Great Plague of London

Great Plague of London

Overview

The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 in the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 (modern day United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

) that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis is a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium. It is a facultative anaerobe that can infect humans and other animals....

, transmitted through a flea vector. It had arrived in Europe 300 years previously as the Black Death and returned in fresh outbreaks every 10 years or so, of which the Great Plague of London was the last major outbreak.
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Encyclopedia

The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

 in the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 (modern day United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

) that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population. The disease is identified as bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis
Yersinia pestis is a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium. It is a facultative anaerobe that can infect humans and other animals....

, transmitted through a flea vector. It had arrived in Europe 300 years previously as the Black Death and returned in fresh outbreaks every 10 years or so, of which the Great Plague of London was the last major outbreak. The 1665-1666 epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

 was on a far smaller scale than the earlier "Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

" pandemic
Pandemic
A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that is spreading through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide. A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic...

, a virulent outbreak of disease in Europe between 1347 and 1353. The plague of 1665 was only remembered afterwards as the "great" plague because it was one of the last widespread outbreaks in England.

Outbreak


The Great Plague of 1665 was the last major outbreak of the plague in England. Some other previous outbreaks of the plague in England were the 1636 plague, when some 10,000 had died, and the 1625 plague, when some 35,000 died. In 1603, the plague killed 30,000 Londoners. The English outbreak is thought to have spread from the Netherlands, where the bubonic plague had occurred intermittently since 1599, with the initial contagion arriving with Dutch trading ships carrying bales of cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 from Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

. Amsterdam was ravaged in 1663–1664, with a mortality given as 50,000. The dock
Dock (maritime)
A dock is a human-made structure or group of structures involved in the handling of boats or ships, usually on or close to a shore.However, the exact meaning varies among different variants of the English language...

 areas outside of London, and the parish of St. Giles-in-the Fields where poor workers crowded into ill-kept structures, were the first areas struck by the plague. As records were not kept on the deaths of the very poor, the first recorded case was a Rebecca Andrews, on 12 April 1665. Another suspected source of the plague was cats and dogs, of which the Lord Mayor of London at the time had the majority exterminated.

By July 1665, plague was in the city of London itself. King Charles II of England
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, his family and his court left the city for Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

. The aldermen and the majority of the other city authorities opted to stay at their posts. The Lord Mayor of the city, Sir John Lawrence also decided to stay in the city. Businesses were closed when most wealthy merchants and professionals fled. Only a small number of clergymen, physician
Physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

s and apothecaries chose to remain, as the plague raged throughout the summer. Among the people who chose to stay were Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

, the diarist, and Henry Foe, a saddler who lived in East London. While Pepys provides an account of the Plague through his diary, Henry Foe's nephew Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe , born Daniel Foe, was an English trader, writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain and along with others such as Richardson,...

 published A Journal of the Plague Year
A Journal of the Plague Year
A Journal of the Plague Year is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in March 1722.The novel is a fictionalised account of one man's experiences of the year 1665, in which the Great Plague struck the city of London...

, a fictional account of the plague, in 1722, possibly based on Foe's journals.

Plague doctor
Plague doctor
A plague doctor , was a special medical physician who saw those who had the bubonic plague. They were specifically hired by towns that had many plague victims in times of plague epidemics. Since the city was paying their salary they treated everyone, the rich and the poor...

s traversed the streets, diagnosing victims, although many of them were unqualified physicians. Several public health
Public health
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...

 efforts were attempted. Physicians were hired by city officials, and burial details were carefully organized. But panic spread through the city, and in the fear of contagion, people were hastily buried in overcrowded pits. The City Corporation ordered a cull of dogs and cats. - A poor decision, since those animals - mostly the cats - kept the population of rats (the real culprits) in check. Authorities ordered fires to be kept burning night and day, in hopes that the air would be cleansed. Substances giving off strong odours, such as pepper
Black pepper
Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately in diameter, dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed...

, hops
Hops
Hops are the female flower clusters , of a hop species, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor, though hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine...

 or frankincense
Frankincense
Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

, were also burned, in an attempt to ward off the infection. London residents were strongly urged to smoke tobacco
Tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

.

Though concentrated in London, the outbreak affected other areas of the country. Perhaps the most famous example was the village of Eyam
Eyam
Eyam is a small village in Derbyshire, England. The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread...

 in Derbyshire
Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

. The plague allegedly arrived with a merchant carrying a parcel of cloth sent from London, although this is a disputed fact. The villagers imposed a quarantine on themselves to stop the further spread of the disease. Spread of the plague was slowed in surrounding areas, but the cost to the village was the death of around 75% of its inhabitants.

Records state that deaths in London crept up to 1,000 people per week, then 2,000 people per week and, by September 1665, to 7,000 people per week. By late autumn, the death toll began to slow until, in February 1666, it was considered safe enough for the King and his entourage to return to the city. By this time, however, trade with the European continent had spread this outbreak of plague to France, where it died out the following winter.

Plague cases continued at a modest pace until September 1666. On 2 and 3 September, the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

 destroyed much of the centre of London. At about the same time, the plague outbreak tapered off. However, it is now thought that the Plague had died off before the Great Fire of London. Also, the majority of plague cases were found in the suburbs of the city and not in the centre of London that was affected by the Fire.

See also

  • Loimologia
    Loimologia
    Loimologia, or, an historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665, With precautionary Directions against the like Contagion is a treatise by Dr...

    , a first-hand account of the 1665 plague
  • Black Death
    Black Death
    The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

  • Black Death in England
    Black Death in England
    The pandemic known to history as the Black Death entered England in 1348, and killed between a third and more than half of the nation's inhabitants. The Black Death was the first and most severe manifestation of the Second Pandemic, probably caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. Originating in...

  • Bubonic Plague
    Bubonic plague
    Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

  • Great Plague of Vienna
    Great Plague of Vienna
    The Great Plague of Vienna occurred in 1679 in Vienna, Austria, the imperial residence of the Austrian Habsburg rulers. From contemporary descriptions, the disease is believed to have been bubonic plague, which is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by fleas associated with the black...

     of 1679
  • Derby plague of 1665
    Derby plague of 1665
    During the Great Plague of 1665 the area of Derby, England fell victim to the bubonic plague epidemic, with many deaths. Some areas of Derby still carry names that record the 1665 visitation such as Blagreaves Lane which was Black Graves Lane, while Dead Man's Lane speaks for itself. It has been...

  • Eyam
    Eyam
    Eyam is a small village in Derbyshire, England. The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread...

  • Plague! The Musical
    Plague! The Musical
    Plague! The Musical is a musical with book, music and lyrics by David Massingham and Matthew Townend. It is a dark comedy based loosely on the events of the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666....

    , a musical loosely based on the 1665 plague
  • Beak doctor costume
    Beak doctor costume
    ]The plague doctor's costume was the clothing worn by a plague doctor to protect him from airborne diseases. The costume consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a bird-like beak mask often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances , along with gloves, boots, a brim hat and an outer...

  • Plague doctor contract
    Plague doctor contract
    A plague doctor contract was an agreement between a town's administrators and a "doctor" to treat bubonic plague patients. These contracts are easy to find in European city archives. A plague doctor was specifically hired by a European city or town to treat plague patients, rich or poor, in times...


External links