the ground are now full of water, now
full of air, or if these extreme alternations be a common liability, then
a soil with the products of animal decomposition dispersed through it will
be always unwholesome, and unwholesome on a national scale. It is often
held that even vegetables rotting on the ground are pestiferous; Ambroise
Paré believed that the rotting carcase of a stranded whale caused an
outbreak of bubo-plague at Genoa; but human decomposition is something
special--at least for the living of the same species[305]. Most special of
all is it when its gross and crude matters pass rapidly into the ground,
getting carried hither and thither by the movements of the ground water,
and giving off those half-products of oxidation which the extreme
alternations from air to water, or from water to air, in the pores of the
ground are known to favour. There may be nothing offensive to the sense,
but the emanations from such a soil will in all probability be poisonous
or pestilent. In particular circumstances of locality the permeation or
leavening of the soil with the products of organic decomposition produces
Asiatic cholera; in still more special circumstances the result is yellow
fever; in circumstances familiar enough to ourselves the result is typhoid
fever, and probably also summer diarrhœa or British cholera. These are all
soil poisons. Bubo-plague also is a soil poison; and it is claimed as
specially related to the products of _cadaveric_ decomposition, diffused
at large in such a soil as soil-poisons are ordinarily engendered in.

It is possible to subject that theory of the plague to the test of facts
still further. Thus bubo-plague dogged the steps of Mohammedan conquest
from the first century after the Hegira, now in Syria when Damascus was
the capital, now in Irak when Bagdad was the centre of Mohammedan rule,
now in Egypt when the seat of empire shifted to Grand Cairo; and, over a
great part of the period, simultaneously in all the regions of Islam. That
long series of plague-epidemics has been recorded in Arabic annals, and
has lately been published in an abstract accessible to all, with a summary
of conclusions[306].

What are the conclusions of the learned commentator on the Arabic annals,
as to the general causes of the thousand years of Mohammedan
plague?--“War, with the wasting of whole nations, in disregard of all
established rights, with plundering of towns and concentration of great
masses of men ill provided for and unregulated, who developed the seeds of
communicable and malignant diseases. Add to these things the negligent or
wholly neglected burial of those who had fallen in battle, the straits and
privations of the wounded, and the effects of a hot climate, especially in
flooded and swampy tracts of country.... The kind of burial, in very
shallow and often badly covered graves, which used to be practised in most
Eastern towns, and in part is still practised, may also have had
disastrous consequences not unfrequently.”

The Theory tested by Modern Instances.

With that general statement for the long succession of plague-epidemics in
Islam during nine centuries from the Hegira, beginning with a Syrian
epidemic in A.D. 628 and ending with a close succession of twelve
epidemics in Egypt from 1410 to 1492, we may pass to the more detailed
accounts of the conditions under which bubo-plague has been found in
various localities, often circumscribed spots far apart and out of the
way, during recent years. These spots are so varied, have so little
apparently in common, and are so capriciously chosen in the midst of
their several regions of the globe, that they do not readily fall into
any order or classification. What are we to make of a few spots of plague
among nomade Arabs of the Cyrenaic plateau; of plague in some stricken
villages high up in the highlands of Kurdistan, or in low-lying towns such
as Resht, near the shore of the Caspian, or amidst the black ooze of
amphibious habitations in the lower valley of Tigris and Euphrates; of
true bubonic disease in some few Bedouin villages or small towns on the
summits of the basaltic plateaus that rise like gigantic warts from the
Arabian desert; of bubo-plague in Yun-nan, at or near the capital Talifoo,
where the Mohammedan and Chinese influences have been struggling for
mastery, as well as among the cabins in the rocky valleys of the Salwen;
of some forty or fifty Himalayan hamlets picked out as plague-spots among
the six thousand villages of Kumaon; and of the now extinct but
comparatively recent centres of the same disease in the walled towns and
walled villages of Kutch, Kattiwar, and Marwar? And lastly what are we to
make of those cases of typhus fever with buboes which have been observed
in villages of the Yusufzai valley, near Peshawur, in 1852; in the Chinese
town of Pakhoi, on the gulf of Tonking, in 1886; occasionally among the
fever-cases in Burdwan since the health of that province underwent so
disastrous a change about the year 1870; and, on credible report, among
the troops in the Russo-Turkish war of 1879? It is surely unnecessary, at
least, to refute the sterile dogmatism that these are all the effects of
one pre-existing virus, carried, we know not how, from point to point of
the globe in an unbroken succession. It is a far cry even on a small-scale
map from Kumaon to Kutch, from Yun-nan to the Gulf of Tonking, from Resht
to the Armenian highlands, from the centre of Arabia to Tripoli, and from
Mesopotamia to North Yemen. And what is the use of assuming that there has
always been bubo-plague in the “cradle of the human race,” and concluding
that the Black Death was one of its excursions westwards, so long as the
plagues of Islam were going on from decade to decade, all through the
Middle Ages, at no great distance from Byzantium and from Western Europe?
Are not Damascus, Bagdad and Grand Cairo of more account as plague-foci
than a few villages in the Himalaya or in Kattiwar, even granting that the
plague may have been in the latter at an earlier date than we know? It is
not communication that connects the several seats of plague, scattered
widely in time and place; but it is community of conditions, or of the
causes and associated circumstances which breed the plague in each
separately. Let us take them in some sort of order.

Among the most remarkable habitats of modern bubo-plague are the villages
on the basalt plateaus of the Arabian desert. We have information of these
plague-spots from Doughty[307], who did not indeed visit Assir, the most
notorious of them, but several others more to the north and east. He
describes the ruined villages of Mogug, Gofar, Hâyil and others, where the
people had died of plague some years before. A year of dearth preceded the
plague in some, if not in all of them. The author is struck by the
carelessness of burial, or the difficulties of it in the baked soil,
although he does not directly connect that with the epidemics. Thus, in
passing the graveyard of Hâyil, one of the plague-towns, he remarks:
“Aheyd was a man of much might and glory in his day; he lies a yard under
the squalid gravel in his shirt.” Of Kheybar, with vague traditions of
plague, he says: “We passed through a burial-ground of black volcanic
mould and salt-warp; the squalid grave heaps are marked with headstones of
wild basalt. That funeral earth is chapped and ghastly, bulging over her
enwombed corses, like a garden soil in spring-time which is pushed by the
new spring plants. All is horror at Kheybar!” He is led to the following
general remarks: “The care of sepulture was beyond measure in the
religions of antiquity, which were without humility. Under the new
religion [of Arabia] the deceased is wound in a shirt-cloth of calico, and
his corse is laid in the shallow pit of droughty earth.” Again, of Bedouin
burials in general: “The deceased is buried the same day or on the morrow.
They scrape out painfully with a stick and their hands in the hard-burned
soil a shallow grave. I have seen their graves in the desert ruined by
foul hyenas, and their winding-sheets lay half above ground.”

Of the best known of these Arabian plague-spots the plateau of Assir, to
the south-east of Mecca, we have the following information relating to the
years 1874-79[308]; the chief plague-locality is Namasse, the principal
town of Beny Sheir, with five other villages.

    The site is on a mountain ridge too high for camels, the climate is
    cold and moist, the soil fruitful, springs abundant, and no standing
    water. The houses are built of stone, and stand close together. The
    ground-floor of each house is used as the stable; and as the winter in
    these mountains is very severe, so that water freezes, the inhabitants
    live with their cattle in a horrible state of filth. According to
    information from the district superintendent, there had been plague in
    a few villages every two or three years for the previous thirty-five
    or forty years. It has seldom extended further than five or six
    leagues. The region is a mountain canton, with no trade; it is cut off
    from the rest of the world. The disease is mostly attended with buboes
    in the groins, armpits, and neck, but not always; sometimes petechial
    spots were spoken of; in the sheikh Faïk’s own household the disease
    began with rigors, and developed buboes, petechiæ, headache and
    burning thirst. Dr Nury counted up in six villages, with a population
    of eight hundred, cases of plague to the number of 184 (68 men, 45
    women, 50 boys and 21 girls), with 155 deaths and 29 recoveries.

Let us now place beside this the accounts of the plague in the mountains
village of Kumaon[309].

Of the plague-villages of Danpore and Munsharee, near the snow, we read:

    “Their houses are generally built of stone, one storey high. On the
    ground-floor herd the cattle; in this compartment the dung is allowed
    to accumulate till such time as there is no room left for the cattle
    to stand erect; it is then removed and carefully packed close around
    all sides, so that the house literally stands in the centre of a
    hot-bed.... In many instances we have seen it accumulated above the
    level of the floor of the upper story in which the family lives.” In
    that compartment, four feet high, with no window and a door of some
    three feet by eighteen inches, ten or fifteen people live, lying
    huddled together with the door shut. Their food is as poor as their
    lodging. When plague breaks out, the family ties are rudely loosened:
    those who can, flee to the jungle, leaving the stricken to their fate.

    The following is by Renny: “Fourteen died at a place in the forest
    half a mile or more from Duddoli, respecting which I had the best
    description yet given to me of the career of the sickness. Here were
    only two houses, or long low huts, occupied by two separate families,
    the heads being two brothers, sixteen souls in all. These two huts had
    to contain also thirty head of cattle, large and small, at the worst
    season of the year. In these two huts the Mahamurree [bubo-plague]
    commenced about ten or eleven months ago, corresponding to the time it
    appeared in Duddoli. At this place the sixteen residents kept together
    till fourteen died, and one adult only, a man of about thirty years of
    age, with his female child of six years old, survived. There was no
    particular disorder among the cattle, but the outbreak of the plague
    was preceded and accompanied by a great mortality among the rats in
    their houses.”

Let us now take the accounts, twenty-five years later, of the plague in
the same district in 1876-77[310].

    Confirming the earlier statements as to the extraordinary filth of the
    houses--the cattle under the same roof and the baskets of damp and
    unripe grain--he directs attention specially to the disposal of the
    dead. The custom of the country is to burn the body beside the most
    convenient mountain stream terminating in the Ganges. But from that
    good practice the people have deviated in regard to bodies dead of any
    pestilence (smallpox, cholera, plague), which are buried. Of all
    countries the Himalaya is least suited to the burial of the dead. For,
    by reason of the rocky subsoil, it is seldom possible to dig a grave
    more than two feet deep; and, as a rule, the pestilent dead are laid
    in shallow trenches in the surface soil of the field nearest to the
    place of death, or of the terrace facing the house, or even of the
    floor of the house itself. This bad practice is begotten of fear to
    handle the body, and has been long established. Such mismanagement of
    the dead is sufficient to account for the continuous existence of the
    active principle of plague-disease, sometimes dormant for want of
    opportunity, but ever ready to affect persons suitably prepared by any
    cause producing a low or bad state of health. In the houses of
    families about to suffer from an outbreak of plague, rats are
    sometimes found dead on the floor. Planck had seen them himself; all
    that he had seen appeared to have died suddenly, as by suffocation,
    their bodies being in good condition, a piece of rag sometimes
    clenched in the teeth. He mentions nine villages, all of them endemic
    seats of plague, in which the premonitory death of rats in the
    infected houses was testified. The affected villages were not one in a
    hundred of all the villages of Kumaon, and were widely scattered
    throughout the northern half of the province. Even in each of those
    few villages, the plague is confined to one house, or one terrace, or
    one portion of the village.

Let us turn next to the small spots of bubo-plague in the remote province
of Yun-nan. Our information comes from members of the British and French
Consular services[311].

    The plague occurs in towns and villages and is the cause of much
    mortality. After ravaging villages scattered about the plains, it
    frequently ascends the mountains, and takes off many of the aborigines
    inhabiting the high lands. What, in M. Rocher’s opinion, aggravates
    the evil is the practice of not burying the bodies of those who die of
    this disease. Instead of being buried, the body is placed on a bier
    and exposed to the sun. As a consequence of this practice the
    traveller passing the outskirts of a village where the plague is
    raging is nearly choked with the nauseous smell emanating from the
    exposed and rotting corpses. Burial is the usual mode of disposal,
    although many of the villages are on rocky mountain sides, as in
    Kumaon. The rats are first affected; as soon as they sicken, they
    leave their holes in troops, and after staggering about and falling
    over each other, drop down dead. Mr Baber had the same information
    from a French missionary in the upper valley of the Salwen, a long,
    low valley about two miles broad, walled in by immense precipices, so
    hot in summer that the inhabitants go up the hill sides to live. The
    approach of bubo-plague (the buboes may be as large as a hen’s or
    goose’s egg) may often be known from the extraordinary behaviour of
    the rats, who leave their holes and crevices and issue on to the
    floors without a trace of their accustomed timidity, springing
    continually upwards from their hind legs as if they were trying to
    jump out of something. The rats fall dead, and then comes the turn of
    the poultry, pigs, goats, etc. The good father had a theory of his own
    that the plague is really a pestilential emanation slowly rising in an
    equable stratum from the ground, the smallest creatures being first
    engulfed. The larger plague-centre at or near the capital, Talifoo,
    appears to be related to Mohammedan warfare, and possibly to the
    neglect to bury the dead, which is an admitted fact, although not
    connected by the narrator with the prevalence of plague.

The other Chinese plague-spot is hundreds of miles away, on the shores of
the Gulf of Tonking. The best known centre of plague is the port of
Pakhoi, the native quarter of which is described as peculiarly filthy. The
houses are little cleaner than the streets, the floors being saturated
with excrement, and the drains being either close to the surface or open
altogether. An outbreak of plague there in 1882 is minutely described by
Dr Lowry[312].

    It occurred in the hot weather of June (85° Fahr. day, 76° Fahr.
    night); for fear of thieves the houses are carefully shut up even on
    the hottest night. The epidemic caused about 400 to 500 deaths in a
    population of 25,000. The disease does not spread. In nearly every
    house where the disease broke out, the rats had been coming out of
    their holes and dying on the floors: Dr Lowry dissected several of
    them, and found the lungs congested. In the human subject, except for
    the buboes, the disease resembled typhus: “anyone going to the bedside
    of a patient would certainly at first think it was that disease he had
    to deal with.” The same disease occurred at Lien-chow, a city twelve
    miles off. Another English physician in the service of the China
    Maritime Customs heard of a malady with the symptoms of plague in
    certain districts of Southern Kiangsi in the autumn of 1886; but no
    particulars were to be had. Typhus was prevalent, and very fatal,
    every year in the towns, villages and hamlets of Northern Kiangsi.

    One curious piece of evidence as to the death of rats, not associated
    with plague in men, comes from a more northern province of China. In
    the autumn of 1881, on the opposite side of the Yang-tsi from Nanking
    and in the western suburbs of the ancient capital, the rats emerged
    from holes in dwellings, jumped up, turned round, and fell dead.
    Baskets and boxes filled with their bodies were cast into the canal.
    “Here,” says Dr Macgowan, “was evidently a subsoil poison which
    affected the animals precisely in the same way as the malaria of the
    Yun-nan pest. Happily the subterranean miasm at Nanking did not affect
    animals that live above ground[313].”

The evidence from Kutch, Kattiwar, and Marwar relates to the years
1815-20, and 1838. In circumstances peculiar in some respects, namely, of
walled towns and stockaded villages, but the same as those already given
in the matter of filth from cattle crowded into the human dwellings, we
find bubo-plague breaking out so long as the unwholesome state of things
lasted under Mahratta rule and until British rule had been fairly at work.
The causes of the bubo-plague, says Whyte, were the same as of
typhus--walled and crowded towns, cattle housed with human beings, slow
wasting diseases among the cattle, which were not killed for food but
kept for milk and ghee. He questions whether, in shutting out their
enemies, they had not shut in one far more powerful[314]. Here also we
have various independent witnesses[315] testifying to the premonitory
death of the rats; they lay dead in all places and directions--in the
streets, houses, and hiding-places of the walls. This happened in every
town that was affected in Marwar, so that the inhabitants of any house
instantly quitted it on seeing a dead rat.

Relation of Typhus to Bubo-plague.

The smallest and the most easily surveyed of all the recent foci of
bubo-plague, is that among the Bedouin of the Cyrenaic plateau in North
Africa (port of Benghazi), a desert region corresponding to one of the
most famous corn-lands of antiquity.

    There was no difference of opinion that the small outbreak of plague
    in 1874 began simultaneously in the tents of Orphas and the tents of
    Ferig-el-Hanan, containing together about a hundred souls[316]. These
    Arabs keep cows, sheep and goats; some of them also cultivate small
    patches of corn. They are subject to periodic famines, and there had
    been much want among them in 1869, 1870, 1871, 1872 and 1873, attended
    by epidemics of typhus, cholera and smallpox. In the winter they found
    employment among the traders of Merdjé, and at the end of March, 1873,
    had quitted that village to place their animals in the neighbouring
    hill-pastures. The ground had been saturated, after long drought, by
    the rains of the winter. Their tents are pitched in hollows which may
    be filled by water in a few minutes. The encampments, like those of
    the Bedouin in Arabia, are excessively filthy and are often the scene
    of typhus fever. In April, 1874, the plague began, the first case
    being in a child; the buboes were in the groin, armpit or neck. The
    other symptoms were bilious vomiting, black vomit, haematemesis,
    petechiae, anthraceous boils, pains in the head, collapse, and
    delirium. A few cases were mild, but the majority grave and fatal; in
    several cases there was a relapse with new buboes. The disease was
    brought from the tents to the village of Merdjé, in which 270 were
    attacked in a population of 310, with 100 deaths. The total known
    attacks from 5 April to 24 July were 533 in a population of 734, with
    208 deaths and 325 recoveries, 201 resisting the infection. The
    sanitary state of the village was as bad as that of the tents: the
    houses, entered by a low door, had windows not to the sun, but to the
    courtyard, which is a stable choked with filth; the floors of the
    houses are covered with filth. The graveyard is in the centre of the
    village, beside a pool of standing water: the graves are shallow, and
    the corpses are sometimes unearthed by jackals. Both in the village
    and in the encampments a fall of rain was followed by a new series of
    attacks. The advice of the sanitary commisioner was to make graves at
    least six feet deep, and to cover them with lime.

These events in 1874 were an exact repetition of those of 1858. In both
years heavy rains followed long drought, giving promise of an abundant
harvest after a period of famine. The dry years, in both instances, were
attended with sickness, typhus and other; the first wet season turned the
sickness to plague, that is to say, it added the complication of buboes
and haemorrhagic symptoms to the characters of typhus. The meaning of that
seems to be that the saturation of the ground generated a soil-poison
where there had previously been the milder aerial poison of typhus. This
view of plague, as a typhus of the soil, or a disease made so much more
malignant than typhus just because of underground fermentation of the
putrescible animal matters, is borne out by the facts already given for
China and for India. The latter country furnishes other illustrations of
typhus fever becoming complicated with buboes, and so becoming something
like plague. Perhaps the best instance is the fever observed in the
Yusufzai valley, near Peshawur, in 1852[317].

    It arose mostly in the filthy Mohammedan houses, shared by cattle and
    human beings; but it invaded some of the cleaner Hindoo houses also.
    The disease began in low, marshy situations, which were covered with
    water after rain and heavy night dews. It was of the type of typhus,
    or relapsing fever, with yellowness of the skin, bleeding from the
    gums, and from the bowels, and often from the nose. One of the
    observers says: “The only other concomitant affection worthy of note
    is swelling of the lymphatic glands over various parts of the body;
    this, however, is only met with in a very few instances.” The other
    authority says: “Inflammation and suppuration of the glands in the
    groin, axilla, and neck occurred in some that survived the first or
    second relapse.” To this outbreak, which is removed only in degree
    from the Benghazi plague, the Pakhoi plague, and the Pali plague
    (Gujerat), may be added some others, about which the information is
    more general. Thus, the fevers which have become notorious in Burdwan
    since the health of that province changed so disastrously owing to the
    damming of the ground-water, are said to have been attended now and
    then with buboes. The typhus fever at Saugor in 1859 was occasionally
    complicated with suppuration of the lymphatic glands: “In the Doab, as
    in the subsequent gaol attack, the glands in the groin were very
    rarely affected; those in the neck were more frequently affected, but
    this was not a prominent feature in the disease[318].” Again, General
    Loris Melikoff told the correspondent of the _Golos_ that twenty men
    died in a day in the Russo-Turkish war in the winter of 1878, with
    glandular swellings; everywhere there was Schmutz, Schmutz! And
    lastly, in the epidemic of 1878 at Vetlianka, on the Volga, which is
    reckoned among the historic occurrences of bubo-plague in Europe, the
    first ten cases in November, 1878, had suppurating glands in the
    axilla, did not take to bed, and recovered; there had been ordinary
    typhus in the filthy fisher cottages in 1877, and there was typhus
    concurrent with the disease which at length became, and was at length
    recognized as, true bubo-plague in the winter of 1878-79[319].

One thing which distinguishes these recent outbreaks of plague from the
great plague of Justinian’s reign, in part from the series of Mohammedan
plagues, and from the Black Death, is that they have for the most part
shown no independent vitality and no diffusive power. As in typhus fever
itself (except on great occasions), they have been almost confined to
those who lived in the filthy houses, and to those who came within the
influence of the pestilential emanations. The great plagues of the 6th and
14th centuries had, on the other hand, a diffusive power which carried
them over the whole known world. The buboes of Egypt and of China became
familiar as far as Norway and Greenland.

But, apart from diffusiveness, the conditions of recent local plagues are
not unlike those of the great historical epidemics. The very same
observation of the rats leaving their holes, which is so abundantly
confirmed from the recent plague-spots of Southern China, of Yun-nan, of
Kumaon, and of Gujerat, was familiar in the plague-books of London and of
Edinburgh in the Elizabethan period. Of the great outbreak in 1603, Thomas
Lodge writes: “And when as rats, moules, and other creatures (accustomed
to live underground) forsake their holes and habitations, it is a token of
corruption in the same, by reason that such sorts of creatures forsake
their wonted places of aboade[320].” That is only one of many proofs that
the virus of plague has its habitat in the soil, although it may be
carried long distances clinging to other things. In its most diffusive
potency it is a soil-poison generated, we may now say with some
confidence, out of the products of cadaveric decay[321]; in its less
diffusive but hardly less malignant potency, it is a soil-poison generated
out of the filth of cattle housed with human beings, or out of domestic
filth generally, and in nearly all the known instances of such generation,
associated with, but perhaps not absolutely dependent upon, carelessness
in the disposal of the dead after famine or fever; in the least malignant
form, when plague is only a small part of an epidemic of typhus and with
the buboes inclined to suppurate, it appears to be still a soil-poison,
and to differ from typhus itself, just because the pestilential product of
decomposing filth has been engendered in the pores of the ground, rather
than in the atmosphere of living-rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Black Death, which here concerns us immediately, is one of the two
great instances of a plague-virus with vast diffusive power, enormous
momentum, and centuries of endurance. So great effects may be said to
postulate adequate causes; and one must assume that the virus had been
bred from cadaveric decomposition in circumstances of peculiar
aggravation and on some vast or national scale. The sequence of events
carries us to China; and the annals of China do furnish evidence that the
assumed cause was there on a vast scale through a long period of national
disaster, while the national customs of China for the disposal of the
dead, like those of ancient Egypt, point to the existence of a real risk
from allowing the soil to be permeated at large by the crude or hasty
products of cadaveric decomposition.

It is our duty to construct the best hypothesis we can, sparing no labour.
No one really dispenses with theory, whatever his protestations to the
contrary; those who are the loudest professors of suspended judgment are
the most likely to fall victims to some empty verbalism which hangs loose
at both ends, some ill-considered piece of argument which ignores the
historical antecedents and stops short of the concrete conclusions. It has
been so in the case of infective diseases, and of bubo-plague in
particular. The virus of the plague, we are told, is specific; it has
existed from an unknown antiquity, and has come down in an unbroken
succession; we can no more discover how it arose, than we can tell how the
first man arose, or the first mollusc, or the first moss or lichen; its
species is, indeed, of the nature of the lowest vegetable organisms.

The objection to that hypothesis of plague is that it involves a total
disregard of facts. It is a mere formula, which saves all trouble,
dispenses with all historical inquiry, and appears to be adapted equally
to popular apprehension and to academic ease. The bubo-plagues of history
have not, in fact, been all of the same descent; notably the Black Death
was a wave of pestilence which Mohammedan countries, accustomed as they
had been to native bubo-plagues for centuries before, recognized as an
invasion from a foreign source, as an interruption of the sequence of
their own plagues. Again, the attempt to link in one series the various
scattered and circumscribed spots of plague now or lately existing must
fail disastrously the moment it is seriously attempted. The hypothesis of
one single source of the plague, of a species of disease arising we know
not how, beginning we know not when or where, but at all events reproduced
by ordinary generation in an unbroken series of cases, _ab aevo, ab ovo_,
is the merest verbalism, wanting in reality or concreteness, and dictated
by the curious illusion that a species of disease, because it reproduces
itself after its kind, must resemble in other respects a species of living

The diffusive power of the virus of the Black Death, which has been
equalled only by that of the plague in Justinian’s reign, may seem to have
depended upon the favouring conditions that it met with. But although
favouring conditions count for much, they are not all. The Black Death
raged as furiously as anywhere among the nomade Tartars who were its first
victims; the virus, as soon as it was let loose, put forth a degree of
virulence which must have been native to it, or brought with it from its
place of engendering. None the less the incidence of the Black Death in
Europe had depended in part upon the preparedness of the soil. It came to
Europe in the age of feudalism and of walled towns, with a cramped and
unwholesome manner of life, and inhabited spots of ground choked with the
waste matters of generations. But even amidst these generally fostering
conditions, there would have been more special things that determined its
election. It is a principle exemplified in all importations of disease
from remote sources, in smallpox among the aerial contagions and in
Asiatic cholera among the soil-poisons, that the conditions which favour
diffusion abroad are approximately the same amidst which the infection had
been originally engendered. A soil-poison of foreign origin makes straight
for the most likely spots in the line of its travels; it may not, and
often does not confine itself to these, but it gives them a preference.
Thus, if we conclude on the evidence that the bubo-plague is a soil-poison
having a special affinity to the products of cadaveric decomposition, we
shall understand why the Black Death, when it came to England, found so
congenial a soil in the monasteries, and in the homes of the clergy.
Within the monastery walls, under the floor of the chapel or cloisters,
were buried not only generations of monks, but often the bodies of
princes, of notables of the surrounding country, and of great
ecclesiastics. In every parish the house of the priest would have stood
close to the church and the churchyard. One has to figure the virus of the
Black Death not so much as carried by individuals from place to place in
their persons, or in their clothes and effects, but rather as a leaven
which had passed into the ground, spreading hither and thither therein as
if by polarizing the adjacent particles of the soil, and that not
instantaneously like a physical force, but so gradually as to occupy a
whole twelvemonth between Dorset and Yorkshire. Sooner or later it reached
to every corner of the land, manifesting its presence wherever there were
people resident. Such universality in the soil of England, we have reason
to think, it had. But it appears to have put forth its greatest power in
the walled town, in the monastery, and in the neighbourhood of the village



The great mortality came to an end everywhere in England by Michaelmas,
1349. The pestilence had lasted some fourteen months, from its first
appearance on the Dorset coast at the beginning of August, 1348, until its
subsidence in the northern counties in the autumn of 1349. It came to an
end, as all devastating epidemics do, through having spent its force,
exhausted its pabulum, run through all the susceptible subjects. A
letter-writer of Charles I.’s reign has put into colloquial language the
corresponding reason for a pause in the ravages of the plague towards the
end of its stay in London: “And I think the only reason why the plague is
somewhat slackened is because the place is dead already, and no bodie left
in it worth the killing[322].” The exhausted state of the country, and of
all Europe, is not easy for us to realize. Petrarch, a witness of the
Black Death in Italy, foresaw the incredulity of after ages, or their
inability to image the state of things--the empty houses, the abandoned
towns, the squalid country, the fields crowded with the dead, the vast and
dreadful solitude over the whole world. If you inquire of historians, he
continues, they are silent; if you consult the physicians, they are at
their wits’ end; if you question the philosophers, they shrug their
shoulders, wrinkle their brows, and lay the finger on the lip. Is it
possible that posterity can believe these things? For we who have seen
them can hardly believe them[323].

The blow fell upon every country of Europe within a period of two or three
years; and it must have paralysed all trade and industry, war and
politics, for the time being. Edward III.’s wars in France, which had
resulted in the victory of Crecy in 1346 and the conquest of Calais in
1347, had been suspended by a truce, which was renewed from time to time.
Thus, in the very midst of the pestilence, on the 2nd of May, 1349, the
envoys of the English and French kings, “in their tents between Calais and
Guines,” agreed upon a form of treaty continuing the truce until
Pentecost, 1350[324]. In the last days of 1349, Edward III. in person,
with a small force, was able to repel an attack upon his new possession of
Calais[325]. It was in the year after the Black Death (1350) according to
both Stow and Selden, that Edward III. held a great feast at Windsor, to
which his heralds invited knights from abroad, to celebrate the
institution of the Order of the Garter, the statutes of the Order having
been drawn up the year before. What is styled “the necessary defence of
the realm,” was a chief subject of concern throughout the year 1350. On
the 12th February an order was made to the sheriffs of counties for a
supply of so many arrows from each[326]. On the 20th March the mayors and
bailiffs of 110 towns are ordered to provide their respective quotas of
men-at-arms--London 100, Norwich 60, Bristol 20, and so on--and to send
them to Sandwich “for the necessary defence of our realm[327].” On the 1st
of May a commission was issued to engage mariners for certain ships, and
on the 20th May, an order for ships, pinnaces and barges.

On the 22nd July and 10th August there are proclamations relating to the
piratical fleet of Spanish ships, intercepting the English traders to
Gascony, and threatening an invasion of England[328]; the Spaniards were
routed, their ships taken, and the Channel cleared, in a famous
engagement off Winchelsea, on 29th August, 1350, which the king directed
in person[329]. On 15th June, three days before the first of the
ordinances against the Labourers, the king issued two orders to counties,
to raise men “for our passage against the parts over sea”--one to the
Welsh lords, and the other to the sheriffs of English counties, the
demands being in all for 4170 bowmen from England, and for 1350 men from
Wales[330]. Whatever these edicts may have resulted in, it was not until
four years after that the king really resumed his wars with France. On the
8th September, 1355, the Black Prince sailed from Plymouth with a fleet of
some three hundred ships carrying an army of knights, men-at-arms, English
bowmen and Welshmen, to the Garonne, for his famous raid across the south
of France[331]. Later in the autumn the king collected at Portsmouth[332]
and Sandwich, and at Calais, a force of three thousand men-at-arms, two
thousand mounted bowmen, and an immense number of bowmen on foot, with
which he took the field on the 2nd November[333]. The same summer, a fleet
of forty great ships was fitted out at Rotherhithe, for a force of foot
under Henry, duke of Lancaster, to aid the king of Navarre; it sailed on
the 10th of July, but was unable to clear the Channel, and for various
reasons did not proceed[334]; next year, however, the duke of Lancaster
crossed from Southampton to Normandy with a force in forty-eight

Thus was the war with France resumed six years after the great mortality.
The means for equipping these expeditions had been provided by loans
raised on the security of the enormous subsidy which the Parliament of
1353-54 was induced to vote, in the form of an export duty of fifty
shillings on every sack of wool shipped to foreign countries during the
next six years. According to Avesbury’s calculation, Edward had a revenue,
from that source, of a thousand marks a day; it was the common opinion, he
says, that more than 100,000 sacks of wool were exported in a year[336].
But another and perhaps better authority gives the annual export of wool
in the middle of the fourteenth century at nearly 32,000 sacks[337].

Direct effects of the Black Death.

Meanwhile internal affairs were demanding the king’s attention, although
they occupy less space in the extant State papers than the warlike
preparations. On the 23rd August, while the mortality was raging in the
north, a proclamation was issued to the sheriff of Northumberland against
the migration of people to Scotland, with arms, victuals, goods and
merchandise, the pestilence not being mentioned[338]. The first State
paper which relates to the recent great mortality is the king’s
proclamation of 1st December, 1349, to the mayor and bailiffs of Sandwich,
and of forty-eight other English ports, including London[339]. The
proclamation begins:

    “Forasmuch as no mean part of the people of our realm of England is
    dead in the present pestilence, and the treasure of the said realm is
    mostly exhausted, and (as we have learned) numbers of this our kingdom
    are daily passing, or proposing to pass, to parts over sea with money
    which they were able to have kept within the realm, Now we, taking
    heed that if passage after this manner be tolerated, the kingdom will
    in a short time be stripped both of men and of treasure, and so
    therefrom grave danger may easily arise to us and to the said realm,
    unless a fitting remedy be speedily appointed--do command the mayor
    and bailiffs of Sandwich (and of forty-eight other ports) to stop the
    passage beyond sea of them that have no mandate, especially if they be
    Englishmen, excepting merchants, notaries, or the king’s envoys.”

The edict was probably directed more against the drain of treasure than
against the emigration of people; but this not uninteresting question
really belongs to other historians, who do not appear to have dealt with

On the 18th of June, 1350, the first summer after the mortality, there was
issued the first proclamation, to the sheriffs of counties, on the demands
of the labourers and artificers for higher wages, entitled “De magna parte
populi in ultima pestilentia defuncta, et de servientium salariis proinde
moderandis[341].” The preamble or motive is one that cannot but seem
strange to modern ideas, although it must have been correct and
conventional according to feudal notions: “Forasmuch as some, having
regard to the necessities of lords and to the scarcity of servants, are
unwilling to serve unless they receive excessive wages, while others
prefer to beg in idleness, rather than to seek their living by labour--be
it therefore enacted that any man or woman, bond or free, under the age of
sixty, and not living by a trade or handicraft, nor possessing private
means, nor having land to cultivate, shall be obliged, when required, to
serve any master who is willing to hire him or her at such wages as were
usually paid in the locality in the year 1346, or on the average of five
or six years preceding; provided that the lords of villeins or tenants
shall have the preference of their labour, so that they retain no more
than shall be necessary for them.” It was strictly forbidden either to
offer or to demand wages above the old rate. Another clause forbids the
giving of alms to beggars. Handicraftsmen of various kinds are also
ordered to be paid at the old rate. Lastly, victuallers and other traders
are directed to sell their wares at reasonable prices[342]. The same
ordinance, with some added paragraphs, was reissued on the 18th November,
1350, to the county of Suffolk and to the district of Lindsey
(Lincolnshire), the latter being one of the chief sheep-grazing parts of
England; in those two localities, it is stated in so many words, the
labourers had set at nought the ordinance of 18th June[343]. When
Parliament met--for the first time since the mortality--on the 9th of
February, 1351, it was acknowledged that the commissions to sheriffs
issued by the king and his council had been ineffective, and that wages
had been at twice or thrice the old rate[344]. The Parliament, having
legislated for a number of technical matters in connexion with the
enormous number of wills and successions, proceeded next to the labour
question, and passed the famous Statute of Labourers, by which the
generalities of the ordinance of 18th June, 1350, are replaced by an
elaborate schedule of wages for harvest-time and other times[345]. One
clause of the Act is specially directed against the migration of labourers
to other counties. It was the ancient manorial system that was threatened
most of all by the depopulation. The surviving labourers sought work where
they could command the best wages, and at the same time could escape from
the few degrading bonds of servitude which still clung to the _nativi_ or
serfs of a manor. But the Manor Court was still the unit of government,
and the Act would have been inoperative except on that basis. That
fundamental intention of the statute of the 9th February, 1351, comes out,
not only in the explicit clause against migrations, but also by contrast,
in the special permission given to the labourers of the counties of
Stafford, Derby and Lancaster, to the people of Craven, and to the
dwellers in the Marches of Wales and Scotland, to go about in search of
work in harvest “as they were wont to do before this time[346].”

The immediate effect of the depopulation had been to mobilise, as it were,
the labouring class. Many of them must have taken the road at once; for,
in the first ordinance of 18th June, 1350, before the harvest of that year
had begun, it is stated that certain of the labourers preferred to live by
begging instead of by labour, and it is therefore forbidden to give alms
to beggars. According to Knighton, the effect of the ordinance itself was
to swell the ranks of the wandering poor; when some were arrested,
imprisoned, or fined in terms of the commission to the sheriffs, others
fled to the woods and wastes (_ad silvas et boscos_)[347]. These escapes
continued for years after; the rolls of the Manor Court of Winslow have
entries of many such cases long after the pestilence[348]. Many of these
fugitive villeins formed the class of “wasters,” often referred to in the
_Vision of Piers the Ploughman_: “waster would not work, but wander
about,” or he would work only in harvest, squander his earnings, and for
the rest of the year feel the pinch of hunger “until both his eyen
watered.” But it is clear that others went to distant manors, and settled
down again to steady employment, freed from their bonds as _nativi_; and
it cannot be doubted that some went to the towns[349].

In order to realize the causes and circumstances of the labour difficulty
after the enormous thinning of the population, it may be well to recall
the composition of the village communities. In each manor the arable land
was in two portions--on the one hand the immense open fields (two or
perhaps three) in which the villagers had each so many half-acre strips,
and on the other hand the lord’s demesne, or home-farm. Part of the latter
would often be let to free tenants, or even to villeins, who would count
for the occasion as free tenants. For the cultivation of his demesne the
lord was dependent on his tenants in villenage, who owed him, in form, so
many days’ work in the year, but in reality were often able to commute
their personal services for a money payment and are said to have done so
very generally[350]. Thus the lord of the manor was no longer able to call
upon his serfs to plough or to sow or to reap; he had to hire them for his
occasions. The free tenants would also be dependent to some extent upon
hired labour; and as some even of the villeins cultivated up to forty
acres or more, in the open fields of the manor, these would also have to
hire unless their families were old enough to help. All that labour for
hire would naturally be supplied by the poorer villagers, the cottars and
bordars, who would seldom cultivate more than a few half-acres, and in
some cases perhaps none[351]. The lower order of tenants in villenage
formed accordingly the class of labourers; and it was their demands which
gave occasion for the ordinances of 1350 and the statute of 1351. In each
manor the lord would have been affected more than all the rest by the
scarcity of labour, in respect of the extensive demesne or home-farm
managed by his bailiff. It is conjectured that he tried, in some cases, to
go back to his rights of customary service from his villeins, which had
gradually become commutable for rents paid in money, and that the attempts
to do so led to insubordination[352]. He had to pay wages, notwithstanding
all his rights of lordship. The wages paid in the harvest of 1349 were,
says Rogers, those of panic. In the form of petition which brought the
labour-question before Parliament in February 1351, it is stated that the
wages demanded were at double or treble the old rate; of the year
preceding (1350) it is recorded that the wages paid to labourers for
gathering the harvest on the manor of Ham, belonging to the lord Berkeley,
amounted to 1144 days’ work, on the old scale of commutation[353].

The labourers, although the lowest order on the manors, were accordingly
masters of the situation. Personal service to the lord, measurable merely
by days, and having no reference to fluctuations in the rate of wages, had
become obsolete; nor do the ordinance of 1350 and the statute of 1351 give
any hint of trying to revive it. If the men refused to be hired at the old
rate, they were to be arrested and imprisoned.

There were, of course, many things besides the statute, tending to keep
the majority of peasants on the manors where they had been born; so that
the formal abolition of villenage remained to be carried by rebellion in
1381, while many traces of it in practice remained for long after. Those
who stayed on their old manors, or removed to another county or hundred to
become tenants under new lords, were able to get permanently better wages;
the price of labour remained about forty per cent. higher than it had been
before the mortality; so that the statute was on the whole ineffective.
But another large proportion of the labouring class appears to have been
driven to a wandering life. It is not easy to explain on economical
principles why the class of “wasters,” of whom we hear so much, should
have been called into existence. Hands were scarce, and wages were high;
the conditions look on the surface to be entirely adverse to the creation
of a class of sturdy beggars and idle tramps. But the economic conditions
were really complex; and when all has been said on the head of economics,
there will remain something to be explained on the side of ethics.

Not only the labourers but also the employers of labour were cut off in
the mortality. A great part of the capital of the country passed suddenly
into new hands. Before the Parliament of 1351 legislated upon wages, it
was occupied with a number of technical difficulties about wills. Of the
proving of wills and the granting of letters of administration on a great
scale we have had an instance from an archdeaconry in Lancashire. In
Colchester, a town with some four hundred burgesses, one hundred and
eleven wills were proved[354]. In the Husting Court of London, three
hundred and sixty wills were enrolled and proved from 13th January, 1349,
to 13th January, 1350. An immense number of persons came into money who
could not all have had the inclination, even if they had the skill and
aptitude, for employing it as capital. If there were wasters among the
labourers, there were wasters also among the moneyed class. The mortality
produced, indeed, that demoralisation of the whole national life which has
been usually observed to follow in the like circumstances. “Almost all
great epochs of moral degradation are connected with great epidemics,”
says Niebuhr, generalizing the evidence which Thucydides gives specially
for the plague of Athens[355]. The fourteenth century was by no means a
period of high morality before the Black Death; but it was undoubtedly
worse after it. Langland’s poem of the vision of Piers the Ploughman is
one long diatribe against the vices of the age, and some of the worst of
them he expressly dates “sith the pestilence time.” It will be convenient
to take these ethical illustrations, before we proceed with the effects of
the mortality upon material prosperity and population, and with the
domestication of plague on the soil.

So far from the labouring class being the chief sinners, it is in the
humbler ranks that the root of goodness remains. Langland’s hero, the
Ploughman, is obviously chosen to represent “that ingenuous simplicity
and native candour and integrity,” which, as Burke says, “formerly
characterized the English nation,” and, one may add, have been at all
times its saving grace. It was in that class that the reforming movement,
led by Wyclif twenty years after, had its strength. Lollardy and the
Peasants’ Rebellion were closely allied. The grievance of the latter was
that the gulf between the gentleman and the workman had become wider than
in nature it should be. An ultimate and very indirect effect of the great
mortality was to strengthen the middle class by recruits from beneath; it
created the circumstances which produced the English yeoman of the
fifteenth century. But we are here engaged with the immediate effect; and
that was to broaden the contrast between the rich and the poor.

Luxury had already touched so high a point as to call for a statute
against extravagant living, the curious sumptuary law of 1336 which
prohibited many courses at table. Nothing could be more significant of its
later developments in London than the sarcastic description, which fills
an unusual space in one of the chroniclers, of the fantastic excesses of
dress and ornament among the male sex about the year 1362[356]. Some of
the names of the men’s ornaments occur also in Langland’s verses:

  “Sir John and Sir Goffray hath a gerdel of silver,
   A basellarde or a ballok-knyf with botones overgilt.”

These effeminate fashions actually led to a Statute of Dress in 1363, in
which also the lower class are forbidden to ape their betters. It is
perhaps to these hangers-on of wealth that Langland refers in his bitter

    “Right so! ye rich, ye robeth that be rich | and helpeth them that
    helpeth you, and giveth where no need is. | As who so filled a tun of
    a fresh river | and went forth with that water to woke with Thames. |
    Right so! ye rich, ye robe and feed | them that have as ye have, them
    ye make at ease.”

But, as for the poor, Avarice considers them fair game:

    “I have as moche pite of pore men as pedlere hath of cattes, | that
    wolde kill them if he cacche hem myghte, for covetise of their

In London the preaching clergy are accused of pandering to the avarice of
the rich:

    “And were mercy in mean men no more than in rich | mendicants meatless
    might go to bed. | God is much in the gorge of these great masters, |
    but among mean men his mercy and his works. | Friars and faitours have
    found such questions, | to plese with proud men sithen the pestilence
    tyme, | and prechers at Saint Poules, for pure envye of clerkis, |
    that folke is nought firmed in the feith ne fill of their goodes. |
    ... Ne be plentyous to the pore as pure charitye wolde, | but in
    gayness and in glotonye forglotten her goode hem selve, | and breken
    noughte to the beggar as the Boke techeth.”

The friars had lost altogether the enthusiasm of their early days:

    “And how that friars followed folk that was rich, | and folk that was
    poor at little price they set; | and no corpse in their kirk-yard nor
    in their kirk was buried, | but quick he bequeath them aughte or
    should help quit their debts.”

As for the monks, the same might have been said of them before; but now
more land had been thrown into their possession by the mortality:

  “Ac now is Religion a ryder, a rowmer bi streetes,
   A leader of love-days, and a lond-buyer,
   A pricker on a palfrey fro manere to manere,
   An heap of houndes at his ers, as he a lord were.
   And but if his knave kneel, that shall his cup bringe,
   He lowreth on hym, and axeth hym who taught hym curtesye.”

According to Langland’s poem, the country clergy left their livings and
came up to London:--

    “Parsons and parish priests plained them to the bishop | that their
    parishes were poor sith the pestilence time; | to have licence and
    leave at London to dwell | and syngen there for simony, for silver is
    sweet. | Bishops and bachelors, both masters and doctours, | that have
    cures under Christ and crowning in token and sign, | that they should
    shrive their parishours, preach and pray for them and the poor feed, |
    live in London in Lent and  all”--

some of them serving the king in the offices of Exchequer and Chancery,
and some acting as the stewards of lords.

It is undoubted that the business of the courts in London received a great
impetus after the mortality, as one can readily understand from the
number of inheritances, successions, and feudal claims that had to be
settled. Several of the Inns of Chancery date from about that time.
Gascoigne, who was “cancellarius” at Oxford about 1430, and had access to
the rolls of former “cancellarii,” was struck by the increase of legists
after the commotion of 1349: “Before the great pestilence there were few
disputes among the people, and few pleas; and, accordingly, there were few
legists in the realm of England, and few legists in Oxford, at a time when
there were thirty thousand scholars in Oxford, as I have seen in the
rolls,” etc.[357]

The country clergy, such of them as remained in their cures were a
notoriously illiterate class; according to Knighton, they could read the
Latin services without understanding what they read. Langland makes a
parson confess his poor qualifications to be the spiritual guide of his
flock; on the other hand he was not without skill in the sports of the
field: “But I can fynde in a felde or in a furlonge an hare.” At one of
the manor courts in Wiltshire in 1361, a gang of the district clergy were
convicted of night poaching[358].

Such being the state of matters among the upper and middle classes, it is
not surprising to find a lax morality among the lower orders. The
ploughman is as severe a satirist of his own class as he is of the rich.
In London we have a picture of the interior of a tavern crowded with
loafers of all sorts “early in the morning.” In the country also the
contrast is drawn between the industrious and the idle class:

    “And whoso helpeth me to erie [plough] or sowen here ere I wende |
    shall have leve, bi oure Lorde to lese here in harvest, | and make him
    merry there-mydde, maugre whoso begruccheth it: | save Jakke the
    jogeloure and Jonet of the stewes, | and Danget the dys-playere, and
    Denot the bawd, | and Frere the faytoure and folk of his order, | and
    Robyn the rybaudoure for his rusty wordes.”

To live out of wedlock was nothing unusual:

    “Many of you ne wedde nought the wimmen that ye with delen, | but as
    wilde bestis with wehe worthen up and worchen, | and bryngeth forth
    barnes that bastardes men calleth.”

Ill-assorted marriages also appear to have been common:

    “It is an oncomely couple, bi Cryst, as me-thinketh, | to gyven a
    yonge wenche to an olde feble, | or wedden any widwe for welth of hir
    goodis, | that never shall bairne bere but if it be in armes. | Many a
    paire sithen the pestilence have plight hem togiders: | the fruit that
    thei brynge forth aren foule wordes: | in jalousye joyeles and
    jangling in bedde | have thei no children but cheste and choppyng hem

Chapmen did not chastise their children. Old traditions of weather-lore,
and of reckoning the yield of harvest, were forgotten.

As a set-off to the uniformly bad picture of the times given by Langland,
we may turn to the gay and good-humoured scenes of the ‘Canterbury Tales.’
But Chaucer was emphatically the poet of the cultured class, and it is
proper to his muse to keep within the limits of a well-bred cynicism.
Again, Langland’s strictures on the avarice and other vices of the rich
may seem to be a mere echo of a very old cry, which finds equally strong
expression in Roger of Wendover, about the year 1235, and in Robert of
Brunne’s ‘Handlyng Synne’ in the year 1303. But the Vision of the
Ploughman is too consistent, and too concrete, to be considered as a mere
homily on the wickedness of the times, such as might have been written of
almost any age or of any country in which the Seven Mortal Sins were still
called by their plain names. The words “sithen the pestilence” recur so
often, that this contemporary author must be held as sharing the belief
that the Black Death made a marked difference to the morals of the nation
throughout all classes.

More lasting effects on Farming, Industries, and Population.

Turning from things moral to things material, we shall find that the Great
Mortality left its mark on the cultivated area of the country, on rents of
land, on the kind of tenure and the system of farming, on industry, trade
and municipal government, on the population, and, on what chiefly
concerns us, the subsequent health of the country.

Corn-growing would appear to have met with at least a temporary check.
Three water-mills near Shrewsbury fell in annual value by one half, owing
to the scarcity of corn to grind[359]. Richmond, one of the chief
corn-markets in Yorkshire, is said, on rather uncertain evidence, to have
been permanently reduced for the same reason; besides losing an enormous
number by the plague itself (vaguely stated at 2000), the town lost its
corn-trade through the land around falling out of cultivation, so that
some of the burgesses, being unable to pay rent, had to wander abroad as

The general statements of Knighton, Le Baker and others for England (not
to mention numerous rhetorical passages of foreign writers), to the effect
that whole villages were left desolate, are borne out by the petitions
recurring in the Rolls of Parliament for many years after. There are also
some references to the continuing desolateness of particular places, which
are probably fair samples of a larger number.

Thus a rich clergyman in Hertfordshire had given, just before the Black
Death, all his lands and tenements in Braghinge, Herts, to the prior and
convent of Anglesey, Cambridgeshire, in consideration that they should
find at their proper expense a chantry of two priests for ever in the
church of Anglesey, to say masses for the souls of the benefactor and his
family. But on the 10th of May, 1351, he remitted the charge and support
of one of the two said priests, on the ground that, “on account of the
vast mortality, lands lie uncultivated in many and innumerable places, not
a few tenements daily and suddenly decay and are pulled down, rents and
services cannot be levied, but a much smaller profit is obliged to be
taken than usual[361].” An instance of a long-abiding effect is that of
the manor of Hockham belonging to the earl of Arundel, which was not
tenanted for thirty years[362].

The history of rents is peculiar. The immediate effect, as we learn from
Knighton, as well as from the rolls of particular manor courts, was a
remission of them by the lords, lest their tenants in villenage should
quit the lands. There was, indeed, a competition among landlords for
tenants to occupy their manors, so that the cultivators could make their
own terms. Of that we have had an instance from the manor of Ensham,
belonging to Christ Church, Oxford[363]. But, after a few years, rents
appear to have come back to near their old level. The following figures
have been compiled from the Tower records of assizes made for the purpose
of taxation[364]:

  1268    9_d._
  1348-9  --
  1417    6_d._
  1446    8_d._
  1271   12_d._
  1359    9¼_d._
  1422    4_d._
  1336   11½_d._
  1368   10½_d._
  1429    4_d._
  1338   11½_d._
  1381    9¾_d._
  1432    6_d._

The great fall, it will be seen, was in the next century.

Perhaps the most striking effect upon agriculture of the upheaval produced
by the great mortality was, as Thorold Rogers has shown, in changing the
system of farming and in creating the type of the English yeoman. The
system of farming the lord’s demesne or home-farm by a bailiff, never very
profitable, became, says that historian, quite unproductive, owing
especially to the permanent rise in wages. The small men who took the
lord’s land to farm--they had been doing so to some extent
before[365]--had not sufficient of their own for stock and seed; but they
got advances from the lord, which were repaid in due course. It was a kind
of _métairie_ farming. It prevailed for about fifty years, by which time
the ordinary system of farming on lease was becoming general. Finally, and
especially in the Civil Wars of the fifteenth century, much of the land
which had belonged in fee to the feudal lords, passed away by purchase to
the tenant farmers[366]. Thus arose the famous breed of English
yeomen--the “good yeomen whose limbs were made in England.”

The effect of the mortality upon trade and industry was, momentarily, to
paralyse them. Of the great wool-trade, Rogers, the historian of English
prices, says: “Nothing, I think, in the whole history of these prices is
more significant of the terror and prostration induced by the plague than
the sudden fall in the price of wool at this time. It is a long time
before a recovery takes place[367].” But from 1364 to 1380, the price of
wool was uniformly above the average; and, if there be any accuracy in
Avesbury’s figures already given for the years following 1355, the export
of bales of wool to the Continent (100,000 sacks in a year, he says, each
sack being a bale of the present colonial size, or weighing about three
hundredweights) meant a very considerable amount of labour, tonnage and
exchange. Among other articles of export, we hear specially of iron, in a
petition to Parliament of 28 Ed. III. (1354); the price of iron had risen
to four times what it was before the plague, and it was desired to stop
the export of it and to fix the price[368].

The effect of the mortality upon the industries of the country was shown
most in Norwich. That city was the centre of the Flemish cloth-weaving,
which had been flourishing in Norfolk for some twenty years, under the
direct encouragement of Edward III., and of a protective statute against
foreign-made cloth. Before the pestilence, Norwich was the second city in
the kingdom. In the king’s warrant for men-at-arms, which was indeed
issued in 1350, but may be taken as drawn up on the old lines and
irrespective of the pestilence, the quota of Norwich is rated at 60,
London’s being 100, Bristol’s and Lynn’s 20 each, that of Coventry,
Gloucester, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Winchester, Sarum, Oxford, Canterbury
and Bury St Edmund’s 10 each, and of other towns from 8 to 1 each, York
not being mentioned. But in the Subsidy Roll of 1377, which shows how many
persons, above the age of fourteen, paid the poll-tax of a groat in each
county and in each principal town, Norwich comes sixth in the list instead
of second, being far surpassed in numbers by York and Bristol, and
surpassed considerably by Coventry and Plymouth. So far from being in a
proportion to London of 60 to 100, it is now in a proportion of 3952 to
23,314, its whole population, as estimated, being 7410 against 44,770 in
the capital which at one time it bade fair to rival. It had lost heavily
in the Black Death, and so had the populous district around it, where the
Flemish industries and trade were planted in numerous villages. By 1368,
ten of the sixty very small parishes of Norwich had disappeared, and
fourteen more disappeared by degrees, the ruins of twenty of them being
still visible[369].

There is no mistaking the significance of these figures and facts for the
second city of the kingdom. At least one generation passed before Norwich
recovered something of its old prosperity. In the fifteenth century it was
still the chief seat of the woollen manufactures; the county of Norfolk
kept its old pre-eminence, although rival centres of industry had grown
up. There were, however, causes at work which at length reduced the
capital of East Anglia to a comparatively poor state. One of the
intermediate glimpses that we get of it--they are not many, even in
Blomefield’s history--is the statute of 1455, to put down the enormous
number of “pettifogging attorneys” in the city and county[370]. Its real
decline was in the early Tudor reigns. When Henry VII. visited Norwich in
1497, the mayor in presenting the Queen’s usual gold cup with a hundred
pieces in it, took occasion to tell the monarch “howbeit that they are
more poor, and not of such wealth as they have been afore these
days[371].” When the town suffered much from fires about the year 1505,
the city of London raised large sums in aid of its rebuilding. To the same
period belongs a municipal order that no one should dig holes in the
market-place to get sand, without the mayor’s licence. In 1525, there was
a general decay of work, the clothiers and farmers being unable to employ
the artisans and labourers, who began to rise in revolt against the heavy
taxes. An Act of 33 Hen. VIII. recites that the making and weaving of
worsteds is wholly decayed and taken away from the city of Norwich and
county of Norfolk--by the deceit and crafty practices of the great
multitude of regrators and buyers of the said yarn. These evidences of
decline in prosperity are in part long after the Black Death; but they
seem to have been continuous from that event.

So far as concerns the other large towns of England, they did not all fare
alike. The capital was more luxurious, and probably not less populous,
after the mortality than before it. The chancery and exchequer business
alone would have served to draw numbers to it; and we may be sure, from
all subsequent experience, that the gaps left by the plague were filled up
by influx from the provinces and from abroad in the course of two or three
years. Nor does it appear from the poll-tax that York had suffered to
anything like the same extent as Norwich; while Bristol and Coventry
became towns of much greater consequence than before the plague. On the
other hand, Lincoln is described, in a petition for relief in 1399 (1 Hen.
IV.) as being “in the greater part empty and uninhabited.” In the same
year, Yarmouth has its houses “vacant and void,” although, in 1369, it is
said to have “gained so much upon Norwich” that it was made a seat of the
wool-staple. Other towns which figure in petitions to Parliament as
“impoverished and desolate of people,” are Ilchester (1407) and Truro
(1410). Camden instances the ancient borough of Wallingford, on the
Thames, as having been permanently reduced by the Black Death, although
the inhabitants, he says, traced the decay of the town to the diversion of
traffic over the new bridges at Abingdon and Dorchester[372]. Some parts
of Cambridge would appear to have borne the traces of the pestilence for a
number of years after. A charter of the bishop of Ely, dated 12 September,
1365, mentions that the parishioners of All Saints (on the north-east
side) are for the most part dead by pestilence, and those that are alive
are gone to the parishes of other churches; that the parishioners of St
Giles’s (the adjoining parish, near the Castle) have died; and that the
nave of All Saints is ruinous and the bones of dead bodies are exposed to
beasts; therefore the bishop unites All Saints and St Giles’s[373]. At
that time the churches of those parishes would have been small, perhaps
not much larger than the little church of St Peter still standing on the
high ground opposite to the great modern church of St Giles.

These instances of the chequered history of English towns subsequent to
the great mortality are not altogether favourable to the generality which
has been put forward by an able historian[374], that the great social
revolution produced by that event was to detach the people from the soil,
to drive them into the towns, to increase the urban population
disproportionately to the rural, to plant the germs of commerce and
industry, and to determine that expansion of England which became manifest
in the end of the Elizabethan period and under the Stuarts, the British
nation being “doomed by its economic conditions to take the course which
it has taken.” Many things happened between the Black Death and the
expansion of England. The fifteenth century intervened, which was in its
middle period, at least, distinguished as much by the rise of the yeoman
class as by the growth of trade guilds in the town. But that which mars
the generality most of all was the decline of industries and the decay of
towns (London and Bristol always excepted) in the reigns of Henry VII. and
Henry VIII.; the country had to recover from that before the Elizabethan
expansion,--before the nation began “to increase rapidly in population
until at length it should overflow the limits of its island home.”

At the same time, one effect of the great mortality was to mobilise the
class of agricultural labourers, and to drive a certain number of them
into the towns. Proof of that migration comes from the statutes and the
Rolls of Parliament.

    An Act of 34 Edward III. (1360) imposes a fine of ten pounds to the
    king on the mayor and bailiffs of any town refusing “to deliver up a
    labourer, servant, or artificer” who had absented himself from his
    master’s service, with a farther fine of five pounds to the lord. In
    1376 the “Good Parliament” makes complaint that servants and labourers
    quitted service on the slightest cause, and then led an idle life in
    towns, or wandered in parties about the country, “many becoming
    beggars, others staff-strikers, but the greater number taking to
    robbing.” More direct evidence of industries diverting hands from farm
    labour is found in the various statutes about apprentices. In the Act
    of 12 Ric. II. (1388) it is provided that “he or she which use to
    labour at the plough and cart or other labour or service of husbandry
    till they be of the age of twelve years, shall abide at that labour
    without being put to any mystery or handicraft; and if any covenant or
    bond of apprentice be from henceforth made to the contrary, the same
    shall be holden for none.” A more definite provision of the same kind
    was made in 7 Hen. IV. (1405-6): “Notwithstanding the good statutes
    aforemade, infants whose fathers and mothers have no land, nor rent,
    nor other living, but only their service or mystery, be put to serve
    and bound apprentices to divers crafts within cities and boroughs,
    sometimes at the age of twelve years, sometimes within the said age,
    and that for the pride of clothing and other evil customs which
    servants do use in the same” etc.--the result being that farm
    labourers were scarce; therefore no one, not having land or rent of
    twenty-shillings a year, to bind his son or daughter of whatsoever age
    to serve as apprentice within any city or borough. In the 8th of Henry
    VI. (1429) this statute was repealed so far as respected London, on
    account of the hindrance which the said statute might occasion to the
    inhabitants of that city[375].

It may be doubted if, after the Black Death, the towns underwent any
marked industrial development, except in such cases as Coventry and
Bristol. On the other hand, the cloth-weaving of East Anglia was dispersed
over the country, more particularly to the western and south-western
counties, so that the west of England gained an industrial character which
it retained until the comparatively modern rise of the cloth-industries of
Yorkshire and Lancashire. But it was in great part a development of
village industries upon the old manorial basis, as well as a migration of
labour to the towns.

We have an authentic instance, and probably a typical instance, in the
manor and barony of Castle Combe, of which the social history has been
pieced together from the rolls of its manor court by one of the earliest
students of that class of documents. Before the middle of the fifteenth
century this village situated among the Wiltshire hills, difficult of
access and almost secluded from the highways, had grown into a thriving
community of weavers, fullers, dyers, glovers, and the like, with their
attendant tradings and marketings, all upon its old manorial basis, and
with its old agriculture going hand in hand with its new industries. There
were free or copyhold tenants occupying their farms, while several
clothiers and occupiers of fulling-mills held farms also, “driving a
double and evidently a very thriving trade, accumulating considerable
wealth and giving employment to a large number of artizans who had been
attracted to the place for this purpose. Yet, strange to say, some of the
wealthiest and most prosperous of these tradesmen were still subject to
the odious bonds of serfship, adscript the soil[376].” It is clear,
however, that the jury of the manor court took care that the lord should
not have the best of it. The morals of this industrial village were, as
might have been expected, somewhat lax[377]. At the same time the removal
of nuisances was insisted upon by this self-governing community as
effectively, perhaps, as if it had been under the Local Government

Another kind of effect than the industrial, upon the state of the towns,
is exemplified in the case of Shrewsbury. The dislocation of the old
social order had somehow touched the privileges and monopolies of
municipal corporations and guilds, and given power to a hitherto
unenfranchised class. The general question, besides being a somewhat new
one, is foreign to this subject; but the reference to Shrewsbury is given,
as the “late pestilence” is expressly connected with the municipal
changes. A patent of the 35th of Edward III. (1361), relating to the town
of Shrewsbury, recites the grievous debates and dissensions which had
arisen therein, “through the strangers who had newly come to reside in the
said town after the late pestilence, and were plotting to draw to
themselves the government of the said town[379].”

It has been conjectured that population in the country at large speedily
righted itself, according to the principle that population always tends to
come close to the limit of subsistence. But there is reason to think that
the means of subsistence were themselves reduced. We read of corn-land
running to waste, although most of the references to desolation are
perhaps to be taken as true for only one or two harvests following the
plague. Again, it is undoubted that sheep-farming and the pasturing of
cattle at length took the place of much of the old agriculture. It is not
easy to make out when the change begins; but there are instances of rural
depopulation as early as 1414[380], and the same had become a burning
grievance in the time of cardinal Morton and the early years of sir Thomas
More. It has been assumed, also, that the “positive checks” to population
had been taken off, when they ought in theory so to have been: that is to
say, after the inhabitants had been enormously thinned. The statement of
Hecker, that there was increased fecundity after the pestilence, appears
to be an instance of that author’s _a priori_ habit of mind[381]. What we
read in an English chronicle of the time is just the opposite, namely,
that “the women who survived remained for the most part barren during
several years[382].” The authority is not conclusive, but the statement is
in keeping with what we may gather from Langland’s poem as to ill-assorted
and sterile marriages, and as to illicit unions, which, as Malthus
teaches, are comparatively unfruitful. The alleged sterility is also in
keeping with, although not strictly parallel to, the experience of crowded
Indian provinces, such as Orissa, where a thinning of the population by
famine and disease has been statistically proved to be followed by a
marked decrease of fecundity. More direct evidence of a permanent loss of
people occurs a generation after the Black Death, at a time when the
circumstances of health were such as would explain it.

The poll-tax of 1377 was a means of estimating the population. The tax was
levied on every person, male or female, above the age of fourteen. In
estimating the population from the poll-tax returns, it is usual to add
one-fifth for taxable subjects who had evaded it, and to reckon the
taxable subjects above fourteen years as two-thirds of the whole
population. On that basis of reckoning, the population of the whole of
England, except Cheshire and Durham, in the year 1377 would have been
2,580,828 (or 1,376,442 who actually paid their groat each). The
population of the principal towns is calculated, in the second column of
the Table, from the numbers in the first column who actually paid the
poll-tax, according to the Subsidy Roll of 51 Edward III.

  Laity assessed for the Poll-tax of 1377 in each of the following Towns,
  being persons of either sex above the age of fourteen years.

                    |  Taxed |Estimated
                    |        |Population
  London            | 23,314 | 44,770
  York              |   7248 | 13,590
  Bristol           |   6345 | 11,904
  Plymouth          |   4837 |   9069
  Coventry          |   4817 |   9032
  Norwich           |   3952 |   7410
  Lincoln           |   3412 |   6399
  Sarum             |   3226 |   6048
  Lynn              |   3127 |   5863
  Colchester        |   2955 |   5540
  Beverley          |   2663 |   4993
  Newcastle-on-Tyne |   2647 |   4963
  Canterbury        |   2574 |   4826
  Bury St Edmunds   |   2442 |   4580
  Oxford            |   2357 |   4420
  Gloucester        |   2239 |   4198
  Leicester         |   2101 |   3939
  Shrewsbury        |   2082 |   3904
  Yarmouth          |   1941 |   3640
  Hereford          |   1903 |   3568
  Cambridge         |   1722 |   3230
  Ely               |   1722 |   3230
  Exeter            |   1560 |   2925
  Hull              |   1557 |   2920
  Worcester         |   1557 |   2920
  Ipswich           |   1507 |   2825
  Nottingham        |   1447 |   2713
  Northampton       |   1447 |   2713
  Winchester        |   1440 |   2700
  Stamford          |   1218 |   2284
  Newark            |   1178 |   2209
  Wells             |   1172 |   2198
  Ludlow            |   1172 |   2198
  Southampton       |   1152 |   2160
  Derby             |   1046 |   1961
  Lichfield         |   1024 |   1920
  Chichester        |    869 |   1630
  Boston            |    814 |   1526
  Carlisle          |    678 |   1271
  Bath              |    570 |   1070
  Rochester         |    570 |   1070
  Dartmouth         |     506|    949

That this indirect census was taken on a declining population may be
inferred from the language of contemporaries. In the year of the poll-tax
(1377), Richard II. addressed certain questions to Wyclif concerning the
papal exactions of tribute; the reformer’s reply gives as the second
objection to the tribute “that the people decreases by reason of
(_praetextu_) the withdrawal of this treasure, which should be spent in

In the political poems of the time there are numerous references to the
pestilences and famines. One of these doggerel productions, “On the
Council of London,” 1382, contains a clear reference to a decrease of the

  “In nos pestilentia saeva jam crescit,
   Quod virorum fortium jam populus decrescit[384].”

These general expressions in writings of the time will appear the more
credible after we have carried the history of plague and other forms of
epidemic sickness down through a whole generation from 1349.

The Epidemics following the Black Death.

Not the least of the effects of the Black Death upon England was the
domestication of the foreign pestilence on the soil. For more than three
centuries bubo-plague was never long absent from one part of Britain or
another. The whole country was never again swamped by a vast wave of
plague as in the fourteen months of 1348-49. Nor does it appear that the
succeeding plagues of the fourteenth century, the _pestis secunda_,
_tertia_, _quarta_ and _quinta_ were all of the same type as the first, or
otherwise comparable to it. Disastrous as many subsequent English
epidemics of bubo-plague were, they appear to have been localised in the
North, perhaps, or in Norfolk, or confined to the young; and, above all,
the bubo-plague became, in its later period, peculiarly a disease of the
poor in the towns, although it did not cease altogether in the villages
and country houses until it ceased absolutely in 1666. For three hundred
years plague was the grand “zymotic” disease of England--the same type of
plague that came from the East in 1347-49, continuously reproduced in a
succession of epidemics at one place or another, which, by diligent
search, can be made to fill the annals with few gaps, and, if the records
were better, could probably be made to fill most years. Britain was not
peculiar among the countries of Europe in that respect, although the
chronology of plagues abroad has not been worked out minutely, except for
an occasional province in which some zealous archaeologist had happened to
take up the subject[385].

From 1349 to 1361 there is no record of pestilence in England. There was
scarcity or famine in 1353, owing to an unfavourable harvest, but nothing
is said of an unusual amount of sickness. In 1361 came the _pestis
secunda_, which would hardly have been so called had it not presented the
same type as the great bubo-plague. There is little said of it in the
chroniclers; but two of them mention that it was called the _pestis
puerorum_, or plague of the juveniles; and a third gives the names of
several great personages who died of it, including three bishops and
Henry, duke of Lancaster, at his castle of Leicester, in Lent, 1362. This
recrudescence, then, of the seeds of plague in English soil, may be taken
as having cut off the nobles and the young: that is to say, the members of
a class who had, by all accounts, escaped the first plague, and the rising
generation who had either escaped the first plague as infants or had been
born subsequent to it. The same selection of victims was observed,
according to Guy de Chauliac, in the very same year at Avignon; in
contrast to the Black Death, the second plague there cut off the upper and
well-to-do classes, and an innumerable number of children[386]; among the
former, it is said, were five cardinals and a hundred bishops. From
Poland, also, it is reported that the return of the plague, which happened
in 1360, affected mostly, although not exclusively, the upper classes and
children. It is clear from the Continental evidence that the second
pestilence was marked by the same buboes, carbuncles, and other signs as
the first. In some places, at least, it must have been as destructive as
the Black Death itself; thus, in Florence, says Petrarch (with obvious
exaggeration) hardly ten in the thousand remained alive in the city after
the epidemic of 1359, while Boccaccio estimates the mortality of the year
at the equally incredible figure of a hundred thousand. In London many
more wills than usual were enrolled in 1361, but not more than a third of
the number enrolled in 1349: viz. 4 in February, 2 in March, 8 in April, 8
in May, 12 in June, 39 in July, 28 in October, 15 in November, 11 in

The _pestis secunda_ is only one of a series of pestilences in the reigns
of Edward III. and Richard II., which the chroniclers number in succession
to the _pestis quinta_ in 1391. The entries in the annals are for the most
part so meagre and colourless that they give us no help in realizing the
share that a continuous infection in the soil, from the Black Death
onwards, may have had in bringing about the disastrous state of the
country in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Edward III. was
ruined in reputation by his French wars, and ended his long reign in
dishonour. His grandson Richard II. found the task of government too much
for him, and was deposed. The history of this period is not complete
without some account of the health of the country; a single line or
sentence in a chronicle, to mark the date of a _pestis tertia_ or _quarta_
or _quinta_, hardly does justice to the place of national sickness among
the events with which historians fill their pages. The graphic picture of
the times is ‘The Vision of Piers the Ploughman,’ some passages of which
may help us to realize what the bare enumeration of second, third, fourth
and fifth pestilences meant. Some Latin poems of the time may be cited in
support; and for more particular evidence of the type of pestilence which
remained in England after the Black Death, we shall have to refer to
certain extant manuscript treatises, from the latter part of the
fourteenth century, which had been written in English to meet the wants of
the people.

The Latin poems of the time of Edward III. and Richard II. need only be
referred to so as to bring out by contrast the immense superiority of the
‘Vision of Piers the Ploughman.’ The poems of John of Bridlington, which
are the most considerable of the Latin series of verses, contain numerous
references to the epidemics of the time, both at home and abroad.
Curiously, he dwells more upon the effects of famine--flux and fever--than
upon the plague proper, which he nowhere distinguishes. Thus, of France
about the time of the Black Death:

  “Destructis granis, deerit mox copia panis;
   Poena fames panis, venter fluxu fit inanis.”

Or again, with specific reference to the _pestis secunda_ of 1361, which
we know to have been bubo-plague:

        “... fluxus nocet, undique febris
  Extirpat fluxus pollutos crimine luxus.”

Another reference, in the form of a prophecy, which from the context is
clearly to the pestilence of 1368-69, again dwells exclusively upon

  “In mensis justi pandetur copia crusti:
   Fundis falsorum premet arcta fames famulorum.”

followed by a note in Latin: “from which it appears that the poor in those
days were ill off for want of food[387].” One Latin poem of the end of the
fourteenth century is expressly “On the Pestilence,” in the following

  “Ecce dolet Anglia luctibus imbuta,
   Gens tremit tristitia sordibus polluta,
   Necat pestilentia viros atque bruta.
   Cur? Quia flagitia regnant resoluta[388].”

Turning to the far more real or observant work of the same date by
Langland, we find among his general references to sickness a most
significant one in which he compares it to the continual dropping of rain
through a leaky roof: “The rain that raineth where we rest should, be
sicknesses and sorrows that we suffer oft.” Again, in the allegory of
Conscience and Nature, the former makes appeal to Nature to come forth as
the scourge of evil-living:

    “Nature Conscience heard, and came out of the planets, and sent forth
    his fore-goers, fevers and fluxes, coughs and cardiacles, cramps and
    toothaches, rheums and radegoundes and roynous scalls, boils and
    botches and burning agues, frenzies and foul evils--foragers of Nature
    had ypricked and preyed polls of people that largely a legion lose
    their life soon. Eld the hoary, he was in the vanguard, and bare the
    banner before Death, by right he it claimed. Nature came after, with
    many keen sores, as pokkes and pestilences, and much people shent. So
    Nature through corruptions killed many. Death came driving after, and
    all to dust dashed kings and knights, kaisers and popes, learned and
    lewd, he let no man stand that he hit even, that ever stirred after.
    Many a lovely lady, and lemans of knights, swooned and swelted for
    sorrow of Death’s dints.”

    But “Conscience of his courtesy to Nature he besought, to cease and
    suffer and see whether they would leave pride privily and be perfect
    Christens. And Nature ceased then, to see the people amend. Fortune
    gan flatter those few that were alive, and promised them long life;
    and Lechery he sent among all manner men, wedded and unwedded, and
    gathered a great host all against Conscience[389].”

Next came Avarice, Envy and other of the deadly sins, so that the respite
which Nature had given was of no real avail.

A clear reference to pestilence continuing in the country comes in where
the pope’s exactions are mentioned. The pope did nothing in return for his
English tribute:

  “Had I a clerk that could write, I would cast him a bill
   That he send me under his seal a salve for the pestilence,
   And that his blessing and his bulls botches might destroy.
   For, sith he hath the power that Peter himself had,
   He hath the pot with the salve, soothly as me thinketh.”

Among the other consequences “sithen the pestilence,” was this: “So is
pride waxen, in religion and in all the realm among rich and poor, that
prayers have no power the pestilence to let; ... ne for dread of the death
withdraw not their pride.”

The _pestis secunda_ of 1361, or _pestis puerorum_, may perhaps be pointed
to in the passage where chapmen are blamed for indulging their children,
“ne for no pouste of pestilence correct them overmuch.” The ill-assorted
marriages had doubtless followed the great mortality itself; but the
second pestilence, of 1361, which affected the upper classes especially,
and is said by one chronicler to have cut off more men than women[390],
may have been more specially pointed to in Langland’s reference. Of that
pestilence a chronicle of the next century has preserved a curious
reminiscence: among its victims were men, doubtless of the upper class,
“whose wives, as women out of gouvernance, took as well strangers to their
husbands and other lewd and simple people, the which, forgetting their
awe, worship and birth, coupled and married them with them that were of
low degree and low reputation[391].”

Although Langland, when he speaks of changes “sith the pestilence time,”
means the great mortality of 1349, he means in other places, the second,
third, and perhaps also fourth pestilences[392]. The years of the
pestilences down to the fifth are not the same in all the chronicles;
there are indeed some nine outbreaks that might have been enumerated after
the Black Death to the end of the century. Some of these are clearly
associated with scarcity, and may have been of the old type of
famine-sickness; dysentery is, indeed, mentioned in connexion with the
sickness of 1391[393]. Again, an epidemic in London in 1382 is said by a
chronicler to have affected children (boys and girls), while the same
chronicler is explicit that the sickness in Norfolk the year after was
confined to the young of both sexes under a certain age. Lastly, the
epidemic of 1391 was so severe in the North as to recall the great
mortality itself; but under the same year is the reference to sickness of
the type of dysentery due to rotten fruit; and under the year before,
1390, two chroniclers agree that the epidemic was “mostly among children,”
or that it cut off “more young than old.” It would be unsafe, therefore,
to conclude that all the outbreaks of _pestis_ in England subsequent to
the Black Death, were of bubo-plague itself. The list of sicknesses in
Langland’s poem gives, indeed, as much space to fevers and fluxes, burning
agues and frenzies, as to boils and botches, foul evils, pokkes and
pestilences--by which latter group of synonyms the bubo-plague is meant.
_Pestis_, it is well known, was a generic name in the medieval period,
just as pest and pestilence are generic now. So generic was it that some
may doubt whether bubo-plague, of the type of 1349, was included at all
among the _pestes_ of the generations following. Positive evidence of the
continued existence of bubo-plague in England is, at least, not
superfluous, and this will be the best place to bring it in.

Medical Evidence of the Continuance of Plague.

The plague was called “the botch” down to the Elizabethan and Stuart
periods; and the “botches” in Langland’s poem, or, as he writes it,
“boches,” were the familiar risings, under the arms and elsewhere, which
had given the disease its popular name when it began to recur time after
time. Apart from this verbal or philological evidence, there is a clear
proof of the prevalence of true bubo-plague during the latter part of the
fourteenth century, in the manuscript ordinances or rules of prevention
and treatment which were in circulation. Most of the extant copies bear
the name of one John of Burgoyne, or John of Bordeaux[394]. A fragment in
comparatively late handwriting purports to be the ordinance of “a great
Clark, Mr John Cordewe, at the prayer of King Richard and other the Lords,
for pestilence[395]”; from which it may be concluded that this, the
commonly used ordinance, dates from the time of Richard II. The names used
in the text are “pestilence” and “pestilential sores,” and the handling of
the subject is the conventional one for the plague. The ordinance contains
exceedingly little that is of practical interest, and it is difficult to
believe that it can have been of real use to anyone. We are introduced to
the subject with a few empty common-places; but whenever we come to
business, we are plainly told to go and consult those who know--and this,
be it observed, in a disease which was remarkably uniform in its type and

    “Wherefore they that have not dronken of that swete drynke of
    Astronomye may putte to these pestilentiall sores no fit remedies;
    for, because that they know not the cause and the quality of the
    sickness, they may not hele it, as sayeth the prince of physic
    Avicenna: ‘How shouldest thou hele a sore and yknowe not the cause?’
    He that knoweth not the cause, it is impossible that he hele the

If there were any doubt about the date of John of Burgoyne, or John of
Bordeaux[396], it ought to be set at rest by the discovery that he
corresponds in the closest way with the physician in the Prologue of the
_Canterbury Tales_. Chaucer’s doctor of physic stands for the
well-grounded practitioner of the time--“grounded in astronomie,” it is
true, but at all events academically grounded, in contrast to the
charlatans and pretenders who had not been to Paris or Bologna, probably
knew no Latin, to say nothing of “astronomy,” and therefore knew not how
to let a patient die (or recover) _secundum artem_. The doctor of physic
uses his astrological knowledge so much in the manner of John of Bordeaux,
that one suspects Chaucer to have seen the passage quoted above, and to
have condensed it into the two following lines:

  “The cause yknowne, and of his harm the rote,
   Anon he gave to the sick man his bote.”

It was in the pestilence that this practitioner had made the money which
he kept so tightly. Richly clad he was;

  “And yet he was but easy of dispense;
   He kept that he wan in the pestilence.
   For gold in physic is a cordial:
   Therefore he loved gold in special.”

This is John of Burgoyne all over; it would have been an anachronism in
England by more than two hundred years to have represented a physician as
caring for any but paying patients, or as regarding an epidemic sickness
from any other point of view than as a source of income.

Besides the “ordinance” of John of Burgoyne, which may be assigned to the
reign of Richard II., there was another essay on the plague circulating in
England in an English translation, of which the copy among the Sloane
manuscripts is assigned to the fourteenth century[397]. The importance
attached to this manuscript work is shown in the fact that it was chosen
among the very first to be printed at an English press, probably in the
year 1480[398]. It was reprinted in 1536, and the substance of it was
copied into nearly all the English books on plague (from one to another)
as late as the seventeenth century, much of its original matter passing
under the name of one Phaer, or Phayre or Thayre, who was a compiler about
the middle of the sixteenth century. Writers on early English printing
have made much of the printed book of 1480; but they do not appear to have
known of the manuscript which was used as the printer’s “copy[399].” If
one happens to use the latter first, and comes later to the printed book,
he will observe the identity not merely in the words and spelling but even
in the very form in which the type had been cut. The authorship of a
manuscript which is thus invested with a various interest may deserve a
few lines of inquiry.

The author of it describes himself in the (translated) introduction as “I
the bisshop of Arusiens, Doctour of phisike,” that is to say, bishop of
Aarhus, in Denmark. In the text, he claims to have practised physic at

    “In the Mount of Pessulane I might not eschewe the company of people,
    for I went from house to house, because of my poverty, to cure sick
    folk. Therefore bread or a sponge sopped in vinegar I took with me,
    holding it to my mouth and nose, because all aigre things stoppen the
    ways of humours and suffereth no venomous thing to enter into a man’s
    body; and so I escaped the pestilence, my fellows supposing that I
    should not live. These foresaid things I have proved by myself[400].”

The fact that this medieval treatise, whatever its exact date, was turned
into English and circulated in manuscript, and that it was chosen for
printing almost as soon as English printing began, in the reign of Edward
IV., is sufficient evidence, if more were needed, that the English had to
reckon with bubo-plague as one of their standing diseases throughout the
latter part of the medieval period. Before we come to the chronology of
English plagues in that period, from the Black Death to the accession of
the Tudor dynasty in 1485, it will be convenient to consider here, with
the help of the above treatise, how the endemic plague was viewed in those
days,--what it was ascribed to in its origin, in its incidence upon houses
and persons, and in its propagation, what was advised for its avoidance or
prevention, and what was prescribed for its treatment. As the bishop’s
essay was the source of most that was taught on these matters in England
for the next two or three hundred years, it will be an economy to give a
brief account of it here once for all.

The remote causes, or warnings of the approach of pestilence, are given
under seven heads, including the kind of weather, swarms of flies,
shooting stars, comets, thunder and lightning out of the south, and winds
out of the south; this list was reproduced, with little or no change, by
the Elizabethan writers of popular health-manuals. The second section of
the essay is on the “causes of pestilence.” There are three causes:--

    “Sometime it cometh from the root beneath; other while from the root
    above, so that we may feel sensibly howwith change of the air
    appeareth unto us; and sometime it cometh of both together, as well
    from the root above as from the root beneath, as we see a siege or
    privy next to a chamber, or of any other particular thing which
    corrupteth the air in his substance and quality, which is a thing may
    happen every day. And thereof cometh the ague of pestilence (and about
    the same many physicians be deceived, not supposing this ague to be a
    pestilence). Sometimes it cometh of dead carrion, or corruption of
    standing waters in ditches or sloughs and other corrupt places. These
    things sometime be universal, sometime particular.” Then follow
    sentences on the “root above” which are somewhat transcendental. When
    both “roots” work together, when, by “th’ ynp‘ffyons[401]” above, the
    air is corrupt and by the putrefaction or rotten carrion of the vile
    places beneath,--an infirmity is caused in man. “And such infirmity
    sometimes is an ague, sometimes a posthume or a swelling, and that is
    in many things. Also the air inspired sometimes is venomous and
    corrupt, hurting the heart, that nature many ways is grieved, so that
    he perceiveth not his harm....

    “These things written before are the causes of pestilence. But about
    these things, two questions be mooted. The first is, wherefore one
    dieth and another dieth not, in a town where men be dead in one house
    and in another house there dieth none. The second question is, whether
    pestilence sores be contagious.

    “To the first question, I say it may hap to be of two causes: that is
    to say, of that thing that doth, and of that thing that suffereth. An
    ensample of that thing that doth: The influence of the bodies above
    beholdeth that place or that place, more than this place or this
    place. And one patient is more disposed to die than another. Therefore
    it is to be noted that bodies be more hot disposed, of open pores,
    than bodies infect having the pores stopped with many humours. Where
    bodies be of resolution or opening, as men which abusen them selfe
    with wymmen, or usen often times bathis; or men that be hot with
    labour or great anger--they have their bodies more disposed to this
    great sickness.

    “To the second question I say, that pestilence sores be contagious by
    cause of infect humoures bodies, and the reek or smoke of such sores
    is venomous and corrupteth the air. And therefore it is to flee from
    such persons as be infect. In pestilence time nobody should stand in
    great press of people, because some man of them may be infect.
    Therefore wise physicians, in visiting sick folk, stand far from the
    patient, holding their face toward the door or window. And so should
    the servants of sick folk stand. Also it is good to a patient every
    day for to change his chamber, and often times to have the windows
    open against the North and East, and to spar the windows against the
    South. For the south wind hath two causes of putrefaction. The first
    is, it maketh a man, being whole or sick, feeble in their bodies. The
    second cause is, as it is written in the Third of Aphorisms, the south
    wind grieveth the hearing and hurteth the heart, because it openeth
    the pores of man and entereth into the heart. Wherefore it is good to
    an whole man in time of pestilence, when the wind is in the South, to
    keep within the house all the day. And if it shall need a man to go
    out, yet let him abide in his house till the sun be up in the East
    passing southward.”

These explanations of the incidence of plague are in part repeated in the
section of the essay where the author gives directions for avoiding it.
After enjoining penance, he proceeds:

    “It is a good remedy to void and change the infect place. But some may
    not profitably change their places. Therefore as much as to them is
    possible, it is to be eschewed every cause of putrefaction and
    stinking, and namely every fleshly lust with women is to be eschewed.
    Also the southern wind, which wind is naturally infective: therefore
    spar the windows, etc. Of the same cause, every foul stink is to be
    eschewed--of stable, stinking fields, ways, or streets, and namely of
    stinking dead carrion; and most of stinking waters, where in many
    places water is kept two days or two nights, or else there be gutters
    of water casten under the earth which caused great stink and
    corruption. And of this cause some die in that house where such things
    happen, and in another house die none, as it is said afore. Likewise
    in that place where the worts and coles putrefied, it maketh noifull
    savour and stinking. For in like wise as by the sweet odour of bawme
    the heart and spirits have recreation, so of evil savours they be made
    feeble. Therefore keep your house that an infect air enter not in. For
    an infect air most causeth putrefaction in places and houses where
    folk sleep. Therefore let your house be clean, and make clear fire of
    wood flaming: let your house be made with fumigation of herbs, that is
    to say, with leaves of bay-tree, juniper, yberiorgam--it is in the
    apothecary shops--wormwood etc.... For a little crust corrupteth all
    the body.

    “Also in the time of the pestilence it is better to abide within the
    house; for it is not wholesome to go into the city or town. Also let
    your house be sprinkled, specially in summer, with vinegar and roses,
    and with the leaves of vine tree. Also it is good to wash your hands
    ofttimes in the day with water and vinegar, and wipe your face with
    your hands, and smell to them. Also it is good always to savour aigre

Then follows his own Montpellier experience, already quoted.

The diagnostics come in casually along with the treatment:

    “But some would understand how may a man feel when he is infect. I say
    that a man which is infect, that day eateth not much meat for he is
    replenished with evil humours; and forthwith after dinner he hath lust
    to sleep, and feeleth great heat under cold. Also he hath great pain
    in the forehead.... He shall feel a swelling under the arm, or about
    the share, or about the ears.... When a man feeleth himself infect, as
    soon as he may, let him be let blood plenteously till he swoon: then
    stop the vein. For a little letting of blood moveth or stirreth

Then follow directions for bleeding, according to the position of the
bubo--in the armpit, groin or neck, the direction “if on the back”
probably having reference to the carbuncle[402]. The section on treatment,
which is the last, ends with a prescription for a medicine “that the
sooner a swelling be made ripe.”

These are sufficiently clear indications of the bubonic nature of the
disease called pestilence. At the same time the writer includes an ague as
also pestilential, due to similar causes and arising on similar occasions.
This is a use of the name ague which should not be mistaken for its common
application to intermittent fever. Ague was simply (febris) acuta; and
pestilential ague was a name for typhus fever in the sixteenth century (as
in Jones’ _Dyall of Agues_), as well as in Ireland until a much later
period. This early association of acute pestilential fever with true
bubo-plague means the same relationship of typhus to plague which was
systematically taught by Sydenham, Willis, and Morton in the seventeenth
century; typhus in their time was the frequent attendant of plague,--a
_pestis mitior_; and it would appear to have been its attendant and
congener in the fourteenth century also.

The Fourteenth Century Chronology continued.

Two epidemics contend in the chronicles for being the _pestis
tertia_--that of 1368-69, and that of 1375. The former is described as a
“great pestilence of men and the larger animals[403],” and it appears to
have been associated with unfavourable seasons and with the beginning of
that scarcity which Langland’s poem refers to the month of April, 1370:

  Atte Londoun, I leve, liketh wel my wafres
  And louren whan thei lakken hem.--It is nought longe passed,
  There was a careful comune whan no cart cam to towne
  With bred fro Strethforth, tho gan beggeres wepe
  And werkmen were agast a lite. This wole be thought longe
  In the date of our Drighte in a drye Aprille,
  A thousand and thre hondreth tweis thretty and ten
  My wafres there were gesen whan Chichestre was Maire[404].

The _pestis_ of 1368 and 1369 may have been primarily a famine-sickness;
but it does not follow that there was no bubo-plague mixed therewith. On
the contrary, seasons of scarcity were often in after experience found to
be the seasons of plague, the lowered vitality probably offering the
opportunity to the plague-virus. Previous to the harvests of 1376 and
1377, which were abundant, there had been an unbroken period of high
prices for many years, of which 1371 was remembered as “the grete dere
yere[405].” But the _pestis tertia_ appears to have been most severe in
the summer of 1368; for, on 23 July of that year, Simon, archbishop of
Canterbury, ordered public prayers for the cessation of the
pestilence[406], and it is under the same year that the wills of deceased
London citizens are enrolled in unusual numbers, although not in such
numbers as in the _pestis secunda_ of 1361[407]. Public prayers for the
cessation of pestilence (without reference to famine) and an unusual
mortality of the richer citizens, point to the plague proper, which may or
may not have been the type of sickness in the country districts in 1369,
the second year of the epidemic[408].

There is, furthermore, some indirect evidence that pestilential disease,
and probably bubo-plague, occurred in London subsequent to the scarcity of
the dry April, 1370, to which Langland’s verses relate. This evidence lies
in the comparison of the wording of two ordinances of Edward III., one of
1369 and the other of 1371, both relating to nuisances in the city[409].
In an order of the king in Council (43 Edward III.) for stopping the
carrying of slaughter-house offal from the shambles in St Nicholas parish,
within Newgate, through the streets, lanes, and other places to the banks
of the water of Thames near to Baynard’s Castle, where there was a jetty
for throwing the refuse from into the river, the motive assigned is that
divers prelates, nobles, and other persons having houses in the line of
traffic, had complained grievously of these offences to the sight and
smell. But, in an amended order of 28th October, 1371, against the same
nuisance and with a definite (but futile) relegation of all slaughtering
to Stratford on the one side and Knightsbridge on the other, the motive is
differently stated: “Whereas of late, from the putrefied blood of
slaughtered beasts running in the streets, and the entrails thereof thrown
into the water of Thames, the air in the same city has been greatly
corrupted and infected, and whereby the worst of abominations and
stenches have been generated, and sicknesses and many other maladies have
befallen persons dwelling in the same city and resorting thereto:--We,
desiring to take precautions against such perils, and to provide for the
decency of the said city, and the safety of the same our people” etc.

Up to this date, the Rolls of Parliament contain frequent references to
the wasting and impoverishment of the country by pestilence. A petition of
1362 begs the king “to consider the divers mischiefs that have come to his
commons by divers pestilences of wind and water, and mortality of men and
beasts”--the destructive wind being the tornado-like storm, on the 16th
January, 1362, “on Saturday at even,” which was long remembered, and is
commemorated, along with the Black Death itself, in an inscription in the
church of Ashwell, Herts. Next year, another petition states that
“pestilences and great winds have done divers mischiefs”--manors and
tenements held direct from the king having become desolate and ruinous. In
1369 a petition states that “the king’s ferms [rents] in every county of
England are greatly abated by the great mortalities.” The parliament of
1376, the “good Parliament” so-called, is able to point the moral of its
petitions by frequent references to the pestilences “that have been in the
kingdom one after another,” the pestilences “of people and servants,” the
murrains of cattle, and “the failure of their corn and other fruits of the
earth.” The same language recurs in the second parliament of Richard II.
in 1378 (the year after the poll-tax), and from that time until the end of
his reign, it becomes stereotyped in the petitions deprecating heavy
subsidies or excusing the smallness of the sums voted.

The pestilence of 1375 would appear to have been considered as one of the
greater sort. The author of the _Eulogium_ reckons it the _pestis tertia_
(passing over that of 1368-69). The season was one of great heat, there
was “grandis pestilentia” both in England and other countries, an infinity
of both sexes died, the mortality being so swift that the pope, “at the
instance of the cardinal of England” granted plenary remission to all
dying contrite and confessing their sins[410]. That looks like an
epidemic of true bubo-plague,--probably the _pestis quarta_ correctly

In 1379 there was a great plague in the Northern parts, which were
stripped of their best men; the Scots made a raid, with the following
prayer on their lips: “God and Sen Mungo, Sen Ninian and Seynt Andrew
scheld us this day and ilka day fro Goddis grace, and the foule deth that
Ynglessh men dyene upon”--foul death being the name given to plague also
in 1349[412]. The northern counties send a petition to the parliament of
1379-80, that the king would “consider the very great hurt and damage
which they have suffered, and are still suffering, both by pestilence and
by the continual devastations of the Scots enemy[413].”

In the parliament of 1381-82 there is a petition from the convent of
Salisbury as to want of money to repair the losses caused by the
pestilence, of which the tenants are nearly all dead, and by the murrain
of cattle. This is more than thirty years from the Black Death, and can
hardly refer, as some earlier petitions may have done, to the enduring
effects of that calamity. The sixth parliament of Richard II. (1382), has
two of the stereotyped petitions deprecating a heavy subsidy on the ground
of “the great poverty and disease” of the commons, through pestilence of
people, murrain of cattle, failure of crops, great floods, etc.[414] This
was the year after the Peasant Revolt, which had coincided with troubles
of various kinds. A Norwich chronicle, perhaps of contemporary authority,
enters, under the year 1382, a very pestilential fever in many places of
the country, and very extraordinary inundations of the fens[415]. In
London the epidemic of 1382 is said to have been “chiefly among boys and
girls[416].” A primitive English poem of the time has for its subject the
earthquake of 1382, and with that portent it associates not only the
Peasant’s Rebellion but also “the pestilens[417].”

The year 1383 was a bad one for the fruit, which was spoiled by “foetid
fogs, exhalations and various corruptions of the air”: from eating of the
spoiled fruits many died, or incurred serious illness and
infirmities[418]. By another account, a great pestilence in Kent and other
parts of England destroyed many, sparing no age or sex. In Norfolk the
sickness that year is said to have been confined to young persons[419].
This was only one of the occasions which might have been referred to in
‘Piers Ploughman,’ when the poor people thought to “poison Hunger” by bad

The next pestilence, that of 1390 and 1391, was so prolonged and so
serious as to be compared with the Great Mortality itself. It is called
the _pestis quinta_ by two annalists[420], and is described not without
some detail by several. It is clear that the seeds of disease were ready
to burst forth at various parts of the country; for we read that in 1389,
the king was in the south of England, and seeing some of his men
prostrated by sudden death, he returned to Windsor[421]. Another outburst
came the year after. Intense heat began in June and lasted until
September; great mortality ensued, the epidemic continuing in diverse
parts of England, but not everywhere, until Michaelmas; it cut off more
young than old, as well as several famous soldiers[422]. The St Albans
entry confirms this: “A great plague, especially of youths and children,
who died everywhere in towns and villages, in incredible and excessive
numbers[423].” After the epidemic there was scarcity, of which we have
special accounts from Norfolk[424]. But the heaviest mortality fell in the
year 1391. There was first of all scarcity, now in its second year, and
aggravated by six weeks of continual gloom in July and August. At the time
of the nuts, apples and other fruits of the kind, many poor people died of
dysentery, and the sickness would have been worse but for the laudable
care of the mayor of London who caused corn to be brought from over sea.
In Norfolk and many other counties the sickness was compared even to the
Great Mortality, and was probably a mixture of famine-pestilence with
bubo-plague. At York “eleven thousand” were said to have been buried[425].
Another account says that the North suffered severely, and also the West,
and that the sickness lasted all summer[426]. Under the year 1393 one
annalist states that many died in Essex in September and October, “on the
pestilence setting in[427].” The next evidence comes from the Rolls of
Parliament; in the first parliament of Henry IV. (1399) a petition is
presented “that the king would graciously consider the great pestilence
which is in the northern parts,” and send sufficient men to defend the
Scots marches.

The first great outburst of plague in the fifteenth century falls
somewhere between 1405 and 1407. “So great pestilence,” says the St Albans
annalist, under the year 1407, “had not been seen for many years.” In
London “thirty thousand men and women” are reported to have died in a
short space; and “in country villages the sickness fell so heavily upon
the wretched peasants that many homes that had before been gladdened by a
numerous family were left almost empty[428].” But it is under the 7th of
Henry IV. (1405) that Hall’s chronicle narrates how the king, to avoid the
city on account of the plague, sailed from Queenborough to a port in
Essex, and so to Plashey, “there to pass his time till the plague were
ceased” (p. 36). Another chronicle says that the plague of 1407 was mostly
in the West country. In that year, the 9th of Henry IV., there is a
petition from Ilchester in Somerset for a remission of dues “because the
town is so impoverished and desolate of people that the burgesses are
unable to pay the said ferme,” and for the cancelling of all arrears due
since the 43rd year of Edward III. (1369). In the 11th of Henry IV.
(1410-11), the burgesses of Truro represent “that the said town is
impoverished by pestilence and the death of men, and by invasions and loss
by the enemy by sea, and by the surcharge of twelve lives, and by default
of inhabitants in the said town”--a petition apparently similar in terms
to one that had been submitted in the previous reign. In the 1st of Henry
IV. (1399), petitions of the same kind had been presented from Lincoln and
Yarmouth; the former was “in great part empty and uninhabited,” while the
latter had “its houses vacant and void, owing to pestilence and other

For the year 1413 there is a brief entry that “numbers of Englishmen were
struck by plague and ceased to live[429].” A single chronicler mentions a
pestilence in Norfolk in 1420[430]; but the Rolls of Parliament bear
undoubted witness to a very severe prevalence of plague in the North about
the same time: a petition from the Marches in 1421 speaks of “great
numbers of persons dead by the great mortalities and pestilences which
have raged for three years past and still reign; where a hundred men used
to be there are not ten, and these of small account; where people of
position kept twenty men at arms they now keep only themselves”; the enemy
were making raids and food was scarce[431]. Another petition the same year
(9 Henry V.) states that “both by pestilence within the realm and wars
without there are not sufficient men of estate to hold the office of
sheriff[432].” That was shortly after Agincourt and the conquest of
France, when the fortunes of Henry V. were at their highest point. The
horrors of the siege of Rouen (1419) were a favourite subject with poets
of the time[433], but they were of a kind foreign to English experience in
that age, and, indeed, in all periods of our history, save that of the
Danish invasions. The Cromwellian Civil Wars, as we shall see, do indeed
furnish many instances of plague, and some of typhus fever, in besieged or
occupied towns; but, for the middle part of the fifteenth century,
including the period of the wars of York and Lancaster, there is no good
reason to suppose that fevers or other _morbi miseriae_, were rife among
the common people, least of all among the peasantry.

The Public Health in the Fifteenth Century.

Our safest indications are got from the prices of commodities and the
rates of wages, and these, according to the most competent authority,
Thorold Rogers, were more favourable to the working class in the fifteenth
century than at other periods: “As the agriculturist throve in the
fifteenth century, so the mechanic and the artisan was also prosperous.
This was the age in which the property of the guilds was generally
acquired.” On famines in particular, I shall quote one other passage,
which entirely confirms the view that I had independently stated in the
first chapter when speaking of Ergotism:

    “Famine, in the strict sense of the word, has rarely occurred in
    England, owing to the practice which the inhabitants of this island
    have persistently maintained of living mainly on the dearest kind of
    corn.... The people lived abundantly, and, except when extraordinary
    scarcity occurred, regularly on the best provision which could be

One such period of extraordinary scarcity all over England fell in the
years 1438-39. The chronicle of Croyland says that there were three wet
harvests in succession, that famine had been almost constant for two
years, and that the people were reduced to eating dried herbs and
roots[435]. That would have been a famine of the old kind, like those of
1258 and 1315, wheat having touched 20_s._ But it should not lead us to
suppose that the disastrous period of the end of Edward III.’s reign and
of the reign of Richard II. was continued throughout the fifteenth
century. It is true that the records of that century are scantier than for
earlier periods; the monastic chronicles have all ceased, except those of
St Albans and Croyland, and the citizens’ diaries, which took their place,
have hardly begun. It is possible that a fuller record would have shown a
greater prevalence of distress throughout the country. It is probably
owing to the scantiness of the history that the views of the fifteenth
century range from the extreme of optimism to the extreme of pessimism.
Where little is known, much may be imagined. Thus, a recent writer on
_England in the Fifteenth Century_[436], says that “all attempts to
specify the years of scarcity would only mislead”; and again: “There is
hardly any period of five years during that time [15th century] without
these ghastly records.” Another recent writer[437] remarks upon the
fifteenth century being called a time of rude plenty, and sets against
that “the famines, the plagues, the skin-diseases, the miserable quality
of the food, the insecurity of life and property, the hovels in which the
people lived, and the tyranny and oppression of a time of unsettled
government.” It is needless to controvert the merely subjective impression
in an author’s mind. But, in order to clear our ideas, let us take these
things one by one. What were firstly the famines? There is no great one
but that of 1438-39, which was due to a succession of wet harvests, and
was equally severe in Scotland and in France, having in them caused
famine-sickness as well as plague. Of the plagues, which were certainly no
worse than in the Elizabethan and Stuart times, I shall speak in detail
almost at once. Of the skin-diseases, there is nowhere a word said:
another writer[438] specifies leprosy as afflicting England “all over the
country” in the fifteenth century, whereas it can be shown that the
prevalence of that disease, such as it had ever been in England, had
almost ceased, and its sentimental vogue passed, in the reign of Edward
III. The miserable quality of the food and the wretched hovels have
certainly no special relevancy to the period[439]; on the contrary, the
picture that we get of the manor of Castle Combe in the fifteenth century
is that of a prosperous community, although not a highly moral one. As to
insecurity of life and property, and oppression of government, there seems
to be some illusion because the time was that of the wars of York and
Lancaster. But we have the significant observation of Philip de Comines, a
contemporary French statesman who kept his eye on the state of other
countries; writing of the effects of civil war, he says:--

    “England has this peculiar grace that neither the country, nor the
    people, nor the houses are wasted or demolished; but the calamities
    and misfortunes of the war fall only upon the soldiers and especially
    the nobility, of whom they are more than ordinarily jealous: for
    nothing is perfect in this world.”

The truth seems to be that the middle part of the fifteenth century was
really the time “ere England’s woes began, when every rood of ground
maintained its man,” and that the Golden Age came to an end as soon as the
dynastic and aristocratic quarrel was ended, and the nobles left free to
turn their attention to their lapsing feudal rights. It is then that we
begin to hear of enclosures, of adding house to house and field to field,
of huge sheep-farms with no labourers on the soil, and of deserted
villages. Goldsmith meant it of his own time; but Auburn flourishing
belonged to the fifteenth century, and Auburn deserted was a common
English experience in the time of Henry VIII. It is just because the
fifteenth century is bounded on either side by periods of known distress
among the commons, and is itself without a history, that one thinks of it
as happy; and that view of it is borne out by the economic history which
has been laboriously constructed for it.

So much being premised of the country’s well-being at large, we may now
return to the particular records of epidemics of plague.

Chronology of Plagues in the Fifteenth Century.

With the exception of an undoubted reference to influenza epidemic all
over England in 1427 (a year of its prevalence in France also), which I
shall postpone to a future chapter, the history down to the arrival of the
sweating sickness in 1485, is concerned almost exclusively with notices of
plague, and of plague mostly in the towns. It cannot be maintained that
rural districts were exempt, or that some great epidemics of plague did
not fall on town and country alike. Thus, the St Albans annalist, under
the year 1431, has an entry of “pestilence at Codycote and divers places
of this domain in this year.” Again, in 1439, the Rolls of Parliament
contain a petition to the king “how that a sickness called the Pestilence
universally through this your realm more commonly reigneth than hath been
usual before this time, the which is an infirmity most infective, and the
presence of such so infect must be eschewed, as by noble Fisisseanes and
wise Philosofors before this time plainly it hath been determined, and as
experience daily showeth”--therefore to omit the ceremony of kissing the
king in doing knightly service, “and the homage to be as though they
kissed you.” That may have been a plague both of town and country during
famine, comparable to the epidemic of 1407, which, as “Walsingham”
expressly says, was severely felt in the homes of the peasantry as well as
in London. But plague henceforth is seldom universal; it becomes more and
more a disease of the towns, and when it does occur in the country, it is
for the most part at some few limited spots. A Paston letter of the years
between 1461 and 1466 gives us a glimpse of the sort of the incidence of
plague in country places, and of the avoidance of such infected spots,
which we shall find often mentioned in the documents of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries[440]. There is, of course, no means of estimating
the frequency of plague in these almost sporadic circumstances. The
disease must have had its seats of election in the country, but we may
safely conclude that these, after the Black Death and the recurrences
thereof down, say, to 1407, were much fewer than in the towns. One
significant piece of evidence comes from the great monastery of
Canterbury. Among its records is an obituary, on twenty sheets, of all the
monks from 1286 to 1517. Out of a hundred cases taken without selection
from the record, there died, of pestilence, 33; of phthisis, 10; of
chronic diseases, 29. “Pestilence” appears to mean specifically
bubo-plague; for we find besides, among the sample hundred, two deaths
from flux, one of these corpses having been buried immediately _propter
infexionem_. The inference, under correction from further inquiry, would
be that one-third of the deaths in the monastery of Canterbury during the
first half of the reign of plague in England were from that disease. And
that was in a monastery which, in the Black Death itself, is reported, in
the same record, to have lost “only four” out of a membership of about

It remains to enumerate briefly the known instances of plague in London or
other towns, from the last date given (1420) down to the beginning of the
Tudor period (1485). Its prevalence “in England,” but more probably in
London only, in 1426, comes out in a letter from the Senate of Venice
cautioning the captain of the Flanders galleys and the vice-captain of the
London galleys[442]. We hear also of that plague in London owing to the
fact that certain Scotsmen of rank, hostages for the ransom of the king of
Scots, died of the plague in London. An envoy who proceeded to Scotland on
12th March, 1427, was instructed to ask that the dead hostages be replaced
by others of equal rank; and if the king of Scots objected on the ground
that they had died because they had been kept in places where the late
pestilence raged, notwithstanding their request to be removed, the envoy
was to say that the hostages had been kept in London, where the dukes of
Bedford and Gloucester and all other lords of the Council remained during
the time; and that the hostages were “neither pinned nor barred up” in any
house, but went at large in the city, and might have taken any measures
they pleased for their own preservation. It appears, however, that the
council removed from the city, and that the courts were adjourned, at a
stage of the epidemic subsequent to the deaths of the Scots. The last plea
of the envoy was that, supposing the pestilence had prevailed throughout
England, the king was not therefore bound to send the hostages out of
England; from which hypothetical construction, we may conclude that the
epidemic was special to London--one of a long series requiring the king’s
Court, the Parliament, and the Law Courts to be adjourned[443].

In 1433, the Parliament which met at Westminster on the 8th July, was
prorogued on the 15th August, on account of the _gravis pestilentia_ which
began to arise in London and the suburbs[444]. A London chronicler enters,
under the 12th of Henry VI. (1433) “a grete pestilence and a grete frost,”
a conjunction that would be interesting if the hard winter had
preceded[445]. The plague revived in London in the following autumn; for,
on the 27th October, 1434, the Privy Council ordered all pleas then
pending to be continued from the morrow of All Souls to the octaves of St
Hilary on account of the epidemic[446]. After three years, in 1437, the
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas paid a visit to St Albans Abbey and
remained there some time, “on account of the epidemic plague which was
then reigning in the city of London[447].” Two years after, 1439, comes
the entry in the Rolls of Parliament, already quoted, with reference to
omitting the ceremony of kissing the king, because “a sickness called the
Pestilence universally through this your realm more commonly reigneth than
hath been usual before this time, the which is an infirmity most
infective[448].” Thus we have in the decade from 1430 to 1440 no fewer
than four distinct outbreaks of plague, three of them confined to the city
of London, and one of them, that of 1439, general throughout the realm.
The last was “a sickness called the pestilence,” which should mean the
bubo-plague. The year was one of great distress abroad, many thousands
having died in Paris. It was a year of famine in Scotland, where the
disease was undoubtedly dysentery in part; but the information from
Scotland (given in the sequel) points to the true plague supervening on
the other. There was famine in England at the time when it was in France
and in Scotland, so that the type of sickness may have been, in England
also, fever and dysentery first and plague afterwards.

In 1444, on the 5th of June, the Rolls contain the entry that grave
pestilence began to arise. A severe pestilence is reported at Oxford in
1448[449]. On the 30th May, 1449, Parliament is adjourned to Winchester
to avoid “the corrupt and infected airs” of Westminster. On the 6th
November of the same year it adjourns to Ludgate, in the city of London,
owing to the infection of the air in Westminster. The infected state of
Westminster and other places around is again the subject of an entry on
the 4th December, with this addition: “it has been sufficiently decreed as
to avoiding and extinguishing the said corrupt and infectious air.” About
three months later, on 30th March, 1450, Parliament adjourns to Leicester
on account of the insalubrity of the air at Westminster. In 1452 it
adjourns on 20th November to Reading for the same reason, but is soon
after adjourned to the 11th February, owing to plague in Reading
itself:--“de magna mortalitate in dicta villa de Redyng jam regnante.”
These years must have been a really severe plague-period, for we find in
1454, a reference in the Paston Letters to the alarm caused by the plague
in London. Wm. Paston writes to John Paston, 6 September: “Sergeant-at-law
Billing came to London this week. He sent for me and asked me how I fared.
I told him, here is pestilence, and said I fared the better he was in good
hele, for it was noised that he was dead.... Here is great pestilence. I
purpose to flee into the country[450].”

From 1454 (and the year following in Scotland) there is a clear interval
of ten years without mention of plague in the not very complete records of
the time. With the year 1464 there began a series of outbreaks of plague
which appear to have lasted in one part of the country or another with few
intermissions until 1478. This plague-period is said to have been foretold
in a remarkable prophecy. In the year 1462 a boy at Cambridge, while
walking in a lane between King’s College and the adjoining buildings of
Clare and Trinity Halls, met an old man with a long beard, who addressed
him thus: “Go now and tell to anyone that within these two years there
will be such pestilence, and famine, and slaughter of men, as no one
living has seen.” Having said this he disappeared. Doubts however, were
at once thrown on the reality of these words; for the boy, on being
questioned by Master Myleton, doctor of theology, and others, said that he
neither saw the old man walking on the ground nor heard him speak[451].

The authentic intelligence of plague in England in 1464 is contained in a
letter to the Seignory of Venice from Bruges, dated 5th October, 1464, to
the effect that some Venetian merchants have arrived from London, which
they had quitted on the 26th September. They say the plague is at work
there at the rate of two hundred [deaths] per diem, “and thus writes
[also] Carlo Ziglio.” In April next year, 1465, we hear of it still in
London, through a casual reference in a letter written by one of the
Paston family[452]; and as prevailing all over England, through a formal
entry in the chronicle of Croyland, the last of the monastic records which
continued to be kept. There was an infection of the air, we read, in the
whole of England, so that many thousands of people of every age came to
their death suddenly, like sheep slaughtered[453].

The very next year, 1466, Parliament is adjourned from Westminster on
account of the infection in London, to meet at Reading. Next summer, 1st
July, 1467, there is another adjournment to Reading (6 November), because
of the heat and because the plague was beginning to reign, by which
certain members of the House of Commons had been cut off. After an
interval of four years we hear of plague, in a Paston letter, and by a
Southwell record. On 2 August, 1471, the residentiary canons of Southwell
Minster vote themselves leave of absence for a month “quia regnat morbus
pestiferus in villa Southwell, et furit excessivé morbus pestiferus[454].”
On 13 September, 1471, Sir John Paston writes from near Winchester: “I
cannot hear by pilgrims that pass the country, nor none other man that
rideth or goeth any country, that any borough town in England is free from
that sickness. God cease it when it please him!” Apart from London the
English town which has the most disastrous record for this period is
Hull[455]. The plague was so severe there, in three epidemics close
together, as almost to ruin the place. It broke out in 1472, and had swept
off a great number of the inhabitants before the end of the year,
including the mayor. In 1476 it broke out afresh, causing a great
mortality. In 1478 it was more violent than ever, the number of its
victims being given as 1580, including the mayor and all his family; the
people fled the town, the church was shut up, and the streets deserted and
grass-grown. The epidemic appears to have been, as usual, an autumnal one,
ceasing at the approach of winter. Meanwhile, in 1474, there is mention of
a serious prevalence of plague in the Royal household, as well as
elsewhere in London. The weather of the previous autumn, 1473, had been
remarkable. Labourers are said to have died in the harvest-field from the
excessive heat, and “fervues, axes, and the bloody flyx” (fevers, agues,
and dysentery) to have been universal in divers parts of England; but
there was no dearth. The unusual character of that season, or of the
season preceding, was indicated by the bursting forth of underground
reservoirs of water[456].

The great plague of this period in London should most probably be placed
under the years 1478-9. Merely to show the difficulties of the chronology
it may be worth while citing the various accounts. The Greyfriars’
Chronicle says, under the year 17 Edward IV., that the term was “deferred
from Ester to Michaelmas because of the grete pestylens[457].” The 17th of
Edward IV. was 1477. But Fabyan, who was now a citizen of London
(afterwards sheriff and alderman), enters it under the civic year 1478-79,
or the year which begins for him with the new lord mayor taking office on
30 October. His words are: “This year was great mortality and death in
London and many other parts of this realm, the which began in the latter
end of Senii [September] in the preceding year and continued in this year
till the beginning of November, in the which passed time died innumerable
people in the said city and many places elsewhere[458].” Grafton says,
under the year 1478, that the chief mortality fell in four months of great
heat, during which the pestilence was so fierce and quick that fifteen
years’ war had not consumed a third as many people[459]. To reconcile
these dates we should have to take the year of the Greyfriars’ Chronicle
as 1478, so that the adjournment of the term from Easter to Michaelmas,
might suit the four months in Grafton. At the same time, Fabyan’s
statement that the plague “continued in this year till November,” is
correct for 1479. Sir John Paston writes home from London, 29 Oct. 1479,
of his danger from the sickness; he died there on 15th November; and his
brother, who came up from Norfolk to bury him, writes to his mother, who
wished him “to haste out of the air that he was in,” that the sickness is
“well ceased” in December.

The year 1478, the first of two plague-seasons in London, was also a year
of plague at Hull, and at Newcastle and Southwell. The account for
Newcastle, in its annals under 1478, is merely that great numbers died of
the plague[460]. At Southwell, on 5 July, 1478, the canons residentiary
again take leave of absence for the summer, “because it may be probably
estimated that the dire pestilential affliction in the town of Southwell
will continue, and because the venerable men, with their domestics, have a
just fear of incurring the infection of the said pestiferous
affliction[461].” Next year, 1479, an “incredible number” died of plague
at Norwich[462], and at villages like Swainsthorp, where “they have died
and been sick nigh in every house[463].”

Thus in two years, 1478-79, we hear of an epidemic of plague of the first
rank in London, an epidemic most severe for the size of the place, at
Hull, and epidemics at Southwell, Newcastle and Norwich. This is not
unlike the plague-years that we often find in the centuries following.
Whether it be that we are merely coming to a time of better records, or
that the disease itself was getting worse in English towns, these later
years of Edward IV. are comparable to plague-periods under the Tudors and
the Stuarts.

The period from the Black Death of 1349 to the reign of Edward IV.
witnesses a considerable change in the habits, so to speak, of plague in
England. In the earlier part of that period, the epidemics of
“pestilence”--although they were not all of plague or wholly of
plague--are general throughout England, like the great mortality itself
but on a smaller scale. As late as 1407, or perhaps 1439, we still hear of
“the disease called the pestilence” being universal and in the homes of
the peasantry. The extent of the sickness in 1465, or even the type of it,
is not sufficiently known. From that time onwards town and country are
contrasted in the matter of plague; it becomes usual to flee to the
country so as to escape the pestilential air in town in the summer heats,
and the unwholesomeness of the London air becomes on numerous occasions a
real reason, or a pretext, for the adjournment of Parliament. All the
while, the plague was the lineal descendant of the Black Death,--a virus
so potent on its first entry into English soil as to overrun every parish
of the land.

Plague and other pestilences in Scotland and Ireland, 1349-1475.

The materials for the history of plague in Scotland, including the Black
Death and subsequent outbreaks down to the end of the medieval period, are
much fewer than for England. From the English chroniclers (Knighton and Le
Baker) we learn that the Black Death in the autumn of 1349 extended from
the northern counties to the Scots army in the Forest of Selkirk.
According to Fordoun, plague would have been general in Scotland in 1350;
but as he includes in his reference “several years before and after” and
“divers parts of the world,” his statement that nearly a third part of the
human race paid the debt of nature is perhaps a mere echo of the general
estimate and without reference specially to Scotland[464]. His next
general reference to pestilence is under the year 1362, when the same
kind of disease and the same extent of mortality as in 1350 occurred
throughout all Scotland[465]. But as he says elsewhere that the visit of
David, king of Scots, to Aberdeenshire in 1361, when he took Kildrummy
Castle from the earl of Mar, was determined in the first instance by the
prevalence of plague in the southern part of his kingdom[466], it may be
inferred that the epidemic had begun late in that year in the south,
coincident with the _pestis secunda_ of England, and had been interrupted
by the coming on of winter, as in the first epidemic of 1349 and 1350. The
next mortality recorded by Fordoun he names the fourth (_quarta
mortalitas_) and assigns to 1401[467]. The question arises as to the
third; and it appears that there were indeed two plague-years in Scotland
between 1362 and 1401--namely, 1380 and 1392, both of them corresponding
nearly to great plagues in the north of England. In the former year sir
John Lyon, lord of Glamis, was unable to hold his court as auditor of the
exchequer in certain places owing to the plague[468]. In 1392, also, the
custumars of Haddington, Peebles, and Dumbarton did not attend the
“chamberlain ayres” on account of the pestilence[469]. In 1402 (not in
1401, as Fordoun has it), the custumars of Stirling were absent from the
audit by reason of the plague[470]; and in the same financial year (10
July, 1402, to 18 July, 1403), only one bailie from Dundee attended the
audit at Perth, the others being dead in the pestilence[471].

For a whole generation there is no documentary evidence of plague in
Scotland. But Fordoun has two entries of a disease which he calls
_pestilentia volatilis_--it can hardly have been plague and may have been
influenza--the one in 1430, having begun at Edinburgh in February, and the
other in 1432 at Haddington[472].

Under the year 1439, an old chronicle, _Ane Addicioun of Scottis
Cornicklis and Deidis_ records one of those seasons of famine and
dysentery or lientery, with some more sudden sickness, which have been
described for England in a former chapter. “The samen time there was in
Scotland a great dearth, for the boll of wheat was at 40_s._, and the boll
of ait meal 30_s._; and verily the dearth was sae great that there died a
passing [number of] people for hunger. And als the land-ill, the wame-ill,
was so violent, that there died mae that year than ever there died, owther
in pestilence, or yet in ony other sickness in Scotland. And that samen
year the pestilence came in Scotland, and began at Dumfries, and it was
callit the _Pestilence but Mercy_, for there took it nane that ever
recoverit, but they died within twenty-four hours[473].” Here the
“land-ill” or “wame-ill” (dysentery or lientery) is contrasted within “the
pestilence,” which latter is said to have supervened the same year,
beginning at Dumfries and proving peculiarly deadly. This was a year of
plague, said to be “universal,” in England (where famine also was severe),
and of an enormous mortality in France.

The continuator of Fordoun records under the year 1455 (James II.) a great
pestilential mortality of men through the whole kingdom, an epidemic which
would be again a year behind the corresponding plague in England[474]. We
hear of it next definitely in the year 1475, which falls within the series
of plague-years at Hull, and elsewhere in the southern part of the island.
On account of an outbreak of pestilence the king of Scots adjourned the
meeting of the estates from September 1475 to the Epiphany following[475],
when the Parliament actually met. The same year there was a
plague-hospital on Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth, and not for the first
time; ten marts from the Orkneys were landed there for the quarantined

The references to plague in Scotland begin again about the year 1498; but
these, according to the division of our subject, will come into another

The references to plagues in Ireland after the invasion of 1349 are
extremely meagre; but they make it probable that outbursts of bubo-plague
recurred at intervals, as well as occasional epidemics of flux and other
diseases brought on by scarcity or bad corn. The continuators of Clyn’s
Kilkenny annals enumerate various _pestes_--_secunda_, _tertia_, _quarta_
and _quinta_--just as the English annalists do. The _secunda_ falls in
1362, its season in Scotland also[477]. The _tertia_ is given under 1373;
but also under 1370[478]. The _quarta_ is in 1382 (or 1385), and the
_quinta_ in 1391. But there is little or no independent evidence that this
chronology, originally made for England, is really good for Ireland also.
The only other entry, until the Tudor period, is “fames magna in Hibernia”
in 1410[479].



The strange disease which came to be known all over Europe as _sudor
Anglicus_, or the English Sweat, was a new type or species of infection
first seen in the autumn of 1485. Polydore Virgil, an Italian scholar and
man of affairs, who arrived in England in 1501, became, in effect, the
court historian of Henry VII.’s reign, and of the events which led up to
the overthrow of Richard III. at Bosworth Field on the 22nd of August
1485; his account of the movements of Henry Tudor, from his landing at
Milford Haven on Saturday the 6th of August until his triumphal entry into
London on Saturday the 27th of the same month, is so minute that he must
be assumed to have had access to journals written at the time. Polydore’s
account of the sweat begins with the statement that it showed itself on
the first descent of Henry upon the island--_sub primum descensum in
insulam_[480]. The last continuator of the ancient chronicle of Croyland
abbey, who was still making his entries when Bosworth Field was fought,
not far from Croyland, and who closed his annals the year after, records
an incident which seems to show that the sweat had been prevalent before
the battle. Thomas, lord Stanley, lay at Atherstone, not far from
Bosworth, with five thousand men nominally in the service of Richard, and
was summoned by the king to bring up his force before the battle. He
excused himself, says the Croyland annalist, on the ground that he was
suffering from the sweating sickness[481]. I shall examine that evidence,
and the general statement of Polydore Virgil, in a later part of this
chapter. Meanwhile we may take it that the outbreak of the sweat was
somehow associated in popular rumour with the victorious expedition of
Henry Tudor. Writers on the English sweat hitherto have had to depend on
the somewhat meagre and not always consistent statements of annalists for
their knowledge of its first authentic occurrence. I am now able to adduce
the testimony of a manuscript treatise on the new epidemic, written by a
physician while it was still prevalent in London, and elaborately
dedicated to Henry VII., if not composed by his order[482]. The author is
Thomas Forrestier, styled in the title a Doctor of Medicine and a native
of Normandy, tarrying in London. Whatever his relation with the Tudor
court may have been, his name does not occur in the patents as one of the
king’s physicians. It appears, indeed, that he had got into trouble in
London some two years after this date; for, on the 28th of January, 1488,
the king granted to him a general pardon, “with pardon for all escapes and
evasions out of the Tower of London or elsewhere, and remissions of
forfeiture of all lands and goods[483].” Probably he went back after this
to his native Normandy: at all events, he is next heard of in practice at
Rouen, where he published, in 1490, a Latin treatise on the plague, one of
the first productions of the printing-press of that city.

It is in the opening sentences of his printed book on the plague[484], and
not in his manuscript on the sweat, that he fixes the date when the latter
began. The sweating sickness, he says, first unfurled its banners in
England in the city of London, on the 19th of September, 1485; and then
follow in the text certain astrological signs, representing the positions
or conjunctions of heavenly bodies on that date. The London chronicles of
the time assign dates for the beginning of the epidemic which differ
somewhat from Dr Forrestier’s. One of them, a manuscript of the Cotton
collection, by an anonymous citizen of London, records the entry of Henry
VII. into the capital on the 27th of August, and proceeds: “And the XXVII
day of September began the sweating syknes in London, whereof died Thomas
Hyll that yer mayor, for whom was chosen sir William Stokker, knyght,
which died within V days after of the same disease. Then for him was
chosen John Warde.... And this yere died of that sickness, besides ii
mayors above rehersed, John Stokker, Thomas Breten, Richard Pawson, Thomas
Norland, aldermen, and many worshipful commoners[485].” In the better
known but not always equally full chronicle of Fabyan, who was then a
citizen, and afterwards sheriff and alderman, the date of Henry’s
reception by the mayor and citizens at Hornsey Park is given as the 28th
of August, the reference to the sweat being as follows: “And upon the XI
day of Octobre next following, than beynge the swetynge sykeness of newe
begun, dyed the same Thomas Hylle, mayor, and for him was chosen sir
William Stokker, knyght and draper, which dyed also of the sayd sickness
shortly after.” The only other particular date extant for the sweat of
1485 comes from the country: Lambert Fossedike, abbot of Croyland, died
there of the sweating sickness, after an illness of eighteen hours, on the
14th of October[486].

Apart from the hitherto unknown manuscript of Forrestier, these are the
only contemporary references. Stow, who must have had access to some
journal of the time, says that the king entered London on the 27th August
and that “the sweating began the 21st September, and continued till the
end of October, of the which a wonderful number died,” including the two
mayors and four other aldermen, as above. Hall’s chronicle, which has been
the principal source used by Hecker and others, reproduces the account of
the sweat by Polydore Virgil almost word for word; and Polydore’s account
was certainly not begun until after 1504 and was not published until 1531.
Bernard André, historiographer and poet laureate of Henry VII., was
present at the entry into London on the 27th August; but he gives no
particulars of the sweat of that autumn, in his ‘Life of Henry VII.,’
although it is probable that his ‘Annals of Henry VII.’ would have
furnished some information had they not been lost for the year 1485, as it
is to his extant annals for the year 1508 that we owe almost all that is
known of the second epidemic of the sweat in that year. The state papers
of the time do not contain a single reference to the epidemic, although it
was so active in the city of London as to carry off two mayors and four
aldermen within a few days, and was besides, as Polydore Virgil says, “a
new kind of disease, from which no former age had suffered, as all agree.”
London was full of people, including some who had stood by Henry Tudor in
France, others who had joined his standard in Wales, and still others who
came to do homage to the new dynasty; and there is evidence remaining of
hundreds of suitors, great and small, attending the court to receive the
reward of their services in patents and grants, as well as evidence in the
wardrobe accounts of the bustle of preparing for the Coronation on the
30th of October. But in all the extant state records of those busy weeks,
there is not a scrap of writing to show that such a thing as a pestilence
was raging within the narrow bounds of the city and under the walls of the
royal palace in the Tower. It remains, therefore, to make what we can out
of the medical essay which Dr Forrestier wrote for the occasion.

In his later reference of 1490, he says that more than fifteen thousand
were cut off in sudden death, as if by the visitation of God, many dying
while walking in the streets, without warning and without being confessed.
That number of the dead need not be taken as at all exact: nor does it
appear whether it is meant for London or for the whole country. But the
dramatic suddenness of the attack is illustrated by particular cases in
his original treatise of 1485, although deaths so sudden are unheard of in
any infection:--

    “We saw two prestys standing togeder and speaking togeder, and we saw
    both of them dye sodenly. Also in die--proximi we se the wyf of a
    taylour taken and sodenly dyed. Another yonge man walking by the
    street fell down sodenly. Also another gentylman ryding out of the
    cyte [date given] dyed. Also many others the which were long to
    rehearse we have known that have dyed sodenly.” Gentlemen and
    gentlewomen, priests, righteous men, merchants, rich and poor, were
    among the victims of this sudden death. Of the symptoms he says: “And
    this sickness cometh with a grete swetyng and stynkyng, with rednesse
    of the face and of all the body, and a contynual thurst, with a grete
    hete and hedache because of the fumes and venoms.” He mentions also
    “pricking the brains,” and that “some appear red and yellow, as we
    have seen many, and in two grete ladies that we saw, the which were
    sick in all their bodies and they felt grete pricking in their bodies.
    And some had black spots, as it appeared in our frere (?) Alban, a
    noble leech on whose soul God have mercy!”

Both in his pathology and in his copious appendix of formulae he directs
attention to the heart, as the organ that was suddenly overpowered by the
pestilential venoms. Many died, he would have us believe, because they
listened to the false leeches, who professed to know the disease and to
have treated it before. A considerable part of his space is occupied with
the denunciation of these irregular practitioners, their greed and their
ignorance,--a theme which is a common one in the prefaces of Elizabethan
medical works also. It appears that the false leeches wrote and put
letters upon gates and church doors, or upon poles, promising to help the
people in their sickness. They were also injudicious in the choice of
their remedies--some ordaining powders and medicines that are hot until
the thirtieth degree and over, others ale or wine, or hot spices, “and
many other medicines they have, the which, the best of them, is nothing
worth.” These false leeches knew not the causes,--their complexions, their
ages, the regions, the times of the year, the climate,--evidently the
astrological lore which gave Chaucer’s physician, a century earlier, his
academical standing or his superiority to the vulgar quacks of his day.
Those who fell into the hands of quacks, Forrestier implies, had an
indifferent chance. Many died for want of help and good guiding; whereas
many a one was healed that had received a medicine in due order, “and if
he purge himself before.” The clearly written and fully detailed formulae
at the end of his essay are so far evidence that Forrestier did not
traffic in secret remedies. The first part of the essay is occupied with
the doctrine of causes--the nigh causes and the far. The far causes were
astrological; but the nigh causes, although they are altogether inadequate
to account for sweating sickness as a special type, and are indeed little
else than the stock list of nuisances quoted in earlier treatises upon the
plague, are suggestive enough of the condition of London streets and
houses at the time, and will be referred to in a later part of the

The account of the treatment given by Polydore Virgil, and from him copied
into Hall’s chronicle, is probably the experience of later epidemics of
the sweat, although it comes into the history under the year 1485. The
evil effects of throwing off the bed-clothes, and of drinking great
draughts of cold water, and, on the other hand, the benefits of lying
still with the hands and feet well covered, are among the topics discussed
in letters during the epidemic of 1517, one of those which came within the
historian’s own experience in England. But it is clear from Forrestier’s
essay of 1485 that there were great differences in the regimen of patients
in the sweat during its very first season, some adopting the hot and
cordial treatment, others, perhaps, the cooling, just as in the smallpox
long after. Bernard André implies that there was a correct and an
incorrect regimen also in the second epidemic of 1508, and there is
evidence of conflicting advice in the letters on the sweats of 1517 and
1528. If there were any better regimen in the later epidemics than in the
earlier, as Polydore Virgil says there was, it was merely the wisdom of
avoiding extremes. Hence the misleading character of his remark that,
after an immense loss of life, “a remedy was found, ready to hand for
everyone.” Bacon in his ‘Reign of Henry VII.’ took from Polydore almost
word for word all that he says of the “remedy” of the sweat; and the
unreal word-spinning thus begun was carried to its full development by
bishop Sprat, the historian of the Royal Society (1667), who mistakes the
“remedy” for some _arcanum_ or potent drug, gives my lord Verulam the
credit of preserving the prescription for the use of posterity, and
adduces it as an encouragement to the Royal Society to seek among the
secrets of nature for an equally efficacious “antidote” to the plague.

The language of historians is that the sweat of 1485 spread over the whole
kingdom. We hear of it definitely at Oxford[487] where it “lasted but a
month or six weeks” and is said to have cut off many of the scholars
before they could disperse. It is heard of also with equal definiteness at
Croyland abbey. There is also mention of it in a contemporary calendar of
the mayor of Bristol, but without any special reference to that city[488].
Beyond these notices, there appears to be nothing to show that the sweat
went all through England in the late autumn or early winter of 1485. But
we may take the following passage by Forrestier, in the dedication of his
tract to the king, as expressing the state of matters, with perhaps some

    “When that thy highness and thy great power is vexed and troubled with
    divers sickness, and thy lordships and almost the middle part of thy
    realm with the venomous fever of pestilence, and, by the reason of
    that, young and old and of all manner of ages, with divers wailings
    and sadness they are stricken: therefore, excellent and noble prince,
    we are moved with every love and duty, and not for no lucre neither
    covetyse, to ordain a short governing against this foresaid

The Second Sweat in 1508.

After the first outburst of the sweat in 1485 had subsided, probably
before winter was well begun, nothing more is heard of it for twenty-three
years. It reappeared in 1508, a third time in 1517, a fourth time in 1528,
and for the last time in 1551. With each successive outbreak, our
information becomes less meagre, while the epidemic of 1551 actually
called forth an English printed book by Dr Caius, the epidemic of 1528
having called forth a whole crop of foreign writings on its spreading to
the continent (for the first and only time) in the year following (1529).
As the nature, causes, and favouring circumstances of the sweat cannot
profitably be dealt with except on a review of its whole history, it will
be necessary to take up at once and together the four subsequent epidemics
of it in this country, leaving the intercurrent and probably much more
disastrous epidemics of bubo-plague, during the same period, as well as
the great invasion of syphilis in 1494-6, to be chronicled apart.

Our knowledge of the second outbreak of the sweat, in 1508[490], comes
almost exclusively from Bernard André, whose _Annals of Henry VII._[491]
are fortunately preserved for that year (as they are also for 1504-5).
Under the date of July, 1508, he says that some of the household of the
Lord Treasurer were seized with the sweat, and died of it, “and everywhere
in this city there die not a few.” In August public prayers were made at
St Paul’s on account of the plague of sweat. In the same month the king’s
movements from place to place in the country round London are described as
determined by the prevalence of the sweat. From Hatfield, whither he had
gone to visit his mother on the 9th August, he went to Wanstead, where
certain of his household “sweated;” on that account the king moved to
Barking, and thence to other places about the 14th. He avoided Greenwich
and Eltham, in both which places the chief personages of the royal palaces
“had sweated,” so much did the sickness then rage in all places (_per
omnia loca_). Some of the king’s personal attendants appear to have caught
the infection; nor did it avail, says André, to run away or to follow the
chase, _quoniam mors omnia vincit_. Other visits were paid down to the
17th August, and a strict edict was issued that no one from London was to
come near the court, nor anyone to repair to the city, under penalties
specified. The only one near the king’s person who died of it was lord
Graystock, a young Cumberland noble. The Lord Privy Seal and the Lord
Chamberlain were both attacked but recovered; doctor Symeon, the dean of
the Chapel Royal, died of it. There appears to have been a good deal of
the sickness in various places, but many recovered, says André, with good
tending. The king occupied himself with hunting the stag in the forests at
Stratford, Eltham and other places round London.

From the provinces there is one item of information relating to
Chester[492]: in the summer of 1507, it is said, the sweating sickness
destroyed 91 in three days, of whom only four were women. At Oxford in
1508, or the year before Henry VII.’s death, there was a sore pestilence
which caused the dispersion of divers students; but it is not called the

The Third Sweat in 1517.

Except for a single reference to the sweat in 1511, nothing is heard of it
between the autumn of 1508 and the summer of 1517. The reference in 1511
occurs in a letter of Erasmus, from Queens’ College, Cambridge, dated 25th
August, in which he says that his health is still indifferent _a sudore
illo_. This may possibly refer to the lingering effects of an attack in
1508, or to the influenza of 1510; and as all the other references in 1511
are to plague, and to alarms of plague, it may be doubted if the sweating
sickness had really been prevalent in England in that year, or at any time
between 1508 and 1517. We begin to hear of it definitely in the summer of
the latter year. We have now reached a period from which numerous letters,
despatches and other state papers have come down[494]. Among the most
useful of these for our purpose are the despatches of the Venetian
ambassador and the apostolic nuncio from London, the letters of Pace to
Wolsey when Henry VIII. was in the country and the cardinal not with him,
the letters of Erasmus, sir Thomas More and others.

The first that we hear of sickness in London in 1517 is from a letter of
the 24th June, written by a cardinal of Arragon to Wolsey, from Calais;
the cardinal, who was travelling like a noble, with a train of forty
horses, had intended to visit London, but was waiting on the other side
owing to a rumour that the sickness was prevalent in London. It is
probable that this rumour had referred to the standing infection of
English towns in summer and autumn, the bubo-plague; for it is not until
five weeks later that we hear of the sweating sickness under its proper

On the 1st of August the nuncio writes from London to the marquis of
Mantua that a disease is broken out here causing sudden death within six
hours; it is called the sweating sickness; an immense number die of it. On
the 6th of August he occupies the greater part of a letter of three pages
with an account of it. To some it proved fatal in twelve hours, to others
in six, and to others in four; it is an easy death. Most patients are
seized when lying down, but some when on foot, and even a very few when
riding out. The attack lasts about twenty-four hours, more or less. It is
fatal to take, during the fit, any cold drink, or to allow a draught of
air to reach the drenching skin; the covering should be rather more ample
than usual, but there was danger in heaping too many bed-clothes on the
patient. A moderate fire should be kept up in the sick chamber; the arms
should be crossed on the patient’s breast, and great care should be taken
that no cold air reached the armpits[495]. The disease was on the
increase, and was already spreading over England; it was reported that
more than four hundred students had died of it at Oxford, which was a
small place but for the university there. Burials were occurring on every
side; there had been many deaths in the king’s household and in that of
cardinal Wolsey, who was in the country “sweating.” Such is the universal
dread of the disease that there are very few who do not fear for their
lives, while some are so terrified that they suffer more from fear than
others do from the sweat itself.

On the same day (6th August), the Venetian ambassador, Sebastian
Giustinian, who was on friendly terms with the nuncio and often indebted
to him for information, writes to the Doge giving much the same account of
“the new malady.” He remarks upon the sudden onset, the rapidity of the
issue when it was to be fatal, and the cessation of the sweat within
twenty-four hours. His secretary had taken it, as well as many of his
domestics. Few strangers are dead, but an immense number of Englishmen. On
going to visit Wolsey, he found that he had the sweat; many of the
cardinal’s household had died of it, including some of his chief
attendants; the bishop of Winchester also had taken it. On the 12th of
August, the Venetian envoy writes that he himself and his son have had the
sweat; Wolsey has had it three times in a few days, many of his people
being dead of it, especially his gentlemen[496]. In London “omnes silent.”

Wolsey’s attack and relapses are confirmed by his own letter to the king;
about the end of August he went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham, and
remained there most of September, but even after his return he was “vexed
with fever.” The relapses of the sweat, which are mentioned by Forrestier
in 1485, by André in 1508, and now again in 1517, may have been the origin
of the saying in the form of a proverb, which occurs in an essay of the
time by sir Thomas More,--that the relapse is worse than the original

The death of a well-known personage, Ammonio, the Latin secretary of the
king, is the subject of several letters, including one of the 19th August
from More to Erasmus; he died at nine on the morning of the 17th August,
after an illness of twenty hours: he had been congratulating himself on
being safe by reason of his temperate life. More confirms the statement as
to deaths in the university of Oxford, and he adds also at Cambridge. In
London the sweat attacks whole families: “I assure you there is less
danger in the ranks of war than in this city.” His own family (? in
Bucklersbury) are safe so far, and he has composed his mind for any
eventuality. He hears that the sweat is now at Calais. On the 27th August,
the Venetian envoy writes again that the disease is now making great
progress; the king keeps out of the way at Windsor, with only three
favourite gentlemen and Dionysius Memo, who is described as his physician,
but in other letters as “the Reverend,” and as a musician from Venice. On
the 21st September the envoy has gone to the country to avoid “the plague
_and_ the sweating sickness.” A few days later (26th Sept.) he writes that
“the plague” is making some progress, and that the prolonged absence of
the king, the cardinal and other lords from London owing to the sweat, had
encouraged the citizens to a turbulent mood against the foreign traders
and residents; the state of matters was so threatening that three thousand
citizens were under arms to preserve the peace. The references after
September, 1517, are mostly to the “common infection” or plague, which was
an almost annual autumnal event in London. There was probably some
confusion, at the time, between that infection and the sweat, not, of
course as regards symptoms, but in common report; thus it is not clear
whether the fresh alarm in the king’s court at or near Windsor on the 15th
October, owing to the deaths of young lord Grey de Wilton and a German
attendant of the king, refers to the sweat or to the plague. As late as
the 2nd November, a letter from the University of Oxford to Wolsey
excuses delay in answering his two letters on the ground of the sweating

The prevalence of “sudor tabificus” at Oxford in 1517 is known from other
sources as well: it is said to have caused “the dispersion and sweeping
away of most, if not all, of the students[498];” and the nuncio, writing
from London on the 6th of August, mentions the current but improbable
statement that more than four hundred students had died in less than a

Besides these from Oxford, there are hardly any notices of the 1517 sweat
in the country remote from London. A record at Chester mentions an
outbreak of “plague,” which is taken to mean sweating sickness; it is said
also to have been “probably more serious than in 1507;” many died, others
fled; and the grass grew a foot high at the Cross[499]. But these are the
marks of true plague, which we know to have broken out in London, and in
country districts as well, in the autumn and winter of 1517, or almost as
soon as the short and sharp outburst of the sweat was past.

Among the references to prevailing diseases on the continent in 1517,
besides sir Thomas More’s rumour of the sweat in Calais, there is none
which would lead us to suppose that the distinctive English malady had
invaded Europe in that year. But there is a significant statement by
Erasmus, hitherto overlooked, which almost certainly points to an epidemic
of influenza on the other side of the North Sea the year after the sweat
was prevalent in England. It is known that there was a suddenly fatal form
of throat disease prevalent in the Netherlands that spring, which has been
taken to be diphtheria; but the malady to which Erasmus refers can hardly
have been the same as that. Writing from Louvain to Barbieri on the 1st
June, 1518, he says that a new plague is raging in Germany, affecting
people with a cough, and pain in the head and stomach, he himself having
suffered from it. The significance of that epidemic, assuming it to have
been influenza, will be dealt with in the sequel.

By means of the foregoing contemporary notices of the sweat in 1517 we
are able to judge of the general accuracy of the summary of it in Hall’s
chronicle, which has been hitherto almost the only source of information.
The sweat killed, he says, in three hours or two hours, which is something
of an exaggeration of the shortest duration mentioned by the nuncio and
the Venetian envoy in their letters of the 1st and 6th August. Another
general statement may be suspected of even greater exaggeration: “For in
some one town half the people died, and in some other town the third part,
the sweat was so fervent and the infection so great.” The sweat lasted, he
says, to the middle of December. Stow, in his _Annals_, more correctly
states that the plague came in the end of the year, after the sweat. The
plague was much the more deadly infection of the two; but even plague and
sweat together, and at their worst, would hardly have destroyed one-half
or one-third of the inhabitants of a town.

The Fourth Sweat in 1528.

As the despatches of the nuncio and the Venetian envoy in London give the
best accounts of the sweat of 1517, it is in the despatches of the French
ambassador, Du Bellay, that we find the most serviceable particulars of
the sweat in 1528. Du Bellay, bishop of Bayonne, and a witty diplomatist,
was in London through the whole of it, and during that time sent letters
to Paris, in three of which the sweat is a principal topic. From many
other state letters of the time various particulars may be gathered, and
in one letter by Brian Tuke, one of the king’s ministers, we find some
theorizings about the disease. The outbreak befell at the time when Henry
VIII.’s passion for Mistress Anne Boleyn, sister to one of the ladies of
the Court, was waxing strong; it had the effect of parting the lovers for
several weeks, the distance between them having been bridged over by an
interchange of tender notes, of which those of the king remain open to the
prying eyes of posterity.

The sweat is heard of as early as the 5th of June, 1528, when Brian Tuke
writes to Tunstall, bishop of London, that he had fled to Stepney “for
fear of the infection,” a servant being ill at his house. The sickness
must have made little talk for some ten days longer. On the 18th June, Du
Bellay writes that it had made its appearance “within these four
days[500].” On the 16th, the king at Greenwich was alarmed by the
intelligence that a maid of Anne Boleyn’s had been attacked by it[501]. He
left in great haste for Waltham, and sent the young lady to her father’s
in Kent. “As yet,” writes Du Bellay, “the love has not abated. I know not,
if absence and the difficulties of Rome may effect anything.” The king
wrote to her at once: “There came to me in the night the most afflicting
news possible.... I fear to suffer yet longer that absence which has
already given me so much pain.” He sends his second physician (Dr Butts)
to her. The alarm about her health seems to have been uncalled for just
then, although both she and her father caught the disease within a few
days. By the 18th June, according to the French envoy, some 2000 had
caught the sickness in London. It is, he says, a most perilous disease:
“one has a little pain in the head and heart; suddenly a sweat begins; and
a physician is useless, for whether you wrap yourself up much or little,
in four hours, sometimes in two or three, you are despatched without
languishing as in those troublesome fevers.” The day before, on going to
swear the truce, he saw the people “as thick as flies rushing from the
streets or shops into their houses to take the sweat whenever they felt
ill.... In London, I assure you, the priests have a better time than the
doctors, except that the latter do not help to bury. If this thing goes
on, corn will soon be cheap. [The season was one of scarcity.] It is
twelve [eleven] years since there was such a visitation, when there died
10,000 persons in ten or twelve days; but it was not so bad as this has
been.” Writing again, twelve days after, on the 30th June, he says that
some 40,000 had been attacked in London, only 2000 of whom had died; “but
if a man only put his hand out of bed during the twenty-four hours, it
becomes as stiff as a pane of glass”--that is to say, by keeping
themselves carefully covered, as we learn also from Polydore Virgil’s
history and letters on the sweat of 1517, they greatly increased the
chance of recovery. In his third despatch, 21st July, he says the danger
begins to diminish hereabout and to increase elsewhere; in Kent it is very
great. Anne Boleyn and her father have sweated, but have got over it. The
notaries have had a fine time of it, nearly everyone having made his will,
as those who took the disease in its fatal form “became quite foolish the
moment they fell ill.” His estimate of 100,000 wills is, of course, a
humorous exaggeration. The sweat had been at its height in London,
according to its wont, for only a few weeks, mostly in July. On the 21st
of August one writes from London that “the plague at this day is well
assuaged, and little or nothing heard thereof.” From other parts of
England there are few particulars of the sweat of 1528. We hear of it at
Woburn on the 26th June, in a nunnery at Wilton on the 18th July, at
Beverley on the 22nd July--it is reported as very serious in Yorkshire
generally,--at Cambridge on the 27th July, and at several places in Kent
about the same date. The “infection” at Dover as late as the 27th
September may not have been the sweat, but the ordinary bubo-plague. But
it is probably to the sweat that the deaths of four priests and two
lay-brothers at Axholme, in Lincolnshire, are to be referred, as well as
the heavy mortality in the Charterhouse, London[502].

As in the previous sweat of 1517, the letters of the time give us many
glimpses of the invasion of great households in and around London,
including the king’s.

When the French ambassador was walking with Wolsey in his garden at York
Place (Whitehall) on a day in June, word was brought to the cardinal that
five or six of his household had taken the sweat, and the diplomatic
interview was brought to an abrupt end. Du Bellay writes again in July
that only four men in Wolsey’s great house remained well. Among those in
his household who died of it were a brother of lord Derby and a nephew of
the duke of Norfolk. The cardinal, who had suffered from the sweat and its
relapses in 1517, fled from it to Hampton Court on the 30th June, and shut
himself up there with only a few attendants, having previously adjourned
the law courts and stopped the assizes. On the 21st of July, Du Bellay
writes that it was almost impossible to get access to Wolsey, and suggests
that he might have to speak with him at Hampton Court through a trumpet.
In the same letter the French ambassador refers to the circumstances of
his own attack when he was visiting the archbishop of Canterbury (Warham),
probably at Lambeth: “The day I sweated at my lord of Canterbury’s, there
died eighteen persons in four hours, and hardly anyone escaped but myself,
who am not yet quite strong again.” The bishop of London, Tunstall, writes
to Wolsey from Fulham on the 10th July, that thirteen of his servants were
sick of the sweat at once on St Thomas’s day; he had caused the public
processions and prayers to be made, which the king had wished for on the
5th July. The governor of Calais writes on the 10th July: “The sweat has
arrived and has attacked many.” Only two were dead, a Lancashire gentleman
and a fisherman; but in a second letter of the same night, four more are
dead, of whom two “were in good health yestereven when they went to their
beds.” Various other letters about the same date make mention of personal
experiences of the sweat, or of domestics attacked, at country houses in
the home counties. The most minute accounts are those for the king’s

On the 16th June the king had left Greenwich hurriedly for Waltham. In a
letter to Anne Boleyn, he writes that, when he was at Waltham, two ushers,
two valets-de-chambre, George Boleyn and Mr Treasurer (Fitzwilliam) fell
ill of the sweat, and are now quite well. “The doubt I had of your health
troubled me extremely, and I should scarcely have had any quiet without
knowing the certainty; but since you have felt nothing, I hope it is with
you as with us.” He had removed to Hunsdon (on 20th or 21st June) “where
we are very well, without one sick person. I think if you would retire
from Surrey, as we did, you would avoid all danger. Another thing may
comfort you: few women have this illness, and moreover none of our court,
and few elsewhere, have died of it.” When Brian Tuke went to Hunsdon on
the 21st June, the king spoke to him “of the advantages of this house, and
its wholesomeness at this time of sickness.” Two days after, Tuke having
business with the king, found him “in secret communication with his
physician, Mr Chambre, in a tower where he sometimes sups apart.” The king
conversed with his minister about the latter’s ill-health (seemingly
stone), and showed him remedies, “as any most cunning physician in England
could do.” As to the infection, the king spoke of how folk were taken, how
little danger there was if good order be observed, how few were dead, how
Mistress Anne and my lord Rochford (her father) both have had it, what
jeopardy they have been in by the turning in of the sweat before the time,
of the endeavours of Mr Butts who had been with them, and finally of their
perfect recovery. The king sends advice to Wolsey to use “the pills of
Rhazes” once a week, and, if it come to it, to sweat moderately and to the
full time, without suffering it to run in. But the king’s optimist views
of the malady were quickly disturbed. William Cary, married to Anne
Boleyn’s sister, died of the sweat suddenly at Hunsdon, having just
arrived from Plashey, and two others of the Chamber, Poyntz and Compton,
died about the same time either there or at Hertford, whither the king
removed. On the evening of the 26th June there fell sick at Hertford, the
marquis and marchioness of Dorset, sir Thomas Cheyney, Croke, Norris and
Wallop. The king hastily left for Hatfield, on the 28th June, where still
others appear to have taken the sickness. Du Bellay, writing on the 30th,
says all but one of the Chamber have been attacked. From Hatfield the king
went at once to Tittenhanger, a country house which belonged to Wolsey as
abbot of St Albans, and there he elected to take his chance of the sweat,
keeping up immense fires to destroy the infection. On the 7th July, Dr
Bell writes from Tittenhanger to Wolsey that “none have had the sweat here
these three days except Mr Butts.” Two days later, however, the
marchioness of Exeter “sweated,” and the king ordered all who were of the
marquis’s company to depart, he himself removing as far as Ampthill,
whence he thought of removing on the 22nd July to Grafton, but was
prevented by the prevalence of the infection there. Shortly after Anne
Boleyn returned to the court. It is clearly to the period of her return
that an undated letter of hers to Wolsey belongs; after writing a few
formal lines to make interest with the cardinal, she took her letter to
the king for him to add a postscript, which was as follows: “Both of us
desire to see you, and are glad to hear you have escaped the plague so
well, trusting the fury of it is abated, especially with those that keep
good diet as I trust you do.”

Although the attacks mentioned in the correspondence of the time are many,
the deaths are few. A letter of Brian Tuke’s to Wolsey’s secretary, on the
14th July, takes a somewhat sceptical line about the whole matter. His
wife has “passed the sweat,” but is very weak, and is broken out at the
mouth and other places. He himself “puts away the sweat” from himself
nightly (directly against the king’s advice to him), though other people
think they would kill themselves thereby. He had done that during the last
sweat and this, feeling sure that, as long as he is not first sick, the
sweat is rather provoked by disposition of the time, and by keeping men
close, than by any infection, although the infection was a reality.
Thousands have it from fear, who need not else sweat, especially if they
observe good diet. He believes that it proceeds much of men’s opinion. It
has been brought from London to other parts by report; for when a whole
man comes from London and talks of the sweat, the same night all the town
is full of it, and thus it spreads as the fame runs. Children, again,
lacking this opinion, have it not, unless their mothers kill them by
keeping them too hot if they sweat a little. It does not go to Gravelines
when it is at Calais, although people go from the one place to the other.

The English Sweat on the Continent in 1529[503].

Whether the sweat went at length to Gravelines or other places in that
direction does not appear; but there is abundant evidence that it showed
itself in the course of the following year (1529) in many parts of the
Continent, excepting France, and that its outbreak was often attended with
a heavy mortality. It was observed in Calais, as we have seen, on the 10th
of July, 1528. But it is not until the year after, on the 25th of July,
1529, that we hear of it again,--at Hamburg, where a thousand persons are
said to have died of it within four or five weeks, most of them within
nine days. On the 31st July it was at Lübeck, and about the same time at
Bremen and the neighbouring ancient town of Verden; on 14th August in
Mecklenburg; at Stettin on the 27th August, and at Wismar, Demmin,
Rostock, Stralsund, and Greifswald about the same date; in Danzig on the
1st September; Königsberg, on the 8th; and so eastwards to Livonia in
1530, and to Lithuania, Poland and Russia, the information for which
countries is vague. Copenhagen also suffered from it, and towns in the
interior of East Prussia, such as Thorn and Kulm. Meanwhile the sweat had
proceeded by way of Hanover and Göttingen, about the middle of August
afflicting also Brunswick, Lüneburg, Waldeck, Hadeln, Einbeck, Westphalia,
the valley of the Weser, and East Friesland. It reached Frankfurt on the
11th September, Worms shortly after, and Marburg at the end of the month,
breaking up the conference there between Luther and Zwingli, and their
respective adherents, on the doctrine of the Eucharist. Jülich, Liege and
Cologne were reached about the middle of September, and Speyer about the
24th, Augsburg (where there was a most severe and protracted epidemic) on
the 6th, Strasburg on the 24th. Freiburg in Breisgau, Mühlhausen and
Gebweiler in Alsace, in October. In November, the sickness overran
Wurtemberg, Baden, the Upper Rhine, the Palatinate, and the shores of the
Lake of Constance. Among the other German provinces visited in due order
were Franconia, Thuringia, Saxony, the Saxon Metal Mountains, Meissen,
Mannsfeld, Halberstadt, Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Lusatia, the Mark of
Brandenburg, and Silesia. In Vienna the sweat prevailed during the siege
by Sultan Soliman from the 22nd September to the 14th October. At Berne it
is heard of in December, and at Basle in January 1530. The Low Countries
had not been affected so soon as their nearness to England might have led
one to expect: the sickness is said to have approached them from the Rhine
in the latter half of September. They suffered severely, one of the
heaviest mortalities being reported for the town of Zierikzee, where three
thousand are said to have died subsequent to the 3rd of October, 1529.

In this remarkable progress over the mainland of Europe, France was
conspicuously avoided. The sweat does not appear to have entered Spain,
nor to have crossed the Alps. But all the rest of the Continent, from the
Rhine to the Oder (if not farther east) and from the Baltic to the Alps,
was reached by the English sweat in much the same way as if it had been an
influenza reversing the order of its usual direction. There need be no
hesitation as to the correctness of the diagnosis; the disease was
described by several foreign writers from their own observation, and their
descriptions agree entirely with those of Forrestier, in 1485, of Polydore
Virgil, perhaps for the epidemics of 1508 and 1517, and of the
letter-writers who were describing the epidemic of the year before (1528),
as they saw it in and around London. The striking thing in the accounts
from the continent is the enormous range of its fatality; in some towns
the proportion of deaths to cases was hardly more than in influenza, while
in others it was the death-rate of a peculiarly pestilential or malignant
typhus; and those differences cannot have depended wholly upon the method
of treatment.

These full accounts of the English sweat on the continent of Europe in
1529 are in striking contrast to the meagre records of it at home. They
were compiled first in 1805 from the numerous contemporary chronicles, and
printed pamphlets or fly-sheets on the sweat, by Gruner, professor at
Jena, in his _Itinerary of the English Sweat_, and his _Extant writers on
the English Sweat_, published in Latin[504]. In 1834 Hecker went over the
ground again in his well-known essay, improving somewhat upon the positive
erudition of Gruner, but at the same time hazarding a number of doubtful
interpretative statements, especially as to the sweat in England, for
which the meagreness of the English records then available may be his
excuse. The erudition of Gruner, Hecker and Häser deserves every
acknowledgement; but it is of value more especially for the extension of
the sweat to the continent of Europe in 1529, where it had abundant
materials at its service, in chronicles, printed essays, and “regiments.”
There are extant no fewer than twenty-one printed essays or sheets of
directions on the English sweat, which were issued from the German,
Netherlands, or Swiss presses between the month of October 1529 and the
month of June 1531, two or three of them being in Latin and most of them
brief summaries in the native tongue for popular use. The corresponding
epidemic in England did not call forth a single piece by any medical man,
so far as is known. Nor does the English treatment appear to have lost
anything thereby; for it was based upon the profitable experience of
previous epidemics as embodied in oral tradition. Down to the fifth
epidemic in 1551, the only English writing on the sweat so far as is known
was the manuscript of 1485, by Forrestier. Almost all that we know of the
epidemics in England in 1508, 1517 and 1528 comes from Bernard André’s
annals and Polydore Virgil’s history, and from the despatches of the
apostolic nuncio, the Venetian ambassador and the French ambassador. The
fifth and last outbreak, in 1551, called forth two native writings, one
for popular use in English in 1552, and another in Latin in 1555, both by
Dr Caius, physician to Henry VIII. and Edward VI.; these are indeed better
than nothing at all, but they are too much occupied with pedantry and
lugubrious rhetoric to be of much service for historical purposes[505].
The information about the epidemic of 1551 is so scanty as to suggest that
the sickness in that year can hardly have been so severe as in 1528; the
state papers contain hardly anything relating to it, and we owe nearly all
our knowledge of it to the diary of Machyn, a citizen of London, to Edward
VI.’s diary, and to Dr Caius. Bills of mortality had been kept in London
for two or three weeks when the epidemic was at its height, from which
some totals of deaths are extant.

The Fifth Sweat in 1551.

It was not in London that the sweat of 1551 began, but at Shrewsbury--on
the 22nd of March, according to the manuscript chronicle of that
town[506], or on the 15th of April, according to Caius[507]. No record
remains of its prevalence at Shrewsbury; the statement of Caius, that some
900 deaths had occurred in a single city corresponds to the facts for
London, and has no more reference to Shrewsbury (where Caius never
resided) than it has to Norwich (as in Blomefield’s county history). The
strange influence in the air or soil advanced from Salop, as we learn from
Caius, by way of Ludlow, Presteign, Westchester, Coventry and Oxford, in
only one of which places is anything known of it except Caius’s remark
that it proceeded “with great mortality.” The best record of its
prevalence on the way from Shrewsbury to London occurs in the parish
register of Loughborough, in Leicestershire. Under the date of June, 1551,
the register has an entry that “the swat called New Acquaintance, alias
Stoupe! Knave and know thy Master, began on the 24th of this month.” Then
follow the names of 12 persons who were buried in four days, and, on the
next page, under the heading of “The Sweat or New Acquaintance,” the names
of 7 more, all buried in three days--making a total of 19 in six days,
presumably all dead of the sweat and presumably also the whole mortality
from it in Loughborough, which had far heavier mortalities from the common
plague in after years[508].

The date of its arrival at Oxford, on the way to London, is not known; but
a physician then resident there, Dr Ethredge, has left it on record that
it attacked sixty in Oxford in one night, and next day more than a hundred
in the villages around; very few died of it at Oxford, which showed that
the air of that university was more salubrious than at Cambridge, where
the two sons of the duchess of Suffolk died[509].

The sweat appeared suddenly in London about the beginning of July, and had
a short but active career of some three weeks. Deaths from it began to be
mentioned on the 7th, and are entered in the king’s (Edward VI.’s) diary
as having amounted on the 10th to the number of 120, in the London
district, including “one of my nobles and one of my chamberlains,” so that
“I repaired to Hampton Court with only a small company.” The royal diarist
says that the victims fell into a delirium and died in that state[510]. On
the 18th July, the king, in Council at Hampton Court, issued an order to
the bishops, that they should “exhort the people to a diligent attendance
at common prayer, and so avert the displeasure of Almighty God, having
visited the realm with the extreme plague of sudden death[511].”

The diary of a London citizen says that “there died in London many
merchants and great rich men and women, and young men and old, of the new
sweat[512].” On the 12th died Sir Thomas Speke, one of the king’s
council, at his house in Chancery Lane; next day died Sir John Wallop “an
old knight and gentle[513],” the same who had survived an attack of the
sweat in 1528 when at Hertford with Henry VIII. It is not clear whether
some other deaths of notables in the same few days were due to the sweat.
Three independent statements are extant of the mortality in London which
had all been taken, doubtless, from the bills regularly compiled. One
gives the deaths “from all diseases” in London from the 8th to the 19th
July as 872, “no more in all, and so the Chancellor is certified[514];”
another gives the deaths “by the sweating sickness” from the 7th to the
20th July as 938[515]; and Caius gives the deaths from the 9th to the 16th
July as 761, “besides those that died on the 7th and 8th days, of whom no
register was kept[516];” by the 30th of July, 142, more had died, by which
time it had practically ceased in London[517]. Caius adds that it next
prevailed in the eastern and northern parts of England until the end of
August, and ceased everywhere before the end of September. The king, in a
letter of the 22nd August, written during his progress, says that the most
part of England at that time was clear of any dangerous or infectious
sickness[518]. Records at York make mention of a great plague in 1551, but
without describing it as the sweat[519]. The event which excited most
attention was the death by the sweat of the two sons of the widowed
duchess of Suffolk, the young duke Henry and his brother lord Charles
Brandon on the 16th of July. They had been taken from Cambridge, for fear
of the sweat, to the bishop of Lincoln’s palace at Bugden, in
Huntingdonshire, their mother accompanying them; they fell ill
immediately upon their arrival, the elder dying after an illness of five
hours and his brother half an hour after him[520].

Besides the cases of the two noble youths and others at Cambridge[521],
there are no particulars of its prevalence in “the eastern and northern
parts of England” (Caius). But we hear of it in the register of a country
parish in Devonshire, under the same name of “Stup-gallant” as in the
Loughborough register; and it is probable that those two casual notices
indicate its diffusion all over England in the manner of influenza. That
conclusion may find some support in the statement of one Hancocke,
minister of Poole, Dorset, that “God had plagued this realm most justly
with three notable plagues: (1) The Posting Sweat, that posted from town
to town thorow England and was named ‘Stop-gallant,’ for it spared none.
For there were some dancing in the Court at nine o’clock that were dead at
eleven[522].” Its occurrence in Devonshire is proved by entries in the
parish register of Uffculme: the whole burials in the year 1551 are 38;
and of these no fewer than 27 occur in the first eleven days of August,
and 16 of them in three days, the disease of which those persons died
being named, in the register, “the hote sickness or stup-gallant[523].”

Comparing these records of the sweat of 1551 with those of the years 1517
and 1528, we may conclude that the latest of those three outbreaks was not
more severe than the earlier, and that, in the Court circle, it was
probably milder. The gloomy rhetoric of Caius had led Hecker to construct
a picture of its disastrous progress along the valley of the Severn, in
which there is not a single authentic detail. Caius says that he was a
witness of it, but that must have been in London; and the figures for
London, although they indicate a very sharp epidemic while it lasted, do
not suggest a mortality greater at least than that of 1528. The Venetian
ambassador in writing a general memoir on England four years after, says
that all business was suspended in London, the shops closed and nothing
attended to but the preservation of life; but as he makes a gross
exaggeration in stating the deaths in London at 5000 “during the three
first days of its appearance,” we may take it that his impressions were
vague or his recollections grown dim[524].

Were it not for the isolated notices of the sweat in Leicestershire and
Devonshire, we should hardly have been able to realize that country towns
and villages had been visited by an epidemic which was appalling both by
its suddenness and by its fatality while it lasted. The name of
“Stop-gallant,” by which it is called in these parish registers, shows the
sort of impression which it made; but so far as the mortality is
concerned, that was often equalled, if not exceeded, in after years by
forms of epidemic fever which had nothing of the sweating type, although
they might also have been called “stop-gallant,” and indeed were so-called
in France (_trousse-galante_).

Apart from the notices in parish registers, we have the generalities of Dr
Caius, which amount to no more than a funereal essay, in the scholastic
manner, upon the theme of sudden death. It may be doubted whether Caius
really knew the facts about the disease in the country. The 27 deaths
within a few days in a small Devonshire village and the 19 in six days in
a small Leicestershire town, are hardly to be reconciled with the
statement in his Latin treatise of 1555, that “women and serving folk, the
plebeian and humble classes, even the middle class,” did not feel it, but
the “proceres” or upper classes did: they fled from it, he says, to
Belgium, France, Ireland and Scotland. It was for these that he was
chiefly concerned; and when he approaches his rhetorical task with the
remark that “nothing is more difficult than to find suitable words for a
great grief,” we may take it that he was thinking rather of such moving
cases as that of the widowed duchess of Suffolk, who had lost her two sons
in one day, than of wide-spread sickness and death throughout the homes of
the people.

Nothing more is heard of the sweat in England after the autumn of 1551, at
least not under that name. Francis Keene, an “astronomer,” prophesied in
his almanack for 1575, that the sweat would return, “wherein he erred not
much,” says Cogan[525], “as there were many strange fevers and nervous
sickness.” Some years before that, in 1558 (a year after influenza
abroad), there prevailed in summer “divers strange and new sicknesses,”
among which was a “sweating sickness,” so described by Dr John Jones, who
had it at Southampton. We are, indeed, approaching the period of frequent
and widespread epidemics of fever and of influenza, in both which types of
disease sweating was occasionally a notable symptom, as in the influenza
of 1580 abroad, in the fatal typhus of 1644 at Tiverton, in the widespread
English fevers of 1658, and in the London typhus as late as 1750. How
those other types of fever, due as if to a “corruption of the air,” are
related generically to the English sweat is a question upon which
something remains to be said before this chapter is concluded. But the
history of the English sweat comes to a definite end with the epidemic of
1551. Sweating sickness of the original sort was never again the _signum
pathognomicum_ of a whole epidemic of fever. The English Sweat became an
extinct species, after a comparatively brief existence on the earth of
sixty-six years. Its successors among the forms of pestilential disease
may have occasionally put forth the sweating character, as if in a sport
of nature; but the most of the travelling, or posting, or universal
fevers, and universal colds, are easily distinguished from the
sweat--_nova febrium terris incubuit cohors_[526].

Antecedents of the English Sweat.

The history of the English sweat presents to the student of epidemics much
that is paradoxical although not without parallel, and much that his
research can never rescue from uncertainty. Where did this hitherto
unheard of disease come from? Where was it in the intervals from 1485 to
1508, from 1508 to 1517, from 1517 to 1528, and from 1528 to 1551? What
became of it after 1551? Why did it fall mostly on the great houses,--on
the king’s court, on the luxurious establishments of prelates and nobles,
on the richer citizens, on the lusty and well fed, for the most part
sparing the poor? Why did it avoid France when it overran the Continent in
1529? No theory of the sweat can be held sufficient which does not afford
some kind of answer to each of those questions, and some harmonizing of
them all.

The history of Polydore Virgil is so well informed on all that relates to
the arrival in England of Henry VII. that we may accept as the common
belief of the time his two statements about the sweat, the first
associating it in some vague way with the descent of Henry upon Wales, and
the second pronouncing it a disease hitherto unheard of in England. Caius,
who wrote in 1552 and 1555, and can have had no other knowledge of the
events of 1485 than is open to a historical student of to-day, said that
the sweat “arose, so far as can be known, in the army of Henry VII., part
of which he had lately brought together in France, and part of which had
joined him in Wales.” Hecker, the modern reconstructer of the history
(1834), has passed from the tradition of Polydore Virgil and of Caius,
clean into the region of conjecture in assuming that the sweat had arisen
among the French mercenaries on the voyage and on the march to Bosworth.
On the other hand, the one contemporary medical writer in 1485,
Forrestier, is explicit enough in his statement that the sweat “first
unfurled its banners in England in the city of London, on the 19th of
September,” or some three weeks after Henry’s entry into the city. There
is nowhere a hint that it was prevalent among the troops, whether French,
Welsh or English, who won the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August,
the only pretext for asserting that it was prevalent in the neighbourhood
before the battle being the gossip of the Croyland chronicle concerning
lord Stanley’s excuse to Richard III. for not bringing up his men, which
gossip probably arose soon after when the sweat became notorious. Croyland
was not very far from the camp of the Stanleys; and yet we know for
certain (with the help of the state papers) that the death of the abbot
Lambert Fossedike from the sweat happened there after an illness of
eighteen hours on the 14th October, some seven or eight weeks from the
date of Bosworth Field, and some three or four weeks after the outbreak of
the disease in London. The probabilities of the case are all in favour of
Forrestier’s view that the first of the sweat in 1485 was its appearance
in London; and we shall accordingly take that as our point of departure.

Henry covered the distance between Leicester and London in four days,
having left the former, after a rest of two nights, on the Wednesday,
slept at St Albans on the Friday, and entered London, very tired by his
journey (says Bernard André), on Saturday evening, 27th August, three
weeks to a day from his landing at Milford Haven. Whether his whole force
travelled from Leicester at the same pace, and entered the city with him,
does not appear; but it can hardly be doubted that Henry’s following,
French, Welsh and English, had found their way to London without loss of
time, to make personal suit for the grants and patents that began to be
issued under the royal seal in immense numbers after the first or second
week in September. London must have been unusually full of people in the
weeks before the Coronation on the 30th October. But the pestilence that
broke out was not the “common infection” or plague, which might
intelligibly have been fanned into a flame by a great concourse of people.
It was the sweat,--a new disease, a stranger not only to England but to
all the world. We shall understand the mysteriousness of the visitation
and the inadequacy of all ordinary explanations, by taking Forrestier’s
account of the causes of it, drawn up in the year of its first occurrence.

Although this earliest writer on the sweat recognized its distinctive type
quite clearly, making no confusion between it and the plague, yet he
referred both diseases to the same set of causes; and in his section on
the causes of the sweat he merely reproduces the conventional list of
nuisances which occurs in nearly all treatises on the plague before and
after his time. There was little variation from that list, as it is given
in the last chapter from a plague-book of the 14th century, down even to
the reign of Elizabeth; thus it is reproduced almost word for word in
Bullein’s _Dialogue on the Fever Pestilence_ written in 1564 (the year
after a great plague), and it is so uniform in Elyot’s _Castle of Health_,
in Phaer’s, and in all the other hygienic manuals of the time, that it
might almost have been stereotyped. This was the causation which
Forrestier transferred bodily to the sweat in his manuscript of 1485;
almost the same causation had been given in the old essay of the bishop of
Aarhus on the plague, actually printed in London in 1480.

    “The causes of this sickness,” he says, “be far and nigh. The far
    causes--they be the signs or the planets, whose operation is not known
    of leeches and of phisitions; but of astronomers they be known.... The
    nigh causes be the stynkynge of the erthe as it is in many places....
    For these be great causes of putrefaction: and this corrupteth the
    air, and so our bodies are infect of that corrupt air.... And it
    happeneth also, that specially where the air is changed into great
    heat and moistness, they induceth putrefaction of humours, and namely
    in the humours of the heart; and so cometh this pestilence, whose
    coming is unknown, as to them that die sodenley, &c.”

Among the causes of the corruption he specially mentions the following,
which probably had a real existence in the London of that time, although
he is merely reproducing a stock paragraph of foreign origin:

    “And of stinking carrion cast into the water nigh to cities or
    towns,--as the bellies of beasts and of fishes, and the corruption of
    privies--of this the water is corrupt. And when as meat is boiled, and
    drink made of the water, many sickness is gendered in man’s body; and
    [so] also of the casting of stinking waters and many other foul things
    in the streets, the air is corrupt; and of keeping of stinking matters
    in houses or in latrines long time; and then, in the night, of those
    things vapour is lift up into the air, the which doth infect the
    substance of the air, by the which substance the air corrupts and
    infects men to die suddenly, going by the streets or by the way. Of
    the which thing let any man that loveth God and his neighbour amend.”

He then mentions a more distant source of corrupt air, apt to be carried
on the wind--the corruption of unburied bodies after a battle, which
enters into all the plague-writings of the time.

These things were, of course, insufficient to account for the special type
of the sweat, or for its sudden outbreak, for the first time in history,
in September, 1485. There may have been such favouring conditions in
London at the time; something of the kind is indeed implied in Henry
VII.’s order against the nuisance of the shambles a few years after; but
we require a special factor, without which the unsavoury state of the
streets, lanes, yards, and ditches, or the crowded state of the houses,
would never have come to an issue in so remarkable an infection as the
sweating sickness. Common nuisances were the less relevant to the sweat,
for the reason that it touched the well-to-do classes most, the classes
who suffered least from the “common infection,” or “the poor’s plague,”
and were presumably best housed, or located amidst cleanest surroundings.
Even within the narrow limits of Old London there were preferences of
locality. If the special incidence of the sweat upon the great households
of prelates and nobles, and on the families of wealthy citizens, had
rested only on the testimony of Dr Caius, who has a theory and a moral to
work out, there might have been some reason for the scepticism of
Heberden, who questions whether Caius was not probably in error in saying
that the sweat spared the poor and the wretched, because he knows of no
parallel instance among infective diseases[527]. But the fact is
abundantly illustrated in the details, already given, for each of the five
English epidemics; and it is confirmed for the continental invasion of
1529, e.g. by Kock, a parish priest of Lübeck, who says that “the poor
people, and those living in cellars or garrets were free from the
sickness,” and by Renner, of Bremen, who says that it “went most among the
rich people[528].” It was, indeed, owing to its being an affliction
chiefly of the upper classes that the sweat has been so much heard of. So
far as mere numbers went, all the five London epidemics together could not
have caused so great a mortality as the plague caused in a single year of
Henry VII., namely the year 1500, or in a single year of Henry VIII., such
as the year 1513. But these great mortalities from plague, amounting to
perhaps a fifth part of the whole London population in a single season,
fell mainly, although not of course exclusively, upon the poorer class.
The bubo-plague, domesticated on English soil from 1348 to 1666, was
emphatically the “poor’s plague,” and, as such, it illustrated the usual
law of infective disease, namely that it specially befell those who were
the worst housed, the worst fed, the hardest pressed in the struggle, and
the least able to find the means of escaping to the country when the
infection in the city gave warning of an outbreak on the approach of warm

But _morbus pauperum_ is not the only principle of infective disease.
There are pestilent infections which do not come readily under the law of
poor, uncleanly and negligent living, in any ordinary sense of the words;
and there are some communicable diseases which directly contradict the
principle that infection falls upon those who engender it by their mode of
life. Unwholesome conditions of living may be trusted to engender disease,
but it does not follow that the infection so engendered will fall upon
those who lead the unwholesome lives; sometimes it falls upon the class
who are farthest removed from them in social circumstances or domestic
habits, or who are widely separated from them in racial characters. This
principle I believe to be not only a necessary complement to the more
obvious rule, but to be itself one of wide application. It has been an
original theme of my own in former writings, to which I take leave to
refer in a note[529]; and, I have now to try here whether it may not suit
the rather paradoxical and certainly mysterious circumstances of the
sweating sickness on its first outbreak in the autumn of 1485.

If the insanitary state of London were insufficient to explain the
engendering of the disease, the next thing is to look for a foreign
source. Suspicion falls at once upon the foreign mercenaries who landed
with Henry Tudor at Milford Haven on the 6th of August. Who were these
mercenaries? Did they suffer from any contagious disease? Were they likely
to have engendered the sweat? Can the infection be traced, in matter of
fact, to them? In seeking an answer, it will be necessary to enter
somewhat fully into the history of the expedition.

The earl of Richmond’s successful expedition in 1485 was his second
attempt on the English crown. The first had been made in 1483, when the
duke of Gloucester was hardly seated on the throne and the duke of
Buckingham was in the field against him. Richmond’s army on that occasion
had been furnished by the duke of Brittany, and is roughly estimated at
5000 men in 15 ships[530]; the expedition sailed from St Malo in October,
encountered a storm in the Channel which scattered the fleet, and drove
some of the ships back to the harbours of Brittany and Normandy, so that
Richmond, having reached the Dorset coast with only one or two ships, was
unable to land in force. He returned to a Norman port, and nothing more is
heard of his army of Bretons; during the next two years he appears to have
been left with no other following than two or three English nobles, among
them the earl of Oxford, who afterwards led a division of his army at
Bosworth. After repeated solicitation, he obtained in 1485 a small
body-guard (_leve praesidium_) from the regents of Charles VIII. at Paris,
a few pieces of artillery, and money to help pay for the transport of 3000
or 4000 men. With these resources he betook himself to Rouen in the summer
of 1485 and began to fit out his expedition. It would appear that he found
some difficulty in making up his force to the intended full complement,
and that he was urged by the impatience of his followers and the chance of
a fair wind to leave the Seine with what force he had on the 31st of July.
His force of Frenchmen, under his kinsman de Shandé (afterwards earl of
Bath), consisted of only 2000 men, crowded on board a few ships. It is a
fair inference that the men had been recruited in and around Rouen; we
are told, indeed, by Mezeray that Normandy was at that time infested by
bands of _francs-archers_ who had been licensed by Louis XI., and that the
ministers of Charles VIII. gave them to Henry Tudor, to the number of
3000, regarding the proposed expedition of the latter as a good
opportunity of ridding the province of Normandy of a lawless and
disreputable soldiery[531].

These, then, were the mercenaries who landed at Milford Haven on the 6th
of August, were at once marched through Wales to Shrewsbury and Lichfield,
and took a principal part in the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August.
They were Normans, who had become so great a pest to their own province
that Charles VIII.’s ministers were induced to take up Henry Tudor’s cause
partly with the intention of ridding French territory of them. Their
quality is plainly indicated in the speech just before the battle by
Richard III., which had been composed for Hall’s chronicle; only they were
not Bretons, as the speech makes out; they were Normans, recruited for the
expedition in Rouen and the surrounding country.

I have given so much emphasis to the nationality of these mercenaries
because the theory of the English sweat turns upon it[532]. More than two
centuries after Bosworth Field, about the year 1717, when the English
sweat had been long forgotten, an almost identical type of disease began
to show itself among the villages and towns of that very region of France,
the lower basin of the Seine, where the mercenaries of 1485 had been

A form of Sweat afterwards endemic in Normandy.

The Picardy sweat, which was first noticed as a disease of the soil about
the year 1717, and has continued off and on down to recent years, was
indigenous to the departments in the basin of the Seine, from the Pas de
Calais to Calvados, with Rouen as a centre. Why that strange form of
sickness should have sprung up there and continued, now in one town or
village now in another, with few blank years for a century and a half, no
one can venture to say. It was not the English sweat in all its
circumstances; on the contrary it was only rarely epidemic over a large
population or a large tract of country at once. It was ordinarily limited
to one or two spots at a time, and in the individuals affected it ran a
longer course than the English sweat had done. But whenever it did become
widely prevalent it also became a short and sharp infection like the
English sweat, causing in some years a very considerable number of deaths.
Distinctively the Picardy sweat was a somewhat mild sickness of a week or
more, seldom fatal, distinctively also of a single town or village, or
small group of villages. It was not unknown in some other parts of France,
such as the Vosges and Languedoc, in Bavaria and in Northern Italy; but in
these other localities it has been much more occasional or even rare. Its
distinctive habitat for a century and a half has been the lower basin of
the Seine; and there it has been so steady at one point or another from
year to year throughout the whole of that period that it may be said to be
a disease of the soil, indigenous or domesticated, and depending for its
periodic manifestations mostly upon vicissitudes of the seasons, as
affecting probably the rise and fall of the ground-water. It has been more
a disease of the well-to-do bourgeois class than of the very poor, and it
has often shown a preference for the cleaner villages. It has been the
subject of a very large number of French writings from the year 1717 down
almost to the present date. Strange as this form of disease is, neither
its circumstances nor its nosological characters are left in any doubt; it
is at once mysterious and perfectly familiar[533].

Theory of the English Sweat.

I have been at some pains to show that Henry Tudor’s mercenaries were
enlisted in and around Rouen, or, in other words, they came from that very
district of France in which the sweat, in a somewhat modified form, began
to make its appearance as an endemic malady two hundred and thirty years
after. If the sweat had not become an endemic or standing disease there,
as if native to the soil, or if it had become equally a disease of all
other parts of Europe, as typhoid fever has, the coincidence would have
been less striking, and might have been made to appear altogether
irrelevant by the long interval of more than two centuries between the one
event and the other. If it were a mere coincidence, we should conclude
that the same causes which established in Normandy in the 18th century a
steady prevalence of a sweating sickness, not unlike the more familiar
prevalence of typhoid, had been at work on English soil more than two
centuries earlier, not indeed to establish a form of sweating sickness
steadily prevalent from year to year in one place or another, like the
plague, but to induce five sharp epidemic outbursts, within a period of
sixty-six years, four of which outbursts began in London and extended
probably over the whole country, while one began in Shrewsbury, travelled
by stages to London, and spread all over England. And, as we are ignorant
of the things which determine the type of the endemic sweat of Normandy or
Picardy down to the present day, we can neither deny nor affirm that there
may have been corresponding factors of disease at work in the England of
Henry VII. By such a line of reasoning we are brought to a view of the
English sweat which precludes all farther inquiry and makes a permanent
blank or maze in our knowledge. Let us try, however, whether the facts of
the case do not better fall in with the view that the English sweat had a
real relation to the seats of the Norman and Picardy sweat, even at a time
when that sweat had not come into existence as a definite form of disease,
and although the French provinces appear to have been spared the invasion
of the epidemic when it overran the rest of Northern Europe in 1529.

The means of communication in 1485 was not wanting, namely the Norman
soldiery of Henry VII. The tradition of their quality is preserved in the
speech composed in Hall’s chronicle for Richard III. before the battle of
Bosworth, and versified somewhat closely by Shakespeare:

  “A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and run-aways,
   A scum of Bretagnes, and base lackey peasants:
   ... Let’s whip these stragglers o’er the seas again;
   Lash hence these over-weening rags of France,
   These famished beggars, weary of their lives.”

There is nothing incredible in the supposition that these men had brought
a disease into London although they had not themselves presented the
symptoms of that disease. Such importations are not unknown; the mystery
hanging over them does not make them the less real. A well-known instance
is the St Kilda boat-cold, “the wonderful story,” as Boswell says, “that
upon the approach of a stranger all the inhabitants catch cold,” a story
which Mr Macaulay, the author of the _History of St Kilda_, had been
advised to leave out of his book. “Sir,” said Dr Johnson, “to leave things
out of a book merely because people tell you they will not be believed, is
meanness: Macaulay acted with more magnanimity.” The St Kilda influenza
has been amply corroborated since then by parallel instances from the more
remote islands of the Pacific, and by striking instances in veterinary
pathology. Among the latter may be quoted the instance which has been
heard of in Shropshire, of “sheep which have been imported from vessels,
although themselves in a healthy condition, if placed in the same fold
with others, frequently producing sickness in the flock[534].” But there
is an instance on a vast scale from the United States, the instance of
Texas cattle-fever, which has recurred so often, and has been so closely
watched on account of the disastrous loss which it causes, that there is
no room left to doubt the reality of that mysterious form of contagion. I
shall have to speak very shortly of the malignant fevers of the assizes,
which spread from prisoners who were not known to be ill of fever; these
incidents are historical from the year 1522, when an epidemic of the kind
arose among the court and grand jury at the gaol delivery in the Castle of
Cambridge. Lastly the history of yellow fever, as expounded in part in
this volume, is an instance of a long-enduring infection arising from the
circumstances of the African slave-trade, the negroes themselves having
been racially exempt from the fever although they had been the source of
the virus.

In all such cases the sickness which ensued among the healthy from contact
with strangers had a more or less definite type; and that type in each
case must have been determined mainly by the antecedents of the strangers,
their racial characters being reckoned among the antecedents as well as
their special hardships and their personal habits. In the case of the
singular visitation of England in 1485, the strangers were a swarm of
disreputable free-booters from Normandy, natives of a soil which developed
the sweat as an indigenous malady in the long course of generations. If
they themselves had shown the symptoms of the sweat in 1485, one might
have said that the circumstances of their passage in crowded ships, of
their exhausting march from Wales to Leicestershire, and thence to London,
had brought to the definite issue of a specific disease that which was
otherwise no more than a habit of body, a constitutional tendency, a
disease in the making. But there is no reason to suppose that they
themselves incurred the symptoms of the disease at all; it was contact
with them in England, particularly in London, that determined the peculiar
type of disease in others. Those others were of a different national
stock, and for the most part of another manner of life; in their very
differences lay their liability, according to well-known analogies. Of
course there must have been something material, something more than
abstract contact, to cause the sweat in certain Englishmen; and although
we cannot image the form of the virulent matter, we are safe to pronounce,
in this hypothesis, that it must have come from the persons of the foreign

The Habitat of the Virus.

We may go even farther in the way of specific probability, and bring the
virus definitely to a habitat in the soil. The English sweat, like the
Picardy sweat itself, had certain characters of a soil poison, like the
poison of cholera, yellow fever and typhoid fever; only it was not endemic
like the two last, but periodic, as well as somewhat volatile in its
manner of travelling, like dengue, influenza, and others of the “posting”
fevers of former times. This brings us to the singular history of the
epidemics of sweat in England,--to the clear intervals of many years and
the sudden bursting forth anew. What became of the specific virus from
1485 to 1508, to 1517 to 1528, to 1551, and after?

A fresh importation in each of the epidemic years after 1485 is
improbable; certainly the circumstances of Henry VII.’s expedition never
occurred again, and the traffic between England and her two French
possessions of Calais and Guines had nothing in it at all analogous.
Equally improbable is the continuance of the sweat in isolated or sporadic
cases from year to year throughout the intervals between the epidemics;
the only facts that give any countenance to such a continuous succession
are the occasionally mentioned “hot agues,” as in 1518, and, on a more
extensive scale, in 1539. The seeds or germs of the infection which arose
first in London in September, 1485, must have lain dormant in the city
until some favouring conditions came round to call them into life. It is
impossible to figure such dormancy of the virus except on the hypothesis
that it was a soil-poison, having its habitat in the pores of the ground.
The periodic activity of all such poisons depends, as we can now say with
a good deal of certainty, upon the movements of the ground-water, which in
turn depend on the wetness or dryness of seasons. The kind of weather
preceding each of the epidemics of the English sweat has been remarked on
by writers, but somewhat loosely or erroneously. The peculiarity of the
year of the second sweat, 1508, (not 1506 as in Hecker, nor 1507 as in
other writers) was a “marvellous” forwardness of vegetation in the month
of January, unusual heat from the end of May to the 13th of June, much
prized rain on that date, on the 16th, and on the 3rd of July[535], the
sweat being heard of first in the Lord Treasurer’s household in July. The
third year of the sweat, 1517, began with a great frost from the 12th
January, so that no boat could go from London to Westminster all the term
time[536], while men crossed with horse and cart from Westminster to
Lambeth[537]. This great frost would appear to have been without snow, the
whole season from September, 1516, to May, 1517, being chronicled as one
of unusual drought, “for there fell no rain to be accounted,” so that “in
some places men were fain to drive their cattle three or four miles to
water.” The kind of weather following the break-up of the drought is not
mentioned, but there is implied of course a certain amount of rain. It was
about the end of July or first of August, 1517, that the sweat began in
London and the suburbs. The fourth, and perhaps the most severe sweat,
that of 1528, followed upon two wet seasons, with one spoiled harvest in
1527 and bad prospects for that of 1528. The winter of 1526-27 had been
unusually wet from November until the end of January; then dry weather set
in until April; after which the rain began again and continued for eight
weeks[538]. The harvest before that seems to have been a partial failure,
for early in 1527 corn began to run short in London, and for a week or
more there was acute general famine, so that the bread carts coming in
from Stratford had to be guarded by the sheriffs and their men all the way
from Mile End to their proper market. The high price of corn continued
into the summer of 1528. The weather of that summer is not specially
recorded for England; but we learn from a diplomatic letter dated, Paris,
the 4th of July, that much rain had fallen and destroyed the corn and
vines, so that there were fears of universal decay and dearth through all
France[539]. On the 5th July, Henry VIII. requests Wolsey to have general
processions made through the realm “for good weather and for the plague,”
the sweat having already been raging for more than a month. The fifth and
last sweat, in 1551, also coincided with an unusually high price of corn,
or, in other words, followed one or more bad harvests. In 1550 wheat was
at 20 shillings the quarter; at Easter in 1551 the price in London was
26_sh._ 8_d._; ten or twelve ship loads of rye and wheat from Holland and
Brittany were sold under the mayor’s direction at a stated but very high
price. Meanwhile the sweat was advancing from Shrewsbury to London, where
it broke out on the 7th July. The statements of Dr Caius about stinking
mists carried from town to town are, like most of his statements, so
obviously the product of his uncritical rhetoric that it becomes almost
impossible to trust his narrative for matters of fact. But we may go so
far as to assume that the first half of 1551 was a season of an unusually
moist atmosphere. At all events the fifth season of the sweat, and also
the fourth (1528), stand out in the annals as years of scarcity following
bad harvests, which had probably failed owing to continuous wet weather.

There is not, on the surface, much uniformity in the weather preceding the
epidemics of the sweat in 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551. In the first of these
the winter was mild and the early summer excessively hot and dry; in the
second the winter and spring were remarkable for drought, with several
weeks of intense black frost in the middle period; in the remaining two
the antecedent appears to have been an excessive rainfall. But in all the
four we shall find that the law of the sub-soil water, as formulated by
the recent Munich school with reference to epidemic outbursts, was
exemplified. According to that law, the dangerous products of fermentation
arise from the soil when the pores of the ground are either getting filled
with water after having been long filled with air, or are getting filled
with air after having been long filled with water. It is the range of
fluctuation in the ground-water, either downwards or upwards, that
determines the risk to health; and in two of the years of the sweat, 1508
and 1517, we find that there had been a rise from a very low level of the
wells, while in the other two, 1528 and 1551, the wells had begun to fall
after standing for a length of time at an unusually high level. If this
reading of the somewhat imperfect data can be trusted, it is at one and
the same time an explanation of the outbreak of the sweat in the
respective seasons, and a confirmation of the hypothesis that the virus of
the sweat had its habitat in the ground. That hypothesis is, indeed,
supported by so great a convergence of probabilities, both for the English
sweat and for the endemic sweat of France[540], that it may be used to
explain the seasonal incidence without laying the argument open to the
charge of running in a vicious circle.

Whatever had been the kind of weather determining the successive outbreaks
of the sweat, it is clear that the favouring circumstances were in general
not the same as those of the bubo-plague. The greater outbursts of plague,
as we shall see, were in 1500, 1509, 1513, 1531, 1535, 1543, 1547, and
other years not sweat-years. It is only in the autumn of 1517 that the
plague overlaps somewhat on the sweat, and even then it becomes noticeable
mostly in the winter following the decline of the sweat. The two poisons
had existed in English soil side by side, but had not come out at the same
seasons; also the sweat had been mostly a disease of the greater houses,
and the plague mostly of the poorer.

The Extinction of the Sweat in England.

The disappearance of the sweat from England after 1551, or its failure to
come out again with the appropriate weather, is one of those phenomena of
epidemic disease which might be made to appear less of a mystery by
finding several more in the like case. A history of all the extinct types
of infective disease would probably bring to light some reason why they
had each and all died out. But an epidemic disease leaves no bones behind
it in the strata; nor has the astonishing progress of science succeeded as
yet in detecting palæozoic bacteria, although that discovery cannot be
delayed much longer. Meanwhile we have to make what we can of the ordinary
records. In our own time, so to speak, the sweat became extinct in 1551,
and the plague in 1666; perhaps someone before long may be able to say
that typhus died out (for a time) in Britain in such and such a year, and
smallpox (for good) in such and such another. The surprising thing is that
an infection which came forth time after time should have one day been
missed as if it were dead. If the sweat had five seasons in England, why
not fifty? Perhaps its career was short because the circumstances of its
origin were transient and, as it were, accidental. But it may have been
also subject to the only law of extinct disease-species which our scanty
knowledge points to--the law of the succession, or superseding, or
supplanting of one epidemic type by another.

Other forms of epidemic fever, in the same pestilential class as the
sweat, were coming to the front in England as well as in other parts of
Europe. Thus, in 1539, a summer of great heat and drought, “divers and
many honest persons died of the hot agues, and of a great laske through
the realm.” The hot agues were febrile influenzas, and the great laske was
dysentery. Again, in the autumn of 1557, there died “many of the
wealthiest men all England through by a strange fever,” according to one
writer[541], or, according to another[542], there prevailed “divers
strange and new sicknesses, taking men and women in their heads, as
strange agues and fevers, whereof many died.” Jones in his _Dyall of
Agues_, describes his own attack near Southampton, in 1558, and calls it
the sweating sickness.

That epidemic corresponded to a great prevalence of “influenza” on the
continent, which was probably as Protean or composite as the fevers in
England. It would not be correct to say that these new fevers or
influenzas, with more or less of a sweating type, were the sweat somewhat
modified. But they seem to have come in succession to the sweat, if not to
have taken its place, or supplanted it. The prevalent types of disease
somehow reflect the social condition of the population; they change with
the social state of the country or of a group of countries; they depend
upon a great number of associated circumstances which it would be hard to
enumerate exhaustively. As early as 1522 we have the gaol fever at
Cambridge, at a time when Henry VIII.’s attempts to repress crime were
come to the strange pass described in More’s _Utopia_. These things remain
for more systematic handling in another chapter; but in concluding the
career of the sweat in England we may pass from it with the remark that it
did not cease until other forms of pestilential fever were ready to take
its place. The same explanation remains to be given of the total
disappearance of plague from England after 1666: it was superseded by
pestilential contagious fever, a disease which was its congener, and had
been establishing itself more and more steadily from year to year as the
conditions of living in the towns were passing more and more from the
medieval type to the modern. Meanwhile we have to take up the thread of
the plague-history where we left it in the reign of Edward IV.



When the town council of York met on the 16th of August, 1485, to take
measures on account of Henry Tudor’s landing in Wales, their first
resolution was to despatch the sergeant to the mace to Richard III. at
Nottingham, with an offer of men (they promised 400 for his army at
Bosworth), and their second resolution was to send at once for all such
aldermen and others of the council as were sojourning without the city on
account of “the plague that reigneth[543].” These leading citizens of York
had gone into the country to avoid the infectious exhalations within the
walls in the summer heats; the plague that reigned in York was the old
bubo-plague, which would show itself in a house here or there in any
ordinary season, and on special occasions would rise to the height of an
epidemic, driving away all who could afford to remove from the pestilent
air of the town to the comparatively wholesome country, and taking its
victims mostly among the poorer class who could not afford a “change of
air.” In the three centuries following the Black Death, change of air
meant a good deal more than it means now. The infection of the air, or the
“intemperies” of the air, at Westminster occasioned (along with other
reasons) the prorogation or adjournment to country towns of many
parliaments; the infection of the air in and around Fleet Street caused
the breaking up of many law terms; and the infection of the air in Oxford
colleges was so constant an interruption to the studies of the place in
the 15th century that Anthony Wood traces to that cause more than to any
other the total decline of learning, the rudeness of manners and the
prevalence of “several sorts of vice, which in time appeared so notorious
that it was consulted by great personages of annulling the University or
else translating it to another place[544].” From the old college
registers, chiefly that of his own college of Merton, he has counted some
thirty pestilences at Oxford, great and small, during the fifteenth
century. The reason why the Oxford annals of plague are so complete is
that each outbreak, even if only one or two deaths had occurred[545],
meant a dispersion of the scholars and tutors of one or more halls and
colleges, their removal in a body to some country house, alteration of the
dates of terms, and postponement of the public Acts for degrees in the
schools. Experience had taught the necessity of such prompt measures. Thus
the first sweat, that of 1485, came so suddenly that it killed many of the
scholars before they could disperse, “albeit it lasted but a month or six
weeks.” Hardly had the halls and colleges begun to fill again after the
dispersion by the sweat of 1485, when “another pestilential disease,” that
is to say, the bubo-plague itself, broke forth at the end of August, 1486,
in Magdalen parish, and daily increased so much that the scholars were
obliged to flee again. In 1491 there was another dispersion; and in 1493
so severe an outbreak of plague from April to Midsummer that many were
swept away, both cleric and laic: Magdalen College removed to Brackley in
Northamptonshire, Oriel to St Bartholomew’s hospital near Oxford, and
Merton to Islip, “instead of Cuxham their usual place of retirement.” The
disastrous fifteenth century closes with a specially severe plague in
1499-1500, in which perished “divers of this university accounted worthy
in these times;” an accompanying scarcity of grain and consequent failure
of scholarships or exhibitions led many students to betake themselves to
mechanical occupations. In August, 1503, the plague broke out again in St
Alban’s Hall; the principal with all but a few of the students went to
Islip, where the pestilence overtook them (three weeks having been spent
first in mirth and jollity), so that several died and were buried, some at
Islip, others at Ellesfield and one at Noke; in October it broke out in
Merton College and drove some of the fellows and bachelors to the lodge in
Stow Wood, others to Wotton near Cumner, where they remained until the
17th December. These interruptions had been so frequent that of fifty-five
halls, only thirty-three were now inhabited, and they “but slenderly, as
may be seen in our registers.” The town of Oxford shared in the decline;
streets and lanes formerly populous were now desolate and forsaken. An
epidemic in 1508, which may have been the second sweat, caused another
dispersion; then the old bubo-plague again in 1510, 1511, 1512 and 1513,
filling up the interval until the summer of 1517, when a “sudor
tabificus,” the third sweat, “dispersed and swept away most, if not all,
of the students.” The bubo-plague followed in the winter and spring,
especially in St Mary Hall and Canterbury College. Meanwhile cardinal
Wolsey had founded Cardinal College (afterwards Christ Church), bringing
to it an infusion of new learning from Cambridge and elsewhere; but in
1525, “while this selected society was busy in preaching, reading,
disputing and performing their scholastic Acts, a vehement plague brake
forth, which dispersed most of them, so that they returned not all the
year following or two years after,” and Cardinal College “thus settled,
was soon after left as ’twere desolate.” The same outbreak affected
specially the halls or colleges of St Alban, Jesus, St Edmund and

Oxford was not altogether singular in this experience of plague from year
to year or at intervals of three or four years. What Sir Thomas More says
of the cities of Utopia was true of the towns of England or of any
medieval country in Christendom: “As for their cities, whoso knoweth one
of them, knoweth them all; they be all so like one to another, as far
forth as the nature of the place permitteth.” The limitation as to the
nature of the place is not without importance for the frequency and
severity of plague; the quantity of standing water around Oxford would
certainly appear to have made the epidemics there a more regular product
of the soil[547]. But we hear of plague also on the soil of Cambridge,
particularly in 1511, when Erasmus was there: on the 28th November he
writes from Queens’ College to Ammonio in London: “Here is great solitude;
most are away for fear of the pestilence,” adding rather unkindly,
“although there is also solitude when everyone is in residence.” It is
from such chance references in letters of the time that we can infer the
existence of plague throughout England. These references become much more
numerous as the sixteenth century runs on, not perhaps because plague was
more frequent, but because all kinds of documents are better preserved.
The remarkable difference between the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII.
in regard to the quantity of extant materials for the construction of
history is as keenly felt by the student of epidemics as by the student of
high politics. The local records of towns, London included, are still
almost valueless for our purpose: even the skilled antiquaries employed by
the Historical Manuscripts Commission have hitherto extracted nothing
concerning pre-Elizabethan epidemics from the archives of civic
council-chambers, and only a little from muniment-rooms such as that of
Canterbury Abbey.

The few details that we possess, such as those for the plague at Hull from
1472 to 1478, had been extracted from local records by the authors of town
and county histories. Before the end of the sixteenth century the evidence
of plague epidemic all over England, as well in provincial towns and in
the country as in London, becomes abundant. There may have been really a
great increase, but it is much more probable that the increase is for the
most part only apparent. It is of some consequence to determine the
probability as exactly as possible; and I shall therefore examine with
more minuteness than would otherwise have been necessary the evidence as
to the existence and amount of plague in London and elsewhere year after
year from the accession of the Tudor dynasty in 1485, using chiefly the
Calendars of State Papers for my purpose. As in the case of the sweat, we
happen to hear of plague in London and elsewhere because the Court was
kept away by it; the king’s secretaries are informed week after week of
the state of health in London, and foreign ambassadors, especially the
Venetian envoys, have frequently occasion to mention the hindrance to
public business caused by the plague. But for these State papers the
historian of epidemics would have little beyond an occasional parish
register to build upon. The medical profession in England were not
concerned to write or print anything thereon; while there are numerous
foreign printed books on the plague (e.g. Forrestier’s at Rouen in 1490)
there is not one original English treatise until that of Skene of
Edinburgh in 1568. That the physicians were well employed by those who
could engage their services, and that they did sustain the credit of their
profession by the liberal scale of their fees, we have every reason to
believe; thus the Venetian envoy writes on 3rd June, 1535, that he had
been ill, and that he had expended seven hundred ducats during his
illness, “and for so many physicians,” so that he had only one ducat
remaining. But these thriving practitioners did not write books like their
brethren abroad. One of their number, Linacre, who was also a prebendary
of Westminster, busied himself with editions of certain writings of Galen.
Erasmus mentions him in a letter as one of the Oxford scholars in whose
society he found pleasure; but there is in the _Praise of Folly_ a
reference to a certain grammatical pedant whom Hecker identifies with
Linacre. The other physicians and surgeons of the period whose names are
known, Butts, Chambre, Borde and the rest of the group in Holbein’s
picture of Henry VIII. handing the surgeons their charter, have left
nothing in print which illustrates the epidemic diseases of the time, and
little of any kind of writing except some formulæ of medicines: Borde, who
was patronised by Cromwell, is known only as a humorist or satirist. Thus
the inquiry must proceed without any of those aids from the faculty which
make the history of epidemics on the Continent comparatively easy.

After the disastrous prevalence of plague in England in the reign of
Edward IV., culminating in the great epidemic of 1479 in London and
elsewhere, we do not hear of the disease again in London until 1487, two
years after the first sweat; in that year, on the 14th April, a king’s
writ from Norwich postponed the business of the Common Pleas and King’s
Bench until Trinity term, on account of the pestilence in London,
Westminster and neighbouring places[548]. The next reference is to the
great epidemic of 1499-1500, in London and apparently also in the country.
Fabyan, who was then an alderman and likely to know, puts the deaths in
London at twenty thousand[549]; Polydore Virgil says thirty thousand[550];
and others say thirty thousand deaths from plague and other diseases
together[551]. The smaller total is the more likely to be nearest the
mark. There is reason to think that the population of London a generation
later was little over 60,000; and it will appear in the sequel that a
fourth or a fifth part of the inhabitants was as much as the severest
plagues cut off, although it is entirely credible that the Black Death
itself had cut off one half.

The enormous mortality in 1499-1500 has left few traces in the records of
the City or of the State. Five great prelates died during the plague-year,
some of them certainly from it: Morton of Canterbury (a very old man),
Langton of Winchester (before he could be transferred to Canterbury),
Rotheram of York, Alcock of Ely and Jane of Norwich[552]. Like some of the
later plagues in London it lasted through the winter. It was at Oxford in
the same years, and casual references in two of the Plumpton letters lead
one to infer that it may have been in remote parts of the country

The infection was still active as late as October, 1501, at Gravesend, and
it made some difference to the reception of the young princess Catharine
of Arragon, who had come over for her marriage with Prince Arthur, and
became famous in history as the wife of his brother Henry VIII. The
following are Henry VII.’s instructions, dated October, 1501:--

    “My lord Steward shall shew or cause to be shewed to the said
    Princess, that the King’s Grace, tenderly considering her great and
    long pain and travel upon the sea, would full gladly that she landed
    and lodged for the night at Gravesend; but forasmuch as the plague was
    there of late, and that is not yet clean purged thereof, the King
    would not that she should be put in any such adventure or danger, and
    therefore his Grace hath commanded the bark to be prepared and arrayed
    for her lodging[554].”

In 1503 there was plague at Oxford, as we have seen, and at Exeter, where
two mayors died of it in quick succession, and two bailiffs[555]. The
infection was certainly in London in 1504 or 1505 (perhaps in both, and
possibly at its low endemic level in the other years from 1501): for
Bernard André mentions casually that he had been absent from the City on
account of it[556].

In 1509, the first year of Henry VIII., there was a severe outbreak of
plague in the garrison of Calais, as well as “great plague” in divers
parts of England[557]. In 1511, Erasmus writes from Cambridge on 17th
August, 5th October and 16th October, making reference to the plague in
London; and on the 27th October, 8th November, and 28th November, Ammonio
answers him that the plague has not entirely disappeared, and again that
it is abated, but a famine is feared, and lastly that the plague is
entirely gone. On the 26th of July the Venetian ambassador had written
that the queen-widow (mother of Edward V.) had died of plague and that the
king, Henry VIII., was anxious.

On the 1st November, 1512, Erasmus, on a visit to London, was so afraid of
the plague that he did not enter his own lodging, and missed a meeting
with Colet. The next year, 1513, was a severe plague-year according to
many testimonies. In the diary of the Venetian envoy from August to 3rd
September it is stated that deaths from plague are occurring constantly;
two of his servants sickened on the 22nd August, but did not recognize the
disease; on the 25th they rose from bed, went to a tavern to drink a
certain beverage called “ale,” and died the same day: their bed, sheets
and other effects were thrown into the sea (? Thames). On the 17th
September he writes to Venice that it is perilous to remain in London; the
deaths were said to be 200 in a day, there was no business doing, all the
Venetian merchants in London had taken houses in the country; the plague
is also in the English fleet. In October the deaths are reported by the
envoy at 300 to 400 a day; he has gone into the country. On the 6th
November and 6th December he writes that plague was still doing much
damage. On the 3rd December the rumour of a great prevalence of plague in
England had reached Rome. On the 28th November Erasmus writes from
Cambridge that he does not intend to come to London before Christmas on
account of plague and robbers; and on the 21st December he writes again:
“I am shut up in the midst of pestilence and hemmed in with robbers.”

One year is very like another, but it will be desirable to continue the
narrative a little longer so as to remove any suspicion of constructing
history beyond the facts. In February, 1514, Erasmus writes that he had
been disgusted with London, deeming it unsafe to stay there owing to
plague. In going in procession to St Paul’s on the 21st May the king
preferred to be on horseback, for one reason “to avoid contact with the
crowd by reason of the plague;” he had lately recovered from some vaguely
reported “fever” at Richmond. On the 1st July Convocation was adjourned on
account of the epidemic and the heat.

Next year, 1515, Erasmus writes from London on the 20th April that he is
in much trouble; the plague had broken out and it looked as if it would
rage everywhere. On the 23rd April Wolsey sends advice to the earl of
Shrewsbury in the country (? Wingfield) to “get him into clean air and
divide his household,” owing to contagious plague among his servants; on
the 28th the earl received from London one pound of manus Christi,--the
same remedy that Henry VIII. sent to Wolsey for the sweat--with coral,
and half-a-pound of powder preservative. On the same date “they begin to
die in London in divers places suddenly of fearful sickness.” One of the
incidents of the plague of 1515 which has fixed the attention of
chroniclers was the death of twenty-seven of the nuns in a convent at the
Minories outside Aldgate[558]. Next year, on 14th May (1516), the sickness
was so extreme in Lord Shrewsbury’s house at Wingfield that he has put
away all his horse-keepers and turned his horses out to grass. In London,
on the 21st May, the Venetian ambassador removed to Putney owing to a case
of plague in his house, and he would not be allowed to see Wolsey until
the 30th June, when forty days would have passed since the plague in his

The next summer, 1517, was the season of the third sweat. It was hardly
over when plague began in London in September. On the 21st the Venetian
envoy speaks of having had to avoid “the plague _and_ the sweating
sickness;” on the 26th he writes that the plague is making some progress
and he has left London to avoid it. On the 15th October the king was at
Windsor “in fear of the great plague.” One writes on 25 Oct., “As far as I
can hear, there is no parish in London free[559].” On the 16th November
the envoy begs the seignory of Venice to send someone to replace him as he
thinks it high time to escape from “sedition, sweat and plague.” On the
3rd December the king and the cardinal were still absent from London on
account of the plague; on the 22nd their absence was causing general
discontent, the plague being somewhat abated. It was not until March,
1518, that the court approached London; on the 15th the Venetian envoy
rode out to Richmond to see the king, and found him in some trouble, as
three of his pages had died “of the plague.” The court withdrew again to
Berkshire, and on the 6th April it was decided by the king’s privy council
at Abingdon that London was still infected and must be avoided, the queen
(Catharine of Arragon) having declared the day before that she had perfect
knowledge of the sickness being in London, and that she feared for the
king, although she was no prophet. On the 7th April the report of four or
five deaths at Nottingham (“as appears by a bill enclosed”) was made the
ground of postponing a projected visit of the king to the north. The
spring was unusually warm, which made the risk of sickness to be judged
greater. It is clear that public business was suffering by the prolonged
absence of the court from London, and that the existence of infection was
being denied. On the 28th April Master More certified from Oxford to the
king at Woodstock that three children were dead of the sickness, but none
others; he had accordingly charged the mayor and the commissary in the
king’s name “that the inhabitants of those houses that be and shall be
infected, shall keep in, put out wispes and bear white rods, according as
your grace devised for Londoners;” this was approved by the king’s
council, and the question was discussed whether the fair in the Austin
Friars of Oxford a fortnight later should not be prohibited, as the resort
of people “may make Oxford as dangerous as London, next term” (the law
courts sat at Oxford in Trinity term). However, the interests of traders
had to be kept in view also. On 28th June, 1518, Pace writes from the
court at Woodstock to Wolsey that “all are free from sickness here, but
many die of it within four or five miles, as Mr Controller is informed.”
On the 11th July he writes again from Woodstock that two persons are dead
of the sickness, and more infected, one of them a servant to a yeoman of
the king’s guard; to-morrow the king and queen lodge at Ewelme, and stop
not by the way, as the place appointed for their lodging is infected. On
the 14th July he writes to Wolsey from Wallingford that the king moves
to-morrow to Bisham “as it is time: for they do die in these parts in
every place, not only of the small pokkes and mezils, but also of the
great sickness.” The uncertainty as to what these diseases may have been
will appear from the next letter, on the 18th July, from Sir Thomas More:
“We have daily advertisements here, other of some sweating or the great
sickness from places very near unto us; and as for surfeits and
drunkenness we have enough at home.” The king had also heard that one of
my lady Princess’s servants was sick of “a hot ague” at Enfield. On the
22nd July, the Venetian ambassador writes from Lambeth asking to be
recalled: two of his servants had died of the plague, and he himself had
the sweating sickness twice in one week. The pope’s legate, Campeggio,
made a state entry into London about the first of August, but the king and
Wolsey were not there to receive him, ostensibly for fear of infection.
The king was now at Greenwich, and we hear no more of the fear of
infection for a time. In the end of March, 1519, deaths from plague
occurred on board one of the Venetian galleys at Southampton. On the 4th
August, 1520, the king (at Windsor) has heard that the great sickness is
still prevalent at Abingdon and other villages towards Woodstock, and has
changed his route (“gystes”) accordingly; on 8th August, sickness is
reported at Woodstock. The same year some kind of sickness was very
disastrous in Ireland.

In the winter of 1521 (2nd November), the sickness continues in London:
“it is not much feared, though it is universal in every parish.” According
to a vague entry in Hall’s chronicle the year 1522 was in like manner,
“not without pestilence nor death,” which may refer to the gaol fever at

Thus from 1511 to 1521 there is not a single year without some reference
to the prevalence of plague, the autumn and winter of 1513 having been
probably the time of greatest mortality in London. After 1521 or 1522
there comes a break of four or five years in the plague-references, except
for a vague mention of plague followed by famine at Shrewsbury in
1525[560]. They begin again in 1526 (from Guildford) and go on until 1532
every year much as in the former period, the year 1528 being mostly
occupied with the fourth epidemic of the sweating sickness. On the 4th
June, 1529, the legate Campeggio writes from London: “Here we are still
wearing our winter clothing, and use fires as if it were January: never
did I witness more inconstant weather. The plague begins to rage
vigorously, and there is some fear of the sweating sickness.” On the 31st
August the Venetian ambassador has a person sick of the plague in his
house; on the 9th September he has gone to a village near London on
account of the plague. On the 18th September the French ambassador in
London (Bishop Du Bellay) has plague in his household, and in spite of
repeated changes of lodging his principal servants are dead; he has been
unable to refuse leave to the others to go home, and is now quite alone,
but the danger from the plague is much diminished.

In 1530 the plague is heard of as early as March 23, previous to which
date two of the Venetian ambassador’s servants had died of it; three more
of them died afterwards, and the envoy was forbidden the Court for forty
days. Parliament was prorogued on April 26 to June 22, on account of the
plague in London and the suburbs, and farther, for the same reason, until
October 1. The king was at Greenwich, but even there was not beyond the
infection; in the Privy Purse book, there is an entry of £18. 8_s._ paid
“to Rede, the marshall of the king’s hall for to dispose of the king’s
charge to such poor folk as were expelled the town of the Greenwiche in
the tyme of the plague.” Similar payments are entered on January 13, 1531,
April 10, April 26 and November 8[561].

On November 23, 1531, the king was obliged to leave Greenwich on account
of the plague, removing to Hampton Court (now a royal palace since
Wolsey’s fall). In London it had somewhat abated, but, according to a
letter of the Venetian ambassador, had been up to 300 or 400 deaths in a
week. In mid-winter, the 15th of January, 1532, Parliament was prorogued
on account of the insalubrity of the air in London and Westminster. The
infection may be assumed to have gone on, according to the analogy of
known years, all through the spring and summer, rising to a greater height
in the autumn. We next hear of it on the 18th September, 1532, when the
Venetian envoy writes from London that the king’s journey to Gravesend and
Dover would be by water, “as there is much plague in those parts, and
there is no lack of it in London. Yesterday at the king’s court the master
of the kitchen died of it, having waited on his majesty the day before.”
On the 24th September, “the plague increases daily in London and well nigh
throughout the country.”

On the 14th October, “the plague increases daily, and makes everybody
uneasy.” On the same date the Privy Council write to the king, who had
crossed to Calais accompanied by Mr Secretary Cromwell, for a meeting with
the French king, that there is a rumour of the plague increasing,
especially at the Inns of Court. On the 18th October Hales, one of the
justices, writes to Cromwell that “the plague of sickness is so sore here
that I never saw so thin a Michaelmas term.” On the 20th, Audeley the Lord
Chancellor writes that many die of the plague, the sergeants in Fleet
Street have left in consequence, the Inner Temple has broken commons, the
lawyers being in great fear. “_The Council have commanded the mayor to
certify how many have died of the plague._” That is the first known
reference to the London bills of mortality, and was probably the very
first occasion of them[562]. By that time the plague had been active in
London for more than a month, and had clearly begun to alarm the
residents. The result of the Privy Council’s order to the mayor of London
was a bill on or before the 21st October, showing that 99 persons had died
of the plague in the city, and 27 from other causes, the number of deaths
from other causes suggesting that this was the bill for a week. On the
23rd the Secretary of State is informed that the sickness is fervent and
many die; those who are not citizens are much afeard. On the 25th Sir John
Aleyn has assurances for Cromwell (at Calais) from all parts of the
country that the whole realm is quiet, but the plague has been more severe
than in London. Cromwell’s French gardener was alive and well on Saturday
afternoon, the 12th, and he was dead of the plague and buried on Monday
morning the 14th. On the 27th the death “is quite abated” in London and
Westminster, according to one; but according to the Lord Chancellor, on
the 28th, the plague increases, especially about Fleet Street. On the 31st
October one writes, “I have not seen London so destitute of people as it
was when I came there.” On 2nd November the death is assuaged and there is
good rule kept, for Sir Hugh Vaughan takes pains in his office like an
honest gentleman. On the 9th November the plague is abated. There the
correspondence ends, the Court having returned from France. But we may
here bring in a certain weekly bill of mortality which has come down among
the waifs of paper from that period[563]. It is for the week from the 16th
to the 23rd of November, the year not being stated; the experts of the
national collection of manuscripts were at one time inclined to assign it
to “circa 1512;” but the first that we hear of the mayor being called upon
to furnish a bill of plague-deaths is the order by the lords of the
Council on or about the 20th October 1532, the first bill having shown 99
deaths in the city from plague and 27 deaths (in the week) from other
causes. The extant bill for the week 16th to 23rd November is clearly one
of a series; there are no good grounds for assigning it to an earlier date
than the year 1532, while there are reasons for not placing it later.
There are two other plague-bills extant, for August, 1535, written out in
a more clerkly fashion, and bearing the marks of greater experience. The
bill for the week in November is more primitive in appearance; and we may
fairly take it as one of the series first ordered by the Council in 1532:
for that was the most considerable year of the plague immediately
preceding the outburst of 1535, to which the more finished bills certainly
belong. The week in November, for which it gives the deaths from plague
and other causes in the city parishes is later than the dates of the 2nd
and 9th, when the plague was “suaged” and “abated;” the bill therefore
stands for plague on the decline, or near extinction for the season, its
total of plague deaths being 33, and of other deaths 32, as against 99 and
27 respectively in the corresponding week of October. As this, the
earliest of a great historical series of London bills of mortality, has a
peculiar interest, I transcribe it in full, retaining the original

    Syns the XVIth day of November unto the XXIII day of the same moneth
    ys dead within the cite and freedom yong and old these many folowyng
    of the plage and other dyseases.

        Inprimys benetts gracechurch i of the plage
        S Buttolls in front of Bysshops gate i corse
        S Nycholas flesshammls i of the plage
        S Peturs in Cornhill i of the plage
        Mary Woolnerth i corse
        All Halowes Barkyng ii corses
        Kateryn Colman i of the plage
        Mary Aldermanbury i corse
        Michaels in Cornhill iii one of the plage
        All halows the Moor ii i of the plage
        S Gyliz iiii corses iii of the plage
        S Dunstons in the West iiii of the plage
        Stevens in Colman Strete i corse
        All halowys Lumbert Strete i corse
        Martins Owut Whiche i corse
        Margett Moyses i of the plage
        Kateryn Creechurch ii of the plage
        Martyns in the Vintre ii corses
        Buttolls in front Algate iiii corses
        S Olavs in Hart Strete ii corses
        S Andros in Holborn ii of the plage
        S Peters at Powls Wharff ii of the plage
        S Fayths i corse of the plage
        S Alphes i corse of the plage
        S Mathows in Fryday Strete i of the plage
        Aldermary ii corses
        S Pulcres iii corses i of the plage
        S Thomas Appostells ii of the plage
        S Leonerds Foster Lane i of the plage
        Michaels in the Ryall ii corses
        S Albornes i corse of the plage
        Swytthyns ii corses of the plage
        Mary Somersette i corse
        S Bryde v corses i of the plage
        S Benetts Powls Wharff i of the plage
        All halows in the Wall i of the plage
        Mary Hyll i corse.

        Sum of the plage xxxiiii persons
        Sum of other seknes xxxii persons

                    The holl sum xx/iii & vi.

    And there is this weke clere xxx/iii and iii paryshes as by this bille
    doth appere.

        The exec{n} of corses buryed of the plage within the cite of
        London syns &c.

There does not appear to have been any occasion for a continuance of
plague-bills beyond the date of the one just given until nearly three
years after: we hear, indeed, of a severe epidemic of plague at Oxford in
1533, but nothing of it in London until 1535[564]. It so happens that a
pair of London bills of mortality is extant from the month of August in
that year. Thus, by a singular coincidence, the only original bills of
mortality that have come down (so far as is known) from the sixteenth
century, are one from the end of the series in the first year of their
execution (1532), and another the very first of the series in the second
year of their execution (1535), or in the series ordered on account of the
epidemic of plague next following. Of that epidemic also it may be
permitted to give somewhat full details, for it is only rarely that we
have the chance of realizing the facts in so concrete a way.

In the summer and autumn of 1535 Henry VIII., with the queen (Anne
Boleyn), was mostly at his manor of Thornbury in Gloucestershire, Cromwell
the principal Secretary of State being either with the king or in his
immediate neighbourhood. The absence of the Court occasions numerous
letters to be sent from and to London, in which we hear of the plague
among other things. Cromwell had four houses in or near London at this
time,--at the Rolls in Chancery Lane, at Austin Friars in the City, at the
fashionable suburb of Stepney, and at Highbury: besides these he had a
fine villa building at Hackney. From his steward or other servants at one
or more of these he was in receipt of letters constantly during his
absence. A letter from the Rolls on the 30th July informs him that twelve
heron-shaws had been sent to him from Kent, and had been received at the
Rolls “as the city of London is sorely infected with the plague.” Next day
another writes that the City is infected but Fleet Street is clean. On the
5th August “the common sickness waxeth very busy in London.” On the 7th
Lord Chancellor Audeley writes from “my house at Christchurch”
(Creechurch, near Aldgate) that he had been expecting Cromwell in London,
but hears that he will not return for nine or ten days; will therefore go
to his house at Colchester meanwhile, as they are dying of the plague in
divers parishes in London. Cromwell was naturally desirous to know
accurately the state of health in the city, so as to regulate his own
movements and perhaps the king’s also; he accordingly makes inquiries of
his various correspondents. Another letter from London on the 7th August
informs him that there is no death at Court, but only in certain places in
the city: “I fear these great humidities will engender pestilence at the
end of the year, rather after Bartholomew tide than before. If you be near
London you must avoid conference of people.” On receipt of this Cromwell
would appear to have written to the mayor of London, for on the 13th
August his clerk at the Rolls replies to him that he had delivered the
letter to the lord mayor. On the 16th another of the household at the
Rolls writes that the plague rages in every parish in London, but not so
bad as in many places abroad: “I will send the number of the dead. The
mayor keeps his chamber. Some say he is sick of an ague; others that he
was cut about the brows for the megrims, which vexeth him sore. Few men
come at him, but women.” The bill of mortality which Cromwell had asked
for previous to 13th August is extant[565]. It is in two parts: one
showing 31 deaths from plague and 31 deaths from other causes in
thirty-seven out of one hundred parishes from the 5th to the 12th August,
with a list of parishes clear; and the other, headed “14th August” and
probably meant to include the former, showing a much heavier mortality and
a much shorter list of parishes clear, the whole being endorsed by the
mayor, Sir John Champneys, as follows: “So appeareth there be dead within
the city of London of the plague and otherwise from the 6th day of this
month of August to the 14th day, which be eight days complete, the full
number of 152 persons [105 of them from plague]. And this day se’night
your mastership [Mr Secretary Cromwell] shall be certified of the number
that shall chance to depart in the meantime. Yours as I am bound, John
Champeneys.” This double bill for certain days in August, 1535, is rather
more elaborate than, but otherwise not unlike, the above bill, for a week
in November, most likely of the year 1532. It will be noticed that the
deaths in all the city parishes from other causes than plague are 47 in
the bill for eight (or nine) days; 31 in the bill, partly the same, for
seven days, and 32 in the earlier bill for seven days, while they are
known to have been 27 in another bill of October, 1532, probably also for
seven days. These figures, the best to be had, are important for
calculating the population of London at the time; they represent quite an
ordinary weekly mortality, the deaths from plague being found to be always
extra deaths, where we can compare the mortality year after year, as in
the London bills of later times.

The weekly bills of mortality called for in the plague of 1535 were sent
regularly to the Secretary of State until the end of September--on the
22nd and 30th August, and on the 4th, (and 5th), 11th and 27th September.
The one sent on Monday the 30th August showed 157 deaths during the
preceding week, of which 140 were put down to plague, leaving only 17
deaths in the week from ordinary causes,--a small number owing perhaps to
so many residents having gone to the country. No figures remain from the
other bills, but we know from letters that the plague increased
considerably in September (e.g. 11th Sept. “By the Lord Mayor’s
certificate which I send you will see that the plague increases”) both in
London and in the country, justifying the prediction that it would be
worse after Bartholomew-tide; it is not until the 28th October that we
hear of the deaths being “well stopped” in London. Some few particulars of
this epidemic, and of its revival in 1536, remain to be added before we
come to speak of the London bills of mortality in general, of the extent
of the City and liberties at this period, of its sanitary condition, and
of the public health from year to year.

On the 18th August, 1535, one writes to Cromwell from the Temple that the
plague “has visited my house near Stepney where my wife lives.” On the
20th August a resident in Lincoln’s Inn was seized with plague and
conveyed thence by night to a poor man’s house right against the chamber
of one of Cromwell’s household at the Rolls, where he died. “Such as
lodge in your gate seldom go out, and will have less occasion if, before
great time pass, you will appoint from Endevill, or elsewhere within your
rule, some venison for the household, that men may be the better contented
with their fare.” On the same date Cromwell is informed by his steward at
Austin Friars that “the Frenchman next your house that was in St Peter’s
parish [Cornhill] has buried two, but no more.” The plague looked
threatening enough to raise the question whether Bartholomew fair should
be held at Smithfield this year. Meanwhile the king and court were at
Thornbury in Gloucestershire, having arrived there on the 18th August. The
town of Bristol was avoided “because the plague of pestilence then reigned
within the said town;” but a deputation of three persons was sent to the
king to present him with ten fat oxen and forty sheep, and to present the
queen, Anne Boleyn, with a gold cup full of gold pieces, an offering known
as “queen gold[566].” On the 25th of August the French ambassador
proceeded to Gloucestershire to inform Henry VIII. “of the interview of
the two queens,” but he stopped six miles short of the court, owing to a
“French merchant” who followed him having died of plague on the road. On
the 4th September the plague in London is aggravated by a scarcity of
bread; “what was sold for ½_d._ when you were here is now 1_d._,” and it
is so musty that it is rather poisonous than nourishing. On the 6th the
season has been unfavourable and there is great probability of famine. On
the 13th the Lord Chancellor will stay at his house at Old Ford beside
Stratford, on account of the plague in London increasing; he will have to
go to Westminster on the 3rd November, with the Speaker and others, to
prorogue Parliament, and advises the prorogation to be until the 4th of
February, and of the law courts until the eve of All Souls, by which time,
by coldness of the weather, the plague should cease. Wheat and rye were at
a mark and 16/- the quarter. A letter from Exeter on the 17th September
shows the danger of famine to have been great there also[567]. On the 23rd
September one of the masons working at Cromwell’s house in Austen Friars
is sick of the plague: three corses were buried at Hackney [of men
employed at the new house?] last St Matthew’s day. In October the king is
on his way back from Gloucestershire, but changes his route owing to a
death at Shalford and four deaths at Farnham. On the 24th October the
bishop of Winchester, on his way to Paris, lost his servant at Calais by
the great sickness “wherewith he was infected at his late being in London
longer than I would he should:” travelling is cumbrous in the “strange
watery weather” in France. In November the pope has heard that England is
troubled with famine and pestilence. The curate of Much Malvern writes in
November (but perhaps of 1536): “I have buried four persons of pestilence
since Saturday, and I have one more to bury to-day. Yesterday I was in a
house where the plague is very sore.”

The sickness appears to have shown itself again in London as early as
April, 1536. On the 2nd of May two gentlemen of the Inner Temple had died
of the sickness; on the 15th the abbot of York writes to be excused from
attending Parliament “because of the plague which has visited my house
near Powles [St Paul’s].” In the same summer the election of knights to
serve in Parliament for Shropshire could not be held at Shrewsbury because
the plague was in the town. In September one of the king’s visitors of the
abbeys, previous to their suppression, found hardly any place clear of the
plague in Somerset, and was much impeded in his work. On the 27th
September one of the numerous coronations of new queens in Henry VIII.’s
reign (this time Jane Seymour in succession to Anne Boleyn, beheaded in
May) was like to be postponed “seeing how the plague reigned in
Westminster, even in the Abbey.” On the 9th October plague was at Dieppe,
thought to have been brought over from Rye. In Yorkshire also, the duke of
Norfolk, sent to put down the rebellion in November, 1536, came into close
contact with plague; many were dying of it at Doncaster: “Where I and my
son lay, at a friar’s, ten or twelve houses were infected within a butt’s
length. On Friday night the mayor’s wife and two daughters and a servant
all died in one house.” Nine soldiers also were dead. At Oxford the
plague was active, and the scholars had gone into the country. In London
on the 27th November it was dangerous to tarry at Lincoln’s Inn “for they
die daily in the City.” In September, 1536, the small essay on plague by
the 14th century bishop of Aarhus, which had circulated in manuscript in
the medieval period and was first printed in 1480, was reprinted at
London, the regimen, as the title declares, having been “of late practised
and proved in mani places within the City of London, and by the same many
folke have been recovered and cured[568].” In 1537 there appear to have
been a few cases of plague at Shrewsbury, on account of which the town
council paid certain moneys[569].

Beyond the year 1538 the domestic records of State are not as yet
calendared in such fulness as to bring to light any references to plague
in them. It may be, therefore, that the clear interval from 1537 to 1542
is in appearance only. From such sources as are available we can continue
the history of plague down to the great London plague of 1563; but it is a
history meagre and disappointing after the numerous concrete glimpses and
details of the earlier period.

The summer of 1540 was a sickly one throughout England[570]; it introduces
us to a different and perhaps new type of disease, “hot agues,” with
“laskes” or dysenteries, of which a good deal remains to be said in
another chapter.

It was in 1539 that Parish Registers of the births, marriages and deaths
began to be kept--very irregularly for the most part but in some few
parishes continuously from that year. By their means we can henceforth
trace the existence of epidemic disease in the country, which might not
have been suspected or thought probable. Thus, at Watford from July to
September, 1540, there were 47 burials, of which 40 were from “plague.”
Next year, in the month of October, the burials were 14, a number greatly
in excess of the average[571]. In 1543 there was “a great death” in
London, which lasted so far into the winter that the Michaelmas law term
had to be kept at St Albans[572]. Another civic chronicle adds that there
had been a great death the summer before; and from an ordinance of the
Privy Council it appears that the plague was in London as early as May 21,
1543[573]. The next definite proof of plague in the capital is under 1547
and 1548. On the 15th November in the former year blue crosses were
ordered to be affixed to the door-posts of houses visited by the plague.
In 1548, says Stow, there was “great pestilence” in London, and a
commission was issued to curates that there should be no burials between
the hours of six in the evening and six in the morning, and that the bell
should be tolled for three-quarters of an hour[574]. A letter of July 19
says that they had been visited by plague in the Temple, and that it still
continued[575]. On August 28, the Common Council adjourned for a fortnight
by reason of the violence of the plague[576].

These are the London informations for 1547 and 1548, but it would be
unsafe to conclude that the other years from 1543 were free from plague.
In 1544 it was raging at Newcastle[577], at Canterbury[578] and at
Oxford[579], at which last it continued most of the next year, and was
considered to be “the dregs of that which happened _anno_ 1542.” It had
been prevalent in Edinburgh previous to June 24, 1545[580]. In April,
1546, there was a severe mortality on board a Venetian ship at Portsmouth,
which may have been the plague, as in a similar case at Southampton[581].
In the autumn or early winter of the same year the plague was raging so
fervently in Devonshire that the Commissioners for the Musters were
obliged to put off their work till it ceased[582]. Within the town of
Haddington, which was held by an English garrison against a large
besieging force of French and others, plague broke out in 1547[583]. In
1549 the disease is reported from Lincoln[584]. A letter of November 23,
1550, states that the Princess Mary was driven from Wanstead by one dying
of the plague there[585].

The reigns of Edward VI. and Mary, full of trouble as they were in other
ways, furnish hardly a single record of plague. The sweating sickness of
1551 we hear of sufficiently; and the pestilent fevers, or influenzas, in
1557-58 are not altogether without record; but of plague down to the 5th
year of Elizabeth (1563) there is very little said, and that little not
free from ambiguity. Sometime in that interval, or still earlier, must
have fallen the pestilence at Northampton, severe enough to require the
new cemetery which cardinal Pole, in a deed of March 9, 1557, ordered to
be henceforth kept enclosed[586]. Only two of the many centres of sickness
in England in 1558 are said to have had the infection of the type, not of
fever, but of plague,--Loughborough and Chester. In the Leicestershire
town the burials were numerous enough for true plague, and the cause of
mortality is so named[587]. In Chester also the sickness is called the
plague, and it is added that many fled the town, although the deaths were
few[588]. A State paper of February 25, 1559, speaks of the county of
Cheshire as “weakened by the prevalence of plague[589].”

The London Plague of 1563.

The activity of the plague in London in 1563 made up for its dormancy in
the years preceding. The epidemic of that summer and autumn was one of the
most severe in the history of the city, the mortality in proportion to the
population having been tremendous. This is the first London plague for
which we have the authentic weekly deaths. How they were obtained is not
stated, but it was probably by the same means that furnished the
plague-bills of 1532 and 1535. John Stow must have had before him a
complete set of weekly bills from the beginning of June, 1563, to the 26th
of July, 1566, of which series not one is known to be extant; but the
totals of the weekly deaths from plague for the whole of that period are
among Stow’s manuscript memoranda in the Lambeth Library[590]. After the
week ending the 31st December, 1563, the weekly deaths are few, many of
the weeks of 1564, 1565 and 1566 having only one death from plague, and
some of them none. The following are the weekly mortalities during the
severe period of the epidemic:

  Week ending      Plague-deaths
  1563. 12 June          17
        19   "           25
        26   "           23
         3 July          44
        10   "           64
        17   "          131
        23   "          174
        30   "          289
         6 August       299
        13   "          542
        20   "          608
        27   "          976
         3 September    963
        10    "        1454
        17    "        1626
        24    "        1372
         1 October     1828
         8    "        1262
        15    "         829
        22    "        1000
        29    "         905
         5 November     380
        12    "         283
        19    "         506
        26    "         281
         3 December     178
        10    "         249
        17    "         239
        24    "         134
        31    "         121
  1564.  7 January       45
        14    "          26
        21    "          13

Stow’s summary of this epidemic in his _Annales_ is as follows: “In the
same whole year, i.e. from the 1st January, 1562 [old style] till the last
of December, 1563, there died in the city and liberties thereof,
containing 108 parishes, of all diseases 20,372, and of the plague, being
part of the number aforesaid, 17,404; and in out parishes adjoining to
the same city, being 11 parishes, died of all diseases in the whole year
3288, and of them of the plague 2732.” The weekly totals from June 12 to
December 31 which are for the City and liberties, and exclusive of the out
parishes, add up to very nearly Stow’s total for the whole year, or to
16,802 as against 17,404. Where the discrepancy arises does not appear; it
is hardly likely that some 600 plague-deaths would have occurred previous
to the second week in June, at which time the weekly mortality had reached
only 17. We are able to check one of the weekly totals from an independent
source. In an extant letter of the time the following figures for the week
from 23rd to 30th July are given, having been taken evidently from the
published or posted weekly bill: “Died and were buried in London and
suburbs, 399, most young people and youths, of which number of the common
plague 320 persons. Number of children born and christened in the same
week, 52[591].” “London and suburbs” would mean the 108 parishes of the
City and liberties together with the 11 out parishes, so that the
difference between Stow’s 289 and the above 320 would give the number of
plague-deaths in the out parishes for the particular week.

The state of matters in the City is thus referred to in Bullein’s
_Dialogue_ published in 1564:--

    _Civis._--“Good wife, the daily jangling and ringing of the bells, the
    coming in of the minister to every house in ministering the communion,
    the reading of the homily of death, the digging up of graves, the
    sparring of windows, and the blazing forth of the blue crosses do make
    my heart tremble and quake.” A beggar, in the same _Dialogue_, who had
    arrived from the country, says:

    “I met with wagones, cartes and horses full loden with yong barnes,
    for fear of the blacke Pestilence, with them boxes of medicens and
    sweete perfumes. O God! how fast did they run by hundredes, and were
    afraied of eche other for feare of smityng.”

We get one or two glimpses of this great plague from the medical point of
view in Dr John Jones’s _Dyall of Agues_[592]. The worst locality, he
says, was “S. Poulkar’s parish [St Sepulchre’s] by reason of many
fruiterers, poor people, and stinking lanes, as Turnagain-lane [so called
because it led down the slope to Fleet Ditch and ended there],
Seacoal-lane, and such other places, there died most in London, and were
soonest infected, and longest continued, as twice since I have known
London I have marked to be true.” Jones believed in contagion: “I myself
was infected by reason that unawares I lodged with one that had it running
from him.” His other observation is interesting as proving the possibility
of repeated attacks of the buboes in the same person, an observation
abundantly confirmed, as we shall see, in the London plagues of 1603 and

    “Here now, gentel readers, I think good to admonish all such as have
    had the plague, that they flie the trust of ignoraunt persons, who use
    to saye that he who hath once had the plague shal not nede to feare
    the havinge of it anye more: the whych by this example whyche foloweth
    (that chaunced to a certayne Bakers wife without Tempel barre in
    London, Anno Do. 1563) you shall find to be worthelye to be repeated:
    this sayde wyfe had the plage at Midsommer and at Bartholomewtide, and
    at Michaelmas, and the first time it brake, the seconde time it brake,
    but ran littell, the thirde time it appeared and brake not: but she
    died, notwythstanding she was twyce afore healed.”

Two London physicians of some note died of the plague in 1563. One was Dr
Geynes, who had brought trouble upon himself by impugning the authority of
Galen, perhaps without sufficient reason. Having been cited before the
College of Physicians, to whose discipline he was subject, he preferred to
recant his heresy rather than undergo imprisonment. He died of plague on
23 July, 1563. Another was Dr John Fryer who had suffered twice for
religious heresy, having been imprisoned by queen Mary as a Lutheran, and
by queen Elizabeth as a papist. He regained his liberty in August, 1563,
but only to die of plague on 21 October, his wife and several of his
children having been also victims of the epidemic[593].

Stow ascribes the infection of the city of London by plague in the summer
of 1563 to the return of the English troops from Havre, which town queen
Elizabeth had boldly attempted to hold, and did actually hold for ten
months, from September, 1562, as an English fortress in French territory.
Havre was not surrendered until the last days of July, 1563, and no
returning troops could have reached London until August, by which time the
plague had been raging there for two months. There was no doubt frequent
communication between Havre and English ports while the siege lasted; but
the sickness in each place can have been no more than coincident. Thus,
while there were 17 plague-deaths in London in the week from the 5th to
the 12th of June, the 7th of June is the first date on which report was
made of sickness in Havre, although there had been cases of illness
before. On that date the Earl of Warwick wrote to the Privy Council[594]:
“For the want of money the works are hindered and the men discouraged. A
strange disease has come amongst them, whereof nine died this morning (and
many before) very suddenly.” On the same day (7th June, 1563), one writes
from Havre to Cecil: “Many of our men have been hurt in these skirmishes,
but more by drinking of their wine, which hath cast down a great number,
of hot burning diseases and impostumations, not unlike the plague.” By the
9th June the deaths were from 20 to 30 a day. On the 12th June, 442 were
sick out of a total force (including labourers and seamen) of 7143. On
June 16, Warwick points out to the Privy Council that the sickness was
aggravated by the want of fresh meat and the soldiers’ usual beverages:
“therefore their continual drinking of wine, contrary to their custom, has
bred these disorders and diseases.” On the 28th June the daily mortality
was 77; from that date it increased somewhat, and was so serious as to
hasten the surrender of the place to the French besieging force in the end
of July. On July 27 there was plague in the castle of Jersey, and on
August 6 it was very sore in Jersey, especially in the Castle[595].

It would have seemed the more probable to the people of London that the
plague of 1563 had been imported across the Channel by reason of the
unusually long immunity of the English capital in respect of that
infection. A clear interval of a dozen years without an epidemic, or a
severe epidemic, was enough to make men forget the long tradition of
plague domesticated upon English soil; while there was no scientific
doctrine of epidemics then worked out, from which they might have known
that the seeds of a disease may lie dormant for years, and that their
periodic effectiveness depends upon a concurrence of favouring things,
most of all upon extremes of dryness or wetness of the seasons as
affecting a soil full of corrupting animal matters.

The plague of 1563 in the capital was accompanied or followed by several
provincial outbreaks, of which few details are known. It is mentioned at
Derby[596] in 1563, at Leicester[597] in 1563 and 1564 (a shut-up house in
1563, the first plague-burial in St Martin’s parish on May 11, 1564), at
Stratford-on-Avon, at Lichfield[598] and Canterbury[599] in 1564. But it
is little more than mentioned at all those places. In the parish register
of Hensley, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, a later incumbent, basing
upon “an old writing of 1569,” says that the explanation of the year 1563
being a blank in the register was “because in that year the visitation of
plague was most hot and fearful, so that many died and fled, and the town
of Hensley, by reason of the sickness, was unfrequented for a long

Preventive Practice in Plague-time under the Tudors.

Having now traced the history of plague in London and in the provinces
down to the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, and having found it
steady from year to year for many years in London, with an occasional
terrific outburst, we are naturally led to ask whether the causes of it,
or its favouring things, were understood, and whether any steps were taken
to deal with it. This will be in effect a review of the earliest
preventive practice.

That which was most clearly perceived by all was that the plague began to
reign in certain years as the summer heats drew on, that the air of London
or Westminster became “intemperate,” or unwholesome, or infectious, and
that it was desirable to get out of such air. Accordingly the one great
rule, admitted by all and acted upon by as many as could, was to escape
from the tainted locality, or as Wolsey expressed it to the earl of
Shrewsbury in 1516, to get them “into clean air.” There was no other
sovereign prescription but that, and it remained the one great
prescription until the last of plague in 1665-6.

Difficult points of casuistry arose out of that steady perception of an
indisputable rule. Could flight from a plague-stricken place be reconciled
with duty to one’s neighbour? How ought a Christian man to demean himself
in the plague? The Christian conscience may or may not have been tender on
that ground in the medieval period; there is little to show one way or the
other, except the occasional hints that we get, as in the Danish bishop’s
treatise, of an unwillingness to go near the victims of plague. But about
the Reformation time those points of casuistry were debated; and one
elaborate handling of them, in the form of a sermon by a German
ecclesiastic, Osiander, was translated into English in 1537 by Miles
Coverdale[601]. It followed, accordingly, that period of plague in London
which has occupied the first part of this chapter. The translator remarks
that they had been negligent of charity one to another, and he prints this
discourse “to the intent that the ignorant may be taught, the weake
strengthened, and everyone counselled after his callynge to serve his

Osiander’s perplexed Christian is in much the same case as Launcelot Gobbo
in the play: “‘Budge,’ says the fiend; ‘Budge not,’ says my conscience.
‘Conscience,’ say I, ‘you counsel well;’ ‘Fiend,’ say I, ‘you counsel
well.’” The situation was a naturally complex one, and this is how the
good preacher comes out of it:

    “It is not my meaning to forbid or inhibit any man to fly, or to use
    physick, or to avoid dangerous and sick places in these fearful
    airs--so far as a man doth not therein against the belief, nor God’s
    commandment, nor against his calling, nor against the love of his
    neighbour.” And yet, shortly after: “Out of such fond childish fear it
    cometh that not only some sick folk be suffered to die away without
    all keeping, help, and comfort; but the women also, great with child,
    be forsaken in their need, or else cometh there utterly no man unto
    them. Yet a man may hear also that the children forsake their fathers
    and mothers, and one household body keepeth himself away from another,
    and sheweth no love unto him. Which nevertheless he would be glad to
    see shewed unto himself if he lay in like necessity.” He then exhorts
    the Christian man to remain at the post of duty, by the examples of
    the clergy and of “the higher powers of the world, who also abide in
    jeopardy”--certainly not the English experience. “Let him not axe his
    own reason, how he shall do, but believe, and follow the word of God,
    which teacheth him not to fly evil air and infect places (which he may
    well do: nevertheless he remaineth yet uncertain whether it helpeth or
    no).” The Christian man’s perplexities can hardly have been resolved
    when all was said; and the following sentence puts the case for
    quitting the infected place as strongly as it can be put: “For if it
    were in meat or drink, it might be eschewed; if it were an evil taste,
    it might be expelled with a sweet savour; if it were an evil wind, the
    chamber might with diligence be made close therefore; if it were a
    cloud or mist, it might be seen and avoided; if it were a rain, a man
    might cover himself for it. But now it is a secret misfortune that
    creepeth in privily, so that it can neither be seen nor heard, neither
    smelled nor tasted, till it have done the harm.”

In practice the rule was ‘Save who can;’ so that whenever the infection
promised to become “hot,” as the phrase was, there was an adjournment of
Parliament and of the Law Courts, a flight of all who could afford it to
the country, and an interruption of business, diplomatic and other, which
sometimes lasted for months. It was only occasionally, however, that the
infection became really hot; in ordinary years a certain risk was run.
Thus, in 1426, the plague had been severe enough to cut off the Scots
hostages; but it was not until after their death that the king’s council
left the city. Again, in 1467, Parliament did not adjourn (on 1st July)
until several members of the House of Commons had died of the plague.

Although flight was the sovereign preventive in a great plague-season, it
was impracticable in ordinary years when the infection was at its steadier
or more endemic level. The endemic level was tolerated up to a certain
point. In a long despatch to his government, the Venetian ambassador in
London wrote of the plague as follows in 1554[602]:

    “They have some little plague in England well nigh every year, for
    which they are not accustomed to make sanitary provisions, as it does
    not usually make great progress; the cases for the most part occur
    amongst the lower classes, as if their dissolute mode of life impaired
    their constitutions.”

Whenever the plague showed signs of overstepping these limits, strenuous
efforts were made to keep it in check. It may be questioned whether all
that was done in that way made any difference; the great outbursts came at
intervals, rose to their height, subsided in a few months, and left the
city more or less free of plague until some concurrence of things, or the
lapse of time, brought about another epidemic of the first degree. None
the less, certain measures were taken to restrain the infection, and these
were put in force with mechanical regularity whenever the Privy Council
informed the Lord Mayor that the occasion required it. A brief account of
them, of their beginnings and their development, will now be given.

The first that we hear of attempts at isolation and notification is in
1518. In April of that year, the Court being in Berkshire or Oxfordshire,
Sir Thomas More charged the mayor of Oxford, and the commissary, in the
king’s name “that the inhabitants of those houses that be, and shall be
infected, shall keep in, put out wispes, and bear white rods, as your
Grace devised for Londoners[603].” By his Grace is to be understood the
king himself; and these measures devised by him--the keeping in, the
putting out of wisps on the houses, and the carrying of white rods,--might
have been tried as early as the epidemic of 1513, which was a severe one.
When two of the Venetian ambassador’s servants died of the plague in 1513,
their bed, sheets and other effects were thrown into the river. On the
21st of May, 1516, the ambassador removed to Putney owing to a case of
plague in his house, and he was not allowed to see cardinal Wolsey until
the 30th of June, i.e. until forty days had elapsed. This is perhaps the
first mention of the quarantine which the Court rigorously put in
practice against those who had business with it. On the 22nd July, 1518,
the same ambassador wrote to Venice from Lambeth that two of his servants
had lately died of the plague; and, on the 11th August, again from
Lambeth, that the king and Wolsey would not see him because of the plague;
“but on the expiration of forty days, which had nearly come to an end, he
would not fail to do his duty as heretofore.”

On the 25th August, 1535, Chapuys, in a letter to Charles V., gives an
amusing account of an attempt made by the French ambassador to see Henry
VIII. and Cromwell on diplomatic business. The Court was residing in
Gloucestershire owing to plague in and near London (it was at Bristol
also), and the ambassador journeyed thither to carry his business through.
However he went no nearer than six miles, because a “French merchant” who
followed him died upon the road of the plague, as it was feared. The king
asked him to put his charge in writing, but the ambassador replied that he
had orders to tell it in person, and that he could wait. At length he lay
in wait for Secretary Cromwell in the fields where he went to hunt with
the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and delivered his charge despite the
manifest unwillingness of Cromwell, who came away from the improvised
diplomatic interview in no good humour.

The first plague-order of which the full text is extant was issued in the
35th of Henry VIII. (1543). As it contains the germs of all subsequent
preventive practice, I transcribe it in full[604].

    “35 Hen. VIII. A precept issued to the aldermen:--That they should
    cause their beadles to set the sign of the cross on every house which
    should be afflicted with the plague, and there continue for forty

    “That no person who was able to live by himself, and should be
    afflicted with the plague, should go abroad or into any company for
    one month after his sickness, and that all others who could not live
    without their daily labour should as much as in them lay refrain from
    going abroad, and should for forty days after [illegible] and
    continually carry a white rod in their hand, two foot long:

    “That every person whose house had been infected should, after a
    visitation, carry all the straw and [illegible] in the night privately
    into the fields and burn; they should also carry clothes of the
    infected in the fields to be cured:

    “That no housekeeper should put any person diseased out of his house
    into the street or other place unless they provided housing for them
    in some other house:

    “That all persons having any dogs in their houses other than hounds,
    spaniels or mastiffs, necessary for the custody or safe keeping of
    their houses, should forthwith convey them out of the city, or cause
    them to be killed and carried out of the city and buried at the common

    “That such as kept hounds, spaniels, or mastiffs should not suffer
    them to go abroad, but closely confine them:

    “That the churchwardens of every parish should employ somebody to keep
    out all common beggars out of churches on holy days, and to cause them
    to remain without doors:

    “That all the streets, lanes, etc. within the wards should be

    “That the aldermen should cause this precept to be read in the

Here we see a development of the measures which had been devised for
London by Henry VIII. or his minister previous to 1518, and probably in
the plague of 1513. The wisps put out on the infected houses are replaced
by crosses, which, in the order of 1543, are simply called “the sign of
the cross.” They are next heard of during the plague of 1547, in a
Guildhall record of 15 November[605]:

    “Item, for as moche as my Lord Mayer reported that my Lorde Chauncelar
    declared unto hym that my Lorde Protectour’s Grace’s pleasure ys, and
    other of the Lordes of the Counseyll, that certain open tokens and
    sygnes shulde be made and sett furth in all such places of the Cytie
    as haue of late been vysyted with the plage”--be it therefore ordained
    that a certain cross of St Anthony devised for that purpose be affixed
    to the uttermost post of the street door, there to remain forty days
    after the setting up thereof.

The cross of St Anthony was a headless cross, and the crutch is supposed
to have been painted (in blue) on canvas or board and fixed to the post of
the street door. The legend under or over the cross was, “Lord have mercy
upon us.” Before the plague of 1603, the colour had been changed to red.

The white rods, which had been devised along with the wisps previous to
1518, are mentioned in the order of 1543 as two foot long; they were to
be carried for forty days by those who must needs go abroad from
plague-stricken houses. We hear of them again, both in France and in
England in 1580 and 1581. On the 20th November, 1580, the Venetian
ambassador to France writes from the neighbourhood of Paris: “This city, I
hear, is in a very fair sanitary condition, notwithstanding that as I
entered a city gate, which is close to where I reside, I met a man and a
woman bearing the white plague wands in their hands and asking alms; but
some believe that this was merely an artifice on their part to gain
money[606].” In the regulations for plague added in 1581 by the mayor of
London to the earlier code, the third is: “That no persons dwelling in a
house infected be suffered to go abroad unless they carry with them a
white wand of a yard long; any so offending to be committed to the Cage.”
In the seventeenth-century plagues of London and provincial towns, the
white wand was retained as the peculiar badge of the searchers of infected
houses and of the bearers of the dead. The white rod or wand carried by
inmates of infected houses, had become a red rod in the plague of 1603,
just as the blue cross had been changed to red.

The other directions in the order of 1543 are heard of from time to time
in the subsequent history of plague--such as the burning of straw, and the
cleansing of the streets. The Guildhall record of 15 November, 1547, after
directing the blue crosses to be affixed to houses, proceeds:

    “And also to cause all the welles and pumpes within their seid wardes
    to be drawen iii times euerye weke, that is to say, Monday, Wednesday,
    and Friday. And to cast down into the canelles at euerye such drawyng
    xii bucketts full of water at the least, to clense the stretes

Under Elizabeth, the orders as to scavenging become much more stringent,
as we shall see. In the plague of 1563, on 29 September, the Common
Council appointed “two poor men to burn and bury such straw, clothes, and
bedding as they shall find in the fields near the city or within the city,
whereon any person in the plague hath lyen or dyed[607].”

The curious order as to dogs was based upon the belief that they carried
the infection in their hair, just as cats are now believed by some to
carry infection in their fur. Brasbridge, in his _Poor Man’s Jewel_
(1578), gives a case of a glover at Oxford, into whose house a disastrous
plague-infection was supposed to have been brought by means of a dog’s
skin bought in London[608]. The plague-regulations contained the clause
against dogs to the last; in the great plagues of 1603, 1625, and 1665,
thousands of them were killed, many of them having been doubtless left
behind in the exodus of the well-to-do classes. In the corporation records
of Winchester[609], there is a minute, undated, but probably belonging to
the end of the 16th century, that dogs shall be kept indoors “if any house
within the city shall happen to be infected with the plague.” A
proclamation during the London plague of 1563 is directed against cats as
well as dogs, “for the avoidance of the plague:” officers were appointed
to kill and bury all such as they found at large[610].

The great London plague of 1563 had revived the old practices and given
rise to some new ones. Curates and churchwardens were directed to warn the
inmates of houses where plague had occurred not to come to church for a
certain space thereafter[611]. The blue crosses were again in great
request, being ordered by hundreds at a time in readiness to affix to
infected houses[612]. Also it was ordered by the Mayor and Council that
the “filthie dunghill lying in the highway near unto Fynnesburye Courte be
removed and carried away; and not to suffer any such donge or fylthe from
hensforthe there to be leyde[613].” On the 9th of July, 1563, plague
having been already at work for several weeks, a commission was issued by
the queen in Council, that every householder in London should, at seven
in the evening, lay out wood and make bonfires in the streets and lanes,
to the intent that they should thereby consume the corrupt airs, the fires
to be made on three days of the week[614]. On 30th September, 1563, it was
ordered that all such houses as were infected should have their doors and
windows shut up, and the inmates not to stir out nor suffer any to come to
them for forty days. At the same time, a collection was ordered to be made
in the churches for the relief of the poor afflicted with the plague, and
thus shut up. Another order was that new mould should be laid on the
graves of such as die of the plague. Still another, the first of a long
series, was to prohibit all interludes and plays during the
infection[615]. On the 2nd December, when the deaths had fallen to 178 in
the week, an order was issued by the Common Council that houses in which
the plague had been were not to be let. On the 20th January, 1564, there
was an order for a general airing and cleansing of houses, bedding and the
like. By that time the deaths had fallen to 13 in the week.

The most rigorous measures in this plague were those which queen Elizabeth
took for her own safety at Windsor in September. Stow says that “a gallows
was set up in the market-place of Windsor to hang all such as should come
there from London. No wares to be brought to, or through, or by Windsor;
nor any one on the river by Windsor to carry wood or other stuff to or
from London, upon pain of hanging without any judgment; and such people as
received any wares out of London into Windsor were turned out of their
houses, and their houses shut up[616].”

In 1568 a more complete set of instructions to the aldermen of the several
wards was drawn up by the Lord Mayor, and a corresponding order for the
city of Westminster by Sir William Cecil, Secretary of State, and by the
Chancellor of the Duchy. In 1581 some additional orders were issued by the
Lord Mayor. The whole of these are here given from a state paper in a
later handwriting, probably of the time of James I. or Charles I[617].

    A collection of such papers as are found in the office of his
    Majesties papers and records for business of state for the preventing
    and decreasing of the plague in and about London.

    A. (City of London, 1568.)

    1. First a ’tre from the Mayor of London to every alderman of each
    warde to charge their Deputys counstables and officers to make search
    of all houses infected within each parish.

    2. To cause all infected houses to bee shutt up and noe person to come
    forth in twenty dayes after the infection.

    3. That some honest discreete person be appoynted to attend each such
    infected house to provide them of all necessaries at the cost of the
    M{r} of the house if he be able.

    4. For the poorer houses infected that the Alderman or his deputy doe
    cause to make collection for the supply of all necessaries to be
    charged upon the wealthyer sorte of the same warde or parish.

    5. That such as shall refuse to pay what they are assest shall be
    committed to warde untill they pay it.

    6. That all bedding and cloathes and other thinges apt to take
    infection which were about infected persons bee burnt or such order
    taken that infection may not be increased by them.

    7. Lastly that a bill with ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ in greate ’tres
    bee sett over the dore of euery infected house and that the
    counstables and Beadles have a care to see that the same be not taken

    These orders were sett downe by the Mayior of London in the yeere
    1568, whereupon queene Elizabeth writeth a letter to S{r} William
    Cycill then secretary and S{r} Ambrous Cave, chauncellor of the Duchy
    to take the like order or any other that they should thinke fitt in
    the citie of Westminster.

    B. (City of Westminster, 1568.)

    Orders sett down by S{r} William Cycill, Secretary, as High Steward of
    Westminster and S{r} Ambrous Cave, chauncellor of the Dutchy to the
    Bayleiffes, Hedburroughs, Counstables and other officers of the sayde

    1. That they should follow the good example of the orders devised and
    observed by the Mayior and Aldermen of London, and further that all
    that haue any houses shops or loggings that hath had any infection in
    them by the space of twenty dayes before the making of these orders
    shall shutt up all their doares and windoares towards the streetes and
    common passages for forty dayes next and not suffer after the tyme of
    the sicknes any person to goe forth nor any uninfected to come in upon
    payne that euery offender shall sitt seven dayes in the stocks and
    after that be committed to the common Goale there to remayne forty
    dayes from the first day of his being in the stocks.

    2. That the officers aforesayde with the curate of euery parish and
    churchwardens doe make such collection of the rest of the parishioners
    as shall be necessary for the sustenance of such as bee poore infected
    and shutt up.

    3. To discharge all inmates out of all houses that there be noe more
    persons in one house then be of one family except they be lodgers for
    a small time.

    4. To cause the streetes lanes and passages and all the shewers sinkes
    (?) and gutters thereof dayly to be made sweete and cleane.

    C. (London, 1581.)

    There were added by the Mayior of London to the former articles these
    following in the year 1581.

    1. That speciall noatis be taken of such houses infected as sell
    cloth, silke and other wares and make garments and aparrell for men
    and women.

    2. That euery counstable within his precinct haue at all tymes in
    readines two honest and discreete women to attend any house infected.

    3. That noe person dwelling in a house infected bee suffered to goe
    abroade unless they carry with them a white wand of a yarde long. Any
    soe offending to bee committed to the Cage there to remayne untill
    order shallbe taken by the Mayior or his bretheren.

    4. That they suffer not any deade corps dying of the plague to be
    buryed in tyme of divine service or sermon.

    5. To appoynt two honest and discreete matrons within euery parish who
    shall bee sworne truely to search the body of euery such person as
    shall happen to dye within the same parish, to the ende that they make
    true reporte to the clerke of the parish church of all such as shall
    dye of the plague, that the same clerke may make the like reporte and
    certificate to the wardens of the parish clerkes thereof according to
    the order in that behalfe heretofore provided.

    If the viewers through favour or corruption shall giue wrong
    certificate, or shall refuse to serue being thereto appointed, then to
    punish them by imprisonment in such sorte as may serue for the terror
    of others.

    6. That order be taken for killing of dogs that run from house to
    house dispersing the plague, and that noe swine be suffered or kept
    within the citty[618].

Several of these plague-regulations had been in force, as we have seen,
from near the beginning of the century. Others, not hitherto mentioned,
were also of earlier date. Thus the collections for the poor are
mentioned in the diary of a London citizen in 1538 and 1539, but not
specially in connexion with plague. They are heard of often after the
plague of 1563, along with other provisions for the poor which mark the
reign of Elizabeth. If we may trust Bullein’s _Dialogue_ of 1564, a
systematic provision became necessary because private charity was no
longer to be depended on. In many country towns and parishes, as we shall
see, the contributions or compensations to the inmates of shut-up houses
in the Elizabethan plagues were paid out of the municipal funds, either
those of the affected place or of some “unvisited” neighbouring town. The
Act of Parliament which most directly provided for “the charitable relief
of persons infected with the plague” was the 1st James I. (1603-4), cap.

A most essential part of the means for controlling plague was the
institution of searchers[619]. In the orders of 1543, the aldermen of the
wards are directed to send their beadles to affix the sign of the cross to
affected houses. But in due course these duties of inspection,
notification, isolation and registration passed in London into the hands
of the Company of Parish Clerks. The original business of the Parish
Clerks was with church music. In the thirteenth century they received a
charter of incorporation as the Clerks of St Nicholas, and became
associated with that love of choral singing which has always distinguished
the English people. Legacies and endowments fell to them for the
performance of specific services, or for their encouragement in general.
From time to time the Company would appear in a particular parish church
to sing a mass. It was the singular history of a Company which gained its
greatest name as the Registrars of Births and Deaths in London down to the
Registration Act of 1837, to have been not only the first Choral Society
but also the first company of stage players. In 1391, says Stow, a play
was given by the parish clerks of London at the Skinners’ Well beside
Smithfield, which continued three days together, the king, queen and
nobles of the realm being present. Another play, in the year 1409, lasted
eight days, “and was of matter from the creation of the world, whereat
was present most of the nobility and gentry of England[620].”

In the time of Sir Thomas More, a parish clerk meant one who sang in the
church choir. When More was lord chancellor, the duke of Norfolk came one
day to dine with him at his house at Chelsea, and not finding him at home,
went in search of him. He found him, where posterity will long delight to
picture him,--in the church “singing in the choir with a surplice on his
back.” As they walked home arm in arm the duke said to Sir Thomas More: “A
parish clerk! a parish clerk! God body, my lord chancellor, you dishonour
the king and his office;” whereon the chancellor answered as if he did not
take the duke altogether seriously.

The whole strength of the Company of Parish Clerks in those times would
attend the funeral of some rich person, as we may read in the
sixteenth-century diary of Machyn the undertaker (sometimes the Company
chosen to follow the body to the grave was that of the Tallow Chandlers,
as in the case of John Stow’s mother). It was no great step from their old
duties to their new. There were, as we have seen, bills of mortality
compiled weekly for all the parishes in the city and liberties as early as
1532 and 1535. It is not said that the Parish Clerks were the collectors
of the information, but they were as likely to have been so as any other
persons whom the mayor would employ. Bills were also drawn up for a few
weeks during the sweating sickness of 1551, and again for an unbroken
series of some two hundred weeks from the beginning of the plague of 1563.
The figures are preserved from a single weekly bill, 22-28 October, 1574,
which must have been one of a series[621]. The next bills known are a
series for five years, 1578-83, a plague-period of which more will have to
be said in its proper place in the chronology.

The orders of 1581, already given, make mention of the two discreet
matrons within every parish who shall be sworn truly to search the body of
every such person as shall happen to die within the same parish, of their
reporting to the clerk of the parish, and of the clerk making report and
certificate to the wardens of the Parish Clerks, who would send the weekly
certificate for all the parishes to the mayor, and he to the minister of
State. That was said to be “according to the order in that behalf
heretofore provided.” It is probable, therefore, that the searchers became
an institution as early as the plague of 1563, or, at all events, at the
beginning of the plague-period of 1578-83.

The clerk of the Company in 1665 describes how the discreet matrons were
chosen as searchers or viewers of the dead in each parish, and how they
were sworn to discharge their duties faithfully[622]. The swearing in took
place before the Dean of the Arches, that is to say, in St Mary le Bow
church (“St Mary of the Arch”) in Cheapside. The motive to bribe them for
a wrong report on the cause of death was to avoid the shutting up and all
other troubles of a household pronounced infected by the plague. In later
times their diagnostic duties became, as we shall see, much more complex;
but down to 1604, when they first brought to the Parish Clerks’ Hall “an
account of the diseases and casualties” (which classification and
nomenclature did not begin to be printed until 1629), they had merely to
say whether a death had been from plague or from other cause.

Sanitation in Plantagenet and Tudor times.

Along with all those means, having the object of stopping the spread of
infection, the Elizabethan policy did not neglect what we should now
consider the more radical means of sanitation. It is usual to bring a
sweeping charge of neglect of public hygiene against all old times; there
was so much plague in those times, and so high an average death-rate, that
it is commonly assumed that our ancestors must have been wanting in the
rudimentary instincts of cleanliness. But, in the first place, one might
expect to find that all old periods were not alike; and more generally it
is worth inquiring how far nuisances injurious to the public health were
tolerated. This inquiry will have to be as brief as possible; but it will
take us back to the period of plague covered by a former chapter.

Nuisances certainly existed in medieval London, but it is equally certain
that they were not tolerated without limit. I have collected in a note the
instances reported in a visitation of 17 Edward III. (1343), and in a
perambulation of the ground outside the walls in 26 Edward III. (1352).
The former related only to the alleys leading down to the river, which
were likely enough places for nuisance, then as now[623].

There are several orders of Edward III. relating to the removal of
laystalls and to keeping the town ditch clean, which show, of course, that
there was neglect, but at the same time the disposition to correct it. It
is farther obvious that the connexion between nuisances and the public
health was clearly apprehended. The sanitary doctrines of modern times
were undreamt of; nor did the circumstances altogether call for them. The
sewers of those days were banked-up water courses, or “shores” as the word
was pronounced, which ran uncovered down the various declivities of the
city, to the town ditch and to the Thames. They would have sufficed to
carry off the refuse of a population of some forty or sixty thousand; they
were, at all events, freely open to the greatest of all purifying agents,
the oxygen of the air; and they poisoned neither the water of the town
ditch (which abounded in excellent fish within John Stow’s memory) nor the
waters of Thames. In course of time all the brooks of London were covered
in, even the Fleet dyke itself, which used to float barges as far as
Holborn bridge; but who shall say that they were more wholesome
thereafter, although they were underground? Perhaps the poet of the
_Earthly Paradise_ has as true an intuition as any when, in reference to
the city in Chaucer’s time, he bids us

  “Dream of London, small, and white, and clean;
   The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green.”

The nuisance that gave most trouble in the medieval and Tudor periods was
the blood and offal of the shambles. Several ordinances of Edward III. are
directed against it, in one of which (1371) the connexion between
putrefying blood soaked into the ground and infectious disease is clearly
stated. It is also the principal subject of the first sanitary Act that
appears in the Statutes of the Realm, made by the Parliament of Cambridge
in the 17th of Richard II. (1388), of which I give the preamble and

    “Item, For that so much Dung and Filth of the Garbage and Intrails as
    well of Beasts killed as of other Corruptions be cast and put in
    Ditches, Rivers and other Waters, and also within many other Places
    within about and nigh unto divers Cities, Boroughs and Towns of the
    Realm, and the Suburbs of them, that the Air there is greatly corrupt
    and infect, and many Maladies and other intolerable Diseases do daily
    happen,” both to the residents and to visitors:--therefore
    proclamation is to be made in the City of London, as in other cities,
    boroughs and towns “that all they which do cast and lay all such
    Annoyances, Dung, Garbages, Intrails and other Ordure in Ditches,
    Rivers, Waters and other places shall cause them to be removed,
    avoided and carried away betwixt this and the feast of St Michael next
    following,” under a penalty of twenty pounds, mayors and bailiffs to
    compel obedience. Such offences were not to be repeated, and if any
    did offend he was liable to be called by writ before the Chancellor
    “at his suit that will complain[624].”

Despite this statute, the shambles in the parish of St Nicholas within
Newgate (adjoining the ground now occupied by Christ’s Hospital, and
formerly by the Grey Friars) became an established institution of the
city. They were a subject of petition to Parliament in 1488-9, and they
were still there to give occasion in 1603 to severe remarks by Thomas
Lodge, poet and physician, who practised in Warwick Lane, in their
immediate neighbourhood. The Act of 1388, it will be observed, was to be
set in motion “at his suit that will complain;” so that there was little
more in it than the immemorial remedy from a nuisance at common law.

The reign of Henry V. appears to have been marked by care for the public
health, perhaps not greater than in Edward III.’s time, but exceptional,
in the records at least, under the later Plantagenets and until the
accession of the Tudor dynasty. Among other evidences (some of which may
be gathered from Stow’s _Survey_) is the ordinance of 1415 (3 Hen. V.)
against a nuisance in the Moor, beyond the wall and the ditch on the
Finsbury side. The Moor was, in Fitzstephen’s words, “a great fen, which
watereth the walls on the north side.” In 1415 there was a “common
latrine” in it, and “sicknesses arose from the horrible, corrupt, and
infected atmosphere,” issuing therefrom[625]. Its removal was ordered, and
in the same year (1415) chaussées were built across the fen, one to Hoxton
and another to Islington. The ditch all the way round from the Tower to
Blackfriars had been cleansed the year before (1414).

Another statute, 3 Henry VII. (1488-9) cap. 3, may be quoted to show that
the slaughter-houses were the chief nuisance, that their effects on health
were perceived (as in Edward III.’s time), and that it was necessary to
appeal to the king’s personal interest in the matter as a motive for

    Petition to the King from the parishioners of St Faiths and St
    Gregories in London, near St Pauls.

    “That it was soo that grete concourse of peple, as well of his Roial
    persone as of other grete Lordes and astates wyth other hys true
    subgettes often tymes was had unto the said Cathedrall Chirche, and
    for the moost part through oute the parisshe aforesaide, the whiche
    often tymes ben gretly ennoyed and invenemed by corrupt eires,
    engendered in the said parisshes by occasion of bloode and other
    fowler thynges, by occasion of the slaughter of bestes and scaldyng of
    swyne had and doon in the bocherie of Seynt Nicholas Flesshamls, whos
    corrupcion by violence of unclene and putrified waters is borne down
    thrugh the said parishes and compasseth two partes of the Palays where
    the Kynges most Roiall persone is wonte to abide when he cometh to the
    Cathedrall Chirche for ony acte there to be doon, to the Jubardouse
    [jeopardous] abydyng of his most noble persone and to ouer grete
    ennoysaunce of the parisshens there, and of other the Kyngis subgettes
    and straungers that passe by the same;

    Compleynte whereof at dyverse and many seasons almost by the space of
    xvi yeres contynuelly, as well by the Chanons and petty Chanons of the
    said Cathedrall Chirche, londlordes there ... made to Mayor and
    aldermen of the city; and noo remedie had ne founden.

    ... Considering that in few noble cities or towns or none within
    Christendom, where as travellyng men have labored, that the comen
    slaughter hous of bestys sholde be kept in ony speciall parte within
    the walle of the same lest it myght engender Siknesse to the
    destruccion of the peple.”

    The King etc. “ordeyned and stablished that no Bocher shall sley
    within the said house called the Scaldinghouse or within the walls of

    And the same “in eny citte, Burghe and Towne walled within the Realm
    of Englonde and in the Towne of Cambridge, the Townes of Berwyk and
    Carlile only except and forprised.”

The popular knowledge of and belief in a high doctrine of contagion are
curiously shown by the terms of the Act touching Upholsterers in 1495 (II
Hen. VII. cap. 19).

    The Act was intended to prevent beds, feather-beds, bolsters and
    pillows from being sold in market outside London, “beyond control of
    the Craft of Upholders.” Outside the craft an inferior article was apt
    to be offered, which was at once a lowering of a good and worthy
    standard and a danger to health. There were two kinds of corrupt
    bed-stuffs “contagious for mannys body to lye on,” firstly, scalded
    feathers and dry pulled feathers together; and secondly, flocks and
    feathers together. Besides these, quilts, mattresses and cushions
    stuffed with horse hair, fen down, neat’s hair, deer’s hair and goat’s
    hair, “which is wrought in lyme fattes,” give out by the heat of man’s
    body, a savour and taste so abominable and contagious that many of the
    King’s subjects thereby have been destroyed. These corrupt and
    unlawful stuffs and wares might indeed be made by any person or
    persons for their own proper use in their houses, so they be not
    offered for sale in fairs or markets.

The reign of Henry VIII. is not marked by any ordinances or Acts for the
restraint of plague or the like sickness by other than quarantine
measures. The common ditch between Aldgate and the postern of the Tower
was cleansed in 1519 at the charges of the city; in 1540 the Moor ditch
was cleansed: and, not long before, the ditch from the Tower to Aldgate.
In 1549 the ditch was again cleansed at the charges of the City
Companies[626]. In April, 1552, John Shakespeare, the poet’s father, a
citizen of Stratford-on-Avon in good circumstances and afterwards mayor of
the town, was fined twelve pence (eight to ten shillings present value)
for not removing the heap of household dirt and refuse that had
accumulated in front of his own door[627]. In the records of the borough
of Ipswich[628], scavengers are mentioned in the 32nd of Henry VIII.
(1540): they were elected in every parish, and the gatherings of refuse
ordered to be carried and laid at four places, namely: Warwick Pitts,
College Yard, behind the Ditches next John Herne, and the Dikes in the
Marsh. When queen Elizabeth visited Ipswich (in 1561, 1565 and 1577), she
rated not only the clergy on the laxity of their behaviour, but also the
civic authorities upon the filthy condition of the streets. “A marked
improvement,” says the borough historian, “certainly took place in Ipswich
at this period, as is incontestably shown by the constant exhortations and
promulgations of laws for the preservation of cleanliness.”

In the _Description and Account of the City of Exeter_, written by John
Vowell, or Hoker, chamberlain of the city and member of Parliament for it
in the reign of Elizabeth[629], we find the following about the offices
and duties of scavengers “as of old.”

    They are “necessary officers who cannot be wanting in any
    well-governed city or town, because by them and their service all
    things noisome to the health of man, and hurtful to the state of the
    body of the commonwealth, are advertised unto the magistrate, and so
    they be the means of the redress thereof. And therefore they be called
    Scavengers, as who saith Shewers or Advertisers, for so the word
    soundeth.” Among other duties they had the oversight of pavements,
    that they were swept weekly, of slaughter-houses, dunghills and the
    like, of dangerous buildings and of encroachments upon the streets,
    of chimneys, and of precautions against fires (tubs of water to be in
    readiness at the doors to quench fires and cleanse the streets); and
    on Sundays they had to attend the mayor of Exeter to the church of St

These officers of the municipality discharged their duties, says the
Elizabethan writer, “as of old;” from which we may conclude that some such
regulation had existed from quite early times. The scavengers are
mentioned by Stow at the end of his account of each City ward along with
other officers. We have already seen, from the court rolls of the manor of
Castle Combe under the year 1427, that villagers were fined or admonished
for creating nuisances. A sudden revival of zeal in that way at Castle
Combe in the year 1590 may have been due to the vigorous sanitary policy
of Elizabeth’s government:

    “And that the inhabitants of the West Strete doe remove the donge or
    fylth at John Davis house ende before the feaste of Seynct Andrew
    th’apostell next, and that they lay no more there within x foote of
    the wey, sub poena iii s iiii d.

    “And that none shall lay any duste or any other fylth in the wey or
    pitte belowe Cristopher Besas house, sub poena pro quolibet tempore
    xii d.

    “And that none shall soyle in the church yerde nor in any of our
    stretes, for every defaulte to lose xii d.

    “And that the glover shall not washe any skynes, nor cast any other
    fylth or soyle in the water runnynge by his house, sub poena x

There is an interval of a century and a half between the two instances of
sanitary vigour adduced from the Castle Combe manor court; but there is no
reason to believe that the tradition of common cleanliness ever lapsed
altogether, in that or in any other village or town of the country.

Some part of the rather unfair opinion as to the foulness of English life
in former times may be traced to a well-known letter by Erasmus to the
physician of cardinal Wolsey. There are grounds for believing that Erasmus
must have judged from somewhat unfavourable instances.

“We read of a city,” says Erasmus, “which was freed from continual
pestilence by changes made in its buildings on the advice of a
philosopher. Unless I am mistaken, England may be freed in like manner.”
He then proceeds to go over the defects of English houses, and to suggest
improvements. The houses were built with too little regard to the aspect
of their doors and windows towards the sun. Again, they have a great part
of their walls filled with panes of glass, admitting light in such wise as
to keep out the wind, and yet letting in at chinks of the windows the air
as if strained or percolated, and so much the more pestilential by being
long stagnant. These defects he would remedy by having two or three sides
of a house exposed to the sky, and all glazed windows so made that they
should open wholly or shut wholly, and so shut that there might be no
access of noxious winds through gaping seams; for if it be sometimes
wholesome to admit the air, it is sometimes wholesome to keep it out.
Inside the houses Erasmus professes to have seen a shocking state of
things--the floors covered with rushes piled, the new upon the old, for
twenty years without a clearance, befouled with all manner of filth, with
spillings of beer and the remains of fish, with expectoration and vomit,
with excrement and urine[631]. Here we have clearly to do with the
intelligent foreigner. On the other hand, as far back as the reign of
Richard I., Englishmen would appear to have contrasted their own personal
habits with those of other nations, much as the summer tourist does now.
English youths, it has been said, go through Europe with one phrase on
their lips: “Foreigners don’t wash.” Richard of Devizes implies somewhat
the same. A Frankish youth is being advised where to settle in England,
Winchester being chosen by excluding the other towns one by one. Bristol,
for example, was wholly given over to soap-boilers: everyone in Bristol
was either a soap-boiler or a retired soap-boiler; “and the Franks love
soap as much as they love scavengers[632].” We may cry quits, then, with
Erasmus over the rush-strewn floors. It is clear, also, that the glazed
fronts of English houses, which he took exception to, are the very feature
of them that Sir Thomas More prided himself upon; in that as in other
external things the London of his day seemed to him to leave little to be
desired as the capital of Utopia, his chief subjects of remark being the
shambles and the want of hospitals for the sick[633].

Thus, when we attempt to clear the sense of our rather mixed notions on
the unwholesome life of former times, we must feel constrained to withdraw
a great part of the accusation as to nuisances tolerated or scavenging
neglected. Most of all was the government of Elizabeth marked by vigour in
its attempts to restrain plague, not only by quarantine measures, but also
by radical sanitation.

Queen Elizabeth and her Council were baffled by the persistence of plague
in London in 1581-82-83; the infection pursued its own course despite all
efforts to “stamp it out,” so that the letters from the lords of the
Council to the mayor begin to assume a somewhat querulous and impatient
tone[634]. To a letter of remonstrance, 21st September, 1581, the mayor
replied next day that every precaution had been taken. On the 22nd March,
1582, the mayor retorted upon the Court that an artificer in leather,
dwelling near Fleet Bridge, had the plague in his house, that his house
had been shut up, and he restrained from going out; nevertheless he had
access to the Court in the things of his art, both for the queen and her
household. On the 1st September, 1582, the plague having greatly increased
as appeared by certificate of the number of the dead during the last week,
the Privy Council informed the mayor that this was in part “by negligence
in not keeping the streets and other places about the city clean, and
partly through not shutting up of the houses where the sickness had been
found, and setting marks upon the doors; but principally through not
observing orders for prevention of the infection heretofore sent to them
by the Council.” The mayor sent answer the same day that every care had
been taken: the streets had been cleansed every other day; the parish
clerks had been appointed to see to the shutting up of infected houses,
and putting papers upon the doors; he had also appointed some of his own
officers to go up and down the city to view and inform him whether these
things had been done.

So much did the Council believe, or affect to believe, that the mayor
could control the plague if he carried out their orders, that they used
the adjournment of the law courts as a threat to the city. On the 15th
October, the Term was announced to be held at Hertford, and all persons
from infected London houses were forbidden to repair thither with
merchandise, victual, &c.[635]. Then follow in January, 1583, letters
touching an impracticable attempt of the Privy Council to have a list
printed of all inns and taverns that had been infected within the last two
months. The mayor made a catalogue which was pronounced too long. On 21st
April, 1583, the infection had much increased, and the lords of the
Council again urged upon the mayor to have infected houses shut up, and
provision made for feeding and maintaining the inmates thereof. They
desired to express her majesty’s surprise that no house or hospital had
been built without the city, in some remote place, to which the infected
people might be removed, although other cities of less antiquity, fame,
wealth, and reputation had provided themselves with such places, whereby
the lives of the inhabitants had been in all times of infection chiefly
preserved. The mayor, on 3rd May, wrote that the Court of Aldermen had
published orders for the stay of the plague; but that they were
comparatively powerless so long as crowds of the worst sort of people
resorted to see plays, bear-baiting, fencers, and profane spectacles at
the theatre, and Curtain, and other the like places.

The plague pursued its own course, wholly unaffected, so far as one can
see, by everything that was tried. One thing that was not touched by the
sanitary policy, was probably more relevant than all else to the
continuance of plague--the disposal of the dead. The theoretical
importance attached to that as an original cause of plague has been avowed
in the chapter on the Black Death. We have here to see how the theory of
it as a favouring thing for the continuance of the infection squares with
the facts in such a city as London under the Plantagenets and Tudors.

The Disposal of the Dead.

Intramural interment was one of the most cherished practices of
Christendom so long as the word “intramural” had a literal meaning. Hence
the correctness of the imagery used of the Spiritual City:

  “To work and watch, until we lie
   At rest within thy wall.”

Probably each of the one hundred and twenty small parish churches of
London in the medieval period stood in its small churchyard. In an
exceptional time like the Black Death, these proved insufficient for the
daily burials: three new cemeteries were enclosed and consecrated outside
the walls--two of them in Smithfield and the other at Aldgate. These all
soon passed into the hands of friars, and became the grounds of
monasteries. The churches or churchyards of monasteries were in great
request for burial, but not for common burials, or for burials in a time
of epidemic. The ‘Vision of Piers the Ploughman’ is clear enough that the
friars took no large view of their duties; they affected the care of the
dead, but only if they were well paid:

    “For I said I nold | be buried at their house but at my parish church.
    | For I heard once how conscience it told | that where a man was
    christened by kynde [nature] he should be buried, | or where he were
    parishen, right there he should be graven. | And for I said this to
    friar, a fool they me held | and loved me the less for my lele speech
    | ... I have much marveil of you and so hath many another | why your
    convent coveteth to confess and to bury | rather than to baptise
    bairns that ben catechumens.”

The reason why the friars paid so much attention to burials was that these
rites were the most profitable:

    “And how that freris [friars] folowed folke that was riche | and folke
    that was pore at litel price they sette, | and no corps in their
    kirk-yerde ne in their kyrke was buried | but quick he bequeath them
    aught or should help quit their debts.”

The friars in the towns would appear, then, to have been as much in
request for the disposal of the dead within their precincts as the monks
were in the country, both alike taking a certain part of that duty out of
the hands of the regular parish clergy. Hence we may assign a good many
burials, perhaps mostly of the richer class, as in Stow’s long lists of
conventual burials, to the various precincts of Whitefriars, Blackfriars,
Greyfriars (within Newgate) or Friars Minor (Minories), Carthusians, or
other settlements of the religious orders in the city and liberties of
London. It is not unlikely that the narrow spaces for burial in and around
the old churches in the streets and lanes of the city were already getting
crowded, and that the friars naturally acquired a large share of the
business of burial because their consecrated houses and enclosed grounds
were situated where there was most room, namely in the skirt of the
Liberties, or in waste spaces within the walls.

The parish churchyards within the walls became insufficient, not merely
because of the generations of the dead, but because they were encroached
upon. In 1465 the churchyard of St Mary le Bow in Cheapside was so
encroached upon by building of houses that John Rotham or Rodham, citizen
and tailor, by his will gave to the parson and churchwardens a certain
garden in Hosier-lane to be a churchyard; which, says Stow, so continued
near a hundred years, but now is built on and is a private man’s
house[636]. In like manner there was a colony of Brabant weavers settled
in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset, and the great house of the earl of
Oxford stood in St Swithin’s churchyard, near London Stone. John Stow’s
grandfather directed that his body should be buried “in the little green
churchyard of the parish church of St Michael in Cornhill, between the
cross and the church wall, as nigh the wall as may be.” For some years
previous to 1582, as many as 23 of the city parishes were using St Paul’s
churchyard for their dead, having parted with their own burial grounds.
But in that year (letter of 3 April, 1582[637]) the number of parishes
privileged to use St Paul’s churchyard was reduced to 13, the ten
restrained parishes being provided for in the cemetery gifted to the city
in 1569 by Sir Thomas Roe, outside Bishopsgate, “for the ease of such
parishes in London as wanted ground convenient within the parishes.” The
state of St Paul’s churchyard may be imagined from the words of a
remonstrance made two years after, in 1584: “The burials are so many, and
by reason of former burials so shallow, that scarcely any grave could be
made without corpses being laid open[638].” Twenty years before, in 1564,
or the year after the last great plague which we have dealt with, Medicus,
one of the speakers in Bullein’s _Dialogue of the Fever Pestilence_ brings
in “the multitude of graves in every churchyard, and great heaps of rotten
bones, whom we know not of what degree they were, rich or poor, in their

St Paul’s churchyard would appear to have received the dead of various
parishes from an early date. There was a large charnel house for the bones
of the dead on the north side, with a chapel over it, dedicated to the
Virgin and endowed in 1282. Stow says that the chapel was pulled down in
1549, and that “the bones of the dead, couched up in a charnel under the
chapel, were conveyed from thence into Finsbury field, by report of him
who paid for the carriage, amounting to more than one thousand cart-loads,
and there laid on a moorish ground, in short space after raised, by
soilage of the city upon them, to bear three windmills. The chapel and
charnel were converted into dwelling-houses, warehouses, and sheds before
them, for stationers, in place of the tombs.” Elsewhere he names Reyne
Wolfe, stationer, as the person who paid for the carriage of the bones and
“who told me of some thousands of carry-loads, and more to be conveyed.”
From this we may infer that the graves were systematically emptied as each
new corpse came to be buried, according to the principle of a “short
tenancy of the soil” which is being re-advocated at the end of the 19th
century by the Church of England Burial Reform Association.

The spaces reserved for burial around the newer parish churches in the
liberties, such as St Sepulchre’s and St Giles’s, Cripplegate, were
gradually pared down and let out for buildings by the parish. Stow, in his
_Survey_ of 1598, says that St Sepulchre’s church stands “in a fair
churchyard, although not so large as of old time, for the same is letten
out for buildings and a garden plot.” The records of St Giles’s,
Cripplegate, show that rents were received by the parish for detached
portions of the churchyard in 1648[639].

To take an instance of new city graveyards still remaining: The old
fifteenth-century parishes of St Ewin and St Nicholas in the Flesh
Shambles became united in the parish of Christ Church within Newgate,
which, under that name, buried many, as we may read in Stow’s _Survey_. At
length its burial ground was full, and it acquired a not very large plot
next to the churchyard of St Botolph’s outside Aldersgate. Its neighbour
parish within the walls, St Leonard’s in Foster Lane, acquired the next
conterminous plot for its new burial-ground. All three graveyards are now
thrown into one strip of public garden by the removal of the two cross
walls which originally kept the ground of each parish separate.

While the graveyards were thus curtailed, and dwelling-houses built close
up to them, the mode of burial was none of the safest. To take the
instance of the great Cripplegate parish again: some few, like John
Milton, would be buried within the church in leaden coffins; others would
be laid in the ground of the churchyard in the same way, full burial dues
being paid; but many more, for whom the dues were remitted, would be
buried in a sheet, with no coffin at all, in the part of the churchyard
reserved for the poor[640]. For the parish of St Saviour’s, Southwark, the
scale of burial dues was as follows: “In any churchyard next the church,
with a coffin, 2_s._ 8_d._; without a coffin, 20_d._; for a child with a
coffin, 8_d._; without a coffin, 4_d._ The colledge churchyard, with a
coffin, 12_d._; without a coffin, 8_d._” One of their broadsheets, dated
1580, has a picture of a body ready for burial in a cerecloth, a close
fitting covering tied at the head and feet, and neatly finished[641].

It is not to be supposed that no voices were raised against the
overcrowding of the old city churchyards. Intramural burial is one of the
many practical topics in Latimer’s sermons: in 1552 he denounced the state
of St Paul’s churchyard as an occasion of “much sickness and disease,”
appealing to its notorious smells; the citizens of Nain, he said, “had a
good and laudable custom to bury their corses without the city, which
ensample we may follow[642].” Preaching at Paul’s Cross on the 8th of
August, 1563, when the plague was already destroying at the rate of five
hundred in a week, Turner, commonly called Turner of Boulogne, made two
solemn petitions to my lord mayor of London: the one was that the dead of
the city should be buried out of the city in the field; the other was that
no bell should be tolled for them when they lay at the mercy of God
departing out of this present life, “for that the tolling of the bell did
the party departing no good, neither afore their death nor after[643].” In
the writings on plague, putrefying animal matters, such as carrion or
offal, are always mentioned among the causes; but it is only rarely that
the ordinary burial of the dead is referred to. In the seventeenth
century, the filling of the soil with products of cadaveric decomposition
played a greater part in the theory of plague, especially in the writings
of Prosper Alpinus, physician to the Venetian consulate at Cairo. Among
English books, the treatise on Plague by Dr Gilbert Skene, of Edinburgh
(1568), is the only one that is at all clear upon the point. In his fourth
chapter, on the places which be most pestilential, he includes the
localities “where many dead are buried,” the ground there becoming “fat
and vaporative;” and in his first chapter, on causes in general, he
instances “dead carrions unburied, in special of mankind, which, by
similitude of nature, is most nocent to man, as every brutal is most
infectant and pestilential to their own kind.” But even if these truths
had been generally apprehended, religious prescription and usage would
have been too strong to allow of radical measures being adopted. The grand
provocative of plague was no obvious nuisance above ground, but the
loading of the soil, generation after generation, with an immense
quantity of cadaveric matters, which were diffused in the pores of the
ground under the feet of the living, to rise in emanations, more deadly in
one season than in another, according as the level of the ground-water and
the heat of the earth determined the degree of oxidation, or the formation
of the more dangerous half-way products of decomposition.

So little is known of the great plagues of London in 1406-7, 1464, 1479,
1500, and 1513, that we can only conjecture how the dead, to the number
perhaps of one hundred in a day at the height of the epidemic, were
disposed of--probably in trenches in the fields of Whitechapel, Smithfield
and Finsbury, or in such parishes as St Sepulchre’s. The skirts of the
city were used also to deposit the soil upon. Thus it happened that the
ground outside the walls, which came in time to be the densely populated
liberties and out-parishes, and the chief seat of all later plagues, had
for generations before received the refuse of the city and a large
proportion of the bodies of the dead. An instance mentioned by Stow, in
1598, may be taken as standing for many more: “On the right hand, beyond
Shoreditch Church toward Hackney, are some late-built houses upon the
common soil; for it was a lay-stall.”

What remains to be said of localities and circumstances of plague in
London will come in with the history of successive epidemics, which we may
now resume and carry to the end of the Tudor period.

Chronology of Plague, 1564-1592.

The amount of plague in London for the two or three years next following
the great epidemic in the autumn of 1563 is accurately known from Stow’s
abstracts of the weekly bills of mortality. It was exceedingly little, the
deaths being but one or two or three in a week, and often none. The
figures come to an end with July, 1566, and it is probable that the bills
may not have been made for a time after that. The proposal made by Sir
Roger Martyn in a letter of 20th October, 1568, to the earl of
Northumberland, that all strangers arriving from over sea should be
quarantined at Gravesend, would have been instigated by the known
prevalence of plague and other malignant types of sickness in Scotland
and at various parts of the continent of Europe. It was just in those
years, before and after the founding of the Royal Exchange in 1566, that
the concourse of merchants to London, especially from the war-troubled Low
Countries and France, was greatest.

The revival of plague in London, after the great epidemic of 1563, was
probably in 1568. In the city records there are orders relating to
searchers, shutting up of houses, and collections for infected households,
dated 12 October, 1568 (10 Elizabeth), 27 March and 19 October, 1569. But
in 1568 the regulations, like the proposal for quarantine of shipping, may
have been made more against the importation of cases from outside than on
account of cases actually in London. It is in 1569 that we definitely hear
of plague in the capital:--

“The plague of pestilence somewhat raging in the city of London,
Michaelmas Term was first adjourned unto the 3rd of November, and after
unto Hillary Term next following[644].” This outbreak of the autumn and
winter of 1569 must have been considerable: for we find the earl of Essex
writing from York on the 30th October to Cecil to say that he would have
come to London before “had not the plague stayed him[645];” and Thomas
Bishop, giving account of his movements to the Council, says that he
remained in London until the 10th October, “when the plague increasing, I

The year 1570 was one of the more disastrous plague-years on the
Continent, that now recur somewhat frequently down to the end of the
century. “There was general disease of pestilence,” says Stow, “throughout
all Europe, in such sort that many died of God’s tokens, chiefly amongst
the Venetians, of whom there died of that cruel sickness about threescore
thousand.” In London, on 2nd August, a death in the Tower was put down to
plague; but there is no other evidence of its prevalence in the
capital[647]. In the beginning of next winter, 1571, there was plague at
Cambridge (letter of 18th November)[648]; and at Oxford in the same year
it left such misery, says Anthony Wood, that divers scholars were forced
to beg[649]. In 1573 it reappeared in London, at its usual season, the end
of the year: it raged so violently “that the Queen ordered the new Lord
Mayor not to keep the usual feast upon his inauguration[650].” The
register of St Andrew’s parish, at Hertford, bears witness to the flight
of Londoners to that favourite refuge; there were numerous burials of the
plague in 1573, and in subsequent years, many of them being of London
citizens[651]. It was in London again in 1574: a letter of 15 November, to
the sheriff and justices of Surrey, orders that they should not allow the
people to resort to plays and shows [in Southwark] “at that time of
contagion[652],” while the figures from a weekly bill of mortality, which
have been preserved, show that the outbreak had been one of the more
considerable degree--for the week 22-28 October, in the city and liberties
(108 parishes), buried of all diseases, 166, whereof of the plague,

The known provincial centres in 1574 were Stamford, Peterborough and
Chester. The Stamford visitation was one of a good many that the town
suffered from first to last, and must have been a severe one; in one
month, from 8 August to 7 September, 40 had been buried of the plague,
“and the town is so rudely governed, they have so mixed themselves, that
there is none that is in any hope of being clear. It is in seventeen
houses, and the town is in great poverty; but that the good people of the
country send in victuals, there would many die of famine. St Martin’s
parish is clear[654].” The corporation records also bear witness to the
confusion caused, the new bailiffs having been sworn in before the
Recorder in a field outside, instead of in the usual place[655].
Peterborough, which was not far off, is known to have had a visitation,
from an entry in the parish register, “1574, January. Here began the
plague[656].” At Chester, “plague began, but was stayed with the death of
some few in the crofts[657].”

The year 1575 is somewhat singular for an epidemic of plague in
Westminster, but none in the city of London: the deaths for one week in
the former are known[658]; and, as regards the immunity of London, Cecil
had removed previous to 16 September, from Westminster to Sir Thomas
Gresham’s house in the City to avoid the infection[659]. It had been at
Cambridge in the winter of 1574-5, and was “sore” in Oxford down to
November, 1575.

The same year, 1575, was a season of severe plague in Bristol and other
places of the west of England. Some 2000 are said (in the Mayor’s
Calendar) to have died in Bristol between St James’s tide (July 25) when
the infection “began to be very hot,” and Paul’s tide (January 25)[660].
As early as the 11th July, the corporation of Wells had ordered measures
against the plague in Bristol; but Wells also appears to have had a
visitation, if the 200 persons buried, according to tradition, in the
“plague-pit” near the north-eastern end of the Cathedral (besides many
more buried in the fields) had been victims of the disease in 1575[661].
At Shrewsbury in that year the fairs were removed on account of
plague[662]. From a claim of damages which came before the Court of
Requests in 1592, it appears that plague had been in Cheshire in 1576; at
Northwich the house of one Phil. Antrobus was infected and most of the
family died; on which some linens in the house, worth not more than
13_sh._ 4_d._ were put in the river lest they should be used; the son, who
was a tailor, claimed compensation, through the earl of Derby, sixteen
years after[663].

At Hull, in 1576, there was an outbreak, small compared with some other
visitations there, in the Blackfriars Gate, the deaths being about one
hundred[664]. It is somewhat remarkable to find the borough of
Kirkcudbright making regulations in the month of January, 1577, a most
unlikely season, to prevent the introduction of the plague then raging on
the Borders[665]. In September, 1577, there were issued orders to be put
in execution throughout the realm in towns and villages infected with the
plague. More definitely it is heard of on 21 October at Rye and Dover, and
on 3 November, 1577, in London.

We now come to a series of years, 1578 to 1583, for which we have full
particulars of the burials in London, from plague and other causes, and of
the christenings. These valuable statistics, the earliest known, are
preserved among the papers of Lord Burghley, who procured them from the
lord mayor of London[666], and are here given in full, having been copied
from the MS. in the library of Hatfield House[667].

_Abstracts of Burials and Baptisms in London, 1578-1583_


   Week               Of     Of other
  ending     Dead   plague   diseases  Christened

  Jan.   2    62      7        55         66
         9    90     12        78         52
        16    63     14        49         59
        23    95     33        62         59
        30    82     25        57         65
  Feb.   6    88     24        64         51
        13   102     25        77         59
        20   100     26        74         77
        27    84     12        72         84
  Mar.   6    79     10        69         58
        13    66      9        57         53
        20    75      5        70         57
        27    63     12        51         60
  Apr.   3    96     19        77         64
        10    89     25        64         67
        17   102     31        71         66
        24    91     37        54         62
  May    1   109     25        84         44
         8   116     33        83         37
        15   141     43        98         48
        22   109     36        73         66
        29   119     34        85         43
  June   5    99     38        61         51
        12    91     35        56         41
        19    76     34        42         54
        26    75     18        57         48
  July   3    92     34        58         52
        10    99     35        64         48
        17    98     39        59         52
        24   129     63        66         49
        31   100     41        59         59
  Aug.   7   132     73        59         76
        14   152     78        74         72
        21   232    134        98         63
        28   205    113        92         58
  Sept.  4   257    162        95         84
        11   297    183       114         64
        18   308    189       119         68
        25   330    189       141         72
  Oct.   2   370    230       140         76
         9   388    234       154         62
        16   361    234       127         73
        23   281    175       106         58
        30   258    130       128         68
  Nov.   6   278    127       151         60
        13   230    116       114         64
        20   172     77        95         66
        27   155     84        71         68
  Dec.   4   160     77        83         60
        11   161     65        96         69
        18   129     44        85         62
        25    94     20        74         68
            ----   ----      ----       ----
            7830   3568      4262       3150


   Week               Of     Of other
  ending     Dead   plague   diseases  Christened

  Jan.   1   100     27        73         54
         8    67     13        54         68
        15    75     16        59         74
        22    63      9        54         81
        29    79     19        60         75
  Feb.   5    84     23        61         46
        12    81     16        65         63
        19    69     15        54         61
        26    70     10        60         77
  Mar.   5    51      6        45         71
        12    61     16        45         72
        19    66     10        56         65
        26    75     13        62         68
  Apr.   2    81     19        62         53
         9    82     27        55         79
        16    77     22        55         53
        23    58     10        48         44
        30    71     10        61         57
  May    7    64     12        52         51
        14    68     14        54         42
        21    75     12        63         54
        28    78     13        65         47
  June   4    66      7        59         56
        11    49      7        42         46
        18    74     14        60         60
        25    65     13        52         45
  July   2    57     11        46         50
         9    62      9        53         66
        16    73     19        54         52
        23    72     12        60         63
        30    72     13        59         67
  Aug.   6    66     12        54         61
        13    70     18        52         67
        20    68     12        56         61
        27    63     10        53         58
  Sept.  3    66     14        52         65
        10    85     25        60         55
        17    66     11        55         80
        24    44      8        36         63
  Oct.   1    60      9        51         42
         8    56      8        48         75
        15    68     14        54         70
        22    49      6        43         71
        29    52     10        42         76
  Nov.   5    47      8        39         66
        12    37      2        35         69
        19    60      2        58         84
        26    44      6        38         69
  Dec.   3    43      3        40         78
        10    55      4        51         80
        17    49      4        45         70
        24    51      3        48         78
        31    42      3        39         72
            ----   ----      ----       ----
            3406    629      2777       3370


   Week              Of     Of other
  ending     Dead  plague   diseases  Baptised

  Jan.   7    49      1        48        78
        14    58      4        54        58
        21    50      5        45        63
        28    28      2        26        74
  Feb.   4    54      5        49        81
        11    49      2        47        91
        18    47      3        44        81
        25    48      3        45        68
  Mar.   3    52      0        52        77
        10    48      2        46        74
        17    48      1        47        75
        24    52      3        49        68
        31    48      2        46        59
  Apr.   7    48      1        47        77
        14    53      1        52        78
        21    40      1        39        74
        28    43      1        42        75
  May    5    58      1        57        72
        12    54      0        54        69
        19    40      2        38        75
        26    44      0        44        72
  June   2    36      1        35        59
         9    41      0        41        54
        16    46      2        44        60
        23    55      2        53        59
        30    47      4        43        57
  July   7    77      4        73        65
        14   133      4       129        66
        21   146      3       143        61
        28    96      5        91        64
  Aug.   4    78      5        73        71
        11    51      4        47        53
        18    49      1        48        72
        25    63      3        60        62
  Sept.  1    48      0        48        71
         8    35      2        33        69
        13    52      1        51        69
        22    52      1        51        95
        29    65      2        63        55
  Oct.   6    35      1        34        63
        13    44      2        42        56
        20    45      2        43        56
        27    40      3        37        80
  Nov.   3    60      7        53        75
        10    59      5        54        67
        17    57      3        54        75
        24    45      2        43        70
  Dec.   1    54      3        51        83
         8    58      1        57        56
        15    53      8        45        59
        22    53      4        49        61
        29    89      3        86        66
            ----   ----      ----      ----
            2873    128      2745      3568


   Week              Of     Of other
  ending     Dead  plague   diseases  Baptised

  Jan.   5    42      5        37        63
        12    53      4        49        65
        19    50      1        49        65
        26    46      1        45        59
  Feb.   2    49      2        47        56
         9    38      0        38        63
        16    48      0        48        87
        23    56      5        51        52
  Mar.   2    56      0        56        62
         9    60      2        58        74
        16    52      2        50        80
        23    41      1        40        89
        30    44      3        41        74
  Apr.   6    42      2        40        39
        13    47      1        46        53
        20    37      1        36        41
        27    37      2        35        60
  May    4    47      0        47        52
        11    40      1        39        50
        18    46      1        45        59
        25    64     13        51        62
  June   1    48      4        44        60
         8    57      2        55        56
        15    65      7        58        62
        22    57      6        51        73
        29    56      7        49        52
  July   6    72      9        63        62
        13    69      9        60        64
        20    94     19        75        70
        27    95     24        71        89
  Aug.   3    87     23        64        58
        10   130     30       100        75
        17   148     47       101        72
        24   143     43       100        55
        31   169     74        95        72
  Sept.  7   186     85       101        54
        14   180     76       114        59
        21   203     86       117        55
        28   218     60       158        88
  Oct.   5   205    107        98        74
        12   193     74       119        83
        19   128     42        86        77
        26   125     35        90        88
  Nov.   2   115     45        70        85
         9    93     26        67        61
        30    [The figures in part
  Dec.   7    wanting, and in part
        14    defaced.]
            ----   ----      ----      ----
            3931    987      2954      2949
                     (45 weeks)


(74 Parishes clear, week ending Jan. 4.)

   Week              Of     Of other
  ending     Dead  plague   diseases  Baptised

  Jan.   4    63     11        52        57
        11    75     13        62        76
        18    79     13        66        73
        25    58     13        45        90
  Feb.   1    73      5        68        66
         8    71     12        59        77
        15    76     16        60        88
        22    82     10        72        74
  Mar.   1    69     11        58        81
         8    85     13        72        81
        15    77     11        66        71
        22    62     11        51        65
        29    73     16        57        85
  Apr.   5    90     13        77        74
        12    78     19        59        63
        19    88     22        66        56
        26    82     20        62        69
  May    3    95     23        72        55
        10    68     12        56        62
        17    62     11        51        59
        24    61     10        51        61
        31    57     15        42        65
  June   7    67     15        52        49
        14    48     11        37        52
        21    72     11        61        63
        28    57      9        48        62
  July   5    60     20        40        54
        12    88     25        63        66
        19    80     30        50        61
        26    99     31        68        65
  Aug.   2   101     45        56        68
         9   116     42        74        77
        16   142     70        72        64
        23   148     85        63        67
        30   205    111        94        70
  Sept.  6   229    139        90        74
        13   277    189        88        79
        20   246    151        95        76
        27   267    145       122        63
  Oct.   4   318    213       105        87
        11   238    139        99        63
        18   289    164       125        74
        25   340    216       124        54
  Nov.   1   290    131       159        66
         8   248    149        99        77
        15   202     98       104        70
        22   227    119       108        74
        29   263    124       139        63
  Dec.   6   144     58        86        59
        13   155     68        87        --
        20    --     --        --        --
        27   142     68        74        91
            ----   ----      ----      ----
            6762   2976      3786      3433
                   (51 weeks)


   Week               Of     Of other
  ending     Dead   plague   diseases  Baptised

  Jan.   3   137     50        87         69
        10   140     57        83         53
        17   160     72        88         67
        24   162     59       103         59
        31   144     40       104         73

These tables were compiled from weekly bills furnished to the Court, and
doubtless drawn up like the bills of 1532 and 1535 to show the deaths from
plague and from other causes in each of the several parishes in the City,
Liberties and suburbs. It is clear that the results were known from week
to week, for a letter of January 29, 1578, says that the plague is
increased from 7 to 37 (? 33) deaths in three weeks. But that was not the
beginning of the epidemic in London; it was rather a lull in a
plague-mortality which is known to have been severe in the end of 1577,
and had led to the prohibition of stage-plays in November[668].

In that series of five plague-years in London, only two, 1578 and 1582,
had a large total of plague-deaths. The year 1580 was almost clear (128
deaths from plague), and may be taken as showing the ordinary proportion
of deaths to births in London when plague did not arise to disturb it. The
baptisms, it will be observed, are considerably in excess of the burials;
and as every child was christened in church under Elizabeth, we may take
it that we have the births fully recorded (with the doubtful exception of
still-births and “chrisoms”). But while the one favourable year shows an
excess of some 24 per cent. of baptisms over burials, the whole period of
five years shows a shortcoming in the baptisms of 33 per cent. Thus we may
see how seriously a succession of plague-years, at the endemic level of
the disease, kept down the population; and, at the same time, how the
numbers in the capital would increase rapidly from within, in the absence
of plague. There is reason to think that plague was almost or altogether
absent from London for the next nine years (1583 to 1592); and it is not
surprising to find that the population, as estimated from the births, had
increased from some 120,000 to 150,000. The increase of London population
under Elizabeth was proceeding so fast, plague or no plague, that measures
were taken in 1580 to check it. The increase of London has never depended
solely upon its own excess of births over deaths; indeed, until the
present century, there were probably few periods when such excess occurred
over a series of years. Influx from the country and from abroad always
kept London up to its old level of inhabitants, whatever the death-rate;
and from the early part of the Tudor period caused it to grow rapidly. I
shall review briefly in another chapter the stages in the growth of
London, as it may be reckoned from bills of mortality and of baptisms. But
as the proclamation of 1580, against new buildings, the first of a long
series down to the Commonwealth, has special reference to the plague in
the Liberties, and to the unwholesome condition of those poor skirts of
the walled city, this is the proper place for it:

    “The Queen’s Majesty perceiving the state of the city of London and
    the suburbs and confines thereof to encrease daily by access of people
    to inhabit in the same, in such ample sort as thereby many
    inconveniences are seen already, but many greater of necessity like to
    follow ... and [having regard] to the preservation of her people in
    health, which may seem impossible to continue, though presently by
    God’s goodness the same is perceived to be in better estate
    universally than hath been in man’s memory: yet there are such great
    multitudes of people brought to inhabit in small rooms, whereof a
    great part are seen very poor; yea, such must live of begging, or of
    worse means; and they heaped up together, and in a sort smothered with
    many families of children and servants in one house or small tenement;
    it must needs follow, if any plague or popular sickness should by
    God’s permission enter among those multitudes, that the same should
    not only spread itself and invade the whole city and confines, as
    great mortality should ensue the same, where her Majesty’s personal
    presence is many times required; besides the great confluence of
    people from all places of the realm by reason of the ordinary Terms
    for justice there holden; but would be also dispersed through all
    other parts of the realm to the manifest danger of the whole body
    thereof, out of which neither her Majesty’s own person can be (but by
    God’s special ordinance) exempted, nor any other, whatsoever they be.

    For remedy whereof, as time may now serve until by some further good
    order, to be had in Parliament or otherwise, the same may be remedied,
    Her Majesty by good and deliberate advice of her Council, and being
    thereto much moved by the considerate opinions of the Mayor, Aldermen
    and other the grave, wise men in and about the city, doth charge and
    straitly command all persons of what quality soever they be to desist
    and forbear from any new buildings of any new house or tenement within
    three miles of any of the gates of the said city, to serve for
    habitation or lodging for any person, where no former house hath been
    known to have been in memory of such as are now living. And also to
    forbear from letting or setting, or suffering any more families than
    one only to be placed or to inhabit from henceforth in any house that
    heretofore hath been inhabited, etc.... Given at Nonesuch, the 7th of
    July, 1580[669].”

Among the more special suggestions of the mayor, on the causes and
prevention of plague, previous to this proclamation were[670]:

    1. The avoiding of inmates in places pretending exemption.

    2. The restraining of the building of small tenements and turning
    great houses into small habitations by foreigners.

    3. The increase of buildings in places exempt.

    4. The increase of buildings about the Charterhouse, Mile End Fields;
    also at St Katherine’s along the water side.

    5. The pestering of exempt places with strangers and foreign

    6. The number of strangers in and about London of no church.

    7. The haunting of plays out of the Liberties.

    8. The killing of cattle within or near the city.

The best glimpses that we get of the plague in London in 1578 are in
letters to Lord Burghley[671]. On October 22, the Recorder of London, Sir
W. Fleetwood, writes to him that he “has been in Bucks since Michaelmas,
because he was troubled every day with such as came to him having plague
sores about them; and being sent by the Lords to search for lewd persons
in sundry places, he found dead corses under the table, which surely did
greatly annoy him.” It will be seen by the statistics that the deaths from
all causes had risen to more than three hundred in a week before
Michaelmas--a small mortality compared with that of 1563, or of any other
London epidemic of the first degree. From other letters, relating to
plague at St Albans, Ware and other places near London, it may be
concluded that the citizens had escaped from London to their usual country
resorts in plague-time. On August 30 there were said to be sixty cases of
plague at St Albans, and on October 13 Ware is said to have been “of late”
infected. Plague-deaths are entered also in the Hertford parish registers
in 1577 and 1578[672]. On 14 September the infection was in the “Bull” at
Hoddesdon (Herts), but the landlord refused to close his house against
travellers on their way to the Court. On Oct. 13, 1578, two deaths are
reported from Queens’ College, Cambridge, “the infection being taken by
the company of a Londoner in Stourbridge Fair;” these two deaths had
“moved many to depart” from the University[673]. In the same month it was
at Bury St Edmunds. Earlier in the year, a letter from Truro (11 April)
says that the plague was prevalent in Cornwall.

The epidemic of 1578 at Norwich was relatively a far more serious one than
that of the capital, and was traced to the visit of the queen: “the trains
of her Majesty’s carriage, being many of them infected, left the plague
behind, which afterwards increased so and continued as it raged above one
and three-quarter years after.” From August 20, 1578, to February 19,
1579, the deaths were 4817, of which 2335 were of English and 2482 of
“alyan strangers,” ten aldermen being among the victims[674]. At Yarmouth,
in 1579, two thousand are said to have died of the plague between May-day
and Michaelmas[675]. Colchester had plague from December, 1578 to August,
1579[676]. It was at Ipswich and at Plymouth in 1579; the epidemic at the
latter must have been severe, if the estimate of 600 deaths, given in the
annals of the town, is to be trusted[677]. It was again at Stamford in
1580, as appears from an order of the corporation, September 7,
prohibiting people from leaving the town[678]. Other centres of plague in
1580 were at Rye, which was cut off from intercourse with London[679], at
Leicester, where an assessment for the visited was appointed by the common
hall of the citizens[680], at Gloucester, from Easter to Michaelmas, and
at Hereford and Wellington, the musters in October having been hindered by
“the great infection of the plague[681].”

On February 4, 1582, six houses were shut up at Dover, and on September 12
there was plague in Windsor and Eton[682]. In the parish register of
Cranbrooke (Kent), 18 burials are specially marked (as from plague) in
1581, 41 in 1582, and 22 in 1583[683]. It was much dispersed in the Isle
of Sheppey, the year after (1584) from Michaelmas into the winter.

Although the years from the spring of 1583 to the autumn of 1592 appear to
have been unmarked by plague in London, they witnessed a good many
epidemics along the east coast, and in a few places elsewhere, of which
the particulars are for the most part meagre.

A casual mention is made of plague at Yarmouth in 1584[684]. The town of
Boston appears to have had plague continuously for four years from 1585 to
1588. In 1585 houses were shut up[685]; in 1586 a case at Southwell was
supposed to have been imported from Boston[686]; in the parish register
the burials from plague and other causes in 1587 reach the high figure of
372, and in 1588 they are 200, the average for eight years before being
122, and for twelve years after, only 84. In 1588 one Williams, of Holm,
in Huntingdonshire, was sent for to cleanse infected houses in St John’s
Row, which had been used as pest-houses[687]. Within ten miles round
Boston the plague prevailed; at Leake there were 104 burials from
November, 1587, to November, 1588, the annual average being 24; at
Frampton there were 130 burials in 1586-87, the average being 30; at
Kirton there were 57 burials in 1589, and 102 in 1590[688].

Another centre on the east coast was Wisbech. In 1585 it appeared in the
hamlet of Guyhirne. In 1586 it entered Wisbech itself, caused the usual
shutting up of houses, and so increased in 1587 that there were 42 burials
in September and 62 in October[689], being three or four times more than
average. It is mentioned also at Ipswich in 1585, and at Norwich in
1588[690]. At Derby, in 1586, there was plague in St Peter’s parish[691].
At Chesterfield in November, 1586, there were plague-deaths, and again in
May 1587[692]. At Leominster, in 1587, there was an excessive mortality
(209 burials)[693].

The other great centre on the east coast in those years was in Durham and
Northumberland[694]. In 1587 the infection began to show at Hartlepool,
and in the parishes of Stranton and Hart; at the latter village 89 were
buried of the plague, one of them an unknown young woman who died in the
street. In 1589 the plague entered Newcastle and raged severely; of 340
deaths in the whole year in St John’s parish, 103 occurred in September;
the total mortality of the epidemic to the 1st January, 1590, was 1727.
Durham also had a visitation in 1589, plague-huts having been erected on
Elvet Moor. Those were years of scarcity, the year 1586 having been one of

The great event of the time was the defeat of the Spanish Armada off the
French coast from Calais to Gravelines in the last days of July, 1588. A
southerly gale sprang up, which drove the magnificent Spanish fleet past
the Thames as far as the Orkneys. It was perhaps well for England that the
winds parted the two fleets. The English ships, which had come to anchor
in Margate Roads to guard the mouth of the Thames, were in two or three
weeks utterly crippled by sickness. The disease must have been a very
rapid and deadly infection. Lord Admiral Howard writes to the queen:
“those that come in fresh are soonest infected; they sicken one day and
die the next.” In a previous letter to Burghley he writes: “It is a most
pitiful sight to see the men die in the streets of Margate. The Elizabeth
Jonas has lost half her crew. Of all the men brought out by Sir Richard
Townsend, he has but one left alive.” The ships were so weak that they
could not venture to come through the Downs from Margate to Dover[695]. It
is doubtful whether any part of this sickness and mortality was due to
plague, which was not active anywhere in the south of England in that
year. Want of food and want of clothes, and in the last resort the
hardness and parsimony of Elizabeth, appear to have been the causes. Lord
Howard begs for £1000 worth of new clothing, as the men were in great
want, and Lord H. Seymour writes that “the men fell sick with cold.”
Dysentery and typhus were doubtless the infections which had been bred,
and became communicable to the fresh drafts of men. But in the Spanish
ships, beating about on the high seas and unable to land their men or even
to help each other, the sickness grew into true plague, so that the broken
remnants of the Armada which reached Corunna were like so many floating

In 1590 and 1591, at a clear interval from the Armada year, there was
much plague in Devonshire. The evidence of its having been in Plymouth
comes solely from the corporation accounts; at various times in 1590 and
1591 there were paid, “ten shillings to one that all his stuff was burned
for avoiding the sickness,” a sum of £5. 19_s._ for houses shut, and a
like sum to persons kept in, and sixteen shillings to four men “to watch
the townes end for to stay the people of the infected places[696].” The
chief epidemics, however, appear to have been at Totness in 1590 and at
Tiverton in 1591. The parish register of Totness enters the “first of the
plague, Margary, the daughter of Mr Wyche of Dartmouth, June 22, 1590,”
from which it may be inferred that plague was first at Dartmouth, nine
miles down the river, and had ascended to Totness. The following monthly
mortalities will show how severe the infection became at Totness in the
summer and autumn immediately following[697]:

  July 42 (36 of plague, 6 not),
  August 81 (80 of plague, 1 not),
  September 39 (all of plague),
  October 37 (all of plague),
  November 25 (24 of plague, 1 not),
  December 19 (all of plague),
  January, 1591, 10 of plague,
  February 1 of plague.

This heavy mortality from plague (246 deaths) was hardly over, when the
infection began in March, 1591, at Tiverton. It is said to have been
introduced by one William Waulker “a waulking man or traveller.” From 1st
March, 1591, to 1st March, 1592, the deaths from plague and other causes
were 551, or about one in nine of the population[698].

The London Plague of 1592-1593.

The epidemic of plague, which reached its height in the year 1593, began
to be felt in London in the autumn of 1592[699], and is said to have
caused 2000 deaths before the end of the year. On the 7th September,
soldiers from the north on their way to Southampton to embark for foreign
parts had to pass round London “to avoid the infection which is much
spread abroad” in the city. On the 16th September, the spoil of a great
Spanish carrack at Dartmouth could be brought no farther than Greenwich,
on account of the contagion in London; no one to go from London to
Dartmouth to buy the goods. It was an ominous sign that the infection
lasted through the winter; even in mid winter people were leaving London:
“the plague is so sore that none of worth stay about these places[700].”
On the 6th April, 1593, one William Cecil who had been kept in the Fleet
prison by the queen’s command, writes that “the place where he lies is a
congregation of the unwholesome smells of the town, and the season
contagious, so many have died of the plague[701].” From a memorial of
1595, it appears that the neighbourhood of Fleet Ditch had been the most
infected part of the whole city and liberties in 1593; “in the last great
plague more died about there than in three parishes besides[702].” The
epidemic does not appear to have reached its height until summer; on 12th
June, a letter states that “the plague is very hot in London and other
places of the realm, so that a great mortality is expected this summer.”
On 3 July the Court “is in out places, and a great part of the household
cut off [? dispensed with].” The infection is mentioned in letters down to
November, after which date its public interest, at least, appears to have

Of that London epidemic a weekly record was kept by the Company of Parish
Clerks, and published by them, beginning with the weekly bill of 21st
December, 1592. The clerk of the Company of Parish Clerks, writing in
1665, had the annual bill for 1593 before him, with the plague-deaths and
other deaths in each of 109 parishes in alphabetical order, and the
christenings as well[703]. For the next two years, 1594 and 1595, he
appears to have had before him not only the annual bills but also a
complete set of the weekly bills of burials and christenings according to
parishes. The same documents were used by Graunt in 1662, and had
doubtless been used by John Stow at the time when they were published. The
originals are all lost, and only a few totals extracted from them remain
on record. To begin with Stow’s. The mortality of 17,844 from all causes
in 1593 is given as for the City and Liberties only. But there was already
a considerable population in the parishes immediately beyond the Bars of
the Liberties, which were known as the nine out-parishes, namely those of
St Clement Danes, St Giles in the Fields, St James, Clerkenwell, St
Katharine at the Tower, St Leonard, Shoreditch, St Martin in the Fields,
St Mary, Whitechapel, St Magdalen, Bermondsey, and the Savoy. Besides
these there were important parishes still farther out--the Westminster
parishes, Lambeth, Newington, Stepney, Hackney and Islington. Of these,
Whitechapel, Stepney, Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and some of the western
parishes contributed largely to the plague-bills of the epidemics next
following, in 1603 and 1625, and it is known from the parish registers of
some of them that they contributed to the mortality of 1593. It is
probably to these parishes that we should ascribe the difference between
the above total of 17,844 (for City and Liberties) and the much larger
total of deaths “in and about London,” given on the margin of a broadside
of 1603: “And in the last visitation from the 20th of December, 1592 to
the 23rd of the same month in the year 1593, died in all 25,886--of the
plague in and about London 15,003.” The addition for the parishes beyond
the Bars would thus be 8,042 deaths from all causes, and from plague
alone 4,541--numbers which will seem not inadmissible if they be compared
with the figures for the corresponding parishes ten years after, in 1603,
Stepney alone having had 2,257 deaths in that plague-year[704].

For the two years next following 1593, Graunt’s book of 1662 has preserved
the totals of deaths from all causes and from plague in the 97 old
parishes within the walls and in 16 parishes of the Liberties and suburbs;
he has omitted the christenings, although he had the figures before him.
Taking these along with the figures already given for 1593, we get the
following table for three consecutive years:

       | Plague | Other  | Total  |
  Year | deaths | deaths | deaths | Christenings
  1593 | 10,662 |  7,182 | 17,844 |   4,021
  1594 |    421 |  3,508 |  3,929 |     --
  1595 |     29 |  3,478 |  3,507 |     --

The proportion of mortality in 1593 that fell to the old area within the
walls is known, from Stow’s abstract of the figures, to have been about
the same as in the space of the Liberties (8598 in the one, 9295 in the
other), the deaths from other causes than plague having been rather more
in the latter than within the walls. Probably the population in the
Liberties was about equal to that in the City proper, the acreage being
rather less in the former, but the crowding, doubtless, greater.

The London plague of 1592-93 called forth two known publications, an
anonymous ‘Good Councell against the Plague, showing sundry preservatives
... to avoyde the infection lately begun in some places of this Cittie’
(London, 1592), and the ‘Defensative’ of Simon Kellwaye (April, 1593). The
dates of these two books show that the alarm had really begun in the end
of 1592 and early months of 1593. Kellwaye’s book is mostly an echo of
foreign writings, the only part of it with direct interest for English
practice being the 11th chapter, which “teacheth what orders magistrates
and rulers of Citties and townes shoulde cause to be observed.” As that
chapter sums up the various Elizabethan and other orders, and constitutes
a short epitome of sanitary practice, I append it in full:

    “Teacheth what orders magistrates and rulers of Citties and townes
    shoulde cause to be observed.

    1. First to command that no stinking doonghills be suffered neere the

    2. Every evening and morning in the hot weather to cause colde water
    to be cast in the streetes, especially where the infection is, and
    every day to cause the streets to be kept cleane and sweete, and
    clensed from all filthie thinges which lye in the same.

    3. And whereas the infection is entred, there to cause fires to be
    made in the streetes every morning and evening, and if some
    frankincense, pitch or some other sweet thing be burnt therein it will
    be much the better.

    4. Suffer not any dogs, cattes, or pigs to run about the streets, for
    they are very dangerous, and apt to carry the infection from place to

    5. Command that the excrements and filthy things which are voided from
    the infected places be not cast into the streets, or rivers which are
    daily in use to make drink or dress meat.

    6. That no Chirurgions, or barbers, which use to let blood, do cast
    the same into the streets or rivers.

    7. That no vautes or previes be then emptied, for it is a most
    dangerous thing.

    8. That all Inholders do every day make clean their stables, and cause
    the doong and filth therein to be carryed away out of the Cittie; for,
    by suffering it in their houses, as some do use to do, a whole week or
    fortnight, it doth so putrifie that when it is removed, there is such
    a stinking savour and unwholesome smell, as is able to infect the
    whole street where it is.

    9. To command that no hemp or flax be kept in water neere the Cittie
    or towne, for that will cause a very dangerous and infectious savour.

    10. To have a speciall care that good and wholesome victuals and corne
    be solde in the markets, and so to provide that no want thereof be in
    the Cittie, and for such as have not wherewithall to buy necessary
    food, that there to extend their charitable and goodly devotion; for
    there is nothing that will more encrease the plague than want and
    scarcity of necessary food.

    11. To command that all those which do visit and attend the sick, as
    also all those which have the sickness on them, and do walk abroad:
    that they do carry something in their hands, thereby to be known from
    other people.

    Lastly, if the infection be in but few places, there to keep all the
    people in their houses, all necessaries being brought to them. When
    the plague is staid, then to cause all the clothes, bedding, and other
    such things as were used about the sick to be burned, although at the
    charge of the rest of the inhabitants you buy them all new.”

The letters of the time give us a glimpse of this plague in London. On
November 3, 1593, Richard Stapes writes to Dr Cæsar, judge of the
Admiralty Court, residing at St Albans (doubtless to escape the
infection): “My next door neighbour and tenant on Sunday last buried his
servant of the plague, and since, on the other side of me, my son-in-law
has buried his servant; but I cannot say his was the sickness because the
visitors reported that the tokens did not appear on him as on the

The epidemic of 1592-93 continued in London at a low level into the year
1594, when 421 persons died of the plague in the City and Liberties. Next
year the plague-deaths had fallen to 29. Watford and Hertford, two of the
most usual resorts of Londoners in a sickly season, were infected by
plague from 1592 to 1594, many of the deaths being of refugees from the
capital. At Watford there were 124 burials in the first eight months of
1594, a number much above the average, and many of them marked in the
register as plague-deaths[706]. At Hertford plague-deaths appear in the
registers of All Saints and St Andrew’s parishes in 1592 and 1594. But the
greatest mortality at Hertford was in 1596; in St Andrew’s parish there
were 13 burials in March, the average being one or two in the month; the
mortality declined until July, in which month there were buried, among
others, between the 12th and 26th, five children of one of the chief
burgesses (mayor in 1603)[707]. These may or may not have been
plague-deaths, the year 1596 having been unhealthy, as we shall see, with
other types of sickness.

Meanwhile, in several provincial towns at a greater distance from the
capital than the summer resorts in Hertfordshire, there was plague in the
end of 1592, at the same time as in London, and in the following years. At
Derby, “the great plague and mortality” began in All Saints parish and in
St Alkmund’s, at Martinmas, 1592, and ended at Martinmas, 1593, stopping
suddenly, “past all expectation of man, what time it was dispersed in
every corner of this whole parish, not two houses together being free from
it[708].” At Lichfield in 1593 and 1594 upwards of 1100 are said to have
died of the plague[709]. At Leicester, on the 21st September, 1593, a
contribution was levied for the plague-stricken[710]. At Shrewsbury in
1592-3 there was either plague itself or alarms of it[711]; in the parish
of Bishop’s Castle there was the enormous mortality of 135 in July and
August, 1593, and 182 burials for the year, the average being 25[712]. In
the same years the infection was in Canterbury, as appears from entries of
payments “to Goodman Ledes watchying at Anthony Howes dore ... when his
house was first infected with the plague,” and, the year after, “to those
ii pore folkes which were appointed to carry such to burial as died of the
plague; and also to the woman that was appointed to sock them[713].” There
are also various references to houses visited and to poor persons
relieved. Nottingham and Lincoln are also mentioned as having been
notoriously afflicted with plague in 1593[714].

A solitary record of plague comes from Cornwall in 1595. On 3rd May a
letter from the justices at Tregony to the Privy Council states that the
inhabitants, having been charged by the justices at the General Sessions
to restrain divers infected houses within the borough, were molested in
executing these commands, and had made complaint thereof[715].

All that remains to be said of plague in England until the end of the
Tudor period (1603) relates exclusively to the provinces; unless the
records are defective, London was clear of plague for nine years following
1592-94, just as it was clear for nine years preceding. The year 1597 was
one of great scarcity in more than one region of England. At Bristol wheat
is quoted at the incredible figure of twenty shillings the bushel; a civic
ordinance was made that every person of ability should keep in his house
as many poor persons as his income would allow[716]. But it is from the
North of England in 1597 that we have more particular accounts of famine
and of plague in its train. Writing in January, 1597, the dean of Durham

    “Want and waste have crept into Northumberland, Westmoreland and
    Cumberland; many have come 60 miles from Carlisle to Durham to buy
    bread, and sometimes for 20 miles there will be no inhabitant. In the
    bishopric of Durham, 500 ploughs have decayed in a few years, and corn
    has to be fetched from Newcastle, whereby the plague is spread in the
    northern counties: tenants cannot pay their rents; then whole families
    are turned out, and poor boroughs are pestered with four or five
    families under one roof.”

On the 16th of January, 1597, he wrote again: “In Northumberland great
villages are depeopled, and there is no way to stop the enemy’s attempt;
the people are driven to the poor port towns.” On the 26th of May, the
dean again complains that there is great dearth in Durham; some days 500
horses are at Newcastle for foreign corn, although that town and Gateshead
are dangerously infected. On the 17th September, Lord Burghley, minister
of State, is informed that the plague increases at Newcastle, so that the
Commissioners cannot yet come thither (the Assizes were not held at all on
account of plague about Newcastle and Durham): foreign traders were
selling corn at a high price, until some members of the town council
produced a stock of corn for sale at a shilling a bushel less[718]. There
are no figures extant of the plague-mortality at Newcastle in 1597; but at
Darlington the deaths up to October 17 were 340; and in Durham, up to
October 27, more than 400 in Elvet, 100 in St Nicholas, 200 in St
Margaret’s, 60 in St Giles’s, 60 in St Mary’s, North Bailey, and 24 in the
gaol. The whole mortality in St Nicholas parish from July 11 to November
27 was 215. Many of the burials were on the moor. The infection broke out
again at Darlington and Durham in September, 1598[719].

Coincident with this severe plague on the eastern side, there was an
equally disastrous plague in the North Riding of Yorkshire and in
Cumberland and Westmoreland. The plague began at Richmond in the autumn of
1597. In August there were 23 deaths, and in September 42 deaths. The
epidemic appears to have reached its height in the summer of 1598, the
deaths in May having been 93, in June 99, in July 182 and in August 194.
These figures indicate a grievous calamity in so small a place as
Richmond. The outbreak which began on the 17th August, 1597, was over in
December, 1598. The stress of the epidemic is shown by the fact that the
churchyard was insufficient for the burials, many of the dead having been
buried in the Castle Yard and in Clarke’s Green[720]. Of this severe
plague in Cumberland and Westmoreland there are few exact particulars.
According to an inscription at Penrith Church, “on the north outside of
the vestry, in the wall, in rude characters[721],” the deaths in 1598

  At Penrith 2260,
  "  Kendal 2500,
  "  Richmond 2200,
  "  Carlisle 1196.

We are able to measure the accuracy of these round totals by the monthly
burials for Richmond given above; the months of July and August, 1598,
with 182 and 194 deaths respectively, were the most deadly season; and it
is hardly conceivable that there had been as many as 1800 deaths at
Richmond in the months when the epidemic was rising to a height and
declining therefrom according to its usual curve of intensity.

Again, the parish register of Penrith gives only 583 deaths from the
infection, the inscription on the church wall making them 2260. Perhaps
the discrepancy is to be explained by including the mortality in the
various parishes of which Richmond, Penrith, Kendal and Carlisle were
respectively the centres and market-towns. Thus at Kirkoswald there were
buried, according to the parish register, 42 of the pestilence in 1597,
and no fewer than 583 in 1598[722],--a number which, if correct, means a
death-rate comparable to that of the Black Death itself. Again, in the
small parish of Edenhall, 42 were buried of the pestilence in 1598[723].
Appleby, also, is known to have had a severe visitation[724], and so had
probably many other parishes.

The Tudor period of plague closes with a severe epidemic at Stamford,
which began in the end of 1602. On December 2 the corporation resolved to
build a cabin for the plague-stricken, and in January following they
levied a fourth part of a fifteenth for the relief and maintenance of
people visited with the plague. This epidemic is said to have carried off
nearly 600; the parish registers of St George’s and St Michael’s contain
entries of persons “buried at the cabbin of the White Fryers[725].”

Plague in Scotland, 1495-1603.

The history of plague in Scotland subsequent to the medieval period is of
interest chiefly as affording early illustrations of the practice of
quarantine. We last saw the disease prevailing in or near Edinburgh in
1475, the island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth, being used as a
quarantine station. It was doubtless the possession of convenient islands
near the capital--Inch Colm and Inch Garvie were both used for the same
purpose afterwards--that led the Scots government to follow the example of
Venice and other foreign cities at no long interval of time. When we next
hear of plague in Scotland it is again in connexion with infected persons
on the island of Inchkeith and in the town of Leith, some time between
13th August, 1495, and 4th July, 1496[726].

But these quarantine practices were not confined to the Firth of Forth. On
the 17th May, 1498, the town of Aberdeen was warned by proclamation of the
bell of certain measures to be taken so as to preserve the town from the
pestilence “and strange sickness abefore,” the principal precaution being
a guard of citizens at each of the four gates during the day, and that the
gates be “lockit with lokis and keis” at night. The “strange sickness
abefore” is doubtless the other invasion (of syphilis) which the aldermen
tried to check by an order of April, 1497; but “the pestilence” in the
order of May 1498 must have been the plague itself[727]. Nothing more is
heard of it at Aberdeen or elsewhere in Scotland in that year. It appears
to have been somewhat general in Scotland in 1499 and 1500. The audit of
burgh accounts, mostly held in June, 1499, was postponed to January 1500
in some cases, the bailie of North Berwick explaining that he was
prevented by the plague from coming to the Exchequer[728]. An extra
allowance is made to the comptroller, Sir Patrick Hume, in March 1500,
“for his great labour in collecting fermes in different parts of the
kingdom in time of the infection of the plague.” At Peebles, hides and
woolfells were destroyed during the plague of 1499. There was a renewal of
it in 1500, the audit being again delayed until November. The custumar of
Aberdeen brings his account of the great customs of that burgh down only
to the 3rd July, 1500, “because after that date the accountant, from dread
of the plague, did not enter the burgh of Aberdeen[729].”

It is from the same northern city that our information on plague in
Scotland comes exclusively for the next forty-five years, not, of course,
because its experience was singular, but because its borough records are

On the 24th April, 1514, various orders were made at Aberdeen against a
disease that seems to have been the plague: “for keeping of the town from
strange sickness, and specially this contagious pestilence ringand in all
parts about this burgh;” and, again, watching the gates (as in 1498)
against persons “coming forth of suspect places where this violent and
contagious pestilence reigns.” Lodges were erected on the Links and
Gallow-hill, where the infected or suspected were to remain for forty
days. In the following year (1515), sixteen persons were banished from the
town for a year and a day for disobeying the orders “anent the plague.” On
the 27th July, 1530, these orders are renewed “for evading this contagious
pestilence reigning in the country.” On September 15, 1539 (the year after
a plague in the North of England), the plague is called in the municipal
orders by a distinctive name: the orders are for avoiding the “contagius
infeckand pest callit the boiche, quilk ryngis in diverse partis of the
same [realm] now instantly”--the botch being a name given to plague in
England also as late as the Elizabethan and Stuart periods.

The years 1545 and 1546 were also plague-years in Scotland. At a council
held at Stirling on the 14th June, 1545, the session of the law courts was
transferred to Linlithgow “because of the fear of the pest that is lately
reigning in the town of Edinburgh[731].” On 10th September, of the same
year, the town council of Aberdeen issued orders for evading the pest. On
September 18 the plague was in the English army at Warkeshaugh, and it is
reported from Newcastle, on 5 October, to be raging on the borders[732].
On March 21, 1546, a house in Aberdeen was shut up for the pest; and there
are evidences of its continuance in August, October and December both in
that town and “in certain parts of the realm:” on the 11th October the St
Nicholas “braid silver” was given for the sustentation of the sick folk of
the pest; on the 17th December an Aberdonian named David Spilzelaucht was
ordered to be “brint on the left hand with ane het irne” for not showing
the bailies “the seiknes of his barne, quilk was seik in the pest[733].”
In November, 1548, the plague is at St Johnstone (Perth), and the
Rhinegrave, with troops there, sick of it and like to die[734].

In 1564 the Scots Privy Council ordered quarantine for arrivals from
Denmark, in the manner that was practised on merchandise for nearly three
centuries after. As these early practices in the Forth are curiously like
those that used to be practised in the Medway in the eighteenth century, I
shall quote a part of the order of the Scots Privy Council, dated,
Edinburgh, September 23, 1564[735]:

    “That is to say, becaus maist danger apperis to be amangis the lynt,
    that the samyn be loissit, and houssit in Sanct Colm’s Inche,
    oppynout, handillet and castin forth to the wynd every uther fair day,
    quhill the feist of Martimes nixt to cum, be sic visitouris and
    clengearis as sal be appointit and deput thairto be the Provest,
    Baillies and Counsall of the burgh of Edinburgh upoun the expensis of
    the marchantis, ownaris of the saidis gudis. And as concerning the
    uther gudis, pik, tar, irine, tymmer, that the samyn be clengeit be
    owir flowing of the sey, at one or twa tydis, the barrellis of asse to
    be singit with huddir set on fyre, and that the schippis be borit and
    the sey wattir to haif interes into thame, to the owir loft, and all
    the partis within to be weschin and clengeit; and siclike that the
    marinaris and utheris that sall loase and handill the gudis above
    written, be clengeit and kepit apart be thameselffis for ane tyme, at
    the discretioun of the saidis visitouris, and licenses to be requirit
    had and obtenit of the saidis Provest, Baillies and Counsall before
    they presume to resort opinlie or quietlie amangis oure Soverane
    Ladeis fre liegis.”

The same autumn another foul ship from the Baltic arrived and entered the
port of Leith in evasion of quarantine; the master and others are to be
apprehended and kept in prison until justice be done upon them for the

A severe outbreak of plague in Scotland in the year 1568 gave occasion to
the first native treatise upon the disease in the English tongue, the
essay by Dr Gilbert Skene, at one time lecturer on medicine at King’s
College, Aberdeen, but probably removed before 1568 to Edinburgh, where he
became physician to James VI.[737] The author says that the plague has
“lately entered” the country, and he is led to write upon it in the
vulgar tongue for the benefit of those who could not afford to pay for
skilled advice, or could not get it on any terms: “Medecineirs are mair
studious of their awine helthe nor of the common weilthe.” The panic
caused by the plague must have been considerable: “Specialie at this time
whan ane abhorris ane other in sic maneir as gif nothing of humanitie was
restand but all consumit, euery ane abydand diffaent of ane other.”

Although Skene’s treatise bears numerous traces of the influence of
foreign writers on plague, the same being freely acknowledged in the
section of prescriptions and regimen, yet the book is much better than a
mere compilation. Thus, under the causes of plague, he gives the stock
recital of blazing stars, south-winds, corrupt standing waters, and the
like; but in mentioning, as others do, dead carrion unburied, he adds that
the corrupting human body is most dangerous of all “by similitude of

    A season favourable to plague is marked by continual wet in the last
    part of Spring or beginning of Summer, without wind, and with great
    heat and turbid musty air.

    Anticipating a remark by Thomas Lodge in 1603, and a common experience
    as regards rats in the recent plagues of various parts of India and
    China, he points out that the mole (moudewart) and serpent leave the
    earth, being molested by the vapour contained within the bowels of the
    same. “If the domesticall fowlis become pestilential, it is ane sign
    of maist dangerous pest to follow.” Among the spots that are most
    pestilential are those near standing water, or where many dead are
    buried, the ground being fat and vaporative. Of the duration of
    infection: “na pest continuallie induris mair than three yeris,”
    according to the principle of “rosten ance can not be made raw

    The diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment are given fully and in
    systematic scholarly order. I give the following long extract on the
    signs and symptoms of plague, as being the first native account of the
    disease in this country:

    _Quhairby corrupt be pest may be knawin._

    Thair is mony notis quhilkis schawis ane man infectit be pest. First
    gif the exteriour partis of the bodie be caulde, and the interiour
    partis of the bodie vehement hait. As gif the hoill bodie be heavie
    with oft scharpe punctiounis, stinkand sweiting, tyritnes of bodie,
    ganting of mowthe, detestable brathe with greit difficultie, at
    sumtyme vehement fever rather on nycht nor day. Greit doloure of heid
    with heavynes, solicitude and sadnes of mynd: greit displesour with
    sowning, quhairefter followis haistelie deth. As greit appetit and
    propensnes to sleip albeit on day, raving and walking occupeis the
    last. Cruell inspectioun of the ene, quhilkis apperis of sindre
    colouris maist variant, dolour of the stomak, inlak of appetite,
    vehement doloure of heart, with greit attractioun of Air; intolerable
    thirst, frequent vomitting of divers colouris or greit appetit by
    daylie accustum to vomit without effecte: Bitternes of mowth and toung
    with blaiknit colour thairof and greit drouth: frequent puls small and
    profund, quhais urine for the maist part is turbide thik and stinkand,
    or first waterie, colourit thairefter of bilious colour, last confusit
    and turbide, or at the beginning is zallow inclyning to greine (callit
    citrine collour) and confusit, thairefter becummis reid without
    contentis. Albeit sum of thir properteis may be sene in haile mennis
    water, quhairby mony are deceavit abydand Helth of the patient, quhan
    sic water is maist manifest sing of deth, because the haill venome and
    cause conjunit thar with, leavand the naturall partis occupeis the
    hart and nobillest interioure partis of the body. Last of all and
    maiste certane, gif with constant fever, by the earis, under the
    oxstaris, or by the secrete membres maist frequentlie apperis
    apostumis callit Bubones, without ony other manifest cause, or gif the
    charbunkil apperis hastelie in ony other part, quhilk gif it dois, in
    the begining, testifies strenthe of nature helth, and the laitter sic
    thingis appeir, and apperand, it is the mair deidlie. At sumtym in ane
    criticall day mony accidentis apperis--principalie vomiteing, spitting
    of blude, with sweit, flux of womb, bylis, scabe, with dyvers others
    symptomis maist heavie and detestable.”

    The signs of death in pestilential persons are as follow:

    “Sowning, cold sweats, vomiting; excrements corrupt, teuch; urine
    black, or colour of lead. Cramp, convulsion of limbs, imperfection of
    speech and stinking breath, colic, swelling of the body as in dropsy,
    visage of divers colours, red spots quickly discovering and covering

The great plague which was the occasion of Skene’s writing, probably the
most severe that Edinburgh experienced, entered that city on the 8th
September, 1568, having been brought, it was said, by “ane called James
Dalgliesh, merchant[738].” A letter of 21st September, from the bishop of
Orkney, then in Edinburgh, to his brother-in-law Sir Archibald Napier of
Merchiston, whose house was near the plague-huts erected on the Muir,
refers to the infection as then active:

    “By the number of sick folk that gaes out of the town, the muir is
    liable to be overspread; and it cannot be but, through the nearness of
    your place and the indigence of them that are put out, they sall
    continually repair about your room, and through their conversation
    infect some of your servants.” He advises him to withdraw to a house
    on the north side. “And close up your houses, your granges, your barns
    and all, and suffer nae man come therein while it please God to put
    ane stay to this great plague[739].”

The following account of Edinburgh practices in plague-times is given by

    “According to custom in Edinburgh the families which proved to be
    infected were compelled to remove, with all their goods and furniture,
    out to the Burgh-moor, where they lodged in wretched huts hastily
    erected for their accommodation. They were allowed to be visited by
    their friends, in company with an officer, after eleven in the
    forenoon; anyone going earlier was liable to be punished with
    death--as were those who concealed the pest in their houses. Their
    clothes were meanwhile purified by boiling in a large caldron erected
    in the open air, and their houses were clensed by the proper officers.
    All these regulations were under the care of two citizens selected for
    the purpose, and called _Bailies of the Muir_; for each of whom, as
    for the cleansers and bearers of the dead, a gown of gray was made,
    with a white St Andrew’s Cross before and behind. Another arrangement
    of the day was ‘that there be made twa close biers, with four feet,
    coloured over with black, and [ane] white cross with ane bell, to be
    hung upon the side of the said bere, which sall mak warning to the

The same writer says that the plague lasted in Edinburgh until February,
1569, and that it was reported to have carried off 2500 of the
inhabitants. The plague-stricken in the Canongate were sent to huts “on
the hill” and money was collected for their support[741].

The plague of 1574 was again chiefly along the shores of the Firth of
Forth. It came to Leith on October 14th, it was said by a passenger from
England, and several died in that town before its existence was known at
large. On October 24th it entered Edinburgh, “brought in by ane dochter of
Malvis Curll out of Kirkcaldy[742].” On the 29th October the town council
of Glasgow ordered that no one should be allowed to enter from Leith,
Kirkcaldy, Dysart, Burntisland and Edinburgh (in respect of Bellis Wynd
only), and that no one in Glasgow was to repair to Edinburgh without a
pass[743]. Two days after (October 31st) the Scots Privy Council, at
Dalkeith, issued an order to check the spreading of the plague landwards
“through the departure of sick folk and foul persons:” no one to conceal
the existence of plague, and the infected “to cloise thame selffis
in[744].” On November 14th the sittings of the Court of Session were
suspended owing to pest within some parts of Edinburgh, in Leith, and some
towns and parts of the north coast of Fife[745]. In December the Kirk
session of Edinburgh appointed an eight days’ fast for the plague
threatening the whole realm.

In January, 1577, plague is reported to be raging on the English border,
causing alarm in Kirkcudbright[746]. On the 19th October, 1579, the king
and council are credibly informed that “the infectioun and plague of the
pistolence” is not only in divers towns and parts of the coast of England
frequented by Scots shipping but also in Berwick and sundry other bounds
of the East and Middle Marches of England; the markets at Duns and Kelso
are therefore forbidden, and traders not to repair to infected places or
to break bulk of their wares[747]. Next year, 1580, on September 10th, a
ship laden with lint and hemp from “Danske,” with forty persons on board,
including seven Edinburgh merchants, arrived in the Forth, and was
quarantined for many weeks at Inchcolm; the master and several others died
of plague, and the survivors were transferred in November, some to
Inchkeith and some to Inchgarvie, the ship being still at Inchcolm in a
leaky state. On November 22 a vessel which had come down the Tay with
plague-stricken inhabitants of Perth, some of whom were dead, and with
their goods and gear, was ordered to the Isle of May[748].

One of the most serious epidemics of plague in Scotland was from 1584 to
1588. It was said to have been brought to Wester Wemyss, in Fife, by a
certain “creare;” but it was in some other places at the same time, and
was probably a revival of old seeds of the disease. On July 28th the Privy
Council issued orders that beggars and tramps should be kept from
wandering about[749]. On the 24th September, 27th October, 4th November,
and the 11th December, the Privy Council issued order after order to stop
all traffic, unless by licence, from Fife, Perth, and other places north
of the Forth; sails were to be taken out of the ferry-boats at all ferries
except Burntisland and Aberdour, and eventually at these also, Leith and
Pettycur being left free[750]. For Perth we have some particulars of this
great outbreak. From the 24th September, 1584, to August, 1585, there died
1437 persons, young and old[751]. It was also in Dysart and other parts of
Fife through the winter of 1584-85[752].

The infection appeared at Edinburgh about the 1st of May, 1585, in the
Flesh Mercat Close by the infection of a woman who had been in St
Johnstone (Perth) where the plague was[753]. On the 18th May orders were
issued to Edinburgh to remove all filth, filthy beasts and carrion forth
of the highways, and the same to be cleansed and kept clean. On the 23rd
June the coining-house was removed to Dundee, and the Court of Session
transferred to Stirling[754]. The plague next broke out in Dundee, whence
the mint was removed to Perth. At St Andrews it appeared in August, 1585,
and became a severe epidemic, causing the dispersion of the students, and
continuing so long that the miserable state and poverty of the town are in
part ascribed, in a petition of March 24, 1593, to the plague[755].
Upwards of four hundred are said to have died of it there[756]. The state
of sickness was much aggravated by wet harvest weather. In Edinburgh it
continued through the winter until January, 1586, sometimes carrying off
twenty-four in a single night: “the haill people, whilk was able to flee,
fled out of the town; nevertheless there died of people which were not
able to flee, fourteen hundred and some odd” (Birell). James Melville,
riding in November from Berwick to Linlithgow, entered Edinburgh by the
Water-Gate of the Abbey at eleven o’clock in the forenoon and rode up
“through the Canongate, and in at the Nether Bow through the great street
of Edinburgh to the West Port, in all whilk way we saw not three persons,
sae that I miskenned Edinburgh, and almost forgot that I had ever seen sic
a town[757].” The same year it was unusually severe at Duns[758]. In the
winter of 1586-7, “the pest abated and began to be strangely and
remarkably withdrawn by the merciful hand of God, so that Edinburgh was
frequented again that winter, and at the entry of the spring all the
towns, almost desolate before, repeopled, and St Andrews among the

In the harvest of 1587 “the pest brake up in Leith, by opening up of some
old kists,” and in Edinburgh about the 4th November. It continued in those
two towns till Candlemas, 1588[760]. On April 26, 1588, the infection is
reported anew from Edinburgh, threatening the law session[761]. In
October, 1588, it was at Paisley, causing alarm in Glasgow[762].

On the 8th August, 1593, a ship from an English port, with persons and
goods suspected of the plague, was quarantined at Inchcolm[763]. Four
years after, on the 6th August, 1597, “the pest began in Leith[764].”
Twelve days after, August 18, the Privy Council declared that divers
inhabitants of sundry towns near Edinburgh were infected, and that the
disease was suspected to be in the capital itself[765]. Many fled from
Edinburgh, but the epidemic was over by the end of harvest[766].

In the winter of 1598, the plague which was in Cumberland extended to
Dumfries, and caused great decay of trade, and even scarcity of food[767].
On the 12th October, 1600, a petition from Dundee declares that the
plague of the pest had “entered and broken up within the town of
Findorne[768].” Findhorn had been only one of several places infected in
that locality; for in December, the Kirk session of Aberdeen ordered a
fast “in respect of the fearful infection of the plague spread abroad in
divers parts of Moray[769].”

On the 24th November, 1601, the parishes of Eglishawe, Eastwood, and
Pollok, in Renfrewshire, and the town of Crail in Fife are declared
infected, and ordered to be shut up. On the 28th of the same month it was
in the barony of Calderwood, and on the 21st December, in Glasgow. It
increased daily in Crail in January, 1602, and suspects were put out on
the muir, so that they wandered to sundry parts of Fife. It still
continued in Glasgow, and had appeared at Edinburgh before the 4th of
February: the town council built shielings and lodgings for the sick of
the plague in the lands of Schenis (Sciennes) belonging to Napier, of
Merchiston, without his leave, having ploughed up the old plague-muir, and
let it for their profit: against the plague-shelters Napier protested on
the 11th March. By the 1st of May it had ceased in Edinburgh, and a solemn
thanksgiving was held on the 20th (Birell). A ship owned in Crail arrived
in the Forth on 30th July, 1602, from “Danske,” with three or four dead of
the plague, and was quarantined at Inchkeith. In April, 1603, James VI.
left for England, to assume the English[770] crown, with which event we
resume in another chapter the eventful history of Plague under the

Meanwhile, in the foregoing records of plague in Scotland, the absolute
immunity of Aberdeen in the latter half of the sixteenth century is
remarkable. It does not depend on any imperfection of the records; for,
under the year 1603, the borough register contains this entry[771]: “It
has pleasit the guidness of God of his infinite mercy to withhauld the
said plague frae this burgh this fifty-five years bygane”--that is to say,
since the winter of 1546-47, when David Spilzelaucht was burned on the
left hand with a hot iron for concealing a case of plague in one of his
children. The northern city may have owed its immunity to various causes;
but there can be no question of the Draconian rigour of its decrees
against the plague. Following the example of queen Elizabeth at Windsor in
1563, the magistrates in May, 1585, when Perth, Edinburgh and many other
places in Scotland were suffering severely from plague, erected three
gibbets, “ane at the mercat cross, ane other at the brig of Dee, and the
third at the haven mouth, that in case ony infectit person arrive or
repair by sea or land to this burgh, or in case ony indweller of this
burgh receive, house, or harbour, or give meat or drink to the infectit
person or persons, the man be hangit and the woman drownit.”

Plague in Ireland in the Tudor period.

The accounts of plague in Ireland in the Tudor period are not many, but
some of them are of interest. The province of Munster is said to have had
a pestilence raging in it in 1504, evidently not a famine-fever, for the
dearth, and mortality therefrom, came in 1505[772]. There is no doubt as
to the reality of the next plague in Ireland, in 1520.

The earl of Surrey writes from Dublin to Wolsey, on the 3rd August, 1520:
“There is a marvellous death in all this country, which is so sore that
all the people be fled out of their houses into the fields and woods,
where they in likewise die wonderfully; so that their bodies be dead like
swine unburied.” On the 23rd July he had already written that there was
sickness in the English pale; and on the 6th September he wrote again that
the death continued in the English pale[773]. It is perhaps the same
epidemic, or an extension of it, that is referred to as the plague raging
in Munster in 1522[774]. On the same authority, “a most violent plague” is
said to have been in the city of Cork in 1535, and “a great plague” in the
same in 1547. The earlier of those dates corresponds probably to a season
of ill-health in Ireland generally: “1536. This year was a sickly,
unhealthy year, in which numerous diseases, viz. a general plague, and
smallpox [i.e. a disease with an Irish name supposed to be smallpox], and
a flux plague, and the bed-distemper prevailed exceedingly[775].” In a
State letter from Ireland September 10, 1535, the prevalence of “plague”
is mentioned[776].

In the winter of 1566-7, a remarkable outbreak of plague occurred among
the English troops quartered around the old monastery of the Derry, at the
head of Loch Foyle, where Londonderry was afterwards built. The men were
landed there in October, and by November “the flux was reigning among them
wonderfully.” On December 18 and January 13, many of the soldiers are
dead, the rest are discontented, and provisions are short. On February 16,
the sickness continues, “in this miserable place,” and on March 26, the
death at the Derry is said to be by cold and infection: the survivors to
be removed to Strangford Haven[777]. Only 300 men were fit for service out
of 1100, and several officers of rank were dead. The men’s quarters had
been built over the graveyard of the ancient abbey, and the infection of
plague was ascribed at the time to the emanations from the soil[778]. The
scarcity was general in Ireland that winter, and was attended by great
mortality. Sir Philip Sydney, the lord deputy, writes to the queen on
April 20, 1567: “Yea the view of the bones and skulls of your dead
subjects who, partly by murder, partly by famine, have died in the fields
is such that hardly any Christian with dry eye could behold[779].”

In 1575 there was a severe and wide-spread outbreak of plague, the
localities specially named being Wexford, Dublin, Naas, Athy, Carlow, and
Leighlin. The city of Dublin was as if deserted of people, so that grass
grew in the streets and at the doors of churches; no term was held after
Trinity, and prayers were appointed by the archbishop throughout the whole
province[780]. The extremity of the plague in Ireland was such that the
English troops sent by way of Chester and Holyhead had difficulty in
finding a safe place to land[781]. Whether that outbreak had been
connected with the military operations (as afterwards in Cromwell’s time),
the information does not enable us to judge; but Chester and other places
near, in direct communication with Ireland, had been visited with plague
the year before (1574).



The Common Gaols of England date from the Council of Clarendon, in 1164,
by the articles of which the limits of civil and ecclesiastical
jurisdiction were fixed, and the quarrel between archbishop Becket and
Henry II. reduced to terms. In obedience to Article VII. of the Council,
gaols were built, the chief among them having been at Canterbury,
Rochester, Huntingdon, Cambridge, Malmesbury, Sarum, Aylesbury, and
Bedford[782]. Little is heard of the unwholesomeness of prison life until
the medieval period is nearly over--not indeed because the prisons were
better managed than they were later. “In the year 1385,” says Stow,
“William Walworth gave somewhat to relieve the prisoners in Newgate; so
have many others since.” One benefactor brought a supply of water into
Newgate; another, the famous Whittington, left money actually to rebuild
the gaol, which was done in 1422. For several years before that, Newgate
had been notorious. An ordinance of 7 Henry V. (1419) for the
re-establishment of the debtor’s prison at Ludgate, so that debtors need
not have to go to Newgate gaol, was made in compliance with a petition
which said that, in “the hateful gaol of Newgate, by reason of the fetid
and corrupt atmosphere, many persons committed to the said gaol are now
dead[783].” The greatest mortality must have been, according to Stow, in
1414, when the gaolers of Newgate and Ludgate died, and sixty-four
prisoners in Newgate[784].

More than a century after, in 1522, there occurred the first of a series
of gaol-fever tragedies, which were well calculated to produce the effect
ascribed by Aristotle to scenic tragedy, provided only the workings of
cause and effect had been more apparent. The first of these historical
Black Assizes occurred on the occasion of the gaol delivery at the Castle
of Cambridge in Lent, 1522. The facts, which appear to be given nowhere
but in Hall’s _Chronicle_ (of almost contemporary authority), are less
fully related than for some of the later instances of the same strange
visitation; but there is no mistaking the air of reality and the generic

Cambridge Black Assizes.

In the 13th year of Henry VIII. at the Assize held in the Castle of
Cambridge in Lent, “the justices and all the gentlemen, bailiffs and
other, resorting thither, took such an infection, whether it were of the
savour of the prisoners, or of the filth of the house, that many
gentlemen, as Sir John Cut, Sir Giles Arlington, Knights, and many other
honest yeomen, thereof died, and almost all which were present were sore
sick, and narrowly escaped with their lives[785].”

It is to be observed that nothing is said of the prisoners being infected:
they were brought from the dungeons to stand their trial in due course,
and the gentlemen and yeomen attending the court officially or as jurors,
or otherwise, were poisoned by their presence. This early chronicle
indicates as the cause, “the savour of the prisoners, or the filth of the
house;” and Bacon, in touching upon that class of incidents nearly a
century later, indicates “the smell of the gaol,” but says nothing of
cases of fever among the prisoners, having no warrant in the evidence for
doing so.

Before we come to consider the condition of England in the Tudor period,
with the policy of Henry VIII. for the repression of beggary and crime,
and the appearance of “new fevers” or “strange fevers” and “laskes” in the
chronicles and other records of the time, it will be desirable to make out
as accurately as possible the clinical type of the Assizes fever, and its
circumstances. For that purpose we must turn to the next recorded outbreak
on the occasion of the Assizes at Oxford in 1577, which happens to have
been somewhat fully described as a memorable event in the register of
Merton College. The entry in the Merton register appears to have been made
within a few weeks of the event[786].

Oxford Black Assizes.

The Assizes met on the 5th and 6th July, 1577, in the Castle and Guild
Hall. Those only fell ill, whether in Oxford itself or after leaving, who
had been present at the Assizes. The two judges (Robert Bell, Chief Baron
of the Exchequer and John Barrham, sergeant-at-law), the sheriff of the
county, two knights, eight squires and justices of the peace, several
gentlemen and not a few of their servants, the whole of the grand jury
with one or two exceptions--these all had not long left Oxford when they
were seized with illness and died (_statim post fere relictam Oxoniam
mortui sunt_). In Oxford itself, on the 15th, 16th and 17th July, some ten
or twelve days after the Assizes, about three hundred fell ill; and in the
next twelve days there died (“_ne quid errem_”) one hundred scholars,
besides townsmen not a few. Five died in Merton College, including one
fellow, the names of four being given who died on the 24th, 27th, 28th and
29th July. Every college, hall, or house had its dead. Women were not
attacked, nor indeed the poor; nor did the infection spread to those who
waited on the sick or came to prescribe for them. Only those who had been
present at the Assizes caught the fever. The symptoms are described as

    The patients laboured under pain both of the head and of the stomach;
    they were troubled with phrensy, deprived of understanding, memory,
    sight, hearing and their other senses. As their malady increased, they
    took no food, could not sleep, and would not suffer attendants or
    watchers to be near them; their strength was remarkable, even in the
    approach of death; but if they recovered they fell into the extreme of
    weakness. No complexion or constitution was spared; but those of a
    choleric habit were most obnoxious to the disease. The affected
    persons suddenly became delirious and furious, overcoming those who
    tried to hold them; some ran about in courts and in the streets after
    the manner of insane persons; others leapt headlong into the water.
    The spirits of all the people were crushed; the physicians fled, and
    the wretched sufferers were deserted. Masters, doctors, and heads of
    houses left almost to a man. The Master of Merton remained, _longe
    omnium vigilantissimus_, ministering sedulously to the sick. The
    pharmacies were soon emptied of their conserves, oils, sweet waters,
    pixides and every kind of confection.

This sudden epidemic, which began on the 15th--17th July, did not last
long; within the space of one month the city was restored to its former
health, so that one wonders, says the registrary of Merton, to see already
so many scholars and so many townsmen abroad in the streets and walks.

The infection was suspected by many, says the same eyewitness, to have
arisen either from the fetid and pestilent air of thieves brought forth
from prison, of whom two or three died in chains a few days before
(_quorum duo vel tres sunt ante paucos dies in vinculis mortui_), or from
the devilishly contrived and obviously papistical spirits called forth “e
Lovaniensi barathro,” and let loose upon the court secretly and most

The latter explanation arose out of the heated feelings of the time
against papist plotters, and has no farther interest. But the statement
that two or three of the prisoners had died in chains a few days before
has a great interest, as showing the kind of treatment to which they had
been subjected while awaiting the gaol delivery. A strange confirmation of
the truth of the statement came to light many years after. When John
Howard visited the Oxford gaol in 1779, in the course of his humane
labours on behalf of the prisoners, he was told by the gaoler that, some
years before, wanting to build a little hovel and digging up stones for
the purpose from the ruins of the court, which was formerly in the Castle,
he found under them a complete skeleton with light chains on the legs, the
links very small. “These,” says Howard, “were probably the bones of a
malefactor who died in court of the distemper at the Black Assize[787].”

Next to the Merton register’s account, we may take that of Thomas Cogan, a
graduate in medicine of Oxford, sometime fellow of Oriel, but probably
removed to Manchester previous to 1577. Wherever Cogan got his
information, he acknowledges no source of the following in his _Haven of
Health_, 1589:

    “What kind of disease this should be which was first at Cambridge [in
    1522] and after at Oxford, it is very hard to define, neither hath any
    man (that I know) written of that matter. Yet my judgment is, be it
    spoken without offence of the learned physicians, that the disease was
    _Febris ardens_, a burning fever. For as much as the signes of a
    burning ague did manifestly appear in this disease, which after
    Hollerius be these: Extreame heate of the body, vehement thirst,
    loathing of meate, tossing to and fro, and unquietnesse, dryness of
    the tongue rough and blacke, griping of the belly, cholerick laske,
    cruell ake of the head, no sound sleepe, or no sleepe at all, raving
    and phrensie, the end whereof, to life or death, is bleeding at the
    nose, great vomitting, sweate or laske. And this kind of sicknesse is
    one of those rods, and the most common rod, wherewith it pleaseth God
    to brake his people for sin.... And this disease indeed, as it is
    God’s messenger, and sometimes God’s poaste, because it commeth poaste
    haste, and calleth us quickly away, so it is commonly the Pursuivant
    of the pestilence and goeth before it.... And certainly after that
    sodaine bane at Oxford, the same yeare, and a yeare or two following,
    the same kind of ague raged in a manner over all England, and tooke
    away very many of the strongest sort, and in their lustiest age, and
    for the most part, men and not women nor children, culling them out
    here and there, even as you should chuse the best sheepe out of a
    flocke. And certaine remedy was none to be found.... And they that
    took a moderate sweate at the beginning of their sickness and did rid
    their stomachs well by vomit sped much better. Yet thanks be to God
    hitherto no great plague hath ensued upon it.”

Besides these medical particulars, he gives certain dates and numbers. It
began, he says, on the 6th of July, from which date to the 12th of August
next ensuing there died of the same sickness five hundred and ten
persons, all men and no women: the chiefest of which were the two judges,
Sir Robert Ball, lord chief baron, and maister Sergeant Baram, maister
Doile the high sheriff, five of the justices, four councillors at law and
an attorney. The rest were jurors and such as repaired thither.

An account not unlike Cogan’s is given by Stow in his _Annales_ (p. 681);

    “The 4, 5 and 6 dayes of July were the assizes holden at Oxford, where
    was arraigned and condemned one Rowland Jenkes for his seditious
    toung, at which time there arose amidst the people such a dampe, that
    almost all were smothered, very few escaped that were not taken at
    that instant: the Jurors died presently. Shortly after died Sir Robert
    Bell, lord chief baron, Sir Robert de Olie, Sir William Babington,
    maister Weneman, maister de Olie, high sheriff, maister Davers,
    maister Harcurt, maister Kirle, maister Phereplace, maister Greenwood,
    maister Foster, maister Nash, sergeaunt Baram, maister Stevens, and
    there died in Oxford 300 persons, and sickned there but died in other
    places 200 and odde, from the 6th of July to the 12th of August, after
    which died not one of that sicknesse, for one of them infected not
    another, nor any one woman or child died thereof.”

Stow’s account differs from that of the Merton College register in several
important particulars. The latter is explicit that the sickness appeared
among the scholars and townsmen of Oxford on the 15th, 16th and 17th of
July, or after an interval of ten days or more, and that the deaths
amongst those who had come to Oxford on Assize business did not occur in
Oxford but on their return home. On the other hand, Stow makes out the
Oxford people to have been smothered by the damp which arose in the court
itself: “very few escaped that were not taken ill at that instant;” next
come the deaths of the jurors, and “shortly after” those of the judges and
other high officials, whose names are given by Stow more fully than by
anyone. His total of deaths, the same as Cogan’s, is 300 in Oxford and 200
and odd of persons who had left Oxford, and his dates, “from the 6th of
July to the 12th of August,” are also the same as Cogan’s.

Wood’s account is for the most part taken from the Merton register and in
part from the very different version in Stow’s _Annals_; but he has the
following new matter: “Above 600 sickened in one night, as a physician
that now lived in Oxford attesteth, and the day after, the infectious air
being carried into the next villages, sickened there an hundred
more[788].” That, of course, is very unlike the Merton College account,
which is explicit that no one caught the fever who had not been in the
court. The Oxford physician whose authority is given for the six hundred
cases in Oxford in one night, and the extension next day to villages
around, is Dr George Ethredge, or Ethryg, a physician and learned Greek
scholar living in Oxford at the time and keeping a boarding-house, called
George Hall, for the sons of Catholic gentlemen. In 1588 he published a
small volume of comments upon some books of Paulus Aegineta, which is the
authority given by Wood[789]. On discovering the passage, one finds that
it was not 600 in one night, but “sexaginta” or 60, and that the occasion
on which more than sixty were taken ill at once in a single night at
Oxford, and nearly a hundred next day in the adjacent villages, “whither
the infected air had by chance been borne,” was not that of the gaol-fever
in 1577 but of the sweating sickness in 1551. An extension in the
atmosphere to the villages around is just what would have happened in the
sweating sickness, a disease in that as in other respects closely
analogous to influenza. Ethredge says that, on the particular occasion,
“hardly any of the Oxford people died”--a statement which should of itself
have prevented Wood’s mistake, even if the reference to the same disease
having “at the same time” cut off the two sons of the duke of Suffolk “at
Cambridge” (therefore a less healthy place than Oxford where hardly any
died) had not quite clearly pointed to the sudor Britannicus, which is
actually named in the context (“sic enim vocant”)[790].

Although, in the passage quoted, it is the sweating sickness at Oxford in
1551 that Ethredge refers to, he does also refer to the gaol fever of 1577
in another passage which has hitherto escaped notice.

    In the section of his book next following, entitled “De Curatione
    morborum populariter grassantium, et de Peste,” he says that he had
    used a certain prescription of aloes, ammoniacum and myrrh rubbed
    together in wine, for himself as well as for others in a serious
    contagion, “quae fuit in martiali sede cum ibi essem,” and also, with
    happy effect, upon many “in the most cruel pest at Oxford which
    carried off Judge Bell and ever so many more; one gentleman, I could
    not persuade to try this medicine, whom therefore I commended to God,
    and four days after he was dead. Concerning that pestilential fever,
    many colloquies took place between me and two most learned physicians;
    and, as to the kind of this contagion, we all agreed (_manibus et
    pedibus in hanc sententiam itum est_) in a sentence which I quoted
    from Valescus, who sayeth thus: Those sicknesses are dangerous in such
    wise that the physicians may be for the most part deceived; for we see
    a good hypostasis in the urine, and some other good signs, yet the
    sick person dies”--a remark which often recurs in the early writings
    on plague.

It has taken longer than usual to determine the matter of fact as to the
fever of the Oxford Black Assizes, because an erroneous version passes
current on respectable authority; but enough has perhaps been said to
enable us to pass from the matter of fact to the matter of theory[791].

The theory of the gaol fever at Oxford, in 1577, was not attempted by any
writer at the time, nor indeed has it been so in later times; but the
significance of the outbreak has been recognized and admitted. An Oxford
scholar, Dr Plot, writing just a century after (1677) mentions the
statement that a “poisonous steam” broke forth from the earth, having
probably in his mind Stow’s imaginative explanation, that a damp arose
amongst the people and smothered them, very few escaping that were not
taken at that instant. Plot then proceeds:--

    “But let it not be ascribed to ill fumes and exhalations ascending
    from the earth and poysoning the Air, for such would have equally
    affected the prisoners as judges, but we find not that they dyed
    otherwise than by the halter, which easily perswades me to be of the
    mind of my lord Verulam (_Nat. Hist._ cent. X. num. 914) who
    attributes it wholly to the smell of the Gaol where the prisoners had
    been long, close, and nastily kept.”

We know, indeed, from the register of Merton that “two or three of the
prisoners died in chains a few days before,” which is a sufficient
indication of the state they were kept in, but is no warrant for Anthony
Wood’s free rendering of the words: “of whom two or three, _being overcome
with it_ [i.e. with the “nasty and pestilential smell of the prisoners”]
died a few days before the Assizes began.” Two or three prisoners died in
their chains with symptoms undescribed; and although typhus among the
inmates of gaols has often occurred, it has also been wanting in many
cases where the filth and misery might have bred it in the prisoners

Bacon’s judgment on the case, referred to above, was based upon a strict
scrutiny of the evidence, and does not transcend the evidence. He
attributes the infection that arose in the court to “the smell of the
gaol;” and so as not to assume a smell which does not appear to have
attracted any particular notice at the time, he is careful to explain in
what sense he means the smell of the gaol:

    “The most pernicious infection,” he says, “next the plague, is the
    smell of the jail, when prisoners have been long and close and nastily
    kept; whereof we have had in our time experience twice or thrice; when
    both the judges that sat upon the jail, and numbers of those that
    attended the business or were present, sickened upon it and died.
    Therefore it were good wisdom, that in such cases the jail were aired
    before they be brought forth....

    “Leaving out of question such foul smells as be made by art and by the
    hand, they consist chiefly of man’s flesh or sweat putrefied; for they
    are not those stinks which the nostrils straight abhor and expel, that
    are most pernicious; but such airs as have some similitude with man’s
    body, and so insinuate themselves and betray the spirits[793].”

Exeter Black Assizes.

The next Black Assizes occurred at Exeter in 1586, nine years after the
Oxford tragedy. The Exeter incident has had the fortune to be chronicled
by a person as competent as was the writer in the Merton College register
in the former case, namely by John Hoker _alias_ Vowell, chamberlain of
the city, and its representative in Parliament, a lawyer of good
education, who must have been conversant with all the circumstances, and
wrote his account within six months. He is known as the chief contributor
to the second edition of Holinshed’s _Chronicle_, in which the history is
brought down to 1586, his name appearing on the title-page. It is in that
work that he inserted his account of the Exeter Black Assizes, written in
October, 1586. The margin bears the words:

    “The note of John Hooker _alias_ Vowell;” and the text of the note is
    as follows[794] (III. pp. 1547-8):--“At the assizes kept at the citie
    of Excester, the fourteenth daie of March, in the eight and twentieth
    yeare of hir majesties reigne, before Sir Edmund Anderson, Knight,
    lord chief justice of the common pleas, and sargeant Floredaie, one of
    the barons of the excheker, justices of the assises in the Countie of
    Devon and Exon, there happened a verie sudden and a strange
    sickenesse, first amongst the prisoners of the Gaole and Castell of
    Exon, and then dispersed (upon their triall) amongst sundrie other
    persons; which was not much unlike to the sickenesse that of late
    yeares happened at an assise holden at Oxford, before Sir Robert Bell,
    Knight, lord chiefe baron of the excheker, and justice then of that

    The origin and cause thereof diverse men are of diverse judgment. Some
    did impute it, and were of the mind that it proceeded from the
    contagion of the gaole, which by reason of the close aire and filthie
    stinke, the prisoners newlie come out of a fresh aire into the same
    are in short time for the most part infected therewith; and this is
    commonlie called the gaole sickenesse, and manie die thereof. Some did
    impute it to certain Portingals, then prisoners in the said gaole. For
    not long before, one Barnard Drake, esquire (afterwards dubbed Knight)
    had beene at the seas, and meeting with certeine Portingals, come from
    New-found-land and laden with fish, he tooke them as a good prize, and
    brought them into Dartmouth haven in England, and from thense they
    were sent, being in number about eight and thirtie persons, unto the
    gaole of the castell of Exon, and there were cast into the deepe pit
    and stinking dungeon[795].

    These men had beene before a long time at the seas, and had no change
    of apparell, nor laine in bed, and now lieing upon the ground without
    succor or reliefe, were soone infected; and all for the most part were
    sicke, and some of them died, and some one of them was distracted; and
    this sickenesse verie soone after dispersed itselfe among all the
    residue of the prisoners in the gaole; of which disease manie of them
    died, but all brought into great extremities and were hardly escaped.
    These men, when they were to be brought before the foresaid justices
    for their triall, manie of them were so weak and sicke that they were
    not able to goe nor stand; but were caried from the gaole to the place
    of judgement, some upon handbarrowes, and some betweene men leading
    them, and so brought to the place of justice.

    The sight of these men’s miserable and pitifull cases, being thought
    (and more like) to be hunger-starved than with sickenesse diseased,
    moved manie a man’s heart to behold and look upon them; but none
    pitied them more than the lords justices themselves, and especially
    the lord chief justice himselfe; who upon this occasion tooke a better
    order for keeping all prisoners thenseforth in the gaole, and for the
    more often trials; which was now appointed to be quarterlie kept at
    every quarter sessions and not to be posted anie more over, as in
    times past, untill the assises.

    These prisoners thus brought from out of the gaole to the judgment
    place, after that they had been staied, and paused awhile in the open
    aire, and somewhat refreshed therewith, they were brought into the
    house, in the one end of the hall near to the judges seat, and which
    is the ordinarie and accountable place where they do stand to their
    triales and arraignments. And howsoever the matter fell out, and by
    what occasion it happened, an infection followed upon manie and a
    great number of such as were there in the court, and especially upon
    such as were nearest to them were soonest infected. And albeit the
    infection was not then perceived, because every man departed, (as he
    thought), in as good health as he came thither; yet the same by little
    and little so crept into such as upon whom the infection was seizoned,
    that after a few daies, and at their home coming to their owne houses,
    they felt the violence of this pestilent sicknesse; wherein more died,
    that were infected, than escaped. And besides the prisoners, manie
    there were of good account, and of all other degrees, which died
    thereof; as by name sargeant Floredaie who then was the judge of those
    trials upon the prisoners, Sir John Chichester, Sir Arthur Basset, Sir
    Barnard Drake, Knight[796]; Thomas Carew of Haccombe, Robert Carie of
    Clovelleigh, John Fortescue of Wood, John Waldron of Bradfeeld and
    Thomas Risdone, esquires and justices of the peace.

    ... Of the plebeian and common people died verie manie, and
    especiallie constables, reeves, and tithing men, and such as were
    jurors, and namelie one jurie of twelve, of which there died eleven.

    This sicknesse was dispersed throughout all the whole shire, and at
    the writing hereof in the time of October, 1586, it is not altogether
    extinguished. It resteth for the most part about fourteene daies and
    upwards by a secret infection, before it breake out into his force and

Here we have the same incubation-period as in the Oxford fever, about
fourteen days. But in the Exeter case, we have it clearly stated that an
infection arose in the prison from the poor Portuguese sailors or
fishermen who had been thrown into “deep pit and stinking dungeon” after
their capture on the high seas by Sir Bernard Drake, that the infection
attacked the other prisoners, that many of the prisoners died and all were
brought to extremities, and that those who stood their trial were then in
a most feeble state, although they seemed to the pitying spectators to be
more starved than diseased.

So far as concerned the infection in the Assize Court, among the lawyers,
county gentry, and officials, jurors and others, it was of the same tragic
kind as at Oxford in 1577 and at Cambridge in 1522, and, as we shall see,
on several occasions in the eighteenth century. But the Exeter case has
some features special to itself. Within the gaol were both English felons
and thirty-eight Portugals, who had become subject to capture on their way
home from the banks of Newfoundland with boatloads of stock-fish, and to
treatment as felons, because Spain and England were at war. Within the
gaol there seems to have been also a gradation of misery, a deep pit and
stinking dungeon, “in the lowest deep a lower deep,” to which were
consigned the men of foreign breed, the Portugals. It was among them that
deaths first occurred, in what special form we know not. From them an
infection is clearly stated by Hoker to have spread through the gaol at
large, and to have made many of the prisoners so weak that they had to be
carried into court. This is quite unlike what we read of in the Cambridge
and Oxford cases, in neither of which was illness noted in the prisoners
or asserted of them, although at Oxford two or three had died in chains a
few days before. In the Exeter case there were three circles of the damned
instead of two only: nay there were four. Farthest in were the Portugals,
next to them were the native English felons, then came those present on
business or pleasure at the Assizes, and lastly there were the country
people all over Devonshire for many months after. We must take all those
peculiarities of the Exeter gaol-fever together, and explain them one by
another. It was a somewhat elaborated poison. It had passed from the
foreign prisoners to the English, and in the transmission had, as it were,
consolidated its power; hence, when the prisoners did give it to those who
breathed their atmosphere in court, the infection did not limit itself to
them, as it certainly did at Oxford and, so far as anything is said, at
Cambridge also, and as it usually does in typhus-fever; but it became a
volatile poison, it developed wings and acquired staying power, so that
its effects were felt over the county of Devon for at least six months

Poverty and Vagrancy in Tudor England.

The Black Assizes of Cambridge (1522), of Oxford (1577), and of Exeter
(1586) cast, in each case, a momentary and vivid light upon the state of
England in the Tudor period as late as the middle of the reign of
Elizabeth. It has been pointed out in a former chapter that prices and
wages were favourable to the cultivators of the soil in the fifteenth
century, that the English yeomanry sprang up in that period, that village
communities and trading towns prospered although their morals were none of
the best, and that the civil wars of York and Lancaster were so far from
injuring the domestic peace of England that they even secured it. It was
the observation of Philip de Comines, more than once quoted before, that
England had the “peculiar grace” of being untroubled at large by the
calamities of her civil wars, because kings and nobles were left to settle
their quarrels among themselves. “Nothing is perfect in this world,” says
the French statesman, who did not like independence of spirit among the
lower orders. But he recognizes the fact as peculiar to England in the
fifteenth century; and there can be little doubt about it.

The civil wars were hardly over when the troubles of the common people
began. Here, if anywhere, is the turning-point brought into Goldsmith’s
poem of “The Deserted Village:”

  A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
  When every rood of ground maintained its man.

Deserted villages became a reality in the last quarter of the fifteenth
century, and throughout the century following. We hear of this
depopulation first in the Isle of Wight, where it affected the national
defence and therefore engaged the attention of the State. Two Acts were
passed in 1488-9, cap. 16 and cap. 19 of 4 Henry VII. The first declares
that “it is for the security of the king and realm that the Isle of Wight
should be well inhabited, for defence against our ancient enemies of
France; the which isle is late decayed of people, by reason that many
towns and villages have been let down, and the fields dyked and made
pastures for beasts and cattle.” The second relates that

    “Great inconveniences daily doth increase by desolation and pulling
    down and wilful waste of houses and towns, and laying to pasture lands
    which customably have been used in tilth, whereby idleness, ground and
    beginning of all mischiefs, daily do increase; for where in some towns
    two hundred persons were occupied and lived by their lawful labours,
    now be there occupied two or three herdsmen, and the residue fall into
    idleness.” The remedy enacted is that no one shall take a farm in the
    Isle of Wight which shall exceed ten marks, and that owners shall
    maintain, upon their estates, houses and buildings necessary for

An instance of the same depopulation is given by Dugdale in Warwickshire:
seven hundred acres of arable land turned to pasture, and eighty persons
thrown out of employment causing the destruction of sixteen messuages and
seven cottages. An instance of the same kind has already been quoted from
the neighbourhood of Cambridge as early as 1414; but it is not until the
settlement of the dynastic quarrels and jealousies, partly on the
victories of Edward IV. at Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, and completely
after the victory of Henry Tudor at Bosworth in 1485, that agrarian
troubles became general. Then began the famous _enclosures_--enclosures
both of the “wastes” of the manors, and of the open cultivated fields of
the manors in which all the orders of villagers had their share of

A few years after, in 1495, the number of vagabonds and beggars had so
increased, of course in consequence of the enclosures, that a new Act was
required, cap. 2 of the 11th of Henry VII. “Considering the great charges
that should grow for bringing vagabonds to the gaols according to the
statute of 7 Richard II., cap. 5, and the long abiding of them therein,
whereby it is likely many of them would lose their lives:” therefore to
put them in the stocks for three days and three nights upon bread and
water, and after that to set them at large and command them to avoid the
town, and if a vagabond be taken again in the same town or township, then
the stocks for _four_ days, with like diet. The deserving poor, however,
were to be dealt with otherwise, but in an equally futile manner. In
1503-4, by the 19th of Henry VII. cap. 12, the period in the stocks was
reduced to one day and one night (bread and water as before), probably in
order that all vagabonds might have their turn.

The most correct picture of the state of England under Henry VII. and
Henry VIII. is given by Sir Thomas More. The passages in his _Utopia_,
relating to the state of England may be taken as veracious history. A
discussion is supposed to arise at the table of Morton, archbishop of
Canterbury, who was More’s early patron, and who died in 1500. “I durst
boldly speak my mind before the Cardinal,” says the foreign observer of
our manners and custom, Raphael Hythloday; and then follows an account of
the state of England which lacks nothing in plainness of speech.

    “But let us consider those things that chance daily before our eyes.
    First there is a great number of gentlemen, which cannot be content to
    live idle themselves, like drones, of that which other have laboured
    for: their tenants I mean, whom they poll and shave to the quick by
    raising their rents (for this only point of frugality do they use, men
    else through their lavish and prodigal spending able to bring
    themselves to very beggary)--these gentlemen, I say, do not only live
    in idleness themselves, but also carry about with them at their tails
    a great flock or train of idle and loitering serving-men, which never
    learned any craft whereby to get their living. These men, as soon as
    their master is dead, or be sick themselves, be incontinent thrust out
    of doors.... And husbandmen dare not set them a work, knowing well
    enough that he is nothing meet to do true and faithful service to a
    poor man with a spade and a mattock for small wages and hard fare,
    which being daintily and tenderly pampered up in idleness and
    pleasure, was wont with a sword and a buckler by his side to strut
    through the street with a bragging look, and to think himself too good
    to be any man’s mate.

    Nay, by Saint Mary, Sir, (quoth the lawyer), not so. For this kind of
    men must we make most of. For in them, as men of stouter stomachs,
    bolder spirits, and manlier courages than handicraftsmen and ploughmen
    be, doth consist the whole power, strength and puissance of our army,
    when we must fight in battle.”

    So much for the serving-men of the rich, apt to be discarded to swell
    the ranks of poverty and crime. But further:--

    “There is another cause, which, as I suppose, is proper and peculiar
    to you Englishmen alone.--What is that? quoth the Cardinal.--Forsooth,
    my lord, quoth I, your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame,
    and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be become so great devourers
    and so wild that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves.
    They consume, destroy and devour whole fields, houses and cities. For
    look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest and therefore
    dearest wool, these noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots,
    (holy men, no doubt), not contenting themselves with the yearly
    revenues and profits that were wont to grow to their forefathers and
    predecessors of their lands, nor being content that they live in rest
    and pleasure, nothing profiting yea much annoying the weal public
    leave no ground for tillage; they inclose all into pastures; they
    throw down houses; they pluck down towns and leave nothing standing,
    but only the church to be made a sheep-house. And as though you lost
    no small quantity of ground by forests, chases, lawns, and parks,
    these holy men turn all dwelling-places and all glebe-land into
    desolation and wilderness. Therefore the one covetous and insatiable
    cormorant and very plague of his native country may compass about and
    inclose many thousand acres of ground together within one pale or
    hedge; the husbandmen be thrust out of their own, or else either by
    cunning and fraud, or by violent oppression they be put besides it, or
    by wrongs and injuries they be so wearied that they be compelled to
    sell all. By one means, therefore, or by other, either by hook or
    crook, they must needs depart away, poor silly wretched souls, men,
    women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, widows, woeful mothers
    with their young babes, and their whole household small in substance
    and much in number as husbandry requireth many hands. Away they
    trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no
    place to rest in. All their household stuff, which is very little
    worth, though it might well abide the sale, yet being suddenly thrust
    out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought. And when
    they have wandered abroad till that be spent, what can they then else
    do but steal, and then justly, pardy! be hanged, or else go about a
    begging. And yet, then also they be cast in prison as vagabonds,
    because they go about and work not; whom no man will set a work,
    though they never so willingly profer themselves thereto.”

Thus were the gaols filled. The policy of Henry VIII. was to hang for
petty theft--“twenty together upon one gallows.” And yet the lawyer, the
defender of the king’s firm rule, “could not choose but greatly wonder and
marvel, how and by what evil luck it should come to pass that thieves
nevertheless were in every place so rife and rank.”

These descriptions of the state of England were written about 1517, and
the recitals in various Acts of Henry VIII. bear them out. Thus, in 1514
and 1515 (6 Hen. VIII. cap. 5, and 7 Hen. VIII. cap. 1), the towns,
villages and hamlets, and other habitations decayed in the Isle of Wight
are to be re-edified and re-peopled. In 1533-4 (25 Hen. VIII. cap. 13),
there is a more comprehensive Act against the aggrandisements of
pasture-farmers, “by reason whereof a marvellous multitude of the people
of this realm be not able to provide meat, drink and clothes necessary
for themselves, their wives, and children, but be so discouraged with
misery and poverty that they fall daily to theft, robbery, and other
inconvenience, or pitifully die for hunger and cold.” Some greedy and
covetous persons have as many as 24,000 sheep: no one to keep above 2,000
sheep under the penalty of 3_s._ 4_d._ for every sheep kept by him above
that number. Ten years after comes the well-known Act relating to the
decay of towns[797] (35 Hen. VIII. cap. 4).

Besides these recitals in Acts of Parliament, we have other glimpses of
the causes of agrarian distress. Thus, in a letter of June 24, 1528, from
Sir Edward Guildford to Wolsey: Romney Marsh is fallen into decay; there
are many great farms and holdings in the hands of persons who neither
reside on them, nor till, nor breed cattle, but use them for grazing,
trusting to the Welsh store cattle[798].

In Becon’s _Jewel of Joy_, written in the reign of Edward VI. the same
condition of things is described:

    “How do the rich men, and specially such as be sheepmongers, oppress
    the king’s liege-people by devouring their common pastures with their
    sheep, so that the poor people are not able to keep a cow for the
    comfort of them and of their poor family, and are like to starve and
    perish for hunger, if there be not provision made shortly.... Rich men
    were never so much estranged from all pity and compassion toward the
    poor people as they be at this present time.... They not only link
    house to house, but when they have gotten many houses and tenements
    into their hands, yea whole townships, they suffer the houses to fall
    into utter ruin and decay, so that by this means whole towns are
    become desolate and like unto a wilderness, no man dwelling there
    except it be the shepherd and his dog.” The interlocutor in the
    dialogue answers: “Truth it is. For I myself know many towns and
    villages sore decayed; for whereas in times past there were in some
    town an hundred households, there remain not now thirty; in some
    fifty, there are not now ten; yea (which is more to be lamented) I
    know towns so wholly decayed that there is neither stick nor stone, as
    they say.... And the cause of all this wretchedness and beggary in the
    common weal is the greed of gentlemen which are sheepmongers and

Again, in Bullein’s _Dialogue of the Fever Pestilence_ (1664), the groom
Roger who accompanies the citizen and his wife to the country, in the
direction of Barnet, points out an estate on which the rents had been
raised; the fields had been turned into large pastures, and all the houses
pulled down save the manor house: “for the carles have forfeited their
leases and are gone a-begging like villaines, and many of them are dead
for hunger.”

Vagabonds, beggars, valiant beggars, sturdy beggars, and ruffelers
continue to occupy the pages of the Statute Book for many years. In
1530-31 (a long and elaborate Act), and in 1535-6, they are to be
repressed by the stocks, by whipping, and ear-cropping; “and if any
ruffeler, sturdy vagabond, or valiant beggar, having the upper part of the
right ear cut off as aforesaid, be apprehended wandering in idleness, and
it be duly proved that he hath not applied to such labours as have been
assigned to him, or be not in service with any master, that then he be
committed to gaol until the next quarter sessions, and be there indicted
and tried, and, if found guilty, he shall be adjudged to suffer death as a
felon.” A still more distracted Act was made by the Lord Protector in 1547
(1 Ed. VI. cap. 3): if the vagabond continue idle and refuse to labour, or
run away from work set him to perform, he is to be branded with the letter
V, and be adjudged a slave for two years to any person who shall demand
him, to be fed on bread and water and refuse-meat, and caused to work in
such labour, “how vile soever it be, as he shall be put unto, by beating,
chaining, or otherwise.” If he run away within the two years, he is to be
branded in the cheek with the letter S, and adjudged a slave for life; and
if he run away again he is to suffer death as a felon. Similar provisions
are made for “slave-children;” while the usual exceptions are brought in
for the impotent poor. The above statute remained in force for only two
years, having been from the first a monstrous insult to the intelligence
of the nation, and never applied. It was succeeded by two meek-spirited
Acts, 3 and 4 Ed. VI. cap. 16, and 5 and 6 Ed. VI. cap. 2, in which the
impotent poor are provided for:--collectors in church to “gently ask and
demand alms for the poor.” By the 1st of Mary, cap. 13, the collections
for the poor were made weekly. When Elizabeth came to the throne, greater
pressure was put upon the well-to-do to support the poor: by the Act of 5
Eliz. cap. 3 (1562-3) those who obstinately refused voluntary alms might
be assessed. A more important Act of Elizabeth was that of her 14th year
(1572-3) cap. 5, “For the Punishment of Vagabonds and for Relief of the
Poor and Impotent.” A vagabond, as before, is to be whipped, and burnt on
the ear; for a second offence to suffer death as a felon “unless some
honest person will take him into his service for two whole years;” and for
a third offence to suffer death and loss of lands and goods, as a felon,
without allowance of benefit of clergy or sanctuary. Aged and infirm poor,
by the same Act, are to be cared for by “overseers of the poor” in every
parish, and to have abiding places fixed for them. In 1575-6 (18th Eliz.
cap. 3), the Act of 1572-3 was amended and explained: “collectors and
governors of the poor” are to provide a stock of wool, hemp, iron etc. for
the poor to work upon, and “houses of correction,” or Bridewells, are to
be built-one, two or more in every county for valiant beggars or such
other poor persons as refuse to work under the overseers or embezzle their
work. The last and greatest poor-laws of Elizabeth’s reign were those of
her 39th year (1597-8) caps. 3 and 4 and her 43rd year (1601) cap. 2.
These remained the basis of the English poor-law down to a recent period.
Overseers of the poor are appointed in every parish--the churchwardens _ex
officio_ and four others appointed by the justices in Easter week: the
overseers to meet once a month in the parish church after divine service
on the Sunday: contributions to be levied by the inhabitants of any parish
among themselves, or the parish or hundred to be taxed by the justices,
failing the contributions, or, if the hundred be unable, then the county
to be rated “in aid of” the parishes.

These being the developments of the poor-law and the law against vagabonds
to the end of the Tudor period, we may now return to our particular
illustrations, and more especially to the illustrations from popular

Under the year 1537, one of the citizen chroniclers of London has an
entry, “Began a collection for the poor, and a great number cured of many
grievous diseases through the charity thereof.” Under 1540, he records
that “the collection for the poor people ceased[800].” Preaching before
Edward VI. on the fourth Sunday in Lent, 1550, Thomas Lever, Master of St
John’s College, Cambridge, said: “O merciful Lord! what a number of poor,
feeble, halt, blind, lame, sickly--yea with idle vagabonds and dissembling
caitiffs mixed among them, lie and creep, begging in the miry streets of
London and Westminster[801].” In May, 1552, Ridley wrote to Cecil that the
citizens were willing to provide for the poor “both meat, drink, clothing
and firing;” but they lacked lodging, and he wanted the king to give up
Bridewell “to lodge Christ in,” or in other words, the poor “then lying
abroad in the streets of London.”

Coming to the middle of Elizabeth’s reign, in the year 1579 we find, in an
essay dedicated to the queen by Dr John Jones upon general topics of
health and morals, an account of poverty and crime which reads little
better than Sir Thomas More’s for 1517. In his 31st chapter on “The great
cost that the commonwealth is at daily in relieving the poore: Of the
number of them that are yeerly executed,” he speaks of the new poor-rate
as “a greater tax than some subsidies,” and as a “larger collection than
would maintain yeerly a good army;” and, of the felons as “a mightier
company of miserable captives than would defend a large country, as in the
records of the Clerks of the Peace and of the Assize may easily be seen.”

Even from the outset, the poor-rate does not appear to have met the

    “And yet housekeepers be but little less discharged, if ye note the
    continual resort of the needy, especially in the country and towns
    that be incorporate, the poor (as they say) not much the more aided,
    as by the moan they make to travellers may be easily gathered, nor
    theft and wickedness the less practised. For what misery it is to see
    condemned at one assize in a little shire thirty-nine, notwithstanding
    the clemency of the Judges, and three hundred and odd in one Diocese
    to do penance or fine for their loose living in a year. But these be
    the meanest sort only, for the others scape as though it were in them
    no offence. And in one gaol of prisoners three hundred and upwards at
    one time, whereof a great part perhaps may be through negligence of
    justice or cruelty, that otherwise might be punished answerably to the
    offences lawfully.”

He then refers to the Bridewells “so charitably and politicly appointed by
the late Act of Parliament, although not yet in every shire erected.” The
Act of Parliament was that of 1572 and the Bridewells were the houses of
correction for vagrants, the first type of workhouses, and so named after
the Bridewell in Fleet Street, which was given by Edward VI. from being a
royal residence to be a refuge of the poor. So far as fever was concerned,
it mattered little whether the Bridewell were a poor-house or a prison,
for in later times gaol fever and workhouse fever were both synonyms for

It would not have been surprising to find this enormous extent of
pauperism, vagrancy and crime attended by the distinctive _morbus
pauperum_, typhus-fever. But we are here concerned only with the evidence,
and not with antecedent probabilities. The records are, of course, very
imperfect. The gaol-fevers of Cambridge, Oxford and Exeter attracted much
notice because they touched the governing class. There may have been much
more gaol-fever unrecorded. Hoker, in his account of the Exeter fever,
does indeed say: “and this is commonly called the gaol sickness, and many
die thereof;” and, in a petition to the Crown, March, 1579, the Queen’s
Bench prison in Southwark is said to contain twice its complement, there
is in it a disease called “sickness of the house,” and near a hundred had
died of that sickness in the prison during the previous six years[802]. We
shall not be able to give colour to our epidemiological history by other
such instances from the Tudor period[803]; even for plague itself, the
records of particular outbreaks are meagre and almost certainly only a
part of the whole. The epidemics which shall occupy us for the rest of
this chapter are those that had a general prevalence over the country on
two or three occasions, the same general prevalence of fever that recurs
at shorter intervals in the Stuart period and in the eighteenth century.

Hitherto we have attempted to work out the history of epidemics in Britain
without reference to the epidemics in other countries, except in the case
of the Black Death, which had remarkable antecedents in the remote East,
and in the case of the English Sweat of 1528, which overran a great part
of the Continent in 1529 and 1530. To have attempted a parallel record of
epidemics abroad would have served inevitably to confuse the vision; for
the annals of pestilence in all Europe would have been from year to year
an unrelieved record of sickness and death, an unnatural continuance or
sequence, from which the mind turns away. The several countries of Europe,
and the several cities, had each their turn of plague; but they had each,
also, their free intervals, sometimes very long intervals, as we have seen
in the case of Aberdeen with no plague for nearly two generations in the
sixteenth century. The epidemiography of each country should therefore be
kept apart; and within a given country care should be taken to prevent
the illusion of universal sickness, which is apt to be created in the
bringing of scattered centres of disease (such as plague) together in the
same page.

But there are instances of what are called pandemics, or universal
epidemics, of sickness. The Black Death was one such, covering a period of
perhaps four years in Europe, from 1347 to 1350, the curve of the disease
in each locality lasting about six months. With the beginning of the
modern period we come to more frequent pandemics, not of plague, but of
minor or milder forms of pestilential infection. On the continent of
Europe these were in part related to the state of war, which may be taken
as beginning with the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII. of France in
1494. Typhus-fever, or war-fever with famine-fever, now begins to be a
familiar form of sickness--in 1498, 1505, 1510, 1528, and so on. Other
forms are putrid sore throat, dysentery, and varieties of fever included
under influenza. The various forms were apt to occur together or in
succession, so that epidemiography has a “Protean” character. This
epidemic Proteus is at once a great difficulty and a most instructive
fact. It opens up the very old doctrine of “epidemic constitutions” of the
air, which to many moderns savours of unscientific vagueness; and it
brings us face to face with degrees or kinds of infectiveness which are,
in matter of fact, more wonderful or more incomprehensible than the
deadlier infections, such as the plague or Asiatic cholera. The most
familiar instance of the kind is influenza.


Influenza enters undoubtedly into the Protean infections of the sixteenth
century, and is itself no small part of the Proteus. But what is
influenza? The name is comparatively modern--Italian of the 18th
century--and appears to mean defluxion or catarrh, not in the familiar
sense only, but as derived from the comprehensive pathological doctrine of
humours: thus the Venetian envoy in London called the sweat of 1551 an
“influsso.” It is open to us to include much or little under influenza;
but the name itself, having its root in an obsolete doctrine of humours,
can never be made exact or scientific. Usage has applied it to all
universal colds and coughs; and it has been applied capriciously to some
universal fevers, but not to others. There are two tolerably clear
references to its prevalence in England before the peculiarly unwholesome
state of Europe began with the modern age. Under the year 1173, the
chronicle of Melrose enters “a certain evil and unheard-of cough” (_tussis
quaedam mala et inaudita_), which affected everyone far and near, and cut
off many.

One of the St Albans chroniclers, an unknown writer who kept a record from
1423 to 1431 (reign of Henry VI.), has the following entry under the year
1427: “In the beginning of October, a certain rheumy infirmity (_quaedam
infirmitas reumigata_) which is called ‘_mure_’ invaded the whole people,
and so infected the aged along with the younger that it conducted a great
number to the grave[804].” A good deal is said in this brief passage, and
all that is said points to influenza--the rheumy nature of the malady, the
universality of incidence, presumably the suddenness and brief duration,
the deaths among the aged and the more juvenile. It is known also that a
similarly general malady was prevalent the same year in Paris, where it
bore the name of _ladendo_; the particulars given in the French record of
it leave no doubt that it was influenza.

The singular name of _pestilentia volatilis_ given by Fordoun to two
epidemics in Scotland in his own lifetime, one which began at Edinburgh in
February, 1430 (1431 new style), and the other at Haddington in 1432,
suggests that they may have been influenzas, but there is nothing more
than the name to indicate their nature. Those years are not known to have
been years of influenza in any other country of Europe: the record of the
malady passes direct from 1427 to 1510. There was certainly a great wave
of influenza over Europe in 1510, under the names of _cocqueluche_ and
_coccolucio_. It is said to have come up from the Mediterranean coasts and
to have extended to the shores of the Baltic and North Seas; its
prevalence in Britain is likely enough, and is indeed asserted in one
foreign account, but there is no known native notice of it. Abroad, it had
the usual character of suddenness, simultaneity and universality, and the
symptoms of heaviness, prostration, headache, restlessness, sleeplessness,
and for some time after a violent paroxysmal cough, like whooping-cough.
None died except some children; in some it went off with a looseness, in
others by sweating[805]. The mention of sweating in the influenza epidemic
of 1510 is not without importance. It may serve to explain a remark by
Erasmus, in a letter of 25th August, 1511, from Queens’ College,
Cambridge, that his health was still rather doubtful “from that sweat” (_a
sudore illo_[806]); the sweat can hardly have been the sweating sickness
of 1508, three years before, but the still unsettled health of Erasmus in
1511 may perhaps have been the dregs of the influenza of 1510.

The next great European epidemic of influenza was in 1557, for which I
shall produce medical evidence of England sharing in it, probably during
that year and certainly in the one following. But the intervening years
afford some notices of sickness in England, which was neither so severe as
plague at one end of the pestilential scale nor altogether mild at the
other, being forms of illness which contemporaries pronounced to be “new”
and “strange,” and appear to have been of the nature of pestilent fever
and dysentery.

Neither typhus nor dysentery was really new to England in the sixteenth
century; on the contrary, they were (with putrid sore throat and lientery)
the common types of disease in the great English famines which came at
long intervals, as described in the first chapter. But on the continent of
Europe typhus and dysentery and putrid sore throat (_angina maligna_)
began with the modern age to appear as if capriciously, and independently
of such obvious antecedents as want, although some of the epidemics of
typhus and dysentery were clearly related to the hardships of
warfare[807]. Typhus, indeed, was a disastrous malady on the Continent in
those years, notably in 1528 in Spain, where it was known as “las bubas,”
and in France, where it was called “les poches”--both names relating to
the spots on the skin, and both more strictly applicable to the eruptions
of the lues venerea, which was then also rampant.

Apart from the gaol fever at Cambridge in 1522, the first mention of those
new epidemics in England since the end of the medieval period is under the
year 1540: “This said xxx and two year [of Henry VIII.] divers and many
honest persons died of the hot agues and of a great lask throughout the
realm[808].” The “lask” was dysentery, (Stow, in chronicling the epidemic
in his much later _Annales_ calls it “the bloody flux”), and the “hot
agues,” according to later references under that name, appear to have been
influenza in the sense of a highly volatile typhus[809]. All that we know
of the circumstances of this epidemic is that the summer was one of
excessive drought, that wells and brooks were dried up, and that the
Thames ran so low as to make the tide at London Bridge not merely brackish
but salt.

The spring and summer of 1551 were the seasons of the last outbreak of the
sweat in England, which curiously coincided with another epidemic of
influenza (_cocqueluche_) in France. The years from 1555 to 1558 were a
sickly period for all Europe, the diseases being of the types of
dysentery, typhus, and influenza. The most authentic particulars are given
under the years 1557 and 1558; and those for England, which specially
concern us, are now to be given. Wriothesley, a contemporary, enters under
the year 1557: “This summer reigned in England divers strange and new
sicknesses, taking men and women in their heads; as strange agues and
fevers, whereof many died[810].” Under the year 1558, the continuator of
Fabyan’s chronicle says: “In the beginning of this mayor’s year died many
of the wealthiest men all England through, of a strange fever[811].”

Some light is thrown upon the sickness, general throughout England in
1557-8, also by Stow in his _Annales_. Before the harvest of 1557 corn was
at famine prices, but after the harvest wheat fell to an eighth part of
the price (5_s._ the quarter), the penny wheaten loaf being increased from
11 oz. to 56 oz.! In the harvest of 1558, he goes on, the “quartan agues
continued in like manner, or more vehemently than they had done the last
year passed, where-through died many old people and specially priests, so
that a great number of parishes were unserved and no curates to be gotten,
and much corn was lost in the fields for lack of workmen and
labourers[812].” Harrison, canon of Windsor, says that a third part of the
people of the land did taste the general sickness, which points to

The year 1557 was certainly remarkable on the continent of Europe as a
year of widely prevalent “pestiferous and contagious sickness,” which was
described by numerous medical writers. That universal epidemic, or
pandemic, is usually counted as one of the great historical waves of
influenza; and in the annals of that wonderful disease it stands the first
which was well recorded by competent foreign observers, including
Ingrassias, Gesner, Rondelet, Riverius, Dodonaeus, and Foreest. The
corresponding sickness in England in 1557 (still more severe in 1558),
which carried off many of the wealthiest men, and made so great an
impression that it is noticed by Stow and Speed, has missed being noticed
by English physicians, with a single exception, and that a casual one. If
the continental physicians had not been copious in writing on several
occasions when our English physicians were silent, such as the epidemic of
syphilis in 1494-6, the English sweat of 1529, and the influenza of
1557-8, it might appear ungracious to remark upon the scanty literary
productiveness of the profession in the Tudor period. Whoever attempts
medical history for England will soon feel our deficiency in materials,
and become disposed to envy the easier task of the foreign historian. The
academical physicians of the time hardly ever wrote. The men who wrote on
medicine were laymen like Sir Thomas Elyot, who justified his interest
therein by the example of men of his own rank like Juba, king of
Mauritania, and Mithridates, king of Pontus; or they were irregular
practitioners desirous to advertise themselves; or booksellers’ hacks like
Paynel; or such as Cogan, a schoolmaster and a physician in one. The
modern reader will be surprised at the common burden of the prefaces of
medical (and perhaps other) books in the Tudor period,--the intolerable
nuisance of “pick-faults,” “depravers,” and cavillers, who sat in their
chairs and criticised; and if the modern reader happen to be in quest of
authentic facts, he can hardly fail to sympathise with Phaer, when he
addresses the academical dog-in-the-manger with the Horatian challenge:
“Si quid novisti rectius istis, candidus imperti; si non, his utere

It is possible, however, to collect a few particulars of the prevalent
sickness of 1558 in England from casual notices of it. Thus, it comes
into a letter to the queen, of September 6, by Lord St John, governor of
the Isle of Wight, from his house at Letley, near Southampton: sickness
affected more than half the people in Southampton, the Isle of Wight and
Portsmouth (those places being filled with troops under St John’s
command), and the captain of the fort at Sandown was dead[814]. Curiously
enough we get an intimate glimpse of this epidemic from a book published
some years after, the _Dyall of Agues_ by Dr John Jones. In his chapter
“Of the Sweating Fevers” (chapter xiv), after illustrating from Galen the
proposition that a sweat may not be critical and wholesome, but τυφώδης or
typhus-like, attending the seizure from its outset and “the same said
sweat little or nothing profiting,” he proceeds to point his remarks by
his own experience:

    “I had too good experience of myself in Queen Mary’s reign, living at
    Lettlé in my good lord’s house, the right honourable Lord St John,
    beside Southampton, the which, notwithstanding the great sweat, it was
    long after before I recovered of my health, so that the said sweat did
    nothing profit.”

He then proceeds to compare the sweat, almost certainly the epidemic
mentioned in St John’s despatch of 6th September, 1558, with the sweating
sickness of 1551:

    “So in our days, even in King Edward VI.’s reign, it brought many to
    their long home, as some of the most worthy, the two noble princes of
    Suffolk, imps of honour most towardly, with others of all degrees
    infinite many; and the more perished no doubt for lack of physical
    counsel speedily[815].”

The next that we hear of this epidemic of the autumn of 1558, is in a
despatch from Dover, 11 p.m. 6th October: the writer has “learnt from the
mayor of Dover that there is no plague there, but the people that daily
die are those that come out of the ships, and such poor people as come out
of Calais, of the new sickness[816].” A despatch of 17th October, 1558,
from one of the commissioners for the surrender of Calais, Sir Thomas
Gresham, at Dunkirk, to the Privy Council, says that he “returned hither
to write his letter to the queen, and found Sir William Pickering very
sore sick of this new burning ague. He has had four sore fits, and is
brought very low, and in danger of his life if they continue as they have

Here we have the same term “new sickness” and “new burning ague” as in the
two English chronicles under the year before--the “strange and new
sicknesses” which “took men and women in their heads,” and the “strange
agues and fevers.” The very general prevalence in Southampton, Portsmouth
and the Isle of Wight suggests influenza; the symptom of sweating
described by Jones for his own case during that prevalence is in keeping
with what we hear of the influenzas of the time from foreign writers, and
so is the long and slow convalescence; the fact of one person having had
four sore fits of “this new burning ague” is more like influenza than

The severe mortalities in the autumn of 1558 at Loughborough and Chester
are put down to “plague,” and they may, of course, have been circumscribed
outbursts of the old bubo-plague. If, however, they were part of the
general prevalence of hot or burning agues, which we may take to have been
influenza or a very volatile kind of typhus, they would indicate a degree
of fatality in the latter somewhat greater than more recent influenzas
have had. A high death-rate is, indeed, demonstrable for the year 1558,
from parish registers, by comparing the deaths in that year with the
deaths in years near it, and by comparing the deaths with the births in
1558 itself.

The registers of christenings and burials, which had been ordered first in
1538, were kept in a number of parishes from that date; and from 1558,
when the order for keeping them was renewed by queen Elizabeth, they were
generally kept. Dr Thomas Short, a man of great industry, about the middle
of last century obtained access to a large number of parish registers, and
worked an infinite number of arithmetical exercises upon their
figures[818]. His abstract results or conclusions are colourless and
unimpressive, as statistical results are apt to be for the average
concrete mind; nor can they be made to illustrate the epidemic history of
Britain with the help of his companion volumes, ‘A General Chronological
History of the Air, Weather, Seasons, Meteors etc[819].’, for these
extraordinary annals are for the most part loosely compiled from foreign
sources, bringing into one focus the most scattered references to disease
in any part of Europe, and that too without criticism of authorities but
often with surprising credulity and inaccuracy. That so much statistical
or arithmetical zeal and exhaustiveness (in the work of 1750) should go
with so total a deficiency of the critical and historical sense, (in the
work of 1749) is noteworthy, and perhaps not unparalleled in modern times.
Short’s history is mostly foreign, but his statistics, which are English,
may be used to illustrate and confirm what can be learned of sicknesses in
England in the ordinary way of historical research.

Thus, the period from 1557 to 1560 stands out in Short’s table as one of
exceptional unhealthiness both in country parishes and in market towns,
the unhealthiness being estimated by the excess of burials over

_Country Parishes._

           Registers    Unhealthy    Baptised    Buried
  Year     examined      Parishes    in same    in same

  1557        16            7           62         181
  1558        26           11          171         340
  1559        34           12          145         252
  1560        38            6          100         162
  1561        41            1           19          32

_Market Towns._

           Registers    Unhealthy    Baptised    Buried
  Year     examined       Towns      in same    in same

  1557         4            2          262         381
  1558         4            2          104         159
  1559         5            3          102         149
  1560         8            3          134         201
  1561         8            3          276         399
  1562         8            1           58          71

Short’s collection of parish registers appears to have represented many
English counties, although there is no clue to their identity in the
tables from which these figures are taken. The heavy mortalities in the
registers correspond exactly to the epidemic years as otherwise known, and
may be said to bear witness to the extent or generality of the epidemic

The next that we hear of malignant fevers in England is the outbreak at
Oxford in 1577, following the Assizes. Anthony Wood says of it: “Some
thought that this Oxford mortality was the same that Leonard Fuchsius
styles sudor Anglicus.” Cogan, a contemporary, says:

    “And certainly after that sudden bane at Oxford, the same year and a
    year or two following, the same kind of agues raged in a manner all
    over England, and took away very many of the strongest sort in their
    lustiest age, and for the most part men and not women nor children,
    culling them out here and there, even as you should choose the best
    sheep out of a flock. And certain remedy was none to be found.... And
    they that took a moderate sweat at the beginning of their sickness,
    and did rid their stomachs well by vomit, sped much better.”

This is partly confirmed by Short’s abstracts of the parish registers.
Thus in 1580, of sixty registers examined, ten showed unhealthiness, the
births being to the deaths as 248 to 284. In 1582, seven country parishes
were markedly unhealthy, the births being to the deaths as 140 to 244. In
market towns the incidence is not so striking: in 1580, four towns out of
sixteen examined showed an unhealthy birth-rate, 237 births to 276 deaths.
It is in 1583 that the disparity becomes greatest in these towns: three
out of the sixteen in the list were notably unhealthy, the deaths being
1062 and the births 467. But it is the obvious defect of Short’s method
that we have no means of knowing whether that mortality may not have been
largely from plague, and not from fever or other form of epidemic

The only year between 1558 and 1580 in Short’s tables, which stands out as
decidedly unhealthy both in country parishes and market towns is 1570,
while the years from 1573 to 1575 are less healthy than the average. Those
were years of war, and of war-typhus, on the Continent, as the foreign
writings show, but there are no records of the kind of sickness in

One glimpse of the prevalence of those fevers of 1580-82 is got from a
letter of the earl of Arundell to Lord Burghley, October 19, 1582. The
earl had left his house in London because it was so “beset and
encompassed” by plague; while, as to his country house: “The air of my
house in Sussex is so corrupt even at this time of the year as, when I
came away, I left xxiv sick of hot agues.” He therefore begs the loan of
the bishop of Chichester’s house till such time as the vacancy in the see
should be filled up[820].

The widespread volatile sicknesses of 1557-8 and 1580-2, which are grouped
under the generic name of influenza, were related in time to great
epidemics of the far more deadly bubo-plague. These plague outbursts were
less noticeable in England than abroad. Thus in 1557 there were most
disastrous epidemics of true bubo-plague in several towns of the Low
Countries, and in 1580 there was at Cairo one of the worst epidemics in
the whole history of plague from its beginning. The years preceding 1580
were also plague-years in many parts of Europe (Padua, Mantua, Venice,
Messina, Palermo, Lisbon, Brussels). Those years were also the occasion of
the first great and disastrous epidemics of diphtheria (_garottillo_) in
Spain. Then come the epidemics of typhus; and at the far end of the
pestilential scale the flying waves of influenza. A relation of influenza
to other prevalent infections has been one of the theories of its nature,
especially the relation to epidemics of Asiatic cholera.

In that view influenza looks as if it were a volatile product, a swifter
and more superficial wave on the top of some slower and more deadly
earth-borne virus. As the old writers said, it was a _levis corruptio
aeris_, a diluted virus as it were, mild in proportion to its volatility
and swiftness, but in universality equalling in its own milder way the
universality of the plague of Justinian’s reign or of the Black Death.

Now, the same century and the same state of society which witnessed the
most remarkable of those flying ripples of infection over the whole
surface of Europe witnessed also some waves of infection which did not
travel so far, nor were mere influenzas. The English sweat travelled over
England in that way; it was called the posting sweat, because it posted
from town to town: thus in 1551 it suddenly appeared one day in Oxford,
and next day it was in the villages around, as if carried in the air; in
like manner it posted to Devonshire, to Leicestershire, to Cheshire, and
doubtless all over England, like the influenzas of recent memory. And
while the English sweat was thus flying about in England, influenza was
flying about the same year (1551) in France, a country which never
suffered from any of the five sweating sicknesses of 1485-1551. Again, the
influenza in England in 1558 had the symptom of sweating so marked that it
was compared to the true sweat of 1551 by Dr Jones, who himself suffered
from it. Also the influenza of 1580 all over Europe had so much of a
sweating character that in some places they said the English sweat had
come back. Lastly, the gaol-fever of Oxford in 1577 was thought by some to
present the symptoms described by Leonard Fuchs for _sudor Anglicus_; and
Cogan, an English medical writer then living, specially mentions the
phenomenon of sweating (as well as the intestinal profluvium called a
“lask”), both at Oxford and in the more widely prevalent diseases of that
year and the years following. The gaol-fever of Exeter in 1586 illustrates
still another side of the question; it diffused itself--probably by other
means than contact with the sick--all over the county of Devon, and had
not ceased six months after it began in the month of March at Exeter. The
Devonshire diffusion was like the spreading circles in a still pool. The
spread of influenza was like the flying ripples on a broad surface of
water. The spread of plague, on the occasions when it was universal, was
like the massive rollers of the depths, the onward march of cholera from
the East having, in our own times, illustrated afresh the same momentum.

In using hitherto the name of influenza for the universal fevers in
England in 1557-58 and in 1580-82, I have done so because those years are
usually reckoned in the annals of influenza. But the name is at best a
generic one, and need not commit us to any nosological definition. I shall
have to deal at more length with this question in the tenth chapter, when
speaking of the fevers of 1657-59 described by Willis and Whitmore, two
competent medical observers; in those years the vernal fever was a
catarrhal fever, or influenza proper, while the fever of the hot and dry
season, autumnal or harvest-fever, was a pestilential fever, a spotted
fever, a burning ague, a contagious malignant fever. There were also
differences in their epidemological as well as in their clinical
characters, the influenza wave being soonest past. But so far as regarded
universality of diffusion and generality of incidence, both types were
much alike.

Molineux, writing in 1694, a generation after Willis, “On the late general
coughs and colds,” brought into comparison with them another epidemic
which he had observed in Dublin in the month of July, 1688: “The transient
fever of 1688 ... I look upon to have been the most universal fever, as
this [1693] the most universal cold, that has ever appeared[821].”

When we come to the 18th century, to great epidemics not only in connexion
with famine in Ireland, but also in England, we shall find the same
diffusiveness associated with the clear type of disease which we now call
typhus. Influenza is the only sickness familiar to ourselves which shows
the volatile character, and we are apt to conclude that no other type of
fever ever had that character. But, without going farther back than the
18th century we shall find epidemics of spotted typhus resting like an
atmosphere of infection over whole tracts of Britain and Ireland, town and
country alike; and even if we give the name of influenza to the epidemical
“hot agues” with which we are here immediately concerned, in the years
1540, 1557-8, and 1580-82, we may also regard them as in a manner
corresponding to, if not as embracing, the types of fever that prevailed
from time to time over wide districts of country in the centuries

The term “ague,” often used at the time, is no more decisive for the
nosological character than the term “influenza.” Ague originally meant a
sharp fever (_febris acuta_, ὄξυς), and in Ireland, from the time of
Giraldus Cambrensis down to the 18th century, it meant the acute fever of
the country, which has not been malarial ague, in historical times at
least, but typhus. “Irish ague” was in later times a well-understood term
for contagious pestilential fever or typhus. In the _Dyall of Agues_ by Dr
John Jones (1564 ?), just as in the writings of Sydenham a century later,
intermittents were mixed up with continued fevers which had nothing
malarial in their cause or circumstances. Thus, Jones has a chapter on
“Hot Rotten Agues,” which he identifies with the synochus or continued
fever of the Greeks; in another chapter on “The Continual Rotten Ague,” he
locates the continued fevers within the vessels and the “interpolate”
without their walls, and proceeds:

    “It happeneth where all the vessels, but most chiefly in the greatest
    which are annexed about the flaps of the lungs and spiritual members,
    all equally putrefying, which often happeneth, as Fuchsius witnesseth,
    of vehement binding and retaining the filth in the cavity or
    hollowness of the vessels, inducing a burning heat. Wherefore, this
    kind of fever chanceth not to lean persons, nor to such as be of a
    thin constitution and cold temperament, nor an old age (that ever I
    saw), but often in them which abound with blood and of sanguine
    complexion, replenished with humour, fat and corpulent, solemners of
    Bacchus’ feasts,--gorge upon gorge, quaff upon quaff--not altogether
    with meat or drink of good nourishment but of omnium gatherum, as well
    to the destruction of themselves as uncurable to the physician, as by
    my prediction came to pass (besides others) upon a gentleman of
    Suffolk, a little from Ipswich, who by the causes aforesaid got his
    sickness, and thereof died the ninth day, according to my prediction,
    as his wife and friend knoweth.”

Again, in his eighth chapter, “Of the Pestilential Fever, or Plague, or
Boche [Botch],” he remarks upon the varying types of pestilential
diseases, mentioning among other national types the English sweat:

    “As we, not out of mind past, with a sweat called stoupe galante, as
    that worthy Doctor Caius hath written at large in his book _De
    Ephemera Britannica_,” adding the remark that here concerns us:--“and
    sethence [since then], with many pestilential agues, and, lastly of
    all, with the pestilential boche [botch or plague rightly termed].”
    These continued fevers, pestilential agues, or hot rotten agues, Jones
    distinguishes from quotidians, tertians and quartans. Of the last he
    says: “and when quartans reign everywhere, as they did of no long
    years past; of the which then I tasted part, besides my experience had
    of others,”--probably the fevers of 1558, elsewhere called by him the
    sweating sickness, and by Stow called “quartan agues.” He mentions
    also quintains, which he had never seen in England, “but yet in
    Ireland, at a place called Carlow, I was informed by Mr Brian Jones,
    then there captain, of a kerne or gentleman there that had the
    quintain long.”

Not only the term “ague,” but also the terms “intermittent,” “tertian,”
and more especially “quartan,” can hardly be taken in their modern sense
as restricted to malarial or climatic fevers. An intermittent or
paroxysmal character of fevers was made out on various grounds, to suit
the traditional Galenic or Greek teaching; but the paroxysms and
intermissions were not associated specially with rise and fall of the
body-temperature. The curious history of agues, and of the specialist
ague-curers, properly belongs to the time of the Restoration, when
Peruvian bark came into vogue, and will be fully dealt with in the first
chapter of another volume.

The last years in the Tudor period that stand out conspicuously in the
parish registers for a high mortality, not due to plague, are 1597-8. The
year 1597 was a season of influenza in Italy, and perhaps elsewhere in
Europe; so that the epidemic in England that year may have been the same,
but more probably was famine-fever. In the parish register of Cranbrooke
the deaths for the year are 222, against 56 births; and 181 of the deaths
are marked with the mark which is supposed to mean plague proper. The
register of Tiverton has 277 deaths, against 66 births, but it is almost
certain that the cause of the excess was not plague, of which the nearest
epidemic in that town was in 1591. In a country parish of Hampshire, with
a population of some 2700, the deaths in 1597 were 117, against 48 births,
the mortality being about twice as great as in any year from the
commencement of the register in 1569, and after until 1612[822]. In the
north of England the type of disease in 1597-8 was plague proper.

The parish register of Finchley has a remarkable entry under the year 1596
which introduces us to other considerations: “Hoc anno moriebantur de
dysenteria xix,” the whole number of burials for the year having been 28.
Next year, 1597, there are 23 deaths from dysentery, the burials in all
having been 48--an enormous mortality compared with the average of the
parish. The year 1597, if not also 1596, was a year of great scarcity,
apparently all over England; in Northumberland, Durham, and Cumberland,
the scarcity was attended by plague proper; but in other parts of England,
it would seem, by other types of sickness, of which dysentery was one.

One of the 16th century English names used for flux was the obsolete word
lask, which occurs often enough in writings of the period to suggest that
the malady was common; it is sometimes called a choleric lask (cholera
morbus), or a vehement lask, as in Elyot’s _Castel of Health_ and in
Cogan’s _Haven of Health_. Lasks, or lienteries, or dysenteries have not
been dealt with in a chapter by themselves because the records of them are
too few and meagre, so far as we have gone in the history; but it may be
convenient to bring together here the better known instances. In the
period of famine-sicknesses, dysentery and lientery must have been common
types, the latter being specially mentioned by Rishanger of St Albans for
the year 1294. Trokelowe, another St Albans chronicler, writing of the
famine-sickness of 1315-16, uses the singular phrase “morbus enim
dysentericus ex corruptis cibis fere omnes maculavit” and says it was
followed by “acuta febris vel pestis gutturuosa.” Dysentery from corrupt
food is again specially named for the year 1391. The “wame-ill” was the
prevalent type of sickness in the great Scots famine of 1439, a year of
famine in England and France. When we next hear of it in English history
it is among the troops of the marquis of Dorset in Gascony and Biscay in
1512, some 1800 of them having died of “the flix.” Then comes the “great
lask throughout the realm” in 1540, associated with “strange fevers.” The
sickly years 1557-58 and 1580-82 had probably some dysentery, or lientery,
either as primary maladies or as complications of the fevers: Cogan’s
generalities imply as much for 1580-82, and we know that the corresponding
sickly period a century after (1657-59) was so characterised in the
description by Willis. The fatal infection in the fleet after the defeat
of the Spanish Armada, in August, 1588, was probably dysentery and
ship-fever. Many other instances of the kind remain to be given in the
chapter on the sicknesses of voyages and colonial settlements.

Dysentery begins to be heard of more frequently in the Stuart period, as a
malady of London. It is a prominent item, along with summer diarrhoea, in
the London bills of mortality from the year 1658, under the name “griping
of the guts,” and is occasionally mentioned in letters from London about
the same years. The dysentery of London in 1669 was the subject of
Sydenham’s observations, who says that it had been rarely seen in the
preceding ten years[823]. On the other hand he speaks of “the endemic
dysentery of Ireland,” although he is not sure as to its type or
species[824]. Statements as to the Irish “country disease,” are as old as
Giraldus Cambrensis[825]; but as the whole question of dysentery is
intimately bound up with that of typhus-fever, I shall reserve
consideration of its prevalence in Ireland on the great scale, as well as
of the annual mortality from it in the London bills of the 17th century,
until that section of the work in which fevers and the maladies akin to
them come into the first rank as if in lieu of the plague.

       *       *       *       *       *

NOTE. A sweating character in the “hot agues” or fevers of the Elizabethan
period, in those of 1580-82 as well as in those of 1557-58, is asserted in
several passages in the text. It is noteworthy that in _Measure for
Measure_, one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, the bawd says: “Thus, what
with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with
poverty, I am custom-shrunk” (Act I. Scene 2).



One great epidemic disease of the first Tudor reigns, which brought
consternation and distress to multitudes, makes hardly any appearance in
the English records of the time, and no appearance at all in the writings
of the English profession. Long after, in 1576, William Clowes, surgeon to
St Bartholomew’s Hospital, first broke the professional silence about
_lues venerea_ in England, and in his larger work of 1579 he gave a number
of startling facts and figures of its then prevalence in London. But the
great epidemic outburst of that disease in Europe began in the last years
of the 15th century; its ravages on the epidemic scale are supposed to
have lasted for twenty or thirty years from 1494; and its subsequent
prevalence is assumed, not without reason, to have been of a milder type
and within narrower limits. We hear of it, in England, from the political
side, at the time when popular arguments were wanted against the Romish
mass-priests and against the monasteries and the orders of friars. In the
practical reasoning of Englishmen the scandalous lives of priests, monks
and friars made the strongest argument for the policy which the king had
adopted towards Rome; and it so happened in those very years that a
scandalous life was betrayed, and made odious in more than sentiment, by
bearing an outward and visible sign. The epidemic of _morbus Gallicus_
arose at an unfortunate time for the pretensions of Rome, or, perhaps, it
was itself part of the march of events. In Simon Fish’s _Supplication of
Beggars_, which was compiled in 1524 and was read to Henry VIII. shortly
after, the weightiest plea is the charge of scandalous conduct resting
upon the priests. In the inquisitions which preceded the suppression of
the monasteries, the same plea is, justly or unjustly, brought to the
front in the case of one abbey after another. So close did the association
of a scandalous vice and its attendant disease become with the priesthood
that James I., writing long after concerning the sentiments of his mother,
Mary the queen of Scots, represents her as forbidding the archbishop “to
use the spittle” in his own baptism, for the reason that she would not
have “a pokie priest to spet in her child’s mouth[826].” These, says king
James, were “her owne very words;” at all events, “a pocky priest” may be
accepted as a phrase of the time. The fact that the epidemic of syphilis
in England was used to discredit Romish priests is one of the few
indications that we have of its existence in this country. Wide and deep
as the commotion must have been which it caused, it found hardly any more
permanent expression than the private talk of the men of those days. It
was otherwise on the Continent. There, indeed, a copious literature sprang
up, of which some thirty works remain, from the essay of Conrad Schellig
of Heidelberg, printed without date or place, but ascribed to the year
1494 or 1495, down to the elaborate survey of the disease by Nicolas Massa
of Venice in 1532. The single work extant in England from that, the
earliest and greatest, period of the disease, is a poor piece of
manuscript in the Sloane collection, translated from some foreign author,
and entitled, “The tretese of the pokkis: and the cure by the nobull
counsell of parris[827].” One of its cases is that of a man, aged forty,
with two broad and deep, corroding and painful sores on his leg; another
is of a bishop of Toledo, who had “pustules” and nocturnal pains “as if
the bones would part from the flesh.” The vague meaning of the term pox is
shown in one phrase, “paynes, viz. aches and pokkis.”

It was nothing unusual abroad to give cases, and to authenticate them with
the names of the sufferers. Thus Peter Pinctor, physician to the pope
Alexander Borgia, in a notorious but exceedingly scarce work published in
1500, enters fully into the truly piteous case of the cardinal bishop of
Segovia, major-domo of the Vatican, “qui hunc morbum patiebatur cum
terribilibus et fortissimis doloribus, qui die ac nocte, praecipue in
lecto, quiescere nec dormire poterat,” as well as into the case of Peter
Borgia, the pope’s nephew, “in quo virulentia materiae pustularum capitis
corrosionem in pellicaneo [pericranio] et in craneo capitis sui manifeste

Contrasted with the copious writing and recording of cases abroad, the
English silence is remarkable. The origin of our first printed book on the
subject is characteristic. A literary hack of the time, one Paynel, a
canon of Merton Abbey, had translated, among other things, the _Regimen
Salernitanum_, a popular guide to health several hundred years old. Going
one day into the city to see the printer about a new edition, he was asked
by the latter to translate the essay on the cure of the French pox by
means of guaiacum (or the West-Indian wood) “written by that great clerke
of Almayne, Ulrich Hütten, knyght.” For, said the printer, “almost into
every part of this realme this most foul and peynfull disease is crept,
and many soore infected therewith.” Ulrich von Hütten’s personal
experience of the guaiacum cure was accordingly translated from the Latin,
in 1533, and proved a good venture for the printer, several editions
having been called for[829]. The translation has no notes, and throws no
light on English experience. It is not until 1579, when Clowes published
his essay on the morbus Gallicus, that we obtain any light from the
faculty upon the prevalence of the malady in England. Meanwhile it remains
for us to collect what scraps of evidence may exist, in one place or
another, of this country’s share in the original epidemic invasion during
the last years of the 15th century.

Earliest Notices of the French Pox in Scotland and England.

The first authentic news of it comes from the Council Register of the
borough of Aberdeen under the date 21st April, 1497[830]:--

    “The said day, it was statut and ordanit be the alderman and consale
    for the eschevin of the infirmitey cumm out of Franche and strang
    partis, that all licht weman be chargit and ordaint to decist fra thar
    vicis and syne of venerie, and all thair buthis and houssis skalit,
    and thai to pas and wirk for thar sustentacioun, under the payne of
    ane key of het yrne one thar chekis, and banysene of the towne.”

The next news of it is also from Scotland, from the minutes of the town
council of Edinburgh, wherein is entered a proclamation of James IV.,
dated 22 September, 1497[831]:--

    “It is our Soverane Lords Will and the Command of the Lordis of his
    Counsale send to the Provest and Baillies within this bur{t} that this
    Proclamation followand be put till execution for the eschewing of the
    greit appearand danger of the Infection of his Leiges fra this
    contagious sickness callit the _Grandgor_ and the greit uther Skayth
    that may occur to his Leiges and Inhabitans within this bur{t}; that
    is to say, we charge straitly and commands be the Authority above
    writtin, that all manner of personis being within the freedom of this
    bur{t} quilks are infectit, or hes been infectit, uncurit, with this
    said contagious plage callit the _Grandgor_, devoyd, red and pass
    fur{t} of this Town, and compeir upon the sandis of Leith at ten hours
    before none, and their sall thai have and fynd Botis reddie in the
    havin ordanit to them be the Officeris of this bur{t}, reddely
    furneist with victuals, to have thame to the _Inche_ [the island of
    Inch Keith in the Firth of Forth], and thair to remane quhill God
    proviyd for thair Health: And that all uther personis the quilks taks
    upon thame to hale the said contagious infirmitie and taks the cure
    thairof, that they devoyd and pass with thame, sua that nane of thair
    personis quhilks taks sic cure upon thame use the samyn cure within
    this bur{t} in pns nor peirt any manner of way. And wha sa be is
    foundin infectit and not passand to the _Inche_, as said is, be
    _Mononday_ at the Sone ganging to, and in lykways the said personis
    that takis the sd Cure of sanitie upon thame gif they will use the
    samyn, thai and ilk ane of thame salle be brynt on the cheik with the
    marking Irne that thai may be kennit in tym to cum, and thairafter gif
    any of tham remains, that thai sall be banist but favors[832].”

Sir James Simpson, with his indefatigable research over antiquarian
points[833], has brought together evidence of payments from the king’s
purse to persons infected with the “Grantgore” at Dalry, Ayrshire, in
September, 1497, at Linlithgow on 2nd October, 1497, at Stirling on the
21st February, 1498 (“at the tounne end of Strivelin to the seke folk in
the grantgore”), at Glasgow (also “at the tounn end”) on 22nd February,
1498, and again at Linlithgow, 11th April, 1498. He quotes also from a
poem of William Dunbar, written soon after 1500, on the conduct of the
Queen’s men on Fastern’s e’en, the terms “pockis” and “Spanyie pockis.”
From Sir David Lyndsay’s poems, of much later date, and from other
references, he makes out that “grandgore” or “glengore” was the usual name
in Scotland down to the 17th century. Grandgore means _à la grande gorre_,
which is the same as _à la grande mode_. This name was given for a time in
France to the great disease of the day, but it was soon superseded by
_vérole_. Scotland is the only country where “grandgore” became
established as the common name of the pox.

Before leaving the Scots evidence, two other ordinances may be quoted
from the town council records of Aberdeen. In a long list of regulations
under date the 8th October, 1507, there occur these two[834]:--

    “Item, that diligent inquisitioun be takin of all infect personis with
    this strange seiknes of Nappillis, for the sauetie of the town; and
    the personis beand infectit therwith be chargit to keip thame in ther
    howssis and uther places, fra the haile folkis.”

    “Item, that nayne infectit folkis with the seiknes of Napillis be
    haldin at the common fleschouss, or with the fleschouris, baxteris,
    brousteris, ladinaris, for sauete of the toun, and the personis
    infectit sall keip thame quyat in thar housis, zhardis, or uther comat
    placis, quhill thai be haill for the infectioun of the nichtbouris.”

“Sickness of Naples” is a reference to the well-known diffusion of the
disease all over Europe by the mercenaries of Charles VIII. of France,
dispersing after the Italian war and the occupation of Naples.

For England the first known mention of the pox is several years later than
the Scots references, although that proves nothing as to its actual
beginning in epidemic form. In the book of the Privy Purse Expenses of
Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII., there is an entry under the date
of March 15, 1503, of a sum of forty shillings paid on behalf of John
Pertriche “oon of the sonnes of mad Beale;” which sum appears to have been
what the youth cost her majesty for board, clothes, education, and
incidental expenses, during the year past. The various items making up the
sum of forty shillings are: his diets “for a year ending Christmas last
past,” a cloth gown, a fustian coat, shirts, shoes and hose, “item, for
his learning, 20_d._ item for a prymer and saulter 20_d._ And payed to a
surgeon which heled him of the Frenche pox 20_s._ Sm̅{a.} 40_s._” It will
be observed that the surgeon’s bill was as much as all his other expenses
for the year together[835].

The London chronicler of the time is alderman Robert Fabyan; but although
Fabyan, writing in the first years of the 16th century, uses the word
“pockys” to designate an illness of Edward IV. during a military
excursion to the Scots Marches in 1463, or long before the epidemic
invasion from the south of Europe, he says nothing of that great event
itself. There is a record, however, of one significant measure taken in
the year 1506, the suppression of the stews on the Bankside in Southwark.
These resorts were of ancient date, and for long paid toll to the bishop
of Winchester. In 1506 there were eighteen of them in a row along the
Surrey side of the river, a little above London Bridge; they were wooden
erections, each with a stair down to the water, and each with its river
front painted with a sign like a tavern, such as the Boar’s Head, the
Cross Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal’s Hat, the Bell,
the Swan, etc. These houses, says Stow, were inhibited in the year 1506,
and the doors closed up; but it was not long ere they were set open again,
the number being at the same time restricted to twelve[836]. They had been
suppressed once before, at the earnest demand of the citizens, in the
reign of Henry IV., and it appears from a sermon of Latimer’s that they
were again suppressed about the year 1546. Thus Shakespeare had several
precedents in London for the situation which he creates in a foreign city,
in _Measure for Measure_.

The next reference that I find to it is an oblique one, by Bernard André
in his _Annals of Henry VII._ On the occasion of mentioning the sweating
sickness of 1508, he says the latter disease occurred first in England
about four-and-twenty years before, and that it was “followed by a far
more detestable malady, to be abhorred as much as leprosy, a wasting pox
which still vexes many eminent men” (“multos adhuc vexat egregios alioquin
viros tabifica lues[837]”). Bernard André’s association of the pox with
the sweating sickness, as of one new disease following another, is in the
same manner as the reference to it by Erasmus. In a letter from Basle, in
August, 1525, to Schiedlowitz, chancellor of Poland, he discourses upon
the sickliness of seasons and the mutations of diseases[838]: Until
thirty years ago England was unacquainted with the sweat, nor did that
malady go beyond the bounds of the island. In their own experience they
had seen mutations:--“nunc pestilentiae, nunc anginae, nunc tusses; sed
morbum morbus, velut ansam ansa trahit; nec facilé cedunt ubi semel
incubuere.” He then proceeds:

    “But if one were to seek among the diseases of the body for that which
    ought to be awarded the first place, it seems to my judgment that it
    is due to that evil, of uncertain origin, which has now been for so
    many years raging with impunity in all countries of the world, but has
    not yet found a definite name. Most persons call it the French pox
    (_Poscas Galleas_), some the Spanish. What sickness has ever traversed
    every part of Europe, Africa and Asia with equal speed? What clings
    more tenaciously, what repels more vigorously the art and care of
    physicians? What passes more easily by contagion to another? What
    brings more cruel tortures? Vitiligo and lichens are deformities of
    the skin, but they are curable. This lues, however, is a foul, cruel,
    contagious disease, dangerous to life, apt to remain in the system and
    to break out anew not otherwise than the gout.”

Whether it was from some mistaken theory of contagiousness or for other
reasons, a fellow of Merton was ordered to leave in 1511 because he had
the French pox[839]. In the English history nothing appears above the
surface until the beginning of the movement against the papal supremacy
and in favour of Reformation. That was a time of public accusations of all
kinds, and among the rest of opprobrious references to the pox. In Simon
Fish’s _Supplication of Beggars_[840], which was written in 1524, certain
priests are thus hyperbolically spoken of:

    “These be they that have made an hundred thousande ydel hores in your
    realme, which wold have gotten theyr lyvinge honestly in the swete of
    their faces had not there superfluous riches illected them to uncleane
    lust and ydelnesse. These be they that corrupte the hole generation of
    mankynd in your realme, that catch the pockes of one woman and beare
    it to another, ye some one of them will boste amonge his felowes that
    he hath medled with an hundreth wymen.”

In the year 1529, there is a more painful and most undignified charge. In
the Articles of Arraignment of Wolsey in the House of Peers, the sixth
charge is:

    “The same Lord Cardinall, knowing himself to have the foul and
    contagious disease of the great pox, broken out upon him in divers
    places of his body, came daily to your Grace [the King], rowning in
    your ear, and blowing upon your most noble Grace with his perilous and
    infective breath, to the marvellous danger of your Highness, if God of
    his infinite goodness had not better provided for your Highness. And
    when he was once healed of them, he made your Grace believe that his
    disease was an impostume in his head, and of none other thing[841].”

Among the glimpses of contemporary manners in Bullein’s _Dialogue of the
Fever Pestilence_ (1564), there is one referring to the pox; Roger, the
groom, soliloquizes thus: “her first husband was prentice with James
Elles, and of him learned to play at the short-knife and the horn thimble.
But these dog-tricks will bring one to the poxe, the gallows, or to the
devil[842].” Bullein, in his more systematic handbook to health, promises
to treat of the pox fully, but omits to do so. In one place he refers to
the wounds of a young man who fell into a deep coal-pit at Newcastle as
having been healed “by an auncient practisour called Mighel, a Frencheman,
whiche also is cunnynge to helpe his owne countrey disease that now is to
commonly knowen here in England, the more to be lamented: But yet dayly
increased, whereof I entinde to speake in the place of the Poxe.” But the
only other reference is (in the section on the “Use of Sicke Men and
Medicine,”) to certain drugs “which have vertue to cleanse scabbes, iche,
pox. I saie the pox, as by experience we se there is no better remedy than
sweatyng and the drinkyng of guaiacum,” etc[843].

A good instance of the oblique mode of reference to the malady occurs in
another dialogue by a surgeon, Thomas Gale[844]. The pupil who is being
instructed tables the subject of “the morbus,” which he farther speaks of
as “a great scabbe;” whereupon Gale pointedly takes him to task for the
affectation of “the morbus;” any disease, he says, is the morbus; what you
mean is the morbus Gallicus.

About the same date, 1563, a casual reference is made to the wide
prevalence of the pox by John Jones in his _Dyall of Agues_. In
illustration of the fact that various countries originate different forms
of pestilence, as the Egyptians the leprosy, the Attics the joint-ache,
the Arabians swellings of the throat and flanks, and the English the
sweating sickness, he instances farther, “the Neapolitans, or rather the
besiegers of Naples, with the pockes, spread hence to far abroad through
all the parts of Europe, no kingdom that I have been in free--the more

English Writings on the Pox in the 16th Century.

The first original English writer on the pox was William Clowes. In his
treatise[846] of 1579, dedicated to the Society of the Barbers and
Chirurgions, he says that he had been bold “three years since to offer
unto you a very small and imperfect treatise of mine touching the cure of
the disease called in Latine _Morbus Gallicus_, the which, forasmuch as it
was at that time rather wrested from me by the importunitye of some of my
frendes, upon certain occasions then moving, than willingly of my selfe
published, it passed out of my handes so sodeinly and with so small
overlooking or correction,” that he now in 1579 reissues it in a revised
and corrected form.

    “The Morbus Gallicus or Morbus Neapolitanus, but more properly Lues
    Venera, that is the pestilent infection of filthy lust, and termed for
    the most part in English the French Pocks, a sicknes very lothsome,
    odious, troublesome and daungerous, which spreadeth itself throughout
    all England and overfloweth as I thinke the whole world.” He then
    characterises the vice “that is the original cause of this infection,
    that breedeth it, that nurseth it, that disperseth it.” In the cure
    of the malady he has had some reasonable experience, and no small
    practice for many years. According to the following passage, St
    Bartholomew’s Hospital, to which Clowes was surgeon, was three parts
    occupied by patients suffering from this malady:--

    “It is wonderfull to consider how huge multitudes there be of such as
    be infected with it, and that dayly increase, to the great daunger of
    the common wealth, and the stayne of the whole nation: the cause
    whereof I see none so great as the licentious and beastly disorder of
    a great number of rogues and vagabondes: The filthye lyfe of many lewd
    and idell persons, both men and women, about the citye of London, and
    the great number of lewd alehouses, which are the very nests and
    harbourers of such filthy creatures; By meanes of which disordered
    persons some other of better disposition are many tymes infected, and
    many more lyke to be, except there be some speedy remedy provided for
    the same. I may speake boldely, because I speake truely: and yet I
    speake it with very griefe of hart. In the Hospitall of Saint
    Bartholomew in London, there hath bene cured of this disease by me,
    and three (3) others, within this fyve yeares, to the number of one
    thousand and more. I speake nothing of Saint Thomas Hospital and other
    howses about this Citye, wherein an infinite multitude are dayly in
    cure.... For it hapneth in the house of Saint Bartholomew very seldome
    but that among every twentye diseased persons that are taken in,
    fiftene of them have the pocks.” Like the earlier writers on the
    Continent he recognizes that the disease is communicated in more ways
    than one; he speaks of “good poor people that be infected by unwary
    eating or drinking or keeping company with those lewd beasts, and
    which either for shame will not bewray it, or for lack of good
    chirurgions know not how to remedy it, or for lack of ability are not
    able otherwise to provide for the cure of it.”

In so far as Clowes follows his own experience, he is under no illusion as
to the nature and circumstances of the French pox. But he goes on to
append a pathology of the disease, which is taken from foreign writers and
reflects the bewilderment of the faculty over the constitutional effects
of the malady. As Erasmus said, in the letter quoted, it went all through
the body, “not otherwise than the gout.” When it was first observed, it
appeared to be constitutional from the outset. More particularly it
covered the skin with “pustules” or “whelks” as if it had been a primary
eruption like variola, to which it was compared; hence the names “great
pox” and “small pox.” It was not until long after that our present
pathology of primary, secondary and tertiary effects was worked out; in
the earliest writings the constitutional effects were referred to an
“inward cause,” as Clowes says, to some idiopathic corruption of the
humours having the liver for their place of elaboration, or _minera
morbi_. Thus the learned explanation of the malady, which Clowes adopts
from foreign writers more skilled than himself in such disquisitions, has
no organic unity with his own common-sense observations. In his _Proved
Practice_ he defers still farther to the academical view, as given in the
treatise of John Almenar, a Spanish physician[847].

Although Clowes, in 1579, testifies to the very wide prevalence of the
disease, to so great an extent, indeed, that it occupied the hospitals
more than all other diseases put together, yet there is reason to think
that it had by that time lost the terrible severity of its original
epidemic type. The usual statement is that the disease abated both in
extent and in intensity within twenty or thirty years of the Italian
outbreak among the soldiery in 1494-96. A contemporary and ally of Clowes,
John Read, of Gloucester, published in 1588 a volume of translations, from
the Latin manuscript of the English surgeon of the 14th century, John
Ardern, on the cure of fistulas, and from the treatise on wounds, etc. by
the Spanish surgeon Arcaeus (Antwerp, 1574)[848]. In the latter he finds
the following passage, which seems to describe the _morbus Gallicus_ on
its first appearance:--

    “The French disease did bring with it a kind of universal skabbe,
    oftentimes with ring wormes, with the foulness of all the body called
    vitiligo and alopecia, running sores in the head called acores, and
    werts of both sortes, and many times with flegmatic or melancholic
    swellings or ulcers corrosive, filthie and cancrouse, and also running
    over the body, together with putrifying of the bone, and many times
    also accompanied with all kind of grief, with fevers, consumptions,
    and with many other differences of diseases.”

Read’s own remarks draw an explicit contrast between the disease on its
first appearance and in his own later experience. Everyone knows now, he
says, how to treat the French pox, “the disease daylie dying and wearing
away by the exquisite cure thereof”--which may be taken to mean, at least,
a notable mitigation of the constitutional effects[849]. The treatment,
however, must have been much less effective then than now. Clowes speaks
of a class who “either for shame will not bewray it, or for lack of good
chirurgions know not how to remedy it, or for lack of ability are not able
otherwise to provide for the cure of it.” The expense of a cure would have
been considerable, to judge by the case given above from an account-book
of the year 1503. Unable to employ “good chirurgions,” the poorer class
would resort to quacks, of whose practice, in that and other diseases, we
have some glimpses both from Clowes in London and from Read in Gloucester
and Bristol. Of one irregular practitioner Clowes says, “He did compound
for fifteen pound to rid him within three fits of his ague, and to make
him as whole as a fish of all diseases.” There was still a lower order of
empirics, whom Clowes disdained to contend with:

    “Yet I do not mean to speak of the old woman at Newington, beyond St
    George’s Fields, unto whom the people do resort as unto an oracle;
    neither will I speak of the woman on the Bankside, who is as cunning
    as the horse at the Cross Keys; nor yet of the cunning woman in
    Seacole Lane, who hath more skill in her cole-basket than judgment in
    urine, or knowledge in physic or surgery”--nor of many others who are
    compared to “moths in clothes,” to “canker,” and to “rust in iron.”

Read gives an account of a travelling mountebank, which is too graphic to
be omitted:

    “In this year, 1587, there came a Fleming into the city of Glocester
    named Woolfgange Frolicke, and there hanging forth his pictures, his
    flags, his instruments, and his letters of mart with long lybells,
    great tossells, broad scales closed in boxes, with such counterfeit
    shows and knacks of knavery, cozening the people of their money,
    without either learning or knowledge. And yet for money got him a
    licence to practise at Bristow. But when he came to Gloceter, and
    being called before some being in authority by myself and others, he
    was not able to answer to any one point in chirurgerie; which being
    perceived, and the man known, the matter was excused by way of
    charity, to be good to straungers.”

One of the most systematic and detailed surgical treatises of the time,
John Banister’s book on the “general and particular curation of ulcers”
(1575), is significant for the indirect way in which it refers to the lues

    Thus at folio 25, “the malignant ulcer called cacoethes” is described
    without anything said of a venereal origin, but the specific guaiacum
    is given among the remedies. The same is the ease on the 31st and 32nd
    leaves, which treat of “filthie and putrefied ulcers,” guaiacum being
    again prescribed. At folio 51, on ulcers of the mouth, it is said, “If
    it proceed a morbo venereo, then first begin with due purgation, and
    prescribe the party a thin diet with the decoction of guaiacum, and
    use ointments requisite for that disease, strengthening the inner
    parts. Use twice a day a sublimated water, as is afore written, to
    touch the ulcer with lint rolled therein:

        Rec. Aqua Rosar.} an. two
              & Plantag.} ounces,
             Sublimati i dragme.

    Boil them in a glass bottel till the sublimate be dissolved.”

    On fol. 57, he describes “ulcers of the privie parts,” among which are
    corroding ulcers, but without reference to the lues. It is in the
    section headed, “To prepare the humours” (fol. 61) that the most
    explicit reference occurs: “When the ulcers proceed through the French
    pockes, a thinne diet must be used, with the decoction of guaiacum or
    use universall unctions ex Hydrargyro[850].”

In 1596 there appeared Peter Lowe’s essay on _The Spanish Sickness_[851],
which is purely a product of experience abroad, his own or of others, and
is mainly doctrinal or theoretical. The other properly English works on
the subject are all subsequent to the Restoration, and do not come into
the period of this volume, nor, from an epidemiological point of view,
into this work at all.

The evidence as to the wide prevalence of the pox in high and low becomes
abundant in the writings and memorials of the reign of James I. The
effects of the disease, as they would have been commonly remarked at this
period, are summed up in a well-known passage in _Timon of Athens_. It
would serve no purpose to collect the numerous references from Puritan
sermons, moral and descriptive essays, plays, and letters of the time. An
anonymous work of the year 1652 actually couples “the plague and the pox,”
and shows “how to cure those which are infected with either of them[852].”
One more piece of evidence may be given for London in the year 1662, or
the beginning of the Restoration period,--a date which brings us down a
century and a half from the epidemic invasion with which we are more
immediately concerned; but the information for 1662 will serve to show how
the existence of the disease was still viewed _sub rosa_, and it may help
one to realize what its prevalence and its serious effects on the public
health must have been continuously in the generations before, and most of
all in the generation which experienced the full force of it as an

The London bills of mortality, setting forth the several causes of death,
were first printed in 1629. The entry of the French pox is in them from
the beginning, and the annual total of deaths set down to it is
considerable, approaching a hundred in the year. But according to Graunt,
who made the bills of mortality the subject of a critical study in
1662[854], they were defective or incorrect in their returns of deaths due
to the pox:--

    “By the ordinary discourse of the world, it seems a great part of men
    have, at one time or other, had some species of this disease ...
    whereof many complained so fiercely, etc.” He then explains, with
    reference to the deaths entered as due to it in the bills of
    mortality: “All mentioned to die of the French pox were returned by
    the clerks of St Giles’ and St Martin’s in the Fields only, in which
    place I understand that most of the vilest and most miserable houses
    of uncleanness were; from whence I concluded that only _hated_
    persons, and such whose very noses were eaten off were reported by the
    searchers to have died of this too frequent malady”--the rest having
    been included under the head of consumption.

Origin of the Epidemic of 1494.

The French pox, as it was called in England (also the great pox and simply
the pox), or the Spanish pox, as it was called in France, or the sickness
of Naples, or the grandgore, is one of the epidemic diseases concerning
which it seems fitting to say something of the antecedents, in addition to
what has been said of its arrival as an epidemic in this country, and of
its prevalence therein. But this will have to be said very briefly, and
without entering upon the pathology or ultimate nature of the disease.

The numerous foreign writings upon it during the first years of its spread
over Europe are all singularly at a loss to account for its origin. One of
the earlier guesses was that it arose out of leprosy, as if a graft or
modification of that medieval disease, replacing it among the maladies of
the people. The occasion of that hypothesis seems to have been the lax
diagnosis of leprosy itself, a laxity which goes as far back as Bernard
Gordonio and Gilbert, if not farther back. Many things were called _lepra_
which were not elephantiasis Graecorum, and among those things the lues
venerea in the Middle Ages was undoubtedly included. At a time when true
leprosy was disappearing or had already disappeared from Europe, a new
form of disease, which came suddenly into universal notice although by no
means then first into existence, seemed to be the successor of leprosy,
evoked out of it, and even caught from the leprous by contagion. That is
the view of Manardus, in a passage quoted in the sequel,--that syphilis
began in certain most particular circumstances at Valencia, in Spain, the
source of all the subsequent contamination of Europe having been a certain
soldier of fortune who was _elephantiosus_ or leprous. In the infancy of a
science it is natural to assign to some such single and definite source a
new phenomenon which was really called forth by a concurrence of

Another guess of the same kind was the famous theory, which found a truly
learned defender in Astruc last century and has had supporters more
recently, that the lues venerea came from the New World with the returning
ships of Columbus. There never was any considerable body of facts,
consistent as regards times and places, in support of that theory; and, on
antecedent grounds, the objection to it was that it is as difficult, to
say the least, to conceive of the origin of such a disease among the
savages of Hispaniola as among the natives of Europe. “Here or nowhere is
America” is the proper retort to all such visionary theories put upon the
distant and the unknown. The American theory is now hopelessly dead; the
more that the New World became known, the less did syphilis appear to be
indigenous to it: indeed the disease followed the track of Europeans, and
those parts of the American continent, north and south of the Isthmus,
which were longest in being reached by the civilisation of the Old World,
were also longest in being reached by the lues venerea[856].

The name “sickness of Naples,” which occurs in the Aberdeen records as
early as 1507, indicates the common opinion of the laity as to the origin
and means of diffusion of the strange malady. In the passage above quoted
from Jones’s _Dyall of Agues_, it will be seen that he refers it to “the
besiegers of Naples.” The besiegers of Naples were the mercenaries of
Charles VIII. occupying it in the beginning of the year 1495, although
there was no real siege. The new disease was at the time, rightly or
wrongly, traced to them while they occupied Italy, and its diffusion over
Europe was justly traced to their dispersion to their several countries at
the end of the campaign. There is medical testimony that the malady
appeared in 1495 among the Venetian and Milanese troops which were banded
against Charles VIII. at the siege of Novara. Marcellus Cumanus, of
Venice, who was surgeon to the forces, thus speaks of the event, in
certain _Observationes de Lue Venerea_ which he wrote on the margin of
Argelata’s work on Surgery[857]:

    “In Italy, in the year 1495, owing to celestial influences, I have
    myself seen, and do testify that, while I was in the camp at Novara
    with the troops of the Lords of Venice and of the Lords of Milan, many
    knights and foot-soldiers suffered from an ebullition of the humours,
    producing many pustules in the face and through the whole body; which
    pustules commonly began under the prepuce or without the prepuce, like
    a grain of millet-seed, or upon the glans, attended by considerable
    itching. Sometimes a single pustule began like a small vesicle without
    pain, but with itching. Being broken by rubbing, they ulcerated like a
    corrosive _formica_, and a few days after, troubles began from pains
    in the arms, legs and feet, with great pustules. All the skilled
    physicians had difficulty in curing them.... Without medicines, the
    pustules upon the body lasted a year or more, like a leprous variola.”
    He then gives many other details of symptoms and treatment.

For the year after, 1496, two German writers, who were not surgeons but
occupied with affairs of state, Sebastian Brant (author of the _Ship of
Fools_) and Joseph Grünbeck, have described the disease, apparently in
connexion with the troops serving in Italy under Maximilian I. against the
invading army of Charles VIII. Thus, there is sufficient evidence that the
malady in its first two or three years of epidemic prevalence, was
associated with a state of war on Italian soil, in the persons of French
troops (and mercenaries of all nations), of Venetian and Milanese troops,
and of the German troops of the Emperor.

But the German writers are clear that the disease did not originate on
Italian soil, at the siege of Naples or elsewhere. Thus Brant in his poem
of 1496 assigns to it an origin in France, and a dispersion within a year
or two over all Europe[858]:

  “Pestiferum in Lygures transvexit Francia morbum,
   Quem _mala de Franzos_ Romula lingua vocat.
   Hic Latium atque Italos invasit, ab Alpibus extra
   Serpens, Germanos Istricolasque premit;
   Grassatur mediis jam Thracibus atque Bohemis
   Et morbi genus id Sarmata quisque timet.
   Nec satis extremo tutantur in orbe Britanni
   Quos refluum cingit succiduumque fretum.
   Quin etiam fama est, Aphros penetrasse Getasque
   Vigue sua utrumque depopulare polum.”

Grünbeck, who wrote briefly on the disease in 1496, returned to the
subject at much greater length in 1503, when he was secretary to the
Emperor Maximilian, his later treatise, _De Mentulagra, alias Morbo
Gallico_, being, indeed, among the best that the epidemic called forth.
Hensler doubts whether Grünbeck was himself in Italy, so as to observe the
ravages of the disease among the troops of the Emperor (including
Venetians and Milanese) at the sieges of Pisa and Leghorn in the summer of
1496, and among the opposing troops of Charles VIII. Be that as it may,
the following is from Grünbeck’s description[859]:

    “O! quid unquam terribilius et abominabilius humanis sensibus
    occurrit! Difficile est dictu, creditu fere impossibile, quanta
    foeditatis, putredinis et sordium colluvione, quantisque dolorum
    anxietatibus nonnullorum militum corpora involuerit. Aliqui etiam a
    vertice ad usque genua quodam horrido, squalido, continuo, foedo et
    nigro _scabiei_ genere, nulla parte faciei, (solis oculis exemtis),
    nec colli, cervicis, pectoris vel pubis immuni relicta, percussi, ita
    sordidi abominabilesque effecti sunt, qui ab omnibus commilitonibus
    derelicti, ac etiam in plano et nudo campo sub dio emarescentes, nihil
    magis quam _mortem_ expetiverunt.... At his omnibus nihil vel parum
    proficientibus, et morbo ipso non contento hoc hominum numero, ut eos
    solos tantis passionum cruciatibus afficeret, venenum contagiosum in
    multos spectantes Italos, Teutones, Helveticos, Vindelicos, Rhaetos,
    Noricos, Batavos, Morinos, Anglicos, Hispanos, et alios quos belli
    occasio in copias conscripserat, transfudit.... Interea temporis, per
    clandestinam Gallorum abitionem, exercitus fuerunt
    dissoluti,”--Grünbeck himself proceeding with some merchants to
    Hungary and thence to Poland[860].

How came this terrible infection to be among the troops of all nations on
Italian soil in the years 1494, 1495 and 1496? Sebastian Brant clearly
states that the French brought it with them, and that it spread first over
Liguria. Grünbeck says that it was seen _primo super Insubriam_, or the
Milanese, on which it rested like a dense cloud, until it was scattered by
the winds over the whole of Liguria, and so found its way into the armies
in Italy. Beniveni, of Florence, who wrote in 1498, says that it came to
Italy from Spain, and from Italy was carried to France. Thus we have a
theory of a Spanish origin, of a French origin, and perhaps also of a
native Italian origin--all agreeing that Italy during the state of war
from 1494 to 1496 was the theatre of its first ravages on the great scale,
and the source from which the disease was brought to all the countries of
Europe by the returning soldiery.

The solution of the difficulty is to be looked for in the inquiries after
still earlier notices of the _lues venerea_. It is beyond the purpose of
this book to enter upon that large subject, farther than has already been
done with the object of proving the generic use of the medieval term
_lepra_. It is now accepted by competent students of medical history that
the same disease, with all varieties or modes of primary, secondary or
tertiary, existed in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, although
secondaries and tertiaries may not have been ascribed to their primary
source. But what specially concerns us here is the question whether the
malady was anywhere beginning to be more noticeable in the years
immediately preceding the great military explosion on Italian soil. On
that point there is some evidence from more than one source, that the
malady was sufficiently prevalent in the south of France to be a subject
of remark previous to the French expedition to Italy, that it had found
its way to the ports of Spain (Barcelona and Valencia), and that the
troops of Charles VIII., if not also that youthful monarch himself,
carried it across the Alps into Liguria, and so gave it that start on
Italian soil which the state of war for the next two years raised to the
power of a virulent and diffusive epidemic[861].

The best piece of evidence of its prevalence in Languedoc and its
spreading thence to the adjoining coast of Spain is found in a letter of
the 18th April, 1494 (four months before Charles VIII. entered Italy),
written by Nicolas Scyllatius just after arriving at Barcelona[862]. The
province of Narbonne, he says, a part of France adjoining Spain, now sent
forth another vice. Women felt it most; it infected neighbours by contact;
it has lately invaded Spain, hitherto untouched by it. “I was horrified,”
he continues, “on first landing at Barcelona; for I met with many of the
inhabitants who were seized by that contagion. On my inquiring of the
physicians (for with these I held converse during nearly all that
journey), they assured me that the new _lues_ had been derived from
truculent France.” In keeping with this entirely credible testimony is the
statement of Torella, a native of Valencia, who wrote one of the earlier
essays on the new disease (“De Pudendagra”) in November, 1497. The disease
first broke out, he says, in Auvergne in 1493 (incepit, ut aiunt, haec
maligna aegritudo anno 1493 in Alervnia), and so came in the way of
contagion to Spain and the Islands [to Sardinia, where he was bishop, and
to Corsica], and to Italy, creeping in the end over all Europe, and, if
one may so speak, over the whole globe[863].

Torella thus confirms the Barcelona traveller so far as regards
importations from the south of France to the neighbouring ports, the
former writer naming Auvergne as the endemic seat of the malady, whereas
the latter gives Narbonne. Another piece of evidence, that the pox was in
Valencia, as well as in Barcelona, before the expedition of Charles VIII.,
is found in a story told by Manardus of Ferrara (1500), a story which is
wholly improbable so far as concerns the origin of syphilis, at a stated
time and place, out of a case of leprosy, but is entirely credible so far
as regards the grossness of its circumstances:

    “Coepisse hunc morbum per id tempus, dicunt, quo Carolus, Francorum
    rex, expeditionem Italicam parabat: coepisse, autem, in Valentia,
    Hispaniae Taraconensis insigni civitate, a nobili quodam scorto, cujus
    noctem elephantiosus quidam, ex equestri ordine miles, quinquaginta
    aureis emit; et cum ad mulieris concubitum frequens juventus
    accurreret, intra paucos dies supra quadringentos infectos; e quorum
    numero nonnulli, Carolum Italiam petentem sequuti, praeter alia quae
    adhuc vigent importata mala et hoc addiderunt[864].”

The evidence that follows is not so explicit, but it has strong
probability. The progress of Charles VIII. from France to Italy in the
autumn of 1494 has been told by Philip de Comines in his _Cronique du Roy
Charles VIII._, first printed at Paris in 1528, nineteen years after the
author’s death. De Comines accompanied his master, the French king, as far
as Asti; he was then sent on a mission to Venice, and rejoined the king at
Florence. But De Comines, who was no gossip, omits one interesting fact
near the beginning of the journey to Italy, which has been preserved for
us in a contemporary work (1503) called _La Cronique Martiniane_, or
chronicle of all the popes down to Alexander Borgia lately deceased[865].
This chronicle relates as follows concerning Charles VIII.’s journey:--“Il
se arresta premierement aucuns jours a Lyon, doubteux s’il passeroit les
mons, car il y estoit detenu pour les delices et plaisances de la cité et
pour les folles amours de aucunes gorrieres lyonnoises. Mais quant l’air
devint pestilent, il s’en tyra à Vienne, citè de Daulphinè.” His great
army had already passed the Alps and arrived in the country of Asti: it is
said to have consisted, in round numbers, of 3600 men-at-arms, 6000
bowmen, 8000 pikemen, and 8000 with arquebuses, halberds, two-handed
swords, or other arms, together with a heavy artillery train of 8000
horses. A large part of this force were Swiss; another part were

Charles VIII. left Vienne on the 23rd of August, and crossed Mont Genèvre
on the 2nd September, whence he proceeded direct by Susa and Turin,
joining his army at Asti on September 9. At Asti, says De Comines, he had
an illness, which caused that minister to delay setting out on his mission
to Venice for a few days. The original printed text of De Comines’
_Chronique_ (Paris, 1528), says that the author remained at Asti a few
days longer “because the king was ill of the smallpox (_de la petite
verolle_) and in peril of death, for that the fever was mixed therewith;
but it lasted only six or seven days, and I set out upon my way.” The next
edition has no change but “in great peril of death” (_en grant peril de
mort_), instead of merely “in peril.” Now, where did this diagnosis of
_petite verolle_ come from? Nothing is said of smallpox being prevalent at
the time among the troops or along their route. The name _petite verolle_
itself did not exist in 1494; it came into existence with _grosse
verolle_, having being made necessary by the latter; and the first that we
hear of _grosse verolle_ is when the Italian campaign was over and the pox
was raging in Paris, the Parlement of Paris, on the 6th of March, 1497,
having made an ordinance against a certain contagious malady “nommée la
_grosse verole_,” which had been in the kingdom and in the city of Paris
since two years. Probably Comines deliberately wrote “_petite verolle_” in
his manuscript, having composed the latter subsequent to 1498, or at a
time when the terms _verolle_, or _grosse verolle_, and _petite verolle_,
were passing current and were known in their respective senses. The causes
or circumstances of the king’s malady at Asti are not enlarged upon by De
Comines, farther than that he makes a somewhat disjointed remark, that all
the Italian wines of that year were sour and that the season was hot,
which would have had as little to do with the one kind of pox as with the
other. Nor is anything said of smallpox spreading among those near the

The whole sequence of events, from the “folles amours” of Lyons to the
sharp sickness at Asti, has suggested to historians, who have no medical
theory to advocate, that it was not really _petite vérole_ that the king
suffered from, but _grosse vérole_. Martin says that Charles VIII.
recommenced at Asti his Lyons follies and that he became violently sick,
“of the smallpox, says one, or, perhaps, of a new malady which began to
show itself in Europe,” meaning syphilis. To show that such infection was
already possible, he quotes an ordinance of the provost of Paris April 15,
1488, enjoining “the leprous” to leave the capital. This is very like
Edward III.’s order to the London “lepers” a century and a half earlier,
in which the reasons given (the frequenting of stews, the pollution of
their breath, &c.) point somewhat clearly to the nature of their
“leprosy.” An order for the banishment of “lepers” from Paris in 1488 must
have been occasioned by some unusual risk of contamination, just as the
London order of 1346 would have been. It is in that sense that the French
historian regards it; the ordinance, he says, “concernait probablement
déjà les syphilitiques confondus avec les lépreux[868].”

De Comines, who is the authority for the diagnosis of smallpox, had
inserted the word _petite_ before _verolle_ for reasons best known to
himself. I shall show in the next chapter, upon smallpox and measles in
England, that the ambiguous teaching of the faculty as to the nature and
affinities of the pox proper within the first years of its epidemic
appearance gave a ready opportunity of calling the _grosse vérole_ by the
name of _petite vérole_ in circumstances where it was polite, or prudent,
or convenient so to do. The only importance of a correct diagnosis of the
king’s malady is that the case of one would have been the case of many.

The indications all point to a somewhat unusual prevalence of _lues
venerea_ previous to the autumn of 1494, in the luxurious provinces of
southern France as well as in the capital. Beyond doubt, the malady had
already spread by contagion to the great Spanish ports nearest the Gulf of
Lyons. The expedition of Charles VIII. passed through that region on its
route over the Alps. According to Sebastian Brant, it was the French who
brought the disease into Liguria, and, according to Grünbeck, it issued,
_Gallico tractu, ab occidentali sinu_, gathered like a dense cloud _super
Insubriam_ (the Milanese), and was thence dispersed, as if by the winds,
over the whole province of Liguria.

But for the circumstances of the military expedition of 1494, and the
state of war in Italy for two years after, it is conceivable that the
unusual prevalence in France of a very ancient malady would have had
little interest for Europe at large, although the cities on the nearest
coast of Spain appear to have already shared the infection. That unusual
prevalence in the south of France has in it nothing of mystery; the period
was the end of the Middle Ages, distinguished by a revival of learning, of
trade and commerce,--a revival of most things except morals. But, assuming
that there was such unusual prevalence above the ancient and medieval
level, it may still seem unaccountable that a great European epidemic, of
a most disastrous and fatal type, should have been engendered therefrom.

There are, however, many parallel cases, on a minor scale from modern
times, of a peculiar severity of type, of inveteracy, and of
communicability by unusual ways, having been cultivated from commonplace
beginnings, among unsophisticated communities about the Baltic and
Adriatic, the people being without resident doctors and unfamiliar with
such a disease and its risks. These have been collected and analyzed by
Hirsch, whose conclusion is that “the mode of origin, and the character of
these endemics of syphilis, appear to me to furnish the key to an
understanding of the remarkable episode of the disease in the 15th
century,--an episode which entirely resembles them as regards its type,
and differs from them only as regards extent[869].”

Referring the reader for farther particulars to the work quoted, I shall
leave the antecedents of the epidemic of pox in the end of the 15th
century to be judged of according to the probabilities thus far stated.



With our modern habit of seeking out the matter of fact, of going back to
the reality and of reconstructing the theory, it is not easy for us to
understand how completely the medieval world of medicine was enslaved to
authority and tradition even in matters that were directly under their
eyes. It was thought a great thing that Linacre, of Oxford, in the first
years of the 16th century, and Caius, of Cambridge, some fifty years
later, should have gone back to Galen for their authority, passing over
the Arabians who had been the interpreters of classical medicine all
through the Middle Ages. Their editions of forgotten medical works of the
Graeco-Roman school were a step forward in scholarship, and they opened
the way to the first-hand observations of disease which really began some
hundred years after with the writings of Willis, Sydenham and Morton. But
smallpox and measles were not Galenist themes, they were peculiarly
Arabian; and the very moderate share that England took in the medical
Revival of Learning made no difference to the paragraphs or chapters on
those diseases that were circulating in the medieval compends. While the
Arabian or Arabistic writers of Spain, of Salerno, and of Montpellier were
the depositaries and interpreters of the Galenic teaching, they were also
the first-hand authorities upon some matters of specially Arabian
experience, of which smallpox and measles were the chief. Whatever was
said of those two epidemic maladies abroad, in the systematic works of
Gordonio and Gilbert, and in the later compilation of Gaddesden in
England, was not only of Arabian origin, but it was all that was known of
them. Rhazes, the original Arabic writer on smallpox and measles about the
beginning of the 11th century, supplied both the doctrine and the
experience. His observations and reasonings, altered or added to by his
later countrymen, passed bodily into the medical text-books of all Europe.
The interest in the treatise of Rhazes was so great that it was printed in
1766 by Channing, of Oxford, in Arabic with a Latin translation, and in an
English translation from the original by Greenhill, of Oxford, in 1847.

In the literature we took over smallpox from the Arabians; but had we no
native experiences of the disease itself, and, if so, when did it first
appear in this country? One can hardly attempt an answer to these
questions even now without stirring up prejudice and embittered memories.
It has been the fate of smallpox, as an epidemological subject, to be
invested with bigotry and intolerance. Whoever has maintained that it is
not as old as creation has been suspected in his motives; anyone who shows
himself inclined to put limits to its historical duration and its former
extent in Britain is clearly seeking to belittle the advantages that have
been derived during the present century from vaccination.

The wish to establish the antiquity of the smallpox in Europe has been as
strong as the wish to overthrow the antiquity of the great pox. While
undoubted traces of the latter in early times have been covered over with
the generic name of leprosy, the vaguest reference to “pustules” or spots
on the skin have been turned by verbalist ingenuity to mean devastating
epidemics of smallpox. I am here concerned only with Britain, and must
pass over the much-debated reference by Gregory of Tours to epidemics in
the 6th century, the period of the Justinian plague. But in England the
epidemic which stands nearest in our annals to the great plague of the 6th
century, the widespread infection described by Beda as having begun in 664
and as having continued in monasteries and elsewhere for years after, has
been claimed by Willan as an epidemic of smallpox[870]. Willan, with all
his erudition, was a dermatologist, and acted on the maxim that there is
nothing like leather. His contention in favour of smallpox has been
referred to in the first chapter, dealing with the plague described by
Beda, and need not farther concern us. It is not in England that we find
evidence of smallpox in those remote times but in Arabia.

Smallpox in the Arabic Annals.

For our purpose the evidence on the antiquity of smallpox in China and
India may be accepted, and for the rest left out of account. The Arabian
influence is nearer to us, and is the only one that practically concerns
us. Coming, then, to the history of smallpox in its prevalence nearest to
Europe, we find a definite statement of the disease appearing first among
the Abyssinian army of Abraha at the siege of Mecca in what was known as
the Elephant War of A.D. 569 or 571. The best of the Arabic historians,
Tabari[871], writes: “It has been told to us by Ibn Humaid, after Salima,
after Ibn Ischâg, to whom Ja‘gûb b. Otha b. Mughira b. Achnas related that
one had said to him, that in that year the smallpox appeared for the first
time in Arabia, and also the bitter herbs,--rue, colocynth [and another].”
The tradition is by word of mouth through several, after the Semitic
manner, but it need not on that account be set aside as worthless. So far
as concerns the bitter herbs, it is said to be against probability; but as
regards the new form of epidemic sickness, there is no such objection to

The Arabic legend, as given by Tabari is as follows: “Thereupon came the
birds from the sea in flocks, every one with three stones, in the claws
two and in the beak one, and threw the stones upon them. Wherever one of
these stones struck, there arose an evil wound, and pustules all over. At
that time the smallpox first appeared, and the bitter trees. The stones
undid them wholly. Thereafter God sent a torrent which carried them away
and swept them into the sea. But Abraha and the remnant of his men fled:
he himself lost one member after another.” In a former passage, the
calamity of Abraha is thus given: “But Abraha was smitten with a heavy
stroke; as they brought him along in the retreat, his limbs fell off piece
by piece, and as often as a piece fell off, matter and blood came forth.”
To illustrate this account by Tabari, his recent editor, Nöldeke, cites
the following from an anti-Mohammedan poem: “Sixty thousand returned not
to their homes, nor did their sick continue in life after their return.”
One of the elephants which dared to enter the sacred region is said to
have been also wounded and afflicted by the smallpox.

In this narrative of Abraha’s disaster, says Nöldeke, there is a mixture
of natural causation and of purely fabulous miracle; a real and sufficient
account of the cause of the Abyssinian leader’s discomfiture, namely, an
outbreak of smallpox, had been blended with legendary tales. That the
disease was smallpox is made probable by the continuity of the Arabic
name; under the same name Rhazes, the earliest systematic writer,
describes the symptoms, pathology and treatment of what was unquestionably
the smallpox afterwards familiar in Western Europe. Why it should have
originated on Arabian soil in an invading army from Africa, is a question
that would require much knowledge, now beyond our reach, to answer

Theory of the nature of Smallpox.

The nature of the disease should, however, be borne in mind always in the
front of every speculation as to the origin of its contagious and epidemic
properties. It involves no speculative considerations to pronounce
smallpox a skin-disease, of the nature of lichen turned pustular. It is a
skin-disease first, and a contagious or epidemic malady afterwards; its
place among diseases of the skin is indeed fully acknowledged by
dermatologists. Apart from its contagiousness it conforms to the
characters of other cutaneous eruptions: its outbreak is preceded by
disturbed health, including fever; when the eruption comes out the fever
is so far relieved; and as in some other eruptions which are not
contagious the constitutional disturbance is in proportion to the area of
the skin involved. Even the peculiar scars or pits which it leaves behind
in skins of a certain texture or in the more vascular regions, such as the
face, are not unknown in non-contagious skin-diseases; nor does its other
peculiarity, the offensive odour of many pustules, seem unaccountable in a
skin-disease native to tropical countries.

Eruptions on the skin are in many cases the outcome of constitutional
ill-health; for example, the eczema of gout. Also where the whole body is
infected, as in syphilis, there are skin-eruptions, which may be pimples
(lichenous) or scales, or rashes, or, as in the first great outburst of
syphilis, “pustules” so general over the body that those who were casting
about for the nosological affinities of the new malady, saw no better
place for it than Avicenna’s group of _alhumata_, which included smallpox
and measles. That a skin-eruption of the nature of smallpox should have
come out as a constitutional manifestation, and that a number of persons
should have exhibited it together for the same internal reason, are both
credible suppositions, although necessarily unsupported by historic
evidence. Let us suppose that the Abyssinian army before Mecca endured
some ordinary discomfort of campaigning, that, in the uniformity of their
life, numbers together had fallen into the same constitutional ill-health
just as numbers together have often fallen into scurvy, and that an
eruption of the skin, proper to the tropics, was part of it. What we have
farther to suppose is that the constitutional eruption became catching
from the skin outwards, so to speak,--that it could be detached from its
antecedents in the body, and could exist as an autonomous thing, so that
it would break out upon those who had none of its underlying
constitutional conditions, but had been merely in contact with such as had
developed it constitutionally or from within. Such detachment of a
constitutional eruption from its primary conditions is little more than
constantly happens when a skin-disease like eczema, or acne, persists long
after its provocation, or the disordered health which called it forth, is
removed. The inveteracy or chronicity of some skin-diseases is itself a
form of autonomy, but a form of it which does not transcend the
individual, just as, among infections themselves, cancer does not
transcend the individual or propagate itself by contagion[872]. But there
exists a closer probable analogy for a secondary eruption becoming a
self-existent or independent infective disease. The instance in view is no
more than probable, and may easily be disputed by those who have
sufficient prepossessions the other way; but there is no theory that suits
so well the negro disease of yaws as that it is a somewhat peculiar
secondary of syphilis, which is now able to be communicated as an exanthem
detached from the primary lesions on which it had depended originally for
its existence.

All the evidence, historical and geographical, points to the several
varieties of the black skin (or yellow skin) as the native tissues of
smallpox. It is not without significance that a disease of the negroes
which was observed by English doctors not long ago in the mining districts
of South Africa led to a sharp controversy whether it was smallpox or not:
according to some, it was a constitutional eruption; according to others
it was a contagious infection. Such phenomena are not likely to be seen in
our latitudes; but the original smallpox itself was not a disease of the
temperate zone[873].

I shall not carry farther this line of remark as to the probable
circumstances in which a pustular eruption, among the Abyssinians before
Mecca, or among other Africans or other dark-skinned races in other places
and at other times, had become epidemically contagious in the familiar
way of smallpox. One has to learn by experience that there is at present
no hearing for such inquiries, because a certain dominant fashion in
medicine prefers to relegate all those origins to the remotest parts of
the earth and to the earliest ages (practically _ab aeterno_), and there
to leave them with a complacent sense that they have been so disposed of.
That is not the way in which the study of origins is carried out for all
other matters of human interest. Yet diseases are recent as compared with
the species of living things; some of them are recent even as compared
with civilized societies. Epidemical and constitutional maladies touch at
many points, and depend upon, the circumstances of time and locality, and
upon racial or national characters. Perhaps their origins will one day be
made a branch of historical or archaeological research.

European Smallpox in the Middle Ages.

The present extensive prevalence of smallpox among the Arabs may or may
not date from the Elephant War of A.D. 569. Its prevalence also in
Abyssinia, so widely in modern times that almost everyone bears the marks
of it, may have no continuous history from the return of Abraha’s
expedition. But the history of smallpox in the West comes to us through
the Saracens, and there can be no question that the disease is at the
present day peculiarly at home in all African countries, and most of all
in the upper basin of the Nile, where, as Pruner says, “it appears as the
one great sickness[874].” It is a remark of Freind, whose erudition and
judgment should carry weight, that “the Saracens first brought in this
distemper, and wherever their arms prevailed, this spread itself with the
same fury in Africa, in Europe, and through the greatest part of Asia, the
eastern part especially[875].” Our inquiry here does not extend beyond
England, so that the extremely disputable question of the amount and
frequency of smallpox in the European countries conquered or invaded by
the Saracens in the Middle Ages need not be raised[876].

So far as concerns England, smallpox was first brought to it, not by the
Saracen arms, but by Saracen pens. The earliest English treatise on
medicine, the _Rosa Anglica_ of Gaddesden, has the same chapter “De
Variolis [et Morbillis]” as all the other medieval compends--in substance
the same as in the earlier work of Gilbert, and in all the other Arabistic
writings earlier or later. The _Rosa Anglica_ was a success in its day,
partly, no doubt, by reason of its style being more boisterous than that
of Gilbert’s or Gordonio’s treatises, partly, also, on account of its
blunt indecency in certain passages. Guy de Chauliac, of Avignon, one of
the few original observers of the time, had heard of the _Rosa Anglica_,
and was curious to see it; but he found in it “only the fables of
Hispanus, of Gilbert, and of Theodoric,” and he rather unkindly fixed upon
it the epithet of “fatuous.” What de Chauliac had probably heard of was
Gaddesden’s occasional claims to originality; and these we shall now
examine so far as they concern smallpox.

One of Gaddesden’s variations from the stock remarks on smallpox is his
explanation of why the disease was called variola: it is called variola,
says he, because it occurs _in diverse parts of the skin_ (_quia in cute
diversas partes occupant_). This is an ingenious improvement upon Gilbert,
who says that it is called variola from the variety of colours (_et
dicitur variola a varietate coloris_)--sometimes red, sometimes white, or
yellow, or green, or violet, or black. Another remark attributed (by Häser
at least) to Gaddesden as original, is that a person may have smallpox
twice; but Gaddesden, in a later paragraph, shows where he got that from:
“And thus says Avicenna (_quarto_ Canonis), that sometimes a man has
smallpox twice--once properly, and a second time improperly.” The most
famous of Gaddesden’s originalities is his treatment by wrapping the
patient in red cloth; for that also Häser ascribes to him. But Peter the
Spaniard, the Hispanus of de Chauliac’s reference given above, is before
him with the red-cloth treatment also, while he is candid enough to quote
Gilbert: “Any cloth dyed in purple,” says Hispanus, “has the property of
attracting the matter to the outside.”

Gilbert’s reference is as follows: “Old women in the country give burnt
purple in the drink, for it has an occult property of curing smallpox. Let
a cloth be taken, dyed _de grano_.” Bernard Gordonio, also, says:
“Thereafter let the whole body be wrapped in red cloth.” There was
probably Arabic authority for that widely diffused prescription, as for
all the rest of the teaching about smallpox. But Gaddesden does improve
upon his predecessors in boldly appealing to his own favourable experience
of red cloth:--“Then let a red cloth be taken, and the variolous patient
be wrapped in it completely, as I did with the son of the most noble king
of England when he suffered those diseases (_istos morbos_); I made
everything about his bed red, and it is a good cure, and I cured him in
the end without marks of smallpox.”

With reference to this cure, it has to be said, in the first place, that
the object of the red cloth was to draw the matter to the surface[877],
and that it had nothing to do with the prevention of pitting. The means
to prevent pitting was usually to open the pustules with a golden needle;
that is the Arabian advice, and all the Arabists copy it. Gaddesden among
the rest copies it, but he does not say that he practised it on the king’s
son. If he had said so, we might have believed that the disease was
actually one bearing pustules which could be opened by a needle. What he
says, in the earliest printed text (Pavia, 1492) is that, while the king’s
son was “suffering from those diseases,” he caused him to be wrapped in
red cloth, and the bed to be hung with the same, and that he cured him
without the marks of smallpox. Gaddesden was not altogether an honest
practitioner; on the contrary he was an early specimen of the quack _in
excelsis_. According to the learned and judicious Dr Freind, “his
practice, I doubt, was not formed upon any extraordinary knowledge of his
faculty;” and again, “He was, as it appears from his own writings,
sagacious enough to see through the foibles of human nature; he could form
a good judgment how far mankind could be imposed upon; and never failed to
make his advantage of their credulity[878].” The opportunity of diagnosing
variola in the king’s son, and of curing it by red cloth, so as to leave
no pits, was one that such a person was not likely to let slip. “It is a
good cure,” he says; and we may go so far with him as to admit that it
must have been impressive to the royal household to have heard some sharp
sickness of the nursery called by the formidable name of variola, and to
have seen it cured “_sine vestigiis_.”

Measles in Medieval Writings.

In the writings of the Arabians and of their imitators, the so-called
Arabists, measles and smallpox are always taken together. The usual
distinction made between them is that _morbilli_, or measles, come from
the bile, whereas _variolae_, or smallpox, come from the blood, that the
former are small, and that they are less apt to attack the eyes. The
reference in Gaddesden is of the usual kind, but it is complicated by the
introduction of a third term, _punctilli_, which Gruner, however, takes to
be merely a synonym for _morbilli_. As Gaddesden’s passage is of some
importance for the history of the familiar name of the disease in England,
I shall translate it at length, so far as it can be made into sense:--

    “Variolae are so called, as if variously choosing the skin itself,
    because in the skin they occupy divers parts, by apostematising and
    infecting; they are caused by corruption of blood, and therein they
    differ from morbilli and punctilli.

    Morbilli are small apostemata in the skin generated of bile; and they
    are a diminutive of apostematous diseases because they occupy less
    space by reason of the sharpness of choleric matter. They are in fact
    variolae of choleric matter, and the smallest of pustules. But
    punctilli are infections commonly sanguineous, as if they had arisen
    from a fleabite, only they remain continually. And punctilli are of
    two kinds, large and small. Of the small I have already spoken [under
    the name of morbilli?]. But the large are broad, red and opaque
    infections in the legs of poor and wasting persons, (_pauperum et
    consumptuorum_), who sit as if continually at the fire without boots;
    and they are called in English _mesles_[879].”

The rest of Gaddesden’s chapter on smallpox and measles contains nothing
that is not to be found in Avicenna or in any medieval compend on
medicine. But the passage quoted is of interest as using the old word
“mesles” to mean one of the two forms of _morbilli_ or _punctilli_. We are
here enabled to see a little way into the confusion of mind which attended
the medievalists in their verbalist dealing with disease. The syntax of
Gaddesden’s sentence implies that the broad, red and opaque infections on
the legs of poor and wasted persons were called in English _mesles_. In
other writers, both before and after his date, the name of mesles or
mesels or meseals was given, not to a form of disease, but to a class of
sufferers from disease. It is the name applied to the inmates of
leper-houses by Matthew Paris (circa 1250)--_miselli_ and _misellae_,
being diminutives of _miser_[880]. It is the word used for the same class
in the Norman-French entries in the Rolls of Parliament in the reign of
Edward I. fixing the taxation of leper-houses: if the head of the house
was himself a _meseal_, the hospital was to pay nothing, but if the head
were a whole man, the hospital had to pay[881]. The same use of mesles, as
meaning the leprous, in the generic sense, occurs several times in the
14th century poem, ‘The Vision of Piers the Ploughman[882].’ Thus, Christ
in His ministrations,

            “Sought out the sick and sinful both,
  And salved sick and sinful, both blind and crooked;
  And comune women converted, and to good turned.
  Both meseles and mute, and in the menysoun bloody,
  Oft he heled such. He ne held it for no mystery,
  Save tho he leched Lazar that had ylain into grave.”

Or again:

  “Ac old men and hore that helpless ben of strength,
   And women with child that worche ne mowe,
   Blind and bedred and broken their members,
   That taketh their mischief mekely, as meseles and other.”

It is this old English word “mesles,” meaning the leprous in the generic
sense, that Gaddesden brings into his Latin text in connexion with
_morbilli_ (or _punctilli_). It is useless to look for precision in such a
writer; but if his introduction of “mesles” in the particular context mean
anything at all, it means that the English word represented a variety of
_morbilli_,--the large, broad and opaque variety. That it should have
occurred to him to bring these blotches or spots on the legs of poor
people even remotely into relation with the _morbilli_ of the Arabians,
probably means that Gaddesden had a merely verbal acquaintance with the
latter, or that he knew them only in books. It is certainly improbable
that anyone, even in the Middle Ages, who had ever seen a case of measles
should bracket that transitory and insubstantial mottling of the skin,
with the large, broad and “obscure” spots (or nodules, or what else) on
the legs of poor and wasted persons, which were called, in the vernacular,
mesles. But Gaddesden, though a verbalist and a plagiary, was a great name
in medicine, a name usually joined (as in Chaucer) with more solid
reputations than his own. If he identified “mesles” with a variety of
_morbilli_ (which variety no one but himself seems to have heard of), it
was an easy transition for the name in English usage to become what it now
is, measles meaning _morbilli_, in the correct and only real sense of the

History of the name “Pocks” in English.

Gaddesden’s case of _variola_ which he cured without pitting by means of
red cloth stands alone in English records until the 16th century; probably
he was as little able to diagnose variola as _morbilli_, and it is more
than probable that he would not have scrupled to call some infantile
malady by the book-name _variola_, on the principle of “omne ignotum pro
terribili,” when there was anything to be gained by so doing. There is no
independent evidence that smallpox or measles existed in England in the
14th and 15th centuries. There are extant various medieval
prescription-books, in which remedies are given for all the usual
diseases. If the name of _variola_, or any English form of it, occur
therein, we should draw the same inference as from the prescriptions for
maladies of children such as “the kernels,” and “the kink” (or
whooping-cough)[884]. In the Anglo-Saxon “leechdoms,” which have been
collected in three volumes, the word _poc_ occurs once in the singular in
the phrase “a poc of the eye” (probably a hordeum or sty of the eyelid),
and once in the plural (_poccan_) without reference to any part of the
body and with no indication that a general eruption was meant. Willan,
indeed, has found in a manuscript of uncertain date a Latin incantation
against disease, in which the words _lues_, _pestis_, _pestilentia_, and
_variola_ occur; at the end of it is written in Anglo-Saxon an invocation
of certain saints to “shield me from the _lathan poccas_ and from all
evil[885].” This looks as if _poccas_ had been the Anglo-Saxon translation
of _variola_. But it remains to be seen in what sense the word “pokkes”
was used in the earliest English writings.

In the ‘Vision of Piers the Ploughman’ (passus XX) the retribution of
Nature or “Kynde” upon the wickedness of the times is thus mentioned:

  “Kynde came after with many keen sores,
   As pokkes and pestilences, and much people shent;
   So kynde through corruptions killed full many.”

In the lines immediately preceding there occur some other names, equally

  “Byles and boches and brennyng agues
   Frensyes and foul evils, foragers of kynde.”

“Boche” is botch,--the name given to the plague as late as the Stuart
period, from its chief external sign, the bubo; and “byles” is merely the
Latin _bilis_ = _ulcus_. “Pokkes” may be the Anglo-Saxon word; but it is
known that many of Langland’s colloquialisms are of Norman or French
origin, and in that language there is a term _poche_, which is not far
from the English “boche.” Whether “poche” be the same as “boche” or not,
“pokkes and pestilences” may be taken to be synonyms for “byles and
boches.” The generic or elastic use of such terms received a striking
illustration in 1528, when spotted fever (typhus), perhaps mixed with
plague, became exceedingly common among French and Spanish troops. Among
the French the disease was called _les poches_ and among the Spaniards
_las bubas_[886], although both names had been assigned to syphilis at the
time of its epidemic outburst in the end of the 15th century. In those
times diseases were called by their external marks; so that diseases
essentially most unlike, but having certain spots, or blemishes, or
botches, or pustules of the skin in common, were called by a common name.
The plague itself was known by certain spots on the breast or back called
tokens: hence the figure of John Stow and others that “many died of God’s

There was certainly laxity of naming to that extent in the case of modern
languages. As to Willan’s inference from the medieval incantation, it is
by no means clear that _variola_ in medieval Latin may not have been used
generically also; although, in the school of Salerno it appears to have
had its meaning fixed, in the Arabic sense of smallpox, from the time of
Constantinus Africanus, who introduced the teaching of Bagdad into that
school about the year 1060.

The next use of “pokkes” that I have found is in a manuscript chronicle of
England down to the year 1419[887], one of the series known as the
chronicle of the Brute (from its commencing with the mythical landing of
Brutus in England after the siege of Troy); this manuscript, known as the
“Fruit of Times,” was afterwards printed at the St Albans press about
1484[888], the history being carried down to Edward IV., and the passage
in question reproduced exactly as it stands in the handwriting. Under the
40th year of Edward III. (1366) there is the following entry:

    “Ther fell also such a pestalence that never none such was seen in no
    man’s tyme or lyf, for many men as they were gone to bede hole and in
    gude poynte sodanly thei diede. Also that tyme fell a seknes that men
    call ye pokkes, slogh both men and women thorgh ther enfectyne.”

It is clearly the same passage that occurs condensed in the chronicle of
William Gregory, mayor of London, which was written probably in
1451-52[889]. Under the 40th of Edward III., after referring to a “grete
batille of sparows” just as the earlier chronicle does, he proceeds: “Also
the same yere men and bestys were grettely infectyd with pockys, wherfore
they dyde, bothe men and bestys.” The variation of “men and beasts,”
instead of men and women, is curious, and suggests that there may have
been a common source for the story. The chronicle contemporary with 1366,
which is of best authority, was that kept at St Albans Abbey; but it gives
nothing under that year. Shortly after 1361, however, and probably about
1362 or 1363 it has a singular entry, which may have been the source of
these references to “pockys.” The Latin may be translated thus: “Numbers
died of the disease of lethargy prophesying troubles to many; many women
also died of the flux; and there was a general murrain of cattle[890].”
Here we have men, women, and cattle; also lethargy, flux, and murrain; and
it is conceivable that later compilers of English chronicles may each have
used this contemporary Latin entry of composite events to put their own
gloss upon it, or to amplify the history into what each conceived to be
the probable meaning. But the most singular enlargement was that made by
Holinshed in his chronicle of 1577. Having copied word for word, sparrows
and all, the entry under the year 1366 in the “Fruit of Times” (as printed
at St Albans about 1484), he takes leave to amend the sense in the part
that chiefly concerns us--he changes “pockys” into “smallpocks,” and “men
and women” into “men, women, and children[891].” Holinshed was dealing
with an event two hundred years before his own time, and had no more
first-hand knowledge of it than we have; but his authority has been
accepted for the fatal prevalence of smallpox in 1366 by modern writers on
the history of that disease, such as James Moore[892], who have not sought
for the contemporary authority nor exercised a critical judgment upon the
lax ways of verbalist compilers. Thus is history made--but not so easily

One other reference to “pockys” has to be noticed before we leave the
philological part of the subject and come to the unambiguous history of
the realities. Fabyan, in his _Chronicle_ written not long before his
death in 1512, says that Edward IV. during an expedition to the Scots
Marches “was then vysyted with the syknesse of pockys[893].” It is futile
to conjecture what the king’s illness may really have been. The word in
Fabyan’s time had already acquired a technical sense, which it has ever
since retained; but that well-understood meaning was some twenty years
later than the year 1474 (although the disease itself doubtless existed
all through the Middle Ages); while, in its earlier generic sense, as in
the ‘Vision of Piers the Ploughman,’ it seems to have meant botches or
other tokens of pestilential disease. In a Latin glossary of English
words, published a hundred years after[894], “a pocke” is still defined as
_phagedaena_, and “the French pocke” as _morbus Gallicus_, while
“smallpox” is not given at all.

Smallpox in England in the 16th Century.

The earliest references to smallpox in England, apart from the probably
incorrect one by Gaddesden early in the 14th century, occur in letters of
the years 1514 and 1518. Another letter of 1514 will serve to bring out
the ambiguity of the names given to diseases at the time. On June 30,
1514, Gerard de Pleine writes from London to Margaret of Savoy that he had
been asked by the bishop of Lincoln why the marriage between the princess
Mary and Louis XII. had been broken off (it took place shortly after), and
by another great peer whether Louis XII. “avoit eu les pocques,” which
last sentence has a marginal note in the printed collection of letters:
“c’est la petite verole[895].” But _les pocques_ in a letter written from
London in 1514 did not mean the smallpox. In a letter of March 3, 1514,
Peter Martyr writing in Latin from Valladolid to Ludovico Mendoza, says
that the King of England has had a fever, and that the physicians were
afraid it would turn to the pustules called _variolae_, but he is now well
again and rises from his bed[896]. This illness of Henry VIII. happened at
Richmond previous to 7th February. Although in the letter quoted there was
only a fear that the illness might have turned to the pustules called
smallpox, yet in the instructions of Henry VIII. to Spinelly, English
ambassador in the Low Countries, sent in February, the twelfth item
instructs him to say that the English king has lately been visited by a
malady “nommée la petitte verolle[897].”

Four years after, on July 14, 1518, Pace writes to Wolsey from
Wallingford, where the court then was, that the king was to leave next day
for Bisham “as it is time; for they do die in these parts in every place,
not only of the small pokkes and mezils, but also of the great

These are the earliest known instances of the use of the words _pocques_,
_variola_, _petite verolle_, “small pokkes and mezils,” as applied to
particular cases of sickness, in correspondence from or relating to
England. The remarks to be made upon the early usage are: first, that the
word _pocques_, as used by one writing in French from London in 1514, did
not mean smallpox, but pox; second, that the first authentic mention of
smallpox happens to have been in the French form--“une maladie nommée la
petitte verolle;” third, that, in the political gossip of the time the
opinion of the physicians regarding the illness of the young king is given
as of a fever which they feared might have turned to the pustules called
“_variolae_;” and fourthly, that in the very first mention of the disease
_variola_ by an English name “small pokkes,” the name is modelled on the
French, being coupled with the old English name “mezils.” It is impossible
to infer from these references anything as to the amount of smallpox in
England at the time, or even to be sure of the correctness of the
diagnosis. The lax usage as between “pox” and “smallpox” is shown in a
book of the year 1530 called ‘Prognosticacions out of Ipocras and Avicen,’
in which a brief reference to _variola_ in the Latin original is
translated “to prognosticate of the pockes.”

In Sir Thomas Elyot’s _Castel of Health_, published in 1541, children
after their first infancy are said to suffer from a number of maladies,
and in “England commonly purpyls, meazels and smallpockes.” That is
perhaps the first use of the terms in a systematic work on medicine, not
indeed by one of the faculty, but by a layman. About the same time we hear
of smallpocks in an infant of noble family: a letter of May 26, 1537, from
Charles duke of Suffolk to Cromwell, written from Hoxun in Suffolk,
excuses his not repairing to Lincolnshire, as the king had ordered, on the
ground that “his son fell sick of the smallpox and his wife of the
ague[899].” “His son” was Henry Brandon, born September 18, 1535, so that
he was then an infant of some twenty months; he is the same that died,
with his younger brother, of the sweating sickness in July 1551.

The reference to smallpocks and meazels by Elyot in his _Castel of
Health_ is repeated in the almost contemporary _Book of Children_ by
Thomas Phaer. Whether Phaer translated that also “out of the French
tongue” as he did the _Regiment of Life_, with which it is bound up in the
edition of 1553, we have nowhere any information. In a list of forty
infirmities of children, the 32nd in order is “small pockes and measels.”
A later passage in the _Book of Children_ shows how much, or how little,
intelligent meaning Phaer attached to these terms: “Of smallpockes and
measels. This disease is common and familiar, called of the Greeks by the
general name of exanthemata, and of Plinie papulae et pituitae eruptiones.
It is of two kinds:--varioli, ye measils; morbilli, called of us ye smal
pocks. They be but of one nature and proceed of one cause. The signs of
both are so manifest to sight that they need no farther declaration;”--but
he does add some signs, such as “itch and fretting of the skin as if it
had been rubbed with nettles, pain in the head and back etc.: sometimes as
it were a dry scab or lepry spreading over all the members, other whiles
in pushes, pimples and whayls running with much corruption and matter, and
with great pains of the face and throat, dryness of the tongue, hoarseness
of voice, and, in some, quiverings of the heart with sownings.” He then
gives the four causes, three of them being intrinsic states of the
humours, and the fourth “when the disease commenceth by the way of
contagion, when a sick person infecteth another, and in that case it hath
great affinity with the pestilence.” The treatment is directed towards
bringing out the eruption; all occasions of chill are to be carefully
avoided. More special directions are given for cases in which “the wheales
be outrageous and great;” also, “to take away the spots and scarres of the
small pockes and measils,” a prescription of some authors is given, to use
the blood of a bull or of a hare.

The whole of Phaer’s section on smallpox and measles bears evidence of a
foreign source, namely the same stock chapter from which Kellwaye drew
most of his section upon the same two diseases appended to his book on the
plague in 1593. Not only does Phaer speak of smallpox and measles
conjointly as leaving spots and scars, but he actually renders _variolae_
by measles, and _morbilli_ by smallpox. Phaer was more of a literary
compiler than a physician with original knowlege of diseases and their
pathology. But he is not singular among the Tudor writers in taking
measles to be the equivalent of _variolae_. William Clowes, of St
Bartholomew’s Hospital, one of the most experienced practitioners of his
time, does the same. His _Proved Practice for all Young Chirurgeons_ has
an appendix of Latin aphorisms “taken out of an old written coppy,” to
each of which aphorisms Clowes has added an English translation: in the
aphorism on _variolae_, that term is translated “measles,” the name of
“smallpox” nowhere occurring in the book. Clowes’s translation is exactly
in accordance with the English-Latin glossary of the time by Levins
(1570). Levins was an Oxford fellow who had graduated in medicine and
afterwards become a schoolmaster, just as Cogan, of _The Haven of Health_,
had done. He wrote the _Pathway of Health_, and also compiled the
_Manipulus Vocabulorum_. His definitions in the latter may be taken,
therefore, to stand for the medical usage of the time. In this glossary,
“ye maysilles” is rendered by _variole_, while the name of “smallpox” is
omitted altogether, “a pocke” having its Latin equivalent in _phagedaena_,
and “ye French pocke” in _morbus Gallicus_. In the Elizabethan dictionary
by Baret, “the maisils” is defined as “a disease with many reddish spottes
or speckles in the face and bodie, much like freckles in colour;” and that
was the disease which the English profession then understood to be the
same as the _variolae_ of medieval writers.

I leave readers to draw their own conclusions, whether there was much or
little smallpox or measles in England in the Tudor period. They may be
reminded that Pace, dean of St Paul’s, in a letter from Berkshire in 1518,
asserts the fatal prevalence of “smallpox and mezils,” and that the duke
of Suffolk called the illness of his infant son by the name of smallpox in
1538. They may be farther helped to a conclusion by the following curious
instance which has been recorded by John Stow.

Among the miscellaneous collections of that antiquary preserved in the
Lambeth Library[900], there is a narrative of the troubled conscience of
Master Richard Allington, esquire, a gentleman who appears to have lent
money at high interest. Believing himself to be dying on November 22,
1561, he summoned to his bedside at eight in the evening the Master of the
Rolls (“Sir John of the Rolls”), two doctors of the law and two other

    He began: “Maisters, seinge that I muste nedes die, which I assure you
    I nevar thought wolde have cum to passe by this dessease, consyderinge
    it is but the small pockes, I woulde therefore moste hertely desyre
    you in the reuerence of God and for Christes passions sake to suffer
    me to speake untyll I be dede, that I may dyscharge my conscens” etc.
    He then explains that “no man had so especial tokens of God’s singular
    grace, and so litele regarded them as I have done,” and goes on to
    mention particular acts of usury and to offer restitution to the
    amount of some hundred pounds or more. It had occurred to him to do so
    the second night after he fell sick, being in perfect memory lying in
    his bed broad awake, but with puppets dancing around him. After
    entrusting the lawyers at his bed side with these restitutions, he
    asked the Master of the Rolls to read to him certain of the
    penitential Psalms which the sick man had selected as appropriate.
    “And then he thought he should have died, but then broth being given
    unto him, he revived again and fell to prayer and gave himself wholly
    to quietness;” and there the narrative ends.

It appears from a reference in Stow’s _Survey of London_ that he did die
in 1561, and that his widow was left well off: for she afterwards built
one of the finest of the new houses that were now beginning to line the
highway of Holborn almost as far out as St Giles’s in the Fields.

This is the first recorded case of smallpox in English. According to the
patient’s own view, smallpox was not usually a formidable disease, nor
does it appear that the Master of the Rolls and four other eminent lawyers
(Dr Caldwell, Dr Good, Mr Garth, and Mr Jones) had been apprehensive of
catching it. One finds no other evidence of the existence of smallpox in
London or elsewhere in England until it is mentioned in a letter of 1591
and in the essay of Kellwaye, 1593, which asserts the occurrence of
“smallpox and measles” in almost the same language as Phaer’s earlier
_Book of Children_ and for the most part under the same foreign
inspiration. From Scotland we have a single reference in Dr Gilbert
Skene’s essay on the plague, published in 1568, from the terms of which
one may suppose that he is giving his own experience. The season, he
says, will sometimes foretell the plague, as well as other diseases:

    “Siclyk quhen pokis or sic pustulis are frequent, not onlie amangis
    barnis, but also amangis those quha be of constant or declynand
    aige--greit frequent south and south-vest vyndis.” In a similar
    passage on the previous page he couples “pokis, mesillis and siclike
    diseisis of bodie[901].”

In a letter of August 26, 1591, written to a member of queen Elizabeth’s
court, it is said: “Hir Higness wold you should remove from that place
where the smalle pocks were, to take the fresh and clere ayre, the better
to purge ye from the infection[902].”

In 1593 we come to the first systematic English essay on the disease,
appended to the treatise on the plague by Simon Kellwaye[903]. The author
is otherwise unknown as a medical writer, but he is commended in a preface
by George Baker, a court surgeon, for his “good and zealous intent and
sufficiencie in his profession.” In appending an essay on smallpox to a
treatise on the plague he follows the example of the Salernian treatise of
Alphanus, which also affords him most of his systematic materials in both
diseases, filtered through Ambroise Paré and other writers. Kellwaye
claims, however, to have incorporated native experience: “which work I
have collected and drawn from sundry both auncient and later writers, the
which being shadowed under the calm shroud of auncient consent and
strengthened with the abundant sap of late experience (as well mine own as
others) I here present the same.” In the treatise on the plague (fol. 2)
he mentions smallpox as among the forerunners or prognostics of that

    “When the smalle poxe doth generally abound both in young and old
    people.” In the separate essay on the smallpox (fol. 38), its interest
    is again that of a forerunner or sequel of the plague, according to
    the foreign teaching of the time:

    “For that oftentimes those that are infected with the plague are in
    the end of the disease sometimes troubled with the smallpockes or
    measels, as also by good observation it hath been seen that they are
    forerunners or warnings of the plague to come, as Salius and divers
    other writers do testify, I have thought good and as a matter
    pertinent to my former treatise” etc.

    He proceeds: “I need not greatly to stand upon the description of this
    disease because it is a thing well known unto most people.” It begins
    with a fever; then shortly after there arise small red pustules upon
    the skin throughout all the body, which come forth more or less
    intermittently; “In some there arise many little pustules with
    elevation of the skin, which in one day do increase and grow bigger,
    and after have a thick matter growing in them, which the Greeks call
    exanthemata or ecthymata; and after the Latins variola, in our English
    tongue the smallpockes; and here some writers do make a difference
    betwixt variola and exanthemata: for, say they, that is called variola
    when many of those pustules do suddenly run into a clear bladder, as
    if it had been scalled, but the other doth not so; yet are they both
    one in the cure.” He recognizes the contagious property of the
    disease, calling it “hereditable:” “For we see when one is infected
    therewith, that so many as come near him (especially those which are
    allied in the same blood) do assuredly for the most part receive the
    infection also.” His _Practica_ are taken almost entirely from the
    Arabian writers, as filtered through Gaddesden, one of them being the
    prevention of pitting by opening the pocks with a gold pin or needle.
    He had heard, however, “of some which, having not used anything at
    all, but suffering them to dry up and fall of themselves without
    picking or scratching, have done very well, and not any pits remained
    after it.” He then refers to complications, such as ulcerations of the
    skin, soreness and ulcerations of the mouth (_aphthae_), soreness of
    the tonsils, and glueing together of the eyelids, all of which are
    stock paragraphs in the foreign writers of the time and are probably
    transferred from the latter. Also he goes a considerable way towards
    the separation of measles from smallpox, which was not fully effected
    in England until the century following: “What the measels or males
    are:--many little pimples which are not to be seen but only by feeling
    with the hand are to be perceived; they do not maturate as the pocks
    doth do, nor assault the eyes” etc.

About ten years after Kellwaye’s essay, there began, in 1604, the
classification of the deaths in London by the Company of Parish Clerks:
but it was not until 1629 that their weekly and annual bills were
regularly printed. In the first printed bills, “Flox, smallpox and
measles” appear as one entry. The meaning of “flox” seems to be explained
by Kellwaye’s remark: “And here some writers do make a difference betwixt
variola and exanthemata; for, say they, that is called variola when many
of those pustules do suddenly run into a clear bladder as if it had been
scalled, but the other doth not so.” That is the distinction between
confluent smallpox and discrete; and the most probable explanation of
“flox” is that it stands for the confluent kind, or for the pustules that
run together into a clear bladder.

Smallpox in the 17th Century.

The gradual rise of smallpox to prominence in England about the end of the
Elizabethan period and in the first years of the Stuarts cannot fail to
strike anyone who is occupied with the English records of disease as a
whole. Smallpox and measles may have been, and almost certainly were,
observed in England in the earlier part of the 16th century; but they make
no such figure in the records, domestic and other, as they do from the
beginning of the 17th century onwards. Perhaps the first mention of
smallpox, in English literature proper, occurs in a collection of lyrical
poems published in 1602[904]. In some verses “Upon his Ladies sicknesse of
the Small Pocks,” the poet, Th. Spilman, apostrophises the “cruel and
impartial sickness” and asks,--

  Are not these thy steps I trace
  In the pure snow of her face?

  Th’ heavenly honey thou dost suck
  From her rose cheeks, might suffice;
  Why then didst thou mar and pluck
  Those dear flowers of rarest price?

In two letters of Dr Donne, dean of St Paul’s, written probably a few
years before his death in 1631, reference is made to the smallpox in
London. In the one he says:

    “At my return from Kent to my gate, I found Peg had the pox: so I
    withdrew to Prickham and spent a fortnight there. And without coming
    home, when I could with some justice hope that it would spread no
    farther amongst them (as I humbly thank God it hath not, nor much
    disfigured her that had it), I went into Bedfordshire” etc.

This dread of smallpox infection is quite unlike anything that we meet
with in the earlier 16th-century domestic memorials; in them it is only
the infection of the plague that comes in. Donne’s other reference is to
the sickness of my lord Harrington: “a few days since they were doubtful
of him; but he is so well recovered that now they know all his disease to
be the pox and measles mingled[905].”

Cases of smallpox among the upper classes are occasionally mentioned in
the letters written by Chamberlain to Carleton in the reigns of James I.
and Charles I.[906]. On December 17, 1612, “The Lord Lisle hath lost his
eldest son, Sir William Sidney, by the smallpox, which were well come
out.” On December 31, the same year, Carleton, writing from abroad,
mentions that the duke of Mantua had died of the smallpox about three
weeks since, of which he buried his only son not three weeks before. Also
on December 31, Chamberlain writes to him, that the Lady Webbe was sick of
the smallpox, of which, he says in another letter, she died: “She was
grown a very proper woman, but loved the town too well, which in a short
time would have drawn her and her husband dry as well in purse as in
reputation.” It is the year 1614 that is given (by Horst) as the worst
season of smallpox all over Europe and the East; England is mentioned by
the foreign writer as among the countries affected, but there is no trace
of an epidemic in our own records. On April 20, 1616, Chamberlain mentions
the case of the duke of Buckingham, the favourite; “he hath been crazy of
late, not without suspicion of the smallpox, which, if it had fallen out,
_actum est de amicitia_. But it proves otherwise.” Buckingham’s illness,
for which he took much physic, produced an imposthume on his head (an
effect which followed in the more notorious illness of Wolsey), and he is
elsewhere said to be suffering from the _morbus comitialis_. The
suggestion of smallpox appears to be the same euphemism which was resorted
to in the cases of other exalted personages.

On August 21, 1624, having written of the great mortality from fevers,
Chamberlain adds: “Lady Winwood, hearing that her only daughter was fallen
sick of the smallpox at Ditton and that they came not out currently,” had
gone to her. On December 18, 1624, “the Lady Purbeck is sick of the
smallpox, and her husband is so kind that he stirs not from her bed’s
feet.” In the first week of June, 1625, the famous composer Orlando
Gibbons died at Canterbury, not without suspicion of the plague[907], but
according to another opinion of the smallpox[908].

With the year 1629, the causes of death in London began to be published by
Parish Clerks’ Hall in a rough classification, smallpox being a regular
item from year to year. For the first eight years the deaths from “flox,
smallpox, and measles” were as follows:

  1629        72
  1630        40
  1631        58
  1632       531
  1633        72
  1634      1354
  1635       293
  1636       127

The greatest epidemic, it will be seen, was in 1634[909]. For the years
1637-1646, the figures are lost (owing to Graunt’s omitting them in his
Table of 1662, for want of room). But it is known from letters that the
autumn of 1641 was a season of severe smallpox as well as plague. Thus on
August 26, “both Houses grow very thin by reason of the smallpox and
plague that is in the town, 133 dying here this week of the plague, and
118 of the smallpox, 610 in the whole of all diseases.” On September 9, a
letter from Charing Cross says: “Died this week of the plague 185, and of
the smallpox 101.” The plague mortality continues to be mentioned in
subsequent letters, but the references to smallpox cease[910]. On July 16,
1642, one excuses his attendance on some State business because he is sick
of the smallpox[911].

About the Restoration the references to smallpox become more
numerous[912]. A letter of January 4, 1658 (1659), speaks of “much
sickness in the town [London], especially fevers, agues and smallpox.” On
February 7, 1660, the earl of Anglesey is dead of the smallpox. In
September, 1660, Lord Oxford had a severe attack and recovered; at the
same time the duke of Gloucester, on the 8th September, was diagnosed by
the doctors to have “a disease between the smallpox and the measles; he is
now past danger of death for this bout, as the doctors say.” However he
died on 14th September, in the tenth day of the disease, with remarkable
evidences (post mortem) of internal haemorrhage, having bled freely at the
nose a few hours before his death. The eruption had “come out full and
kindly” at the beginning, so that it was not the ordinary haemorrhagic
type. On the 20th December, 1660, the princess Henrietta goes to St
James’s for fear of the smallpox. On the 16th January, 1660 (? 1661), “the
princess is recovered of the measles.” Letters from a lady at Hambleton to
her husband in London, May 26, 1661, speaks of smallpox raging in the
place, and in the house of her nearest neighbour, her own children having
the whooping-cough. In the bills of mortality of those years the deaths in
London from smallpox and measles were as follows:

  1647      139
  1648      401
  1649     1190
  1650      184
  1651      525
  1652     1279
  1653      139
  1654      832
  1655     1294
  1656      823
  1657      835
  1658      409
  1659     1523
  1660      354
  1661     1246
  1662      768
  1663      411
  1664     1233
  1665      655
  1666       38

These figures bring us down to the period of Sydenham, who was the first
accurate observer of smallpox in London. With his writings, and with those
of Willis and Morton, we begin a new era in the history of epidemics in
England. We find, for the first time in the history, an adequate
discussion of the epidemiological and clinical facts by the ablest men in
the profession. But, as the new era is at one and the same time marked by
the cessation of plague and by the enormous increase of various fevers, as
well as of smallpox, it falls without the limits of this volume, making,
indeed, the appropriate beginning of the new kind of epidemic history
which is characteristic of England from the Restoration and the Revolution
down to the end of the 18th century. It is clear, from the instances
above given, that smallpox was already at the beginning of the 17th
century becoming a pest among the upper classes. But to anyone who studies
the history over continuous periods it is equally clear that its
prominence was then something new and that the horror and alarm which it
caused became greater as the 17th century approached its close. And so as
not to leave the history of smallpox at this point with a wrong impression
of its general virulence, it may be added that Dr Plot, writing of
Oxfordshire in 1677, says: “Generally here they are so favorable and kind,
that be the nurse but tolerably good, the patient seldom miscarries[913].”

Smallpox in Continental Writings of the 16th century.

It would be beside the purpose of this work to follow the history of
smallpox and measles on the continent of Europe. But it will be necessary
to say a few words on the contemporary foreign writings upon these
diseases, as it is chiefly teaching from a foreign source that we detect
in the English authors of the 16th century.

It might be inferred from the classical work of Fracastori[914], published
in 1546, that smallpox and measles were frequent and familiar diseases in
the author’s experience at Verona. At the same time it is clear that even
he, original observer as he was, is in places merely repeating the old
statements of the Arabian writers. Thus his statement that everyone has
smallpox or measles sooner or later, is the old Arabian tradition or
experience, usually joined to the explanation that the cause of that
universality was the nourishment of the foetus by the retained and impure
menstrual blood, so that all children had to free their constitutions of a
congenital impurity sooner or later. So far as Fracastori’s originality
comes in, it is clear that he does not regard smallpox and measles as
serious troubles. In his second chapter he says:

    “First we must treat of those contagious maladies which, although
    contagious, are not called pestilential, because, for the most part,
    they are salubrious. Of such are variolae and morbilli. By variolae
    are understood those which are called also varollae by the common
    people, from their likeness, I suppose, to the pustules called vari.
    By morbilli are understood those which the common people style fersae,
    so-called perhaps from _fervor_. But of these the Greeks do not appear
    to have treated under any other name than exanthemata. They happen
    principally in children, rarely in men, most rarely in old people. But
    they seem to befall all men once in life, or to be apt to befall them
    unless a premature death removes the individual. In boys the malady is
    more benign than in adults. For the more part, as already said, they
    are salubrious, since this ebullition of the blood is something of a
    purification of the same. It afflicts more or less according to the
    density of the blood and as the vice is apt or not to be separated
    from it. If the blood be more pituitous, the pustules are variform,
    white, round and full of a kind of mucus; but if it be more bilious
    the pustules break forth more of a dry sort. Where the disease has
    happened once it is not apt to recur; but there are cases where it has
    happened more than once.”

In the brief account by Fracastori, all the points are stated for measles
and smallpox together; and the opinion is twice put forward that an attack
was salubrious as purifying the blood or as freeing it from some vice--an
opinion which is still popularly held.

It is not until the latter half of the 16th century that we come to real
epidemiological records of smallpox on the Continent,--the works by
Donatus on smallpox and measles at Mantua in 1567, and by Betera upon
epidemics at Brescia in 1570, 1577 and 1588, in which the more malignant
types of smallpox were seen[915]. The treatise most used was that of
Alphanus, published at Naples in 1577[916]; it was on plague and
pestilential fever, with an appendix on smallpox. Either it or Ambroise
Paré’s chapters seem to have furnished the greater part of the English
essay by Kellwaye on the plague and smallpox.

In Ambroise Paré’s references to smallpox there occurs one singular line
of remark which will serve to bring us back to etymology and to the great
pox[917]. The _petite vérole_, he says, has a resemblance to the _grosse
vérole_ as sometimes attacking the bones. He had seen that in smallpox
cases not only in 1568 but on other occasions: and he gives the details of
two cases of smallpox, apparently with periostitis and necrosis, which he
compares to cases of the great pox. To express in one word the meaning of
such cases, he says, the smallpox and _rougeolle_, not having been well
purged, give rise to various troublesome accidents, as the great pox does.
One cannot read Paré’s chapters on the _grosse vérole_ and the _petite
vérole_ without detecting an inclination to compare them or class them
together in nosological characters. The comparison or classification is by
no means explicit; but it seems to be in his thoughts, and he would seem,
accordingly, to have held until a late period of the 16th century a view
of the two diseases which was not unusual at the beginning of that century
(as in the treatise of Pinctor and in the accounts of the dreadful
mortality of Indians in Hispaniola and Mexico[918]), and was expressed in
the popular names given to each disease in France and in England.



The last period of plague in England, from 1603 to its extinction in 1666,
was as fatal as any that the capital, and the provincial towns, had known
since the 14th century. The mortalities in London in 1603, 1625, and 1665
are the greatest in the whole history of the City’s epidemics, not,
perhaps, relatively to the population, but in absolute numbers. The
capital was growing rapidly, having now become the greatest trading
community in Europe. The dangers which were foreseen in the proclamation
of 1580, of an extension of the City’s borders beyond civic control, had
been realized. The old walled city, like Vienna down to a quite recent
date, remained both the residential quarter and the centre of trade and
commerce: the original suburbs, which were in the Liberties or Freedom of
the City, were the slums--the fringe of poverty covered by the poorest
class of tenements, unpaved and without regular streets, but penetrated by
alleys twisting and turning in an endless maze. The City was not, indeed,
without a good deal of building of the same class, especially in the
parish of St Stephen, Coleman Street, the most populous parish within the
walls. But what was an occasional thing in the City where gardens and
other open spaces had been built upon, was the rule in the parishes beyond
the walls. It was in the Liberties and outparishes that the plague of 1603
began; its origin in 1625 is less certain; but there can be no question
as to the gradual progress of the Great Plague of 1665 from the west end
of the town down Holborn and the Strand to the City, to the great parishes
on the north-east and east, and across the water to Southwark. From one
point of view we may represent the later plagues as incidents in the
transition from the medieval to the modern state of the capital--a
transition which proceeded slowly and is still unfinished so far as
concerns the forms of municipal government. The history of the public
health of London is, for nearly two centuries, the history of irregular
and uncontrolled expansion, of the failure of old municipal institutions
to overtake new duties. Perhaps if Wren’s grand conception of a New London
after the fire of 1666 had been taken up and given effect to by Charles
II., the Liberties and suburbs might have been joined more organically to
the centre and have benefited by the municipal traditions of the latter.
The history of the public health in London during the latter part of the
17th century and the whole of the 18th might in that case have been a less
melancholy record. That history falls within our next volume; but as it
began with the expansion of London under Elizabeth and the Stuarts, this
is the place to review the growth of the City from the time when it broke
through its medieval limits.

The Growth of London in the Tudor and Stuart Periods[919].

The accession of James I. to the English crown in 1603 corresponds in time
with the pretensions of London to be the first city in Europe. “London,”
says Dekker, in _The Wonderfull Yeare_, “was never in the highway to
preferment till now. For she saw herself in better state than Jerusalem,
she went more gallant than ever did Antwerp, was more courted by amorous
and lustie suitors than Venice (the minion of Italy); more lofty towers
stood about her temples than ever did about the beautiful forehead of
Rome; Tyre and Sydon to her were like two thatcht houses to Theobals, the
grand Cairo but a hogsty.” That is, of course, in Dekker’s manner; but it
can be shown by figures that London took a great start in the end of
Elizabeth’s reign and grew still faster under James.

From Richard I. to Henry VII., London was the medieval walled city, as
Drayton says, “built on a rising bank within a vale to stand,” with a
population between 40,000 and 50,000. Without the walls lay a few city
parishes or parts of parishes, including the three dedicated to St Botolph
outside Aldgate, Bishopsgate and Aldersgate, respectively, and St Giles’s
without Cripplegate, all of these being at the gates or close to the
walls. On the western side, however, lay an extensive but sparsely
populated suburb, which was erected in 1393 into the Ward of Farringdon
Without; it extended westward from the city wall as far as Temple Bar,
Holborn Bars and West Smithfield, and was divided into the four great
parishes of St Sepulchre’s without Newgate; St Andrew’s, on the other side
of Holborn valley, St Dunstan’s in the West (about Chancery Lane and
Fetter Lane), and St Bride’s, Fleet Street.

The earliest known bills of mortality, in 1532 and 1535, from which a
population of some 62,400 might be deduced, show that the St Botolph
parishes, St Giles’s without Cripplegate and the four great parishes in
the western Liberties (or, more correctly, in the ward of Farringdon
Without) had one-third of the whole deaths, and presumably about one-third
of the whole population. In the few memoranda left of the plague-bills of
1563, we find evidence that the population had increased to some 93,276,
of which about a sixth or seventh part, or some 12,000 to 15,000 was in
the “out-parishes,” or in the parishes not only beyond the walls, but
beyond the Bars of the Freedom. The most valuable series of statistics for
Elizabethan London are those which give the christenings and burials for
five years from 1578 to 1582; from those of the year 1580, which was
almost free from the disturbing element of plague, a population of some
123,034 may be deduced by taking the birth-rate at 29 per 1000 living and
the death-rate at 23 per 1000, or in each case at a favourable rate
corresponding to the large excess of births over deaths.

There is not enough left of the introduction to these old manuscript
abstracts of weekly births and deaths to show how many parishes they
relate to, or what is the proportion for each division of the capital.
But, as the earlier series of bills of mortality from 1563 to 1566
included the City, the Liberties and the out-parishes, it is probable that
the series from 1578 to 1582 had done the same. The crowding of the
Liberties with a poor class of tenements, and the extension of the
out-parishes, are otherwise known from the preamble to the proclamation of
1580, which prohibited all building on new sites within three miles of the
City wall. The next figures are for the years 1593, 1594, and 1595, which
show a population increased to about 152,000.

From the figures of the plague-year, 1593, it appears that the mortality
within the walls, both from plague and from ordinary causes, had now
become the smaller half, or somewhat less than that “without the walls and
in the Liberties,”--a phrase which is used loosely, even in some official
bills, for both Liberties and suburbs. In 1604 we have the exact
proportions of deaths in the City, in the Liberties and in the
out-parishes respectively:

                |96 parishes |16 parishes |8 parishes out| Total
                |within walls|in Liberties|of the Freedom|
  All deaths    |   1798     |    2465    |    956       |  5219
  Plague deaths |    280     |     368    |    248       |   896
  Christenings  |     --     |      --    |     --       |  5458

The sixteen parishes of the Liberties are now decidedly ahead of the
ninety-six old City parishes, while the eight out-parishes have some 18
per cent. of the whole mortality. The population is best reckoned from the
6504 baptisms of the year after, 1605, by which time the disturbance of
the enormous mortality in 1603 had ceased to be felt; at a birth-rate of
29 per 1000, the population would be some 224,275. The proportions in
1605, from the bills of mortality for the year, are 33·8 per cent. in the
City, 50 per cent. in the Liberties, and 16·2 per cent. in the
out-parishes; so that the City would have contained in that year about
76,000, the Liberties about 114,000, and the out-parishes about 37,000. To
those numbers we should have to add some 20,000 or 30,000 for
Westminster, Stepney, Lambeth, Newington, etc.

According to Graunt’s contemporary estimate for 1662, the population had
grown to 460,000, or to rather more than double that of 1605; and whereas
the proportion in 1605 was two-sixths in the City, three-sixths in the
Liberties and one-sixth in the out-parishes, he makes it in 1662 to have
been one-fifth in the City, three-fifths in the Liberties (including
Southwark) and the out-parishes nearest to the Bars, and one-fifth in the
out-parishes of Stepney, Redriff, Newington, Lambeth, Islington and
Hackney, with the city of Westminster. Thus, whereas in 1535 the City had
two-thirds of the whole estimated population, in 1662 it had one-fifth;
but with its one-fifth in 1662 it was twice as crowded as with its
two-thirds in 1535, the comparatively open appearance given to it by
gardens in various localities, as on Tower Hill, having entirely gone.

As early as the plague of 1563, the Liberties were observed to be first
infected, and to retain the infection longest; that is alleged of St
Sepulchre’s parish by Dr John Jones, from personal knowledge. The history
of the plague of 1593 is imperfectly known; but it is clear from Stow’s
summation of the deaths during the year, that more died of plague in the
Liberties and suburbs than in the City. Of the next plague, that of 1603,
we know that it did begin in the Liberties and was prevalent in those
skirts of the City for some time before it entered the gates. “Death,”
says _The Wonderfull Yeare_, “had pitcht his tents in the sinfully
polluted suburbs ... the skirts of London were pitifully pared off by
little and little; which they within the gates perceiving,” etc. Then the
plague, represented as an invading force, “entered within the walls and
marched through Cheapside,” the wealthier inhabitants having escaped

The London Plague of 1603.

The most useful document for the London plague of 1603 is a printed Bill
of Mortality which is in the Guildhall Library. The bill, which is in the
form of a broadside, is for the week 13-20 October, and purports to be a
true copy, according to the report made to the king by the Company of
Parish Clerks, and printed by John Winder, printer to the honourable City
of London[920]. It is necessary to be thus particular, because the clerk
of the Company of Parish Clerks in the end of 1665 (between the Plague and
the Fire) published an account of all the statistics of former plagues
preserved in his office, and emphatically denied that the Parish Clerks
gave in an accompt for the year 1603; they did not resume their series
after 1595, he says, until 29th December, 1603. But the clerk was
mistaken, as even the most prim of officials will sometimes be. The
printed bill which has come down to us gives the usual weekly return of
deaths from all causes in one column and those from plague in another, for
each of the 96 parishes within their walls, each of the 16 parishes in the
Liberties and each of 8 out-parishes. On the right hand margin it gives
also a summary statement of the deaths in “the first great plague in our
memory” that of 1563, which is the same as in Stow’s _Annales_, and of the
deaths in the next great plague, that of 1593, which differs considerably
from Stow’s. It then goes on to give the sum of the figures of the year
1603 from 17th December, 1602, and carries the deaths per week from 21st
July down to date, the 20th of October, adding some information for the
parishes which kept separate bills, namely, Westminster, the Savoy,
Stepney, Newington Butts, Islington, Lambeth and Hackney. This extant
weekly bill was probably one of a series; for Graunt, in his book of 1662,
cites various figures of weekly baptisms throughout the year 1603 which
would appear to have been taken from the bills for the respective weeks.
But the returns had not been made regularly from all the parishes within
the Bills from the beginning of the year 1603. The reason why the weekly
figures are not recapitulated farther back than the week ending July 21,
is that the outparishes had not sent in their returns until that week.
From another source, we know the figures for the City and Liberties from
March 10 to July 14, and from the same source we obtain the totals for all
parishes within the Bills from October 19 to the end of the year. By
putting these figures into one table, we may represent the mortality of
1603, not indeed completely, as follows:

_Weekly Mortalities in London during the plague of 1603._

            |    City and   |
            |   Liberties.  | Out parishes. |    Totals.
     Week   |---------------|---------------|---------------
    ending  |  All  |       |  All  |       |  All  |
  March 17  |  108  |    3  |       |       |       |
        24  |   60  |    2  |       |       |       |
        31  |   78  |    6  |       |       |       |
  April  7  |   66  |    4  |       |       |       |
        14  |   79  |    4  |       |       |       |
        21  |   98  |    8  |       |       |       |
        28  |  109  |   10  |       |       |       |
  May    5  |   90  |   11  |       |       |       |
        12  |  112  |   18  |       |       |       |
        19  |  122  |   22  |       |       |       |
        26  |  112  |   30  |       |       |       |
  June   2  |  114  |   30  |       |       |       |
         9  |  134  |   43  |       |       |       |
        15  |  144  |   59  |       |       |       |
        23  |  182  |   72  |       |       |       |
        30  |  267  |  158  |       |       |       |
  July   7  |  445  |  263  |       |       |       |
        14  |  612  |  424  |       |       |       |
        21  |  867  |  646  |  319  |  271  | 1186  |  917
        28  | 1312  | 1025  |  398  |  354  | 1710  | 1379
  Aug.   4  | 1700  | 1439  |  537  |  464  | 2237  | 1901
        11  | 1655  | 1372  |  410  |  361  | 2065  | 1733
        18  | 2486  | 2199  |  568  |  514  | 3054  | 2713
        25  | 2343  | 2091  |  510  |  448  | 2853  | 2539
  Sept.  1  | 2798  | 2495  |  587  |  542  | 3385  | 3037
         8  | 2583  | 2283  |  495  |  441  | 3078  | 2724
        15  | 2676  | 2411  |  433  |  407  | 3109  | 2818
        22  | 2080  | 1851  |  376  |  344  | 2456  | 2195
        29  | 1666  | 1478  |  295  |  254  | 1961  | 1732
  Oct.   6  | 1528  | 1367  |  306  |  274  | 1834  | 1641
        13  | 1109  |  962  |  203  |  184  | 1312  | 1146
        20  |  647  |  546  |  119  |   96  |  766  |  642
        27  |       |       |       |       |  625  |  508
  Nov.   3  |       |       |       |       |  737  |  594
        10  |       |       |       |       |  545  |  442
        17  |       |       |       |       |  384  |  257
        24  |       |       |       |       |  198  |  105
  Dec.   1  |       |       |       |       |  223  |  102
         8  |       |       |       |       |  163  |   55
        15  |       |       |       |       |  200  |   96
        22  |       |       |       |       |  168  |   74

These figures may be accepted as real, so far as they go; and they give a
total (37,192 from all causes, whereof of the plague, 30,519) which is
nearly the same as that usually taken, e.g. by Graunt, for the mortality
of the whole year in all London (37,294 from all causes, whereof of the
plague, 30,561). But it is clear that important additions have to be made.
In the first place, no deaths are included for the weeks previous to March
10. In the second place, no deaths are included from the out-parishes
(within the Bills), previous to July 14. In the third place, no deaths at
all are included from Westminster, Stepney, Newington, Lambeth, etc. These
omissions have to be kept in mind when the plague of 1603 is compared with
those of 1625 and 1665, for which the figures are fully ascertained; and
we possess various data from which to supply them approximately. One great
addition, with nothing conjectural in it, is for the seven parishes
outside the general bill of mortality, Stepney being the largest: they
kept their own bills, and the figures from them, for the principal part of
the year, are given on the margin of the broadside, as quoted below[921].
Another unconjectural addition is the mortality from all causes in the
City and Liberties from December 17, 1602, to March 10, 1603, which was
1375, having been mostly non-plague deaths. All these deaths, actually
known, bring the total for the year up to 42,945 whereof of the plague
about 33,347. The farther additions, which can only be guessed, are the
mortality from all causes in the eight out-parishes (within the Bills)
previous to July 14, and the mortality in the seven other suburban
localities (Westminster, Stepney, etc.) before and after the dates stated
in the note for each. Only the former of these additions would have been a
considerable figure, the plague being already at 271 deaths a week when
the reckoning begins. Thus the totals, 42,945 burials from all causes, and
from plague alone, 33,347, are well within the reality.

Some details are extant of the incidence of the disease in particular
parishes at certain dates. Thus, in the great parish of Stepney, which
extended from Shoreditch to Blackwall, 650 plague-deaths, and 24 from
other causes, took place in the single month of September; so that, if the
plague began in Stepney about the 25th of March, it had not come to a head
until autumn. In St Giles’s Cripplegate, the burials entered in the parish
register for the whole year are 2879, the highest mortality having been in
the beginning of September, when the burials on three successive days were
36, 26 and 26[922]. In the week 13 to 20 October, for which the printed
bill is extant, the proportions of the City, Liberties and 8 out-parishes
respectively were, for the week, 351, 296, and 119. Of the parishes
without the walls, the most infected were, in their order at that date, St
Sepulchre’s, St Saviour’s, Southwark, St Andrew’s, Holborn, St Giles’s,
Cripplegate, St Clement’s Danes, St Giles’s in the Fields, St Olave’s,
Southwark, St Martin’s in the Fields, St Mary’s, Whitechapel and St
Leonard’s, Shoreditch. For St Olave’s, Southwark, we have some particulars
of the plague from the minister of the parish.

In a dialogue conveying various instructions on the plague[923], to his
parishioners of St Olave’s, James Bamford states that 2640 had died in
that parish from May 7 to the date of writing (October 13), and that the
burials had fallen from 305 in a week to 51, and from 57 in a day to 4. St
Olave’s was a typical parish of the new London. It extended eastwards
along the Surrey bank of the river from London Bridge, and had been
almost all built within the half-century since the purchase of the Borough
of Southwark by the City from the Crown in 1550. In Stow’s _Survey_ of
1598 the parish is thus described: “Then from the bridge along by the
Thames eastward is St Olave’s Street, having continual building on both
the sides, with lanes and alleys, up to Battle Bridge, to Horsedown and
towards Rotherhithe some good half mile in length from London Bridge”--the
Bermondsey High Street running south from the Horsleydown end of it. St
Olave’s Church, he continues, stood on the bank of the river, “a fair and
meet large church, but a far larger parish, especially of aliens or
strangers, and poor people.” A mansion of former times, St Leger House,
was now “divided into sundry tenements.” Over against the church, the
great house that was once the residence of the prior of Lewes, was now the
Walnut Tree inn, a common hostelry.

London was now so extensive in area that it becomes of interest to know in
what part of it the plague broke out, and in what course the infection
proceeded. These things are known for the plague of 1665; but for that of
1603 they cannot be ascertained precisely. Dekker is emphatic that it
began in the suburbs. The earliest reference to it in the State papers is
under the date of April 18, when the Lord Mayor wrote to the Lord
Treasurer to inform him of the steps taken to prevent the spread of the
plague in the counties of Middlesex and Surrey. “The parishes in Middlesex
and Surrey” was an expression which afterwards came to mean a group of
twelve out-parishes beyond the Bars of the Freedom, including St Giles’s
in the Fields, Lambeth, Newington and Bermondsey, Stepney, Whitechapel,
Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, Islington, Hackney and two others. The phrase
used by the mayor may not have had so definite a meaning in 1603, but he
can hardly have intended it to apply to the City and Liberties of London,
although those were the only divisions of the capital directly under his
own jurisdiction. The parish which is associated with the earliest date,
in the summary of the epidemic in the broadside of 1603, is Stepney, where
the record of deaths from plague and other causes begins from 25th March.
It would perhaps be safe to conclude that the plague of 1603 began at the
extreme east in Stepney, as that of 1665 certainly did at the extreme west
in St Giles’s in the Fields.

An examination of the Table shows that the eight out-parishes had reached
a higher plague mortality relative to their population on July 21, than
the parishes within the bars of the Freedom: but the maximum of deaths
falls in both divisions about the same week. We may take it that the
plague broke out in one of the suburbs; and as Dekker speaks of the flight
having been westwards, the evidence points on the whole to an eastern
suburb, perhaps Whitechapel or Stepney. March is clearly indicated by
various things as a time when plague-deaths began to attract notice; and
that date of commencement is corroborated by the following passage from
the essay of Graunt, based, it would seem, upon a series of weekly

“We observe as followeth, viz. First, that (when from December 1602 to
March following there was little or no plague) then the christenings at a
medium were between 110 and 130 per week, few weeks being above the one or
below the other; but when the plague increased from thence to July, that
then the christenings decreased to under 90.... (3) Moreover we observe
that from the 21st July to the 12th October, the plague increasing reduced
the christenings to 70 at a medium. Now the cause of this must be flying,
and death of teeming women” &c.--the total christenings of the year 1603
having been only 4789, as against some 6000 in the year before the plague,
and 5458 in the year after it.

This prevalence of plague in the suburbs and liberties of the City in the
spring of 1603 coincides with great political events. Queen Elizabeth died
at Richmond on the 24th of March, and was buried at Westminster on the
28th of April; according to Dekker, “never did the English nation behold
so much black worn as there was at her funeral.” The approach of king
James from Scotland appears to have caused an outburst of gaiety, his
accession to the crown, according to the same writer, having led to a
marked revival of trade: “Trades that lay dead and rotten started out of
their trance.... There was mirth in everyone’s face, the streets were
filled with gallants, tabacconists filled up whole taverns, vintners hung
out spick and span new ivy-bushes (because they wanted good wine), and
their old rain-beaten lattices marched under other colours, having lost
both company and colour before.” James made a slow progress from Scotland,
paying visits on the way. He arrived at Theobalds, near Cheshunt, on the
3rd of May, and was at Greenwich before the end of the month. On May 29, a
proclamation was issued commanding gentlemen to depart the court and city
on account of the plague. On June 23, the remainder of Trinity law term
was adjourned. On July 10, a letter (one of the series between J.
Chamberlain and Dudley Carleton) says: “Paul’s grows very thin [the church
aisles where people were wont to meet to exchange news], for every man
shrinks away. Our pageants are pretty forward, but most of them are such
small-timbered gentlemen that they cannot last long, and I doubt, if the
plague cease not sooner, they will riot and sink where they stand.” The
Coronation was shorn of its full splendour. On July 18, it was announced
that, as the king could not pass through the City--the traditional route
being from the Tower to Westminster--all the customary services by the way
are to be performed between Westminster Bridge and the Abbey. The
ceremony, thus shortened, took place on July 25. On August 8, it was
ordered that all fairs within fifty miles of London should be suspended,
the more important being Bartholomew fair at Smithfield, and Stourbridge
fair near Cambridge. The new Spanish ambassador was unable to approach the
king, who moved from place to place,--Hampton Court, Woodstock and

These are the traces left by this great epidemic in the state papers of
the time. As in the case of the sweating sickness of 1485, which was in
London while the preparations were going on for Henry VII.’s coronation,
we should hardly have known from public documents that the City was in a
state of panic. But in 1603 we are come to a period when other sources of
information are available. It remains to put together what descriptions
have come down to us of the City of the Plague.

The most graphic touches are those left by Thomas Dekker, the dramatist,
of whom it has been said that “he knew London as well as Dickens[924].”
To describe first the condition of the “sinfully polluted suburbs,” he
takes a walk through the still and melancholy streets in the dead hours of
the night. He hears from every house the loud groans of raving sick men,
the struggling pangs of souls departing, grief striking an alarum,
servants crying out for masters, wives for husbands, parents for children,
children for their mothers. Here, he meets some frantically running to
knock up sextons; there, others fearfully sweating with coffins, to steal
forth dead bodies lest the fatal handwriting of death should seal up their
houses. This would have been an evasion of the order, dating from 1547,
that no bodies were to be buried between six in the evening and six in the
morning--an order which was exactly reversed in the plague of 1665.

When morning comes, a hundred hungry graves stand gaping, and everyone of
them, as at a breakfast, hath swallowed down ten or eleven lifeless
carcases; before dinner, in the same gulf are twice so many more devoured,
and before the sun takes his rest these numbers are doubled,--threescore
bodies lying slovenly tumbled together in a muck-pit[925]! One gruesome
story he tells of a poor wretch in the Southwark parish of St Mary Overy,
who was thrown for dead upon a heap of bodies in the morning, and in the
afternoon was found gasping and gaping for life. Others were thrust out of
doors by cruel masters, to die in the fields and ditches, or in the common
cages or under stalls. A boy sick of the plague was put on the water in a
wherry to come ashore wherever he could, but landing was denied him by an
army of brown-bill men that kept the shore, so that he had to be taken
whence he came to die in a cellar. The sextons made their fortunes,
especially those of St Giles’s, Cripplegate, of St Sepulchre’s, outside
Newgate, of St Olave’s in Southwark, of St Clement’s at Temple Bar, and
of Stepney. Herb-wives and gardeners also prospered; the price of flowers,
herbs, and garlands rose wonderfully, insomuch that rosemary, which had
wont to be sold for twelve pence an armful, went now for six shillings a

While plague was thus raging in the poor skirts of the City, “paring them
off by little and little,” the well-to-do within the walls took alarm and
fled, “some riding, some on foot, some without boots, some in slippers, by
water, by land, swarm they westwards. Hackneys, watermen and waggons were
not so terribly employed many a year; so that within a short time there
was not a good horse in Smithfield, nor a coach to be set eyes on.” But
they might just as well have remained as trust themselves to the
“unmerciful hands of the country hard-hearted hobbinolls.” The sight of a
Londoner’s flat-cap was dreadful to a lob: a treble ruff threw a whole
village into a sweat. A crow that had been seen on a sunshiny day standing
on the top of Powles would have been better than a beacon on fire, to have
raised all the towns within ten miles of London for the keeping her out.
One Londoner set out for Bristol, thinking not to see his home again this
side Christmas. But forty miles from town the plague came upon him, and he
sought entrance to an inn. When his case was known, the doors of the inn
“had their wooden ribs crushed to pieces by being beaten together; the
casements were shut more close than an usurer’s greasy velvet pouch; the
drawing windows were hanged, drawn, and quartered; not a crevice but was
stopt, not a mouse-hole left open.” The host and hostess tumbled over each
other in their flight, the maids ran out into the orchard, the tapster
into the cellar. The unhappy Londoner was helped by a fellow-citizen who
appeared on the scene, and was carried to die on a truss of straw in the
corner of a field; but the parson and the clerk refused him burial, and he
was laid in a hole where he had died. According to Stow, Bamford, and
Davies of Hereford, such experiences of fugitive Londoners were repeated
everywhere in the country, and Dekker gives several other tales of the
same sort “to shorten long winter nights.”

Meanwhile, Dekker goes on, the plague had entered the gates of the City
and marched through Cheapside; men, women, and children dropped down
before him, houses were rifled, streets ransacked, rich men’s coffers
broken open and shared amongst prodigal heirs and unworthy servants. Every
house looked like St Bartholomew’s Hospital and every street like
Bucklersbury: (“the whole street called Bucklersbury,” says Stow, “on both
sides throughout is possessed of grocers, and apothecaries towards the
west end thereof”), for poor Mithridaticum and Dragon-water were bought in
every corner, and yet were both drunk every hour at other men’s cost. “I
could make your cheeks look pale and your hearts shake with telling how
some have had eighteen sores at one time running upon them, others ten or
twelve, many four and five; and how those that have been four times
wounded by this year’s infection have died of the last wound, while
others, hurt as often, are now going about whole.” Funerals followed so
close that three thousand mourners went as if trooping together, with rue
and wormwood stuffed into their ears and nostrils, looking like so many
boars’ heads stuck with branches of rosemary. A dying man was visited by a
friendly neighbour, who promised to order the coffin; but he died himself
an hour before his infected friend. A churchwarden in Thames Street, on
being asked for space in the churchyard, answered mockingly that he wanted
it for himself, and he did occupy it in three days.

One more extract from Dekker will bring us back to the strictly medical

    “Never let any man ask me what became of our Phisitions in this
    massacre. They hid their synodical heads as well as the proudest, and
    I cannot blame them, for their phlebotomies, losinges and electuaries,
    with their diacatholicons, diacodions, amulets and antidotes, had not
    so much strength to hold life and soul together as a pot of Pinder’s
    ale and a nutmeg. Their drugs turned to durt, their simples were
    simple things. Galen could do no more good than Sir Giles Goosecap.
    Hippocrate, Avicen, Paracelsus, Rasis, Fernelius, with all their
    succeeding rabble of doctors and water-casters, were at their wits’
    end; for not one of them durst peep abroad.”

Only a band of desperadoes, he goes on, some few empirical madcaps--for
they could never be worth velvet caps--clapped their bills upon every
door. But besides the empirical desperadoes, who dared the infection for
the sake of the golden harvest, some few physicians and surgeons remained
at their post, or at least put out essays with prescriptions and rules of
regimen. Three such books on the plague were published in London in 1603,
of which the most notable was one by Dr Thomas Lodge[926], a poet like
Dekker himself, but of the academical school to which Dekker did not