Home Health News The deadly sweating sickness that terrified King Henry VIII

The deadly sweating sickness that terrified King Henry VIII

17 min read

The sweating sickness was one of the vital horrifying ailments of the 15th and 16th centuries and much more mysterious than the Black Death.

It appeared to return from out of nowhere and but dying got here mercilessly quick.

It started with a sense of being freezing chilly, the physique convulsing in uncontrollable shivering, with extreme prostration, coronary heart palpitations, excessive aches within the neck, dizziness, dehydration and complications, usually with a vesicular rash.

Then got here the worst half — violent, drenching sweating, together with delirium, and a fast pulse. Between 30-50 per cent of victims had been useless simply three to 18 hours later.

And but, when you had been fortunate sufficient to final 24 hours, you had likelihood of a full restoration.

The unusual sickness nonetheless fascinates scientists in the present day as a result of no person is aware of for positive how the illness managed to tear by way of Europe a number of instances throughout the tumultuous Tudor interval.

The epidemic’s origins and even the identification of the illness are nonetheless unknown, other than the very fact that the affected person actually sweated to dying.

It was 534 years in the past that the sweating sickness, often known as “The Sweat” tore by way of England, leaving hundreds of individuals healthy sooner or later and useless the subsequent.


So a lot concerning the Sweat was puzzling, together with the notion that surviving the illness did not make you immune from one other assault; it was frequent for sufferers to be struck by the horrifying illness a number of instances.

English doctor Dr John Caius (also called Johannes Caius) was working in Shrewsbury, England in 1551 when an outbreak of the sweating sickness had a stranglehold over the terrified townsfolk.

Caius grew to become one thing of a star when he wrote an account of the illness which is the principle historic supply of information of the sickness.

While no person knew precisely what induced the Sweat, Caius believed it was linked to filth and, as a result of the sickness broke out in late spring or summer time, that it was additionally linked to bugs.

Caius was treating many rich sufferers and his manuscript particulars his observations of the signs, in addition to concepts for prevention and remedy. While advising folks to keep away from “evil mists and rotten fruit” may sound odd in the present day, it is a reflection on the place medical information was in 16th Century.

Caius wrote: “This illness will not be a Sweat solely (as it’s thought and referred to as), however a fever … within the spirits by putrefaction venomous. First by the ache within the again or shoulder, ache within the excessive elements, as arm, or leg. Secondly by the grief within the liver and abdomen. Thirdly by the ache within the head, & insanity. Fourthly by the fervour of the guts.

“Whereupon additionally follows a heaviness, (the fifth token of this illness), and a want to sleep, by no means contented, the senses in all elements being as they had been certain or closed up. Last follows the quick abidings, a sure token of the illness.”

He additionally suggested folks to exercise steadily and that, within the early phases of the sickness, one should drink natural mixtures and keep away from being exterior.

Dr John Caius. Photo / Supplied
Dr John Caius. Photo / Supplied


It’s not clear who first contracted sweating sickness, however there is a principle held by some historians that the illness got here to England by way of a bunch of French troopers King Henry VII’s father had employed to safe the throne for him and his son in 1487 and finish the Wars of the Roses.

Whether the mercenaries truly introduced sweating sickness to England won’t ever be recognized however one principle is that the sickness was first heard of on the Battle of Bosworth, after which adopted the King’s males again to London the place 15,000 folks died from the illness in six weeks.

There had been 5 recognized epidemics of the Sweat — in 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528, and 1551.

While the illness was principally contained in England, the outbreak in 1528 managed to kill 2,000 in London earlier than the sickness travelled by way of passengers on a ship to Hamburg, Germany, the place greater than a thousand deaths occurred in 4 weeks.

An extra 3,000 folks died in Danzig and Lübeck earlier than the sickness unfold to Scandinavia, Denmark and Russia. The illness managed to completely bypass Italy and most of France (other than Calais within the north.)

King Henry’s printer Richard Grafton referred to the sweating sickness as a brand new sort of sickness. Grafton wrote of the sickness: “So sore, so painful, and sharp, that the like was by no means heard of to any man’s remembrance earlier than that time.”

It says so much concerning the severity of the Sweat when you think about that the individuals who’ve written about how horrendous it was, had been folks that had additionally seen the horrors of the Black Death.

But whereas the Sweat was undoubtedly horrifying, it wasn’t fairly as devastating because the Black Death, when it comes to mortality charges.

The bubonic plague swept throughout England between 1346 and 1353, killing greater than 20 million folks (about 60 per cent of the inhabitants). One issue that set the Sweat other than the Black Death was that the previous was puzzling from starting to finish whereas the thriller of the bubonic plague was solved when it was found to be unfold by contaminated fleas from small animals, equivalent to rats.


According to writer Alison Weir, King Henry VIII was stated to be terrified of the Sweat and he demanded to be moved round England in a bid to flee the unfold of the illness.

The King had good motive to be scared, because the illness was spreading like wildfire and gave the impression to be favouring the well-to-do. Weir writes that King Henry fled London along with his Queen and a bunch of individuals, together with his mistress Anne Boleyn.

“In June 1528 the sweating sickness returned to plague London and, in a while, the remainder of the nation. This was a very virulent outbreak and the King, studying with horror that some members of his family had succumbed to the illness fled to a different home after which one other after that, till he was sleeping in a special place every evening.”

King Henry VIII was so terrified of the disease he demanded to be moved around England in order to escape it. Photo / Supplied
King Henry VIII was so terrified of the illness he demanded to be moved round England so as to escape it. Photo / Supplied


In 1485 doctor Thomas Forrestier wrote a number of accounts of the Sweat after witnessing his sufferers succumb to the sickness and in addition this account of merely being out within the streets on the time of the epidemic.

“We noticed two monks standing collectively and talking collectively, and noticed each of them die all of a sudden. Also we noticed the spouse of a tailor all of a sudden die. Another younger man strolling by the road fell down all of a sudden. Also one other gentleman using out of town died. Also many different which had been to rehearse we’ve recognized that have died all of a sudden.”

Arthur Prince of Wales (Henry VIII's brother) is thought to have suffered from the sweating sickness. Photo / Supplied
Arthur Prince of Wales (Henry VIII’s brother) is believed to have suffered from the sweating sickness. Photo / Supplied


The jury remains to be out on what induced the Sweat. Some fashionable researchers have proposed that it was brought on by the hantavirus an infection which is transmitted by sure mice, rats, and voles. The signs of the Sweat are stated to be just like hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Other scientists imagine anthrax might need been the trigger: throughout the bioterrorism assaults of 2001 that resulted in 5 deaths, one of many main signs was copious sweating. Others imagine the Sweat might need been a model of the flu or a sickness often known as ‘relapsing fever’. Whatever its origins, the Sweat carried the identical sort of terror that the Ebola virus carried in the present day.

Henry Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, died throughout the Sweat epidemic of 1551 — his physique was buried in a cemetery that nonetheless exists. While it is potential to exhume his stays and seek for hantavirus, scientists say it is unlikely the genetic materials has survived and so there are not any rapid plans to disturb the Duke’s stays.

Henry Brandon reportedly died of the sweating sickness in 1551. Photo / Supplied
Henry Brandon reportedly died of the sweating sickness in 1551. Photo / Supplied


In 1551 the Sweat stopped as all of a sudden because it started. The same sickness often known as the “Picardy Sweat” occurred 150 years later in France, however that sickness got here and went in a short time, making it just about not possible for scientists to match the 2 ‘sweaty’ ailments.

Also, due to slack document preserving, no person actually is aware of precisely how many individuals died from the Sweat though clearly hundreds misplaced their lives. All historians must depend on is scattered, imprecise health data and private diaries.

And whereas Anne Boleyn did not handle to outlive her marriage to King Henry VIII, she was rumoured to have contracted the dreaded sweating sickness and are available out of the scourge alive.

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