The Plague: Causes, Treatments, and Accounts From the Mid 1660’s, Research Paper Example

Ring around the Rosies

Pocket full of posies

Ashes, ashes

We all fall down

A common nursery rhyme, sung by children, but to many this rhyme has been linked to the great plague of the 1660’s (Ring Around the Rosie Rhyme, 2009). A horrible, life threatening disease that ravaged London. There are many accounts of this disastrous time that speak of the causes and treatments of the plague at this time in history.

There are three forms of the plague. The first being the Bubonic Plague, which is the most common (Plague: The Black Death, 2013). Symptoms include painfully swollen lymph nodes. The second for is Septicemic Plague which is caused by fleas or plague infected body matter (Plague: The Black Death, 2013). This is spread through the bloodstream. The third type is Pneumonic Plague, which is the most infectious, and is spread from person to person from droplets coughed from the lung (Plague: The Black Death, 2013). This is a more advanced form of Bubonic Plague. Bubonic or Pneumonic were the most likely forms of plague in the epidemic of 1665.

Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator and Member of Parliament, wrote of the plague in his famous diary. He describes a melancholy visage of desperate people searching for relief from the plague which they were ravaged by (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013). In July of 1665 he wrote, “The sad news of the death of so many in the parish of the plague, forty last night, the bell always going, either for deaths or burials (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013).” He also wrote of the survivors burying the dead during the day, as there was not enough time in the night to do so (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013).

This a bleak account of the time at hand. By September of 1665, it was estimated that there were nearly 8,000 deaths per week (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013). This was outbreak of the plague in London since 1348, and 15% of the population was lost (The Great Plague of 1665-6, 2013). The number of recorded deaths reached 68,596, while there were more likely to be over 100,000 in total (The Great Plague of 1665-6, 2013).

The plague was not also deadly, though it was a majority of the time. In a letter written by Henry Muddiman, a journalist for the London Gazette, to Joseph Williamston, a politician in the court of Charles II, it was stated that a butcher from Newgate Market, thought to be dead of the plague, though was not carried off that same night, arose the next morning and asked his daughter for ale because he was cold. The man went to Church on Sunday to thank God for his preservation. (The Great Plague of 1665-6, 2013)

Along with death, epidemics bring a fear, panic and a breakdown of society (The Black Death and Early Public Health Measures, 2013). As London was not prepared for the outbreak in 1665, though the plague had struck numerous times since the original outbreak of 1347, the town resorted to disturbing manners of treating the sick (The Black Death and Early Public Health Measures, 2013). Drinking poisons laced with arsenic or carrying sweet smelling flowers to purify the air where small ways of dealing with the disease (The Black Death and Early Public Health Measures, 2013).

Loimographia, written by William Boghurst most accurately described the symptoms and causes of the plague (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013). He was a physician who had a firsthand account of the inflicted. He attributed the causes to filth, inadequate disposal of sewage, and poor nutrition among the destitute within the town (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013). This was the main cause of the infestation of black rats that carried the fleas that carried the plague (The Great Plague, 2013).

Boghurst also criticized the physicians at the time for using standard treatments such as bleeding, purging, and fumigating houses, as well as quarantine infected households, since all of these means had been tried and failed to work (The Great Plague, 2013). The standard procedures for treatment were in effectual because the causes were mainly the filth of the lower class individuals. The wealthy were rarely infected in this instance of outbreak and many fled the city in distress, leaving the poorer, infected citizens behind (The Great Plague of London, 1665, 2013).

Charles II published a special command of rules and orders for prevention of the plague in 1666:

Orders 1-5 stated that no stranger was allowed to enter a town, no furniture could be removed from an infected house, there were to be no public gatherings, and all houses were to be kept clean.

Order 6 stated that fires were to be burned to purify the air.

Order 7 stated that rotten food was not to be sold in the markets.

Order 8 Stated that stray animals were not allowed wonder the streets.

Order 9 stated that only necessary alehouses be licensed.

Order 10-13 regarded the infected in that pest houses were to be built, the infected were to be quarantined there, that a white cross be placed on the doors of infected houses, and that the dead were not to be buried in churchyards, but in area where they could place lime within the grave.

(The Great Plague of 1665-6, 2013)

Some of the orders above are obvious in today’s society, however at that time it was necessary to inform the public of how unhealthy it was to do things such as eat rotten food or live in filth. Though the exact causes and treatments for the plague were unknown in the 1660’s, because of prior outbreaks, physicians were starting to better understand the disease. The disease was not better understood until an outbreak of the plague which started in China in 1855 and lasted until 1959 (Plague: The Black Death, 2013).

During this time, Yersinia pestis, a rod shaped bacillus responsible for the plague was isolated to be researched (Plague: The Black Death, 2013). A few years after this discovery, it was discovered that rats showed similar plague symptoms to humans, and the infected rats always had flea bites (Plague: The Black Death, 2013). It is now known that the plague was spread by flea ridden rats that were attracted to the filth and squander in London that caused the Great Plague. It was impossible to know this at the time that it happen as the research was not available.

Though it is better understood, the plague still exists today. In the last decade, cases of the plague have been reported in Africa, China, India, Viet Nam, Mongolia, and the United States. It is easily treated with antibiotics at this point in time.

The plague, though not always deadly, was in most cases. This devastating disease ravished London from 1665-1666, and was the main cause and specific treatments were unknown, although some could guess. This was the one of the worst outbreaks of the plague of all time, based on actual accounts and records.


Plague: The Black Death. (2013). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from National Geographic:

Ring Around the Rosie Rhyme. (2009). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from Nursery Rhymes Lyrics and Origins:

The Black Death and Early Public Health Measures. (2013). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from Science Museum:

The Great Plague. (2013). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from Historic UK, History Magazine:

The Great Plague of 1665-6. (2013). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from The National Archives:

The Great Plague of London, 1665. (2013). Retrieved May 6, 2013, from Contagion Historical Views of Disease and Epidemics: