The Great Plague
Written By: TJ
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
True to its claim, there is no denying the fact that history repeats itself. Our world is currently experiencing a pandemic no one saw coming, but this isn’t the first time something like this happened. Hundreds of years ago in 1665, the British people had been devastated by a bubonic plague which resulted to their social, economic, and political downfall. People weren’t only dying from the virus but also from starvation and freedom restraints. Sounds similar? Then let’s further discuss the historical facts of the last and worst epidemic of England, losing 15% of its entire population during those dark times.
On the outskirts of London lies the poor, overcrowded Parish of St. Giles-in-the-field, the place where the plague started on the summer of 1665. In May of the said year, 43 people already died from an unknown disease, which the locals soon discovered coming from the rats and their fleas, a rampant carrier in the area due to its filthy environment.
The plague was said to have originated in Central Asia around 1331 when the first outbreak called Black Death ravaged the whole of England, and reemerged over 300 years later. The outbreak was caused by Yestinia Pestis, a bacterium responsible for the other plague outbreaks before. According to research, the plague has two strains: Bubonic Plague, which was spread through rats and fleas, causing painful buboes, combined with compulsive vomiting, swollen tongue, and splitting headaches; Second was the Pneumonic Plague, which was airborne spread through sneezing, a deadlier strain than the first as it targets the lungs.
The humid weather seemed to have caused it to be epidemic, increasing mortality rate to a drastic extent week after week. Just like the world today, people were forced to quarantine themselves, and the pillars of society and economy suddenly came crashing down.
Fight or Flight
Social classes already existed even hundreds of years ago. In fact, it became the first distinction whether you’ll survive the impending death or not. The rich people, including most of doctors and apothecaries, quickly fled from the land and moved to safer places, not caring that some of them might carry the virus elsewhere. King Charles II, together with his courtiers, went to Oxford, leaving the Lord Mayor and his town councilors to enforce his orders to stop the spread of the disease.
On the other hand, the poor had no choice but to stay with the ill people and the rats that caused the illness. Medicines were ineffective and the knowledge of the disease was limited. Moreover, medical checkups were too expensive for the poor to afford. Even the few brave doctors who stayed were also powerless against the infectious disease.
The Dark Times
As the days progressed, people who were left behind resorted to cruel ways against each other and laws and protocols have become more severe, even inhumane, just to avoid the spread of the disease. Panic, fear, and anger prevailed among everyone, leaving compassion and hope trapped in the depths of humanity.
Anyone who would catch the disease would be locked inside their houses, together with their entire family, condemning all of them to death. Outside their doors would be the words “Lord, have mercy on us!” written in red markings. At night, a cart would roam the empty streets shouting “Bring out your dead!” to deliver the corpses into plague pits.
Food and medicine supplies were scarce, leaving people with no choice but to escape and hunt necessities on their own. When the guards were unaware, families murdered them by sneaking a noose around the guards’ necks and hoisted them up. Blankets were put on top of the deceased guards to trick plague guards into dragging them along with the dead. The whole neighborhood rioted and killed all the guards until all of them were finally free.
The shambling remains of the plague victims wandered the city, but they found no resources nor help. The small villages barred entry, locals threw stones and manure at them. Some let them in only to rob them. Indeed, freedom was not worth all the bloodshed.
Three months later and the disease reached its peak by mid-August as it arrived in the village of Eyam, killing over a hundred thousand people across the country and died down in the early months of winter in 1666. In total, 15% of the entire British population perished during that terrible summer of 1665.
People and doctors tried a lot of desperate measures to cure the disease. These include staying indoors, fumigation, killing of cats and dogs which were thought to carry the plague, smoking tobacco, wearing perfume and lucky charms, and pressing a plucked chicken against plague-sores until it died. In the end, due to a number of different extreme measures, they didn’t have any idea which one worked.
People who fled the land started to come back but the business and other establishments took a lot of time before they regained balance again. The society and economy were both at their rock-bottom. London became so quiet that everyday was like a Sunday and grass started to grow in the streets.
The Great Plague may be a bit different than the pandemic we are currently experiencing today when it comes to scientific components but in conclusion, we all are just trying to survive. Unity and collective efforts to help each other may be farfetched, but they are not impossible.
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