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The English Sweating Sickness

Royal 20 C.VII, f.78vThe English Sweating Sickness

By Susan Abernethy

In doing some research on Mary Boleyn for a post, I learned that Mary’s first husband died of the “sweating sickness” in England in the summer of 1528. Thought I would look into this deadly and quick killing disease.

There were outbreaks of the sweating sickness in England in 1485, 1502, 1507, 1528 and 1551. A sufferer of the disease in the beginning would experience a sense of apprehension followed by violent cold shivers, then giddiness, headache and pains in the neck, shoulders and limbs along with great exhaustion. Then the hot and sweating stage began. The sweating would break out suddenly and would be followed by heat, headache, delirium, rapid pulse and intense thirst. Palpitation and pain of the heart was a frequent symptom. The final stage was complete exhaustion and collapse or sometimes an irresistible urge to sleep. There was no immunity if one survived an attack and some experienced several attacks before succumbing. If one could survive the first twenty four hours, they usually lived.

The main outbreaks were in England and it was called the English Sweating sickness but it did appear in Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and into Lithuania, Poland and Russia. It also emerged in Flanders and the Netherlands. The disease did not discriminate. The historical records say Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and son of King Henry VII of England, may have died of the disease, leaving Catherine of Aragon a widow. The best friend of King Henry VIII, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk had two young sons, Charles and Henry who died within hours of each other in the 1551 outbreak. Even Anne Boleyn suffered from the disease in the 1528 outbreak but managed to survive.

The attacks would last just hours before a person died. The cause of the disease was never found and never appeared again after 1578.

Susan Abernethy is the writer of The Freelance History Writer and a contributor to Saints, Sisters, and Sluts. You can follow both sites on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/thefreelancehistorywriter) and (http://www.facebook.com/saintssistersandsluts), as well on Medieval History Lovers. You can also follow Susan on Twitter @SusanAbernethy2





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