The Plague of 1665 in London

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The Great Plague is purported to be the worst epidemic to have hit England ever since the Black Death of 1348. The estimated loss of life is at a high ranked 15% of its population. The plague was harbored by Yersinia pestis bacterium whose mode of transmission is through a rats bite (Haymann, 2006). The rats were attracted to the light cities more so garbage in the poor areas. Even with government effort, the plague never had a solution and with everybody suffering, the poor had the greatest impact of the suffering.

Economic Effect

By 1665 London was undoubtedly the economic giant and the focal point of exchange with its colonies, Northern Europe and far areas such as Levant (Cummins, Kelly & Grada, 2016, 32). With it being a giant in trade made it gain wealth and tagged along with the wealth, came the merchants, laborers and entertainers.

In 1563 the death rate was approximated to march that across the city but by 1665, the death rate had declined. The decline goes in toe with the spread of well off individuals in the city center. The number ultimately also goes in hand with the application of bricks as a material for housing among the rich as well as elevated levels of hygiene which ended in rapid urbanization of the forever packed parishes on the periphery of the city (Schamiloglu, 2017). To cater for the ill, the City and parishes contracted nurses and made request for the physicians from the college of Medicine to be availed in order to take care of the infected within London. In total four physicians we contracted and a number of other physicians volunteered. All trade with London and other affected towns came to a halt as the leaders of Scotland made an order pertaining to the migration of citizens to and from England would be stopped and the border closed. This made it clear to the England economy regarding trade with Scotland would no longer be taking place as they had decided to cut ties. By so doing people lost their jobs more so those who were on the River Thames. This led to impoverishment of the England community as she lost ties with her trade partners as a result of such decision. The impoverishment comes about as she was unable to sustain herself as a result of her sickling population.

Political Effect

London in 1665 was ruled by various categories of leaders. Their role particularly during the 1665 epidemic was majorly to emphasize the laws set out by the Privy Council as well as their own. These leadership positions were held by the rich and powerful that in their part opted to flee England leaving behind the poor who suffered greatest the impact of the plague. At the lowest category of leadership were the parishes (Schamiloglu, 2017). The parishes were to enforce public health rules orchestrated by the City government and Privy Council. This made the parish a necessity in the plague of 1665. The Privy Council and alderman published regulations for curbing the entrenchment of the plague and directly followed up to ensure the parish implemented them. These regulations just to mention, among them involved lighting of bonfire, two to each parish. The plague made the city to assign obligations to hundreds of parishes each with having authority to follow the set rules to the letter and land was so divided not in a proportionate manner among the parishes. Some rules and regulations were put in place to ensure that the infection did not spread. The rules were published by His Majesty Special Command. The rule curbed strangers from entering the city unless they had health certificate. There was a ban on public gathering such as funerals and weddings.

Social Effects

The physicians were in contact with the infected on at a personal level to make ascertain the level of infection and come up with cure and to perform operations which included bloodletting. The personal visits and autopsies is what contributed to early modern medicine.  But with the high mortality rate, the physicians were forced into prevention rather than developing a cure for the disease. The sharp increase in death made the grave diggers to dig mass graves where bodies were jammed together and might have probably been shallow, as shallow as one meter which did not achieve what the law required (Brian, 2008). The adoption of prevention rather than curing led to incorporation of a method called “Shutting up.” This method received a lot of criticism and ridicule both from the physicians themselves and the general public. The method entailed the infected individuals being placed in quarantine and it not only included the infected but also those associated with them which in the poor communities can be a huge number of the families. This policy elevated the capacity of suffering. The treatment and prevention effort were not working or even if they did their progress was slow. The masses concluded that unclean air could be the origin of the infection and can so they purported that the remedy could be in smoke and heat (De Paolo, Charles, Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc, 2006). The young ones were thus forced into smoking to parry the dirty air. Also smelling and inhaling sponge drenched with vinegar was also part of the solution. With the establishment of rules by His Majesty Special Command that any infected house, the ill person or people be extracted to a said quarantine houses for the good of the remaining family members and such a house even though lacks a dead member was to remain closed for 40 days and have a sign written boldly in capital letters which depicted the message that God should have mercy on the household attached to the door. Mostly the medical care was provided by the nurses which varied from total strangers to family of the infected. The nurses had absolutely no medical expertise beyond basic knowledge and sole purpose was to provide comfort to the infected. The nurses at that time were seen as estranged and worst scenarios were hags who would steal rather than care for their patients.


The British society underwent a great deal during the Great Plague. This is well marched by the suffering that is portrayed especially by the poor. Measures put in place proved to be futile as its futility in closely associated to the loss of life and ignorance on the part of the government. The epidemic also served as an eye opener to advancement in certain fields such as medicine as new drugs were developed. The epidemic also points out the flaws in the early government measures in dealing with epidemics. The conclusion arrived at is that the epidemic caused a lot of disruptions in the field the economy, politics and social life of the people and the most affected being the poor in the society.


Cummins, N., Kelly, M. & Grada, C. (2016). Living standards and plague in London, 1560–

            1665. Economic History Review, 69, 3–34,%20N_Living%20standards%20and%20plague%20in%20London,%201560%E2%80%931665_Cummins_Livinig_Standards_and_plague%20in%20London.pdf

De Paolo, Charles, Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc (2006)

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Brian, M. (2008). Social Thought and research

 The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (2001) by Karl Polayni

Schamiloglu, U. (2017). The Impact of the Black Death on the Golden Horde: Politics,

            Economy, Society, Civilization.

Haymann, D. (2006). Effects of Social, Environmental and Economic Factors on Current and

            Future Patterns of Infectious Diseases, 291-303.

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November 13, 2023


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