How did London respond to it?
This was the worst outbreak of plague in England since the black death of 1348. London lost roughly 15% of its population. While 68,596 deaths were recorded in the city, the true number was probably over 100,000. Other parts of the country also suffered.
The earliest cases of disease occurred in the spring of 1665 in a parish outside the city walls called St Giles-in-the-Fields. The death rate began to rise during the hot summer months and peaked in September when 7,165 Londoners died in one week.
Rats carried the fleas that caused the plague. They were attracted by city streets filled with rubbish and waste, especially in the poorest areas.
Those who could, including most doctors, lawyers and merchants, fled the city. Charles II and his courtiers left in July for Hampton Court and then Oxford. Parliament was postponed and had to sit in October at Oxford, the increase of the plague being so dreadful. Court cases were also moved from Westminster to Oxford.
The Lord Mayor and aldermen (town councillors) remained to enforce the King's orders to try and stop the spread of the disease. The poorest people remained in London with the rats and those people who had got the plague. Watchmen locked and kept guard over infected houses. Parish officials provided food. Searchers looked for dead bodies and took them at night to plague pits for burial.
All trade with London and other plague towns was stopped. The Council of Scotland declared that the border with England would be closed. There were to be no fairs or trade with other countries. This meant many people lost their jobs - from servants to shoemakers to those who worked on the River Thames. How did Londoners react to this plague that devastated their lives?
- Can you work out how many people died from the plague in the previous week?
- What is the total for other causes of death for this week?
- Can we rely on the figures given in this source? Give reasons for your answer.
- What did the job of a searcher involve?
1. This letter was written by Henry Muddiman, a journalist who published newsletters and also wrote for the newly founded 'London Gazette'.
- How do orders 6, 7 and 8 aim to prevent the plague?
- How long were infected houses shut up for?
- What plague symptoms are described in these orders?
- Which order suggests that plague was not a new problem in the 17th century?
- Do you think any of these orders would have helped to prevent plague? Give reasons for your answer.
- Which officials concerned with the plague are named in this source? Make a list.
- In what ways does the source suggest that people at the time saw the plague as a punishment from God?
- These orders are very strict, yet most people followed them. Can you suggest why?