Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sweating Sickness

Disease in early modern England, especially during the turbulent time of the Reformation, was a contributory factor to the perception that your opponents' policies, which happen to be state sanctioned, had divine disfavour.  Mary's disastrous reign, with its several rebellions, xenophobia against Phillip and his countrymen, Mary's personal inability to achieve her goals of giving birth to an heir and sustaining a relationship with her husband, meant that it was tempting for contemporary commentators to interpret the deadly epidemics rife during her reign as a sign of God's retribution. The same can be applied to the previous reigns of her father and brother.
The Sweating Sickness is one virulent disease, which I discovered while researching (further explanation of the disease can be found in another post I made in this blog.)

In June 1528, when Henry VIII was courting Anne Boleyn, one of Anne’s ladies was suddenly taken ill with sweating sickness. Henry, who was paranoid about illness “took off on a flight from safe house to safe house” and Anne went into quarantine at Hever, the Boleyn family home in the Kent countryside. There, Anne became ill with “the sweat” and Henry dispatched his second-best doctor, William Butts to Anne with a love letter from Henry.
Anne Boleyn was one of the lucky ones, she survived sweating sickness, but others, including her brother-in-law, Sir William Carey, and Thomas Cromwell’s wife and daughters, lost their lives to the sickness.
But what was sweating sickness?

Sweating Sickness or English Sweat

Sweating sickness, the English Sweat or Sudor Anglicus, first reared its ugly head in England in 1485, at the beginning of Henry VII’s reign, and there were four further outbreaks, in 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551, before it completely disappeared, never to be seen again. It seems to have been a highly contagious disease which decimated towns around England, sometimes taking thousands of lives, and, as John Caius, the English physician, wrote in 1552, towns thought themselves lucky if half the population survived.

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