The English sweating sickness of 1551: an epidemic anatomized.


In 1551 there occurred the fifth and last outbreak of the epidemic disease known as the sweating sickness. The malady was characterized by sudden onset, profuse sweating, prostration, and death or recovery within the space of only twenty-four hours; it was certainly confined to the warmer months, was said to be most fatal to healthy young males and, despite some irruptions onto the Continent, was apparently seated in England.1 The disease has always intrigued medical historians for a number of reasons: it apparently came from nowhere in 1485 and disappeared without trace in 1551; its characteristics as recorded by contemporary observers defy exact identification with any malady described in modem medical literature; and the quantity of information available is ample enough to give rise to a variety of hypotheses but insufficiently substantial to provide any very convincing conclusions. Up to now we have had two main classes of information about this disease: one is an assemblage of references in chronicles, letters and other contemporary literary documents, and the other is the remarkable account provided by Dr John Caius in his A boke or counseill against the disease commonly called the sweate, or sweatyng sicknesse of 1552, the earliest extensive treatise on a single disease to be written and printed in English. However there exists another hitherto under-exploited source on which this article is primarily based-the parish register.

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@article{Dyer1997TheES, title={The English sweating sickness of 1551: an epidemic anatomized.}, author={April P. Dyer}, journal={Medical History}, year={1997}, volume={41}, pages={362 - 384} }