Rural Lifestyle

Life in Rural America

An Historical Account of the Plague

Plagues of the 1500s

1500 -There was another great pestilence, which carried off abundance of men in many places, especially in and about London, where it was computed, that there died of this disease about 30,000 people.

1505 – The spotted fever made its first appearance in Italy, as related by Fracastorius, and returned in 1528 ; but Langius was of a contrary opinion, and not only denies this to be a new distemper, but also affirms, that the rest which are said to be so, are only old ones revived, which have lain sometime dormant. He looked upon this disease to be contagious. It seemed to have so little danger in it, that the patients when they were first seized, were unwilling to take advice, and it often deceived the physicians themselves. But in a short time the malignity of this disease began to appear; the patient lay supine ra his bed, his head- was heavy, his senses dull, and after the fourth or seventh day he would begin to talk in a wild, random manner, his eyes at the same time being red and fiery. The pulse was slow, the excrements corrupt and fetid, and on the fourth or seventh day, little red spots began to appear on the back, arms, and breast, he had little or no thirst, but his tongue was foul; some were very wakeful, others sleepy, others again both by turns. This state lasted in some to the seventh day, in others to the fourteenth or longer; but few women, died of it, a very few old men, and not so much as one Jew. Young men and boys had the greatest share of its fatal effects, and of these the wealthiest suffered most.

1510 – An epidemical head-ach prevailed among the Germans, attended with a kind of distraction and giddiness, with swellings behind the ears, which destroyed great numbers.

1510 – There was also an epidemical disease in France, which they called Copueluche, because it affected the head with a very heavy pain: there was likewise a great pain in the stomach, small of the back, and calves of the legs, attended with a burning fever and troublesome delirium; and also with a loathing of all sorts of food. There were few people escaped it, and it was fatal to a great number.

1511 – When Verona was in possession of the Germans, there arose a pestilence, which destroyed 10,000 persons, and no less than twenty-five Germans were successively infected with one leather garment.

1513 – There was a pestilence in England, which raged chiefly about London, insomuch that in one house in the Minories, there died twenty-seven professed nuns, besides the servants and others that lived in the house.

1517 – About Lammas, the sweating sickness returned, and carried off great numbers at the beginning, and continued until Michaelmas following, and the term was adjourned to Oxford upon that account. In the Winter following, a great pestilence began to rage, almost all over England, and King Henry the VIII. was so afraid of it, that he retired with a small company, and did not keep any court for fear of the infection.

1522 – A terrible plague occurred at Rome, in July.

1527 – A plague broke out in Italy, which destroyed two thirds of the army of Latrec, governor of the Milanese, and was as fatal to the officers, as to the private men, carrying off several persons of distinction.

1528 – Towards the end of May, the sweating sickness returned again, and over-ran the whole kingdom, and not only the sittings at Westminster, but the Assizes were adjourned; it destroyed many persons of distinction, insomuch that King Henry the VIII. himself again retired to Tittinhanger, a place then belonging to the abbot of St. Alban’s, where, with the Queen, and a very small number of other persons, he remained until the sickness was abated.

1531 – There was a dreadful plague in France, which was preceeded with another disease, called Trous- segaland, occasioned by a universal famine. This it was supposed, was owing to unseasonable weather, for in the space of five years, there had not been two day’s frost successively, insomuch that the summer seemed to be continual. The extraordinary heat enervated nature, and rendered it unfruitful, for nothing was brought to maturity. The trees appeared in bloom immediately after the fruit; corn did not multiply as usual, because for want of frost, there was so great a quantity of insects, that they destroyed the blade as soon as it began to sprout, and the crops did not yield seed enough for the following year.

1539 – A plague broke out at Basle, which continued after some remission until the following year, when the summer was excessively hot. There were several eminent persons died of it.

1542 – There occurred at Breslaw, a plague, of which 5,900 died in the space of twenty-two weeks. The infection from whence it was derived, had beenconcealed in linen fourteen years, which being opened, revived afresh this fatal disease.

1543 – This following year a plague broke out in London, that they thought it necessary to adjourn Michaelmas term to St. Alban’s.

1548 – There was again a great pestilence in London, whereupon an order was made, that no clergyman should bury any corpse before six in the morning, or after six at night, and that the bells should toll for three quarters of an hour at every funeral.

1550 – Another plague arose at Basle, which infected the neighbouring places, and carried off a great many persons, towards the end of August, and then it began to cease ; but in the autumn of the following year it began to rage again, making with intervals a great havoc. This plague continued until the beginning of 1553.

1551 – On the 15th of April, the sweating sickness again appeared, first at Shrewsbury, and was not extinguished in the north part of England, until the end of September. It was difficult to ascertain the number that died of this disease ; however it is certain that it was fatal to 960 persons, in a few days. It began in London, the 9th of July, and on the 12th (if the said month it raged exceedingly, insomuch that people in the best health were taken suddenly, and died in twenty-four hours, and sometimes in twelve or less, for want of skill in promoting the sweating. It is remarkable, that it chiefly affected men between thirty and forty, and that it pursued the English into foreign countries. Eight hundred persons died in London the first week.

1557 – An epidemical disease appeared in Germany, which was preceeded by a dry autumn, and cold northern winds. The symptoms were first pains in the head, difficulty of breathing, and hoarseness, then shivering, a fever, and a violent cough, attended with danger of suffocation. In the beginning of the disease, the cough was dry, but after the seventh or fourteenth day, the patient parted with much viscid matter. As the spitting encreased, the cough, and difficulty of breathing lessened. Dodoneeus observed, that besides the foregoing symptoms, there were obtuse pains in the side, that on the third day, or the fourth, the spitting began to be bloody, and that they died at the eighth day at the farthest. Through every stage of the disease, there was great weakness, weariness, and want of appetite, and a violent cough would not let the patient rest; some towards the end were troubled with purging, and others with sweating. It raged only at one time of the year, and seized on all alike, without distinction.

1563 – About the beginning of the summer, a plague appeared at Havre de Grace, in Normandy, which was then besieged : it increased so prodigiously, that the streets were nearly filled with dead bodies. From hence it was brought into England by the soldiers, and the infection spread into several parts of the kingdom. In London it raged more particularly, from the first of January, 1663, till the last of December, there died in the city, and out parishes, of this dreadful plague, 20,136. A witty historian observed, that London was afflicted with three plagues at the same time, the pestilence, scarcity of money, and the famine. In 1564, the pestilence was not quite extinguished, for Hilary-Term was kept at Hartford-Castle, near Ware; but Easter-Term, the disease ceasing, was kept at Westminster as usual.

1564 – Wierus relates that an epidemical disease afflicted mankind, which was ushered in by the small pox and measles. It proved very fatal in many places, depolulating towns and cities, visiting Con. Btantinople, Alexandria, Leyden, London, Dantzic, Vienna, Cologne, and the whole district of the Upper Rhine, as far as Basle. In the lower circle of the Rhine it appeared externally with glandulous swellings in the neck; this was in the winter: but in the summer following, they turned to quinseys, of a dangerous nature and short duration. It destroyed some in one day, others in two, three, four, some few in seven ; those that survived the eighth day escaped.

The symptoms were first vomiting, then a swelling of the tongue, afterwards loss of speech, and and great difficulty of swallowing any thing, even in a liquid form, then suffocation ensued. Sometimes this disease was attended with a frenzy, at others the pleura and lungs were affected, whence proceeded pleurisies and peripneumonias of a fatal sort.

This disease, at Basle, was called the great plague. It began in the lower part of Germany, and broke out in the winter of 1563, which continued till 1564, and raged chiefly in the summer and autumn of that year. It destroyed a great many children, as well as citizens of all sorts, but was particularly fatal to women with child; even the old and decrepid did not escape : they sometimes buried upwards of twenty in one grave. Churches and streets looked like a desert, nothing but mourning appeared in every corner, however many escaped with suitable assistance; and Platerus himself practised there all that time ; he supposes the number of the dead not to have exceeded 4,000.

1565 – Ambrose Parrey informs us, there was a plague which raged throughout all France, in which bleeding was found prejudical, and those who made use of anodynes generally escaped.

1566 – A disease called Morbus Hungaricus, and Lues Pannonica; it appeared at Komorno, and encreas- ed at Tawarzin, where the Christian powers were assembled, under Maximilian II. against the Turks. When the soldiers were disbanded, they distributed the contagion over almost all Europe, but chiefly at Vienna, through which most of the army passed. They generally infected the families where they lodged, and died rapidly themselves, that the streets and highways were either filled with dead bodies, or with such as were not likely to recover.

The symptoms of this disease were as follow. It generally began about three or four in the afternoon, with cold and shivering, succeeded by heat, in a quarter of an hour, which greatly incommoded the patient day and night afterwards. Their chief complaint was a pain in the head, they would likewise point to the pit of the stomach, where an unusual hardness and resistance might be felt. At the beginning they were tormented by an unquenchable thirst; the next day, or at farthest on the third, they grew delirious. Towards the evening the disease gathered new strength, and continued worse most part of the night. The tongue was parched, the lips chopped, and some spit blood, others had a voilent purging. Deafness was a sign of recovery; swelling behind the ears were frequent. The worst crisis was a tubercle on the top of the foot, which generally ended in a mortification. Some recovered on the fourteenth day, others, though but few, on the twentieth : wine was fatal to all that drank it, all that had this disease had small red spots on the breast, and on their chins; some had them on their shoulders, and others all over their bodies. 1570.

Kircher informs us, that a dreadful plague invaded the whole of Italy, This year there was rainy, cloudy weather, and the air was hot and moist.

1576 – In August, this year, the pestilence was brought to Basle again, by a letter-carrier; he first infected his wife, and then the rest of his family; from whence it spread itself by degrees over the city, and continued more or less till 1578. The plague was the same years at Venice and Padua, from May till January.

1580 – There was an epidemical distemper, mentioned by Forestus, which spread over the whole of Europe in six weeks time ; it was attended with a cough and catarrh and yet scarcely one in a thousand died.

1580 – A new disease appeared in France and Italy, which was called Morbus Vervecinus. Thuanus observes, that it first began in the east, then took its progress into Italy and Spain, and at length reached the north. The French called it Coque- luche. It was not so much to be feared, for its fatal effects, though many died of it, as for the swift progress it made from one place to another. It first began with a shivering in the lower part of the back, which was succeeded with a heavy pain in the head, and loss of strength throughout the whole body, and it greatly affected the breast. If the disease did not leave the patient in four or five days, it degenerated into a fever, which carried him off. It was generally fatal to those who took purging medicines, or let blood, because the difficulty of breathing was increased thereby.

1583 – The summer of that year being hot and dry, it was succeeded with a dysentery or bloody flux, of a malignant nature, which extended itself all over Germany, and continued till the end of the autumn. It chiefly infected boys, of whom many died; for though it had invaded a great many advanced in years, yet they generally recovered with the use of proper remedies.

1588 – There was a maligant epidemical continual fever, at Basle which chiefly invaded strong, robust persons, seldom affecting women, or infants. Its symptoms were shiverings and sudden loss of strength. It was contagious, and when the patient was near death, the disease discovered its malignity, by the spots then breaking out. Those to whom this disease was fatal generally died on the 10th, 11 th, or 12th day, seldom reaching the 14th. Those who escaped, did not recover their strength entirely in less than six weeks, and the fever continued about half that time.

1594 – The plague broke out again in London, and destroyed in the city and suburbs 17,890 people, besides the Lord Mayor and three Aldermen; and Michaelmas term was adjourned to St. Alban’s. It was the same year at Basle, but began at the end of 1593, and carried off 900 persons.

1596—1597 – A disease was very prevalent in Westphalia, Cologne, Waldeck, Wittenstein, and Hesse, which Sennertus calls a malignant fever with convulsions; though he owns the fever was not always very apparent; it began with twitching, and numbness in the hands and feet: sometimes affecting one side only, sometimes both. First it convulsed the fingers and toes, and affected gradually the arms and legs, till at length it seized the whole body : the patient was either rolled up like a hedge-hog, or lay motionless stretched out at full length, the convulsions were attended with violent pains, which forced cries and shrieks from the sick: it invaded some suddenly while they were at dinner, and seemed to strike the knives and spoons out of their hands. It attacked others while in the fields at plough, or about their employment, without any previous notice; but some were first taken with a vomiting. The patients remained several days in the above condition, nay sometimes whole weeks. If proper remedies were given in time, it did not affect the head, but otherwise the falling sickness succeeded, and the patient often lay six or eight hours as if he was dead. It rendered some stupid or foolish, some lethargic, others delirious, in which state they continued four days or longer: even their recovery, was attended with deafness, weak eyes, or the palsy. When the fit was over, they were insatiably hungry, and yet feeding was followed by a purging, which was the greater if they happened to eat sparingly. The feet and hands of some would swell; others were affected with tubercles, full of a watery humour: they never sweated. The disease was contagious, though the effects of the contagion did not always appear till some time after.

The cure of this disease was difficult; for those that happened to be epileptic, had now and then a touch of it ever after, those that were stupid never recovered their former vigour of mind: and though some lived fifteen years after, yet they had annually a slight return of the disease in December aad January. Tne cause of this disease was supposed to be unwholesome food.

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