The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The 'English Sweat'

One of the more memorable deaths in history was that of Andrew Ammonius, the italian secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, who, when London was in the grip of the 'Sweating Sickness' announced to Sir Thomas More that 'his own precautions would render him and his family immune to plague'. He died that very night of the Sweating sickness. This virulent Influenza-like disease was characterised by its extremely rapid and fatal course. East Anglia suffered particularly from this form of plague in a series of attacks in the sixteenth century.

Sweating sickness is rather a puzzle. It was, for a long time, confined to England, though eventually it swept through Eastern Europe before burnig itself out for ever. Unlike 'The Plague', which was likely to have been bubonic plage but could have been anthrax, we have a reasonable description of the symptoms from an eyewitness, John Kaye or Caius, the physician..

The disease began very suddenly with a sense of apprehension, followed by cold shivers (sometimes very violent), giddiness, headache and severe pains in the neck, shoulders and limbs, with great prostration. After the cold stage, which might last from half-an-hour to three hours, followed the stage of heat and sweating. The characteristic sweat broke out suddenly, and, as it seemed to those accustomed to the disease, without any obvious cause. With the sweat, or after that was poured out, came a sense of heat, and with this headache and delirium, rapid pulse and intense thirst. Palpitation and pain in the heart were frequent symptoms. No eruption of any kind on the skin was generally observed; Caius makes no allusion to such a symptom. In the later stages there was either general prostration and collapse, or an irresistible tendency to sleep, which was thought to be fatal if the patient were permitted to give way to it.' (from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica).

The first recorded outbreak of the sweating sickness was a few days after the landing of Henry at Milford Haven on the 7th of August 1485, being spoken of before the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August. The french mercenaries that had been hired to assist were probably carriers of the disease. It then broke out in London soon after the arrival of Henry's army in London on the 28th of August 1485. From here it spread to Essex.

A second more minor outbreak occurred in 1507 followed by a severe epidemic in 1517 In some town in East Anglia, half the population are said to have perished. There is evidence of the disease having spread to Calais and Antwerp, but with these exceptions it was confined to England. It was this strange confinement that led the desease to be called 'The English Sweat'.

In 1528 the disease recurred for the fourth time, and with great severity. It first showed itself in London at the end of May, and speedily spread over the whole of England, though not into Scotland or Ireland. In London the mortality was very great; the court was broken up, and Henry VIII. left London, frequently changing his residence. Anne Boyeln was said to have suffered from it but survived. Her brother in law died. In August 1529 it was specially severe at Cambridge, and all who had it in their power forsook the town for the country, including Thomas Cranmer who met King Henry for the first time as they took refuge in the Essex Countryside.

After a final, and very nasty epidemic in 1551 the disease lost its vigoour, though there seems to have been an outbreak in Colchester between 1578 and 1579.


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