Sweating Sickness, was also known as the English Sweate, due to it seemingly only afflicting the English. It would mysteriously stop at the Borders with Scotland and Wales, except in the 1528 epidemic which spread throughout most of Europe).
It first made its appearance at the very beginning of the reign of King Henry VII, although some sources claim that it was being spoken about before the Battle of Bosworth Field took place, shortly after Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven.
We will quote two sources: John Caius, sometimes known as Johannes Caius who wrote an eyewitness account of the Sweating Sickness, of 1551 and Francis Bacon who described the first outbreak of Sweating Sickness, in 1485, in his History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh.
It was soon after the arrival of King Henry in London, on 28th August that this mysterious Sweating Sickness broke out in the Capital. Francis Bacon, 1st and Only Viscount of St. Alban in his History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh, claimed it began about the 21st September, describing it thus:
" About this time in autumn, towards the end of September, there began and reigned in the city, and other parts of the kingdom, a disease then new: which by the accidents and manner thereof they called the Sweating Sickness. This disease had a swift course, both in the sick body, and in the time and period of the lasting thereof; for they that were taken with it, upon four and twenty hours escaping, were thought almost assured. And as to the time of the malice and reign of the disease ere it ceased, it began about the one-and-twentieth of September, and cleared up before the end of October, insomuch as it was no hindrance to the king's coronation, which was the last of October; nor, which was more, to the holding of the parliament, which began but seven days after. It was a pestilent fever, but, as it seemeth, not seated in the veins or humours, for that there followed no carbuncle, no purple or livid spots, or the like, the mass of the body being not tainted; only a malign vapour flew to the heart, and seized the vital spirits; which stirred nature to strive to send it forth by an extreme sweat. And it appeared by experience, that this disease was rather a surprise of nature than obstinate to remedies, if it were in time looked unto. For if the patient were kept in an equal temper both for clothes, fire, and drink, moderately warm, with temperate cordials, whereby nature's work were neither irritated by heat, nor turned back by cold, he commonly recovered. But infinite persons died suddenly of it, before the manner of the cure and attendance was known. It was conceived not to be an epidemic disease, but to proceed from a malignity in the constitution of the air, gathered by the predispositions of seasons; and the speedy cessation declared as much."
Sweating Sickness was and still is, a mysterious disease which struck England in a series of epidemics, which occurred during the time of the Tudors, in the years, 1485, 1502, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551, this one being the last major outbreak, when it suddenly vanished, just as mysteriously as it had started.
The onset of this highly virulent disease, was dramatic and sudden. It began without any warning, striking its victims most usually during the night, with death very often occurring within hours.
In London alone, from its arrival, on about 21st September to its sudden disappearance in late October, it claimed the lives of several thousand people. There were two Lord Mayors, six Aldermen and three Sheriffs, who were among the people who lost their lives to this first known outbreak of the Sweating Sickness.
It appeared to be altogether different to the plague, due to the continual sweating, by which it acquired its name and also due to the rapidity with which death occurred.
The symptoms were described by the eminent physician, John Caius also known as Johannes Caius, Physician to King Edward VI, Queen Mary I of England and Queen Elizabeth 1, in:
A Boke or Counseill Against the Disease Commonly Called the Sweate, or Sweatyng Sicknesse."This disease is not a sweate onely, (as it is thought and called) but a feuer, as I saied, in the spirites by putrefaction venemous, with a fight, trauaile, and laboure of nature againste the infection receyued in the spirites, whervpon by chaunce followeth a Sweate, or issueth an humour compelled by nature, as also chanceth in other sicknesses whiche consiste in humours, when they be in their state, and at the worste in certein dayes iudicial, aswel by vomites, bledinges, and fluxes, as by sweates."
Therefore the syptoms appeared very suddenly with a sense of apprehension, followed by cold, violent shivers, headache, severe pain in the neck, shoulder, arms, legs and complete exhaustion. The cold shivering was followed by the sudden onset of hot sweats, without any cause or reason, accompanied by a sense of heat, headache, delirium, intense thirst and delirium, Palpitation and pain in the heart.
There were no skin eruptions noted by either John Caius or any other observers of the disease, only a great urge to sleep, which Caius thought was fatal if the person was allowed to succumb to this urge.
Most often, it lasted for a period of twelve to twenty four hours and beyond this time it rarely lasted. Anyone who survived for twenty four hours were generally the lucky ones, fully recovering usually within one week.
The exact cause of this most mysterious disease, is not clear. Both John Caius and his contemporaries, appear to have put much of the blame on the general filth and the sewage of the time, a view taken by many researchers of the present day. It could well have been.
It completely disappeared by 1492, nothing more being heard of it until it made a reappearance in 1502. It was this epidemic which is believed to have been the cause of the death of the eldest son of King Henry VII, the young Prince of Wales, Arthur.
He was living at his home in Ludlow Castle, at this time, where he kept his court as the Prince of Wales, when he and his wife, Katherine of Aragon, were struck down by a mysterious illness, which was believed to have been this Sweating Sickness.
Katherine survived, Arthur did not, leaving his young wife, a widow. The disease does appear to have been more virulent among the wealthy than the poor.
A less widespread outbreak occurred in 1507, with far less casualties associated with it, but a far more serious epidemic appeared suddenly in 1517.
Affecting many towns and cities, it was very often fatal, where in some of them there were reported fatalities of nearly half the population. The University towns of Oxford and Cambridge were amongst those severely affected.
London was the first place the Sweating Sickness, appeared in 1428. Showing itself at the end of May it devastated the city. The fatalities were enormous. From there it spread ferociously over the whole of England, again mysteriously stopping at the Scottish border.
The court in London was broken up and King Henry VIII hurriedly left the city, frequently he changed his place of residence.
This particular epidemic spread throughout Europe, appearing suddenly and without warning in Hamburg, claiming the lives of more than a thousand of it's citizens in no time.
From Hamburg it continued on its lethal course eastwards, to Poland, Lithuania and Russia.
In the north Norway, Sweden and Denmark, did not escape. Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, were also afflicted with this terrible Sweating Sickness. However, for some mysterious reason, it never made an appearance in France, Italy or Spain.
Sweating Sickness, was never again seen in England after 1578.
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