The Great Plague in London of 1665
Although people proposed a variety of causes for the great plague in London of 1665, the effects of the plague were certainly catastrophic. Europe experienced many outbreaks of plague prior to the year of 1665. Unfortunately, no one was quite sure what exactly caused the plague, which devastated each person who was affected. The effects of the plague on society wreaked havoc on victims both socially and physically. Consequently, Londoners were forced to try many drastic measures to prevent the spread of disease. Nevertheless, the great plague left the city of London greatly damaged.
Even though different causes for the plague were mentioned, the most relevant and logical cause of plague was derived from London’s filthiness. Charles J. Shields writes: Although 17th-century Londoners were familiar with the plague’s symptoms, they had no idea what caused it. One pattern they noted, however, was that it went hand in hand with filthiness. London was an ancient human habitation, dating from the days when the Roman army had built its outside walls. Without means to provide sanitation for all its inhabitants, the city evolved into a breeding ground for epidemics. (13) Dirtiness often accompanies congested areas, and London was undoubtedly no exception. According to Britannica, “the greatest devastation remained in the city’s outskirts, at Stepney, Shoreditch, Clerkenwell, Cripplegate, and Westminster, quarters where the poor were densely crowded” (Britannica 447). In seventeenth-century London, people who lived in poverty were believed to be at a high risk for contagion (Hays 124). Residents of London deposited their rubble outside of their homes so that the rain could wash the trash away (Shields 13-14). Consequently, the filth throughout London’s neighborhoods attracted many rats, which carried plague-ridden fleas (Trueman). Because rats lived near garbage, the rodents also resided closely to humans, particularly the poor. Nonetheless, when the rats died, the fleas found new human hosts. When fleas that were infected with the disease broke human skin, the microorganism, Yersinia pestis, attacked the lymphatic system, causing enlargement of lymph glands. Therefore, the protuberances were symptomatic of plague (Appleby 162-163).
Meanwhile, many Londoners still believed that there could be another cause for the plague’s recurrence. Some people believed that plague was caused by natural factors, but others believed that plague was obtained through an occult element. The English were led to believe that plague was a “manifestation of divine providence and power, as a product of an environmental miasma, and as an infectious contagion that moved from one person to another” (Hays 124). Residents of London expected a penalty for their corrupt actions as a result of religious persecution, killing of a king, and the absurdness of government. In 1657, just eight years before the last plague, Clergyman Thomas Reeves handed out flyers warning that plague would be the Londoners’ consequence for immoral conduct (Shields 24-25). In fact, those who believed in supernatural causes of the disease sought counsel from a deity through prayer, omens, and charms (Hays 124).
As a result of the plague, the community of London suffered both physically and socially. Immediately upon contracting the infection, one would have an array of flu-like symptoms, such as chills, queasiness, and regurgitation. In addition, sufferers developed signs of apprehensiveness and occasionally derangement (Shields 12). Another symptom of plague was the pungent stench of the victim’s breath. Some people carried flowers with them to act as a perfume to hide the bitter smell (Trueman). Andrew B. Appleby stated that the plague could be in bubonic or pneumonic form. The pneumonic form was transferred through sneezing and coughing around others. The pneumonic plague originated from the bubonic plague because...
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