The References tab contains a complete list of all the occasions on which Pepys mentioned the Plague in his diary.

The site has some extracts of the relevant passages.

If you’ve found this tweet by @Pepys_Diaries, dated 19 March 2020:

On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!

note that @Pepys_Diaries is a parody account and this is not a real extract from the diaries. Read more in this Site News post.

Follow @samuelpepys for accurate, lightly edited for length, extracts.


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 15 July 2024 at 4:11AM.

Collecting the dead for burial during the Great Plague

The Great Plague of London, lasting from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England. It happened within the centuries-long Second Pandemic, a period of intermittent bubonic plague epidemics that originated in Central Asia in 1331 (the first year of the Black Death), and included related diseases such as pneumonic plague and septicemic plague, which lasted until 1750.[1]

The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 people—almost a quarter of London's population—in 18 months.[2][3] The plague was caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium,[4] which is usually transmitted to a human by the bite of a flea or louse.[5]

The 1665–66 epidemic was on a much smaller scale than the earlier Black Death pandemic. It became known afterwards as the "great" plague mainly because it was the last widespread outbreak of bubonic plague in England during the 400-year Second Pandemic.[6][7]

London in 1665

The "Woodcut" map of London, dating from the 1560s
Map of London by Wenceslaus Hollar, c. 1665

The plague was endemic in 17th-century London, as it was in other European cities at the time.[8] The disease periodically erupted into massive epidemics. There were 30,000 deaths due to the plague in 1603, 35,000 in 1625, 10,000 in 1636, and smaller numbers in other years.[9][10]

In late 1664, a bright comet was seen in the sky,[11] and the people of London became fearful, wondering what evil event it portended. London at that time was a city of about 448 acres surrounded by a city wall that had originally been built to keep out raiding bands, and, in the south, by the River Thames. There were gates in the wall at Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate, and the Thames was crossable at London Bridge.[12] In the poorer parts of the city, filled with overcrowded tenements and garrets, hygiene was impossible to maintain. There was no sanitation, and open drains flowed along the centre of winding streets. The cobbles were slippery with animal droppings, rubbish and the slops thrown out of the houses; they were muddy and buzzing with flies in summer, and awash with sewage in winter. The City Corporation employed "rakers" to remove the worst of the filth, and it was transported to mounds outside the walls, where it accumulated and continued to decompose. The stench was overwhelming, and people walked around with handkerchiefs or nosegays pressed against their nostrils.[13]

Some of the city's necessities, such as coal, arrived by barge, but most came by road. Carts, carriages, horses and pedestrians were crowded together, and the gateways in the wall formed bottlenecks through which it was difficult to progress. The nineteen-arch London Bridge was even more congested. Those who were better-off used hackney carriages and sedan chairs to get to their destinations without getting filthy. The poor walked, and might be drenched by water tossed up by wheeled vehicles, slops thrown into the street, or water pouring off overhanging roofs. Another hazard was the choking black smoke belching forth from soap factories, breweries, iron smelters and about 15,000 households that were burning coal to heat their homes.[14]

Outside the city walls, shanty towns with wooden shacks and no sanitation had sprung up, providing homes for the craftsmen and tradespeople who had flocked to the already overcrowded city. The government had tried to limit the development of these "suburbs", but had failed: Over a quarter of a million people lived in them.[15] When Royalists had fled the country during the Commonwealth, they had left many fine town houses vacant, and some immigrants to London had crowded into them, converting them into tenements that housed different families in every room. These properties were soon vandalised and became rat-infested.[15]

The City of London proper was administered by the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen and the common councillors, but some parts of the greater metropolitan area were not legally part of the city. Some of these areas, both inside the City walls and outside its boundaries, had long been organised into districts of various sizes, called "liberties", that had historically been granted rights to self-government. (Many had originally been associated with the religious institutions that were abolished in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, whereupon their historic rights and property had been transferred to secular owners.)

By 1665, the walled City was surrounded by a ring of liberties which had come under its authority, and these had come to be referred to collectively as 'the City and Liberties'. However, this area was surrounded by additional suburbs with other independent administrations. For example, Westminster was an independent town with its own liberties, joined to London by urban development, and the Tower of London was an independent liberty. Areas that were not part of any of these various independent administrations came under the authority of the county of Middlesex if they were north of the river, and under the authority of Surrey if they were south of the river.[16]

At that time, bubonic plague was a much feared disease, but its cause was not understood. Many mistakenly blamed emanations from the earth, "pestilential effluvia", unusual weather, sickness in livestock, abnormal behaviour of animals or an increase in the numbers of moles, frogs, mice or flies.[17] It was not until 1894 that its causal agent, the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was identified by Alexandre Yersin, and its transmission by rat fleas became known.[18] Although the Great Plague in London was long assumed to be bubonic plague, caused by Yersinia pestis, this was only confirmed (by DNA analysis) in 2016.[19] It is now believed that human body lice also played a key role in causing infections, perhaps more so than rats.[20]

The recording of deaths

In order to judge the severity of an epidemic, it is first necessary to know how big the population was in which it occurred. There was no official census of the population to provide this figure, and the best contemporary count comes from the work of John Graunt (1620–1674), who was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society and one of the first demographers, bringing a scientific approach to the collection of statistics. In 1662, he estimated that 384,000 people lived in the City of London, the Liberties, Westminster and the out-parishes, based on figures in the Bills of Mortality published each week in the capital. These different districts with different administrations constituted the officially recognized extent of London as a whole. In 1665, he revised his estimate to "not above 460,000". Other contemporaries put the figure higher (the French Ambassador, for example, suggested 600,000), but with no mathematical basis to support their estimates. The next largest city in the kingdom was Norwich, with a population of 30,000.[15][21]

There was no duty to report a death to anyone in authority. Instead, each parish appointed two or more "searchers of the dead", whose duty was to inspect a corpse and determine the cause of death. A searcher was entitled to charge a small fee from relatives for each death they reported, and so habitually the parish would appoint someone to the post who would otherwise be destitute and would be receiving support from the parish poor rate. Typically, this meant searchers would be old women who were illiterate, might know little about identifying diseases and who would be open to dishonesty.[22] Searchers would typically learn about a death either from the local sexton who had been asked to dig a grave or from the tolling of a church bell. Anyone who did not report a death to their local church, such as Quakers, Anabaptists, other non-Anglican Christians or Jews, frequently did not get included in the official records. Searchers during times of plague were required to live apart from the community, avoid other people and carry a white stick to warn of their occupation when outdoors, and stay indoors except when performing their duties, to avoid spreading the diseases. Searchers reported to the Parish Clerk, who made a return each week to the Company of Parish Clerks in Brode Lane. Figures were then passed to the Lord Mayor and then to the Minister of State once plague became a matter of national concern.[22] The reported figures were used to compile the Bills of Mortality, which listed total deaths in each parish and whether by the plague. The system of Searchers to report the cause of death continued until 1836.[23]

Graunt recorded the incompetence of the Searchers at identifying true causes of death, remarking on the frequent recording of 'consumption' rather than other diseases which were recognized then by physicians. He suggested a cup of ale and a doubling of their fee to two groats rather than one was sufficient for Searchers to change the cause of death to one more convenient for the householders. No one wished to be known as having had a death by plague in their household, and Parish Clerks, too, connived in covering up cases of plague in their official returns. Analysis of the Bills of Mortality during the months plague took hold shows a rise in deaths other than by plague well above the average death rate, a tell-tale sign of misrepresentation of the true cause of death.[23] As plague spread, a system of quarantine was introduced, whereby any house where someone had died from plague would be locked up and no one allowed to enter or leave for 40 days. This frequently led to the deaths of the other inhabitants, by neglect if not from the plague, and provided ample incentive not to report the disease. The official returns record 68,596 cases of plague, but a reasonable estimate suggests this figure is 30,000 short of the true total.[24] A plague house was marked with a red cross on the door with the words "Lord have mercy upon us", and a watchman stood guard outside.[15]

Preventive measures

Reports of plague around Europe began to reach England in the 1660s, causing the Privy Council to consider what steps might be taken to prevent it crossing to England. Quarantining (isolation) of ships had been used during previous outbreaks and was again introduced for ships coming to London in November 1663, following outbreaks in Amsterdam and Hamburg. Two naval ships were assigned to intercept any vessels entering the Thames estuary. Ships from infected ports were required to moor at Hole Haven on Canvey Island for a trentine – period of 30 days – before being allowed to travel up-river. Ships from ports free of plague or completing their isolation period were given a certificate of health and allowed to travel on. A second inspection line was established between the forts on opposite banks of the Thames at Tilbury and Gravesend with instructions to pass only ships with a certificate.[25]

The isolation period was increased to forty days – a quarantine – in May 1664 as the continental plague worsened, and the areas subject to quarantine changed with the news of the spread of plague to include all of Holland, Zeeland and Friesland (all regions of the Dutch Republic); restrictions on Hamburg were removed in November. Quarantine measures against ships coming from the Dutch Republic were put in place in 29 other ports from May, starting with Great Yarmouth. The Dutch ambassador objected at the constraint of trade with his country, but England responded that it had been one of the last countries introducing such restrictions. Regulations were enforced quite strictly, so that people or houses where voyagers had come ashore without serving their quarantine were also subjected to 40 days of quarantine.[26]


Plague was one of the hazards of life in Britain from its dramatic appearance in 1348 with the Black Death. The Bills of Mortality began to be published regularly in 1603, in which year 33,347 deaths were recorded from plague. Between then and 1665, only four years had no recorded cases. In 1563, a thousand people were reportedly dying in London each week. In 1593, there were 15,003 deaths, 1625 saw 41,313 dead, between 1640 and 1646 came 11,000 deaths, culminating in 3,597 for 1647. The 1625 outbreak was recorded at the time as the 'Great Plague', until deaths from the plague of 1665 surpassed it. These official figures are likely to under-report actual numbers.[27]

Early days

Rattus rattus, the black rat. Smaller than Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat, which later supplanted it, it is also keener to live near humankind. Timber houses and overcrowded slums provided excellent homes. The link between the rat as reservoir of infection and host to fleas which could transfer to man was not understood. Efforts were made to eliminate cats and dogs: if anything, this encouraged the rats. Body lice were also important plague vectors.

Plague was sufficiently uncommon that medical practitioners might have had no personal experience of seeing the disease; medical training varied from those who had attended the college of physicians, to apothecaries who also acted as doctors, to charlatans. Other diseases abounded, such as an outbreak of smallpox the year before, and these uncertainties all added to difficulties identifying the true start of the epidemic.[28] Contemporary accounts suggest cases of plague occurred through the winter of 1664–65, some of which were fatal but a number of which did not display the virulence of the later epidemic. The winter was cold, the ground frozen from December to March, river traffic on the Thames twice blocked by ice, and it may be that the cold weather held back its spread.[29]

This outbreak of bubonic plague in England is thought to have spread from the Netherlands, where the disease had been occurring intermittently since 1599. It is unclear exactly where the disease first struck but the initial contagion may have arrived with Dutch trading ships carrying bales of cotton from Amsterdam, which was ravaged by the disease in 1663–64, with a mortality given of 50,000.[30] The first areas to be struck are believed to be the dock areas just outside London, and the parish of St Giles. In both of these localities, poor workers were crowded into ill-kept structures. Two suspicious deaths were recorded in St Giles parish in 1664 and another in February 1665. These did not appear as plague deaths on the Bills of Mortality, so no control measures were taken by the authorities, but the total number of people dying in London during the first four months of 1665 showed a marked increase. By the end of April, only four plague deaths had been recorded, two in the parish of St. Giles, but total deaths per week had risen from around 290 to 398.[31]

There had been three official cases in April, a level of plague which in earlier years had not induced any official response, but the Privy Council now acted to introduce household quarantine. Justices of the Peace in Middlesex were instructed to investigate any suspected cases and to shut up the house if it was confirmed. Shortly after, a similar order was issued by the King's Bench to the City and Liberties. A riot broke out in St. Giles when the first house was sealed up; the crowd broke down the door and released the inhabitants. Rioters caught were punished severely. Instructions were given to build pest-houses, which were essentially isolation hospitals built away from other people where the sick could be cared for (or stay until they died). This official activity suggests that despite the few recorded cases, the government was already aware that this was a serious outbreak of plague.[32]

Two men discovering a dead woman in the street

With the arrival of warmer weather, the disease began to take a firmer hold. In the week 2–9 May, there were three recorded deaths in the parish of St Giles, four in neighbouring St Clement Danes and one each in St Andrew Holborn and St Mary Woolchurch Haw.[24] Only the last was actually inside the city walls. A Privy Council committee was formed to investigate methods to best prevent the spread of plague, and measures were introduced to close some of the ale houses in affected areas and limit the number of lodgers allowed in a household. In the city, the Lord Mayor issued a proclamation that all householders must diligently clean the streets outside their property, which was a householder's responsibility, not a state one (the city employed scavengers and rakers to remove the worst of the mess). Matters just became worse, and Aldermen were instructed to find and punish those failing their duty.[33] As cases in St. Giles began to rise, an attempt was made to quarantine the area and constables were instructed to inspect everyone wishing to travel and contain inside vagrants or suspect persons.[34]

People began to be alarmed. Samuel Pepys, who had an important position at the Admiralty, stayed in London and provided a contemporary account of the plague through his diary.[35] On 30 April he wrote: "Great fears of the sickness here in the City it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all!"[36] Another source of information on the time is A Journal of the Plague Year, which was written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1722. He had been only five when the plague struck but made use of his family's recollections (his uncle was a saddler in East London and his father a butcher in Cripplegate), interviews with survivors and sight of such official records as were available.[37]

The onset of the disease was recalled two years later by Puritan minister Thomas Vincent:

It was in the month of May that the Plague was first taken notice of; our Bill of Mortality did let us know but of three which died of the disease in the whole year before; but in the beginning of May the bill tells us of nine...fear quickly begins to creep upon peoples hearts; great thoughts and discourse there is in Town about the Plague, and they cast in their minds whether they should go if the Plague should increase. Yet when the next weeks Bill signifieth to them the disease from nine to three their minds are something appeased; discourse of that subject cools; fears are hushed, and hopes take place, that the black cloud did but threaten, and give a few drops; but the wind would drive it away. But when in the next Bill the number of the dead by the Plague is mounted from three to fourteen, and in the next to seventeen, and in the next to forty-three, and the disease begins so much to increase, and disperse. Now secure sinners begin to be startled, and those who would have slept at quiet still in their nests, are unwillingly awakened.[38]

Exodus from the city

Scenes in London during the plague

By July 1665, plague was rampant in the City of London. The rich ran away, including King Charles II of England, his family and his court, who left the city for Salisbury, moving on to Oxford in September when some cases of plague occurred in Salisbury.[39] The aldermen and most of the other city authorities opted to stay at their posts. The Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Lawrence, also decided to stay in the city. Businesses were closed when merchants and professionals fled. Defoe wrote "Nothing was to be seen but wagons and carts, with goods, women, servants, children, coaches filled with people of the better sort, and horsemen attending them, and all hurrying away".[35] As the plague raged throughout the summer, only a small number of clergymen, physicians and apothecaries remained to cope with an increasingly large number of victims. Ellen Cotes, author of London's Dreadful Visitation, expressed the hope that "Neither the Physicians of our Souls or Bodies may hereafter in such great numbers forsake us".[35]

The poorer people were also alarmed by the contagion and some left the city, but it was not easy for them to abandon their accommodation and livelihoods for an uncertain future elsewhere. Before exiting through the city gates, they were required to possess a certificate of good health signed by the Lord Mayor and these became increasingly difficult to obtain. As time went by and the numbers of plague victims rose, people living in the villages outside London began to resent this exodus and were no longer prepared to accept townsfolk from London, with or without a certificate. The refugees were turned back, were not allowed to pass through towns and had to travel across country, and were forced to live rough on what they could steal or scavenge from the fields. Many died in wretched circumstances of starvation and dehydration in the hot summer that was to follow.[40]

Height of the epidemic

A Bill of Mortality for the plague in 1665

In the last week of July, the London Bill of Mortality showed 3,014 deaths, of which 2,020 had died from the plague. The number of deaths as a result of plague may have been underestimated, as deaths in other years in the same period were much lower, at around 300. As the number of victims affected mounted up, burial grounds became overfull, and pits were dug to accommodate the dead. Drivers of dead-carts travelled the streets calling "Bring out your dead" and carted away piles of bodies. The authorities became concerned that the number of deaths might cause public alarm and ordered that body removal and interment should take place only at night.[41] As time went on, there were too many victims, and too few drivers, to remove the bodies which began to be stacked up against the walls of houses. Daytime collection was resumed and the plague pits became mounds of decomposing corpses. In the parish of Aldgate, a great hole was dug near the churchyard, fifty feet long and twenty feet wide. Digging was continued by labourers at one end while the dead-carts tipped in corpses at the other. When there was no room for further extension it was dug deeper until ground water was reached at twenty feet. When finally covered with earth it housed 1,114 corpses.[42]

Plague doctors traversed the streets diagnosing victims, many of them without formal medical training. Several public health efforts were attempted. Physicians were hired by city officials and burial details were carefully organized, but panic spread through the city and, out of the fear of contagion, bodies were hastily buried in overcrowded pits. The means of transmission of the disease were not known but thinking they might be linked to the animals, the City Corporation ordered a cull of dogs and cats.[43] This decision may have affected the length of the epidemic since those animals could have helped keep in check the rat population carrying the fleas which transmitted the disease. Thinking bad air was involved in transmission, the authorities ordered giant bonfires to be burned in the streets and house fires to be kept burning night and day, in the hope that the air would be cleansed.[44] Tobacco was thought to be a prophylactic and it was later said that no London tobacconist had died from the plague during the epidemic.[45]

Two women lying dead in a London street

Trade and business had dried up, and the streets were empty of people except for the dead-carts and the dying victims, as witnessed and recorded by Samuel Pepys in his diary: "Lord! How empty the streets are and how melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets full of sores… in Westminster, there is never a physician and but one apothecary left, all being dead."[46] That people did not starve was down to the foresight of Sir John Lawrence and the Corporation of London who arranged for a commission of one farthing to be paid above the normal price for every quarter of corn landed in the Port of London.[47] Another food source was the villages around London which, denied of their usual sales in the capital, left vegetables in specified market areas, negotiated their sale by shouting, and collected their payment after the money had been left submerged in a bucket of vinegar to "disinfect" the coins.[47]

Records state that plague deaths in London and the suburbs crept up over the summer from 2,000 people per week to over 7,000 per week in September. These figures are likely to be a considerable underestimate. Many of the sextons and parish clerks who kept the records themselves died. Quakers refused to co-operate and many of the poor were just dumped into mass graves unrecorded. It is not clear how many people caught the disease and made a recovery because only deaths were recorded and many records were destroyed in the Great Fire of London the following year. In the few districts where intact records remain, plague deaths varied between 30% and over 50% of the total population.[48]

Vincent wrote:

it was very dismal to behold the red crosses, and read in great letters "LORD, HAVE MERCY UPON US" on the doors, and watchmen standing before them with halberds...people passing by them so gingerly, and with such fearful looks as if they had been lined with enemies in ambush to destroy them...a man at the corner of Artillery-wall, that as I judge, through the dizziness of his head with the disease, which seized upon him there, had dasht his face against the wall; and when I came by, he lay hanging with his bloody face over the rails, and bleeding upon the ground...I went and spoke to him; he could make no answer, but rattled in the throat, and as I was informed, within half an hour died in the place. It would be endless to speak of what we have seen and heard, of some in their frenzy, rising out of their beds, and leaping about their rooms; others crying and roaring at their windows; some coming forth almost naked, and running into the streets...scarcely a day passed over my head for, I think, a month or more together, but I should hear of the death of some one or more that I knew. The first day that they were smitten, the next day some hopes of recovery, and the third day, that they were dead.[38]

The outbreak was concentrated in London, but it affected other areas as well. Perhaps the best known example occurred in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. The plague allegedly arrived with a merchant carrying a parcel of cloth sent from London. The villagers imposed a quarantine on themselves to stop the further spread of the disease. This prevented the disease from moving into surrounding areas, but around 33% of the village's inhabitants died over a period of fourteen months.[49] Other places hit hard included Derby and Norwich.[50] In Bristol strenuous efforts by the City Council seems to have limited the death rate to c.0.6 per cent during an outbreak lasting from April to September 1666.[51]


Great Fire of London

By late autumn, the death toll in London and the suburbs began to slow until, in February 1666, it was considered safe enough for the King and his entourage to come back to the city. With the return of the monarch, others began to return: The gentry returned in their carriages accompanied by carts piled high with their belongings. The judges moved back from Windsor to sit in Westminster Hall; Parliament, which had been prorogued in April 1665, did not reconvene until September 1666. Trade recommenced and businesses and workshops opened up. London was the goal of a new wave of people who flocked to the city in expectation of making their fortunes. Writing at the end of March 1666, Lord Clarendon, the Lord Chancellor, stated "... the streets were as full, the Exchange as much crowded, the people in all places as numerous as they had ever been seen ...".[52]

Plague cases continued to occur sporadically at a modest rate until mid-1666. That September, the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City of London, and some people believed that the fire put an end to the epidemic. It is now thought that the plague had largely subsided before the fire took place. Most of the later cases of plague were found in the suburbs,[52] and it was the City of London that was destroyed by the fire.[53]

According to the Bills of Mortality, there were in total 68,596 deaths in London from the plague in 1665. Lord Clarendon estimated that the true number of mortalities was probably twice that figure. 1666 saw further deaths in other cities but on a lesser scale. Dr Thomas Gumble, chaplain to the Duke of Albemarle, both of whom had stayed in London for the whole of the epidemic, estimated that the total death count for the country from plague during 1665 and 1666 was about 200,000.[52] Among the more notable death victims were Samuel Fisher, John Godwin, John Lewger and George Starkey.

The Great Plague of 1665/1666 was the last major outbreak of bubonic plague in Great Britain. The last recorded death from plague came in 1679, and it was removed as a specific category in the Bills of Mortality after 1703. It spread to other towns in East Anglia and the southeast of England but fewer than ten per cent of parishes outside London had a higher than average death rate during those years. Urban areas were more affected than rural ones; Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Southampton and Winchester were badly affected, while the west of England and areas of the English Midlands escaped altogether.[54]

The population of England in 1650 was approximately 5.25 million, which declined to about 4.9 million by 1680, recovering to just over 5 million by 1700. Other diseases, such as smallpox, took a high toll on the population without the contribution by plague. The higher death rate in cities, both generally and specifically from the plague, was made up by continuous immigration, from small towns to larger ones and from the countryside to the towns.[55]

There were no contemporary censuses of London's population, but available records suggest that the population returned to its previous level within a couple of years. Burials in 1667 had returned to 1663 levels, Hearth Tax returns had recovered, and John Graunt contemporarily analysed baptism records and concluded they represented a recovered population. Part of this could be accounted for by the return of wealthy households, merchants and manufacturing industries, all of which needed to replace losses among their staff and took steps to bring in necessary people. Colchester had suffered more severe depopulation, but manufacturing records for cloth suggested that production had recovered or even increased by 1669, and the total population had nearly returned to pre-plague levels by 1674. Other towns did less well: Ipswich was affected less than Colchester, but in 1674, its population had dropped by 18%, more than could be accounted for by the plague deaths alone.[56]

As a proportion of the population who died, the London death toll was less severe than in some other towns. The total of deaths in London was greater than in any previous outbreak for 100 years, though as a proportion of the population, the epidemics in 1563, 1603 and 1625 were comparable or greater. Perhaps around 2.5% of the English population died.[57]


Great Plague of London in 1665

The plague in London largely affected the poor, as the rich were able to leave the city by either retiring to their country estates or residing with kin in other parts of the country. The subsequent Great Fire of London ruined many city merchants and property owners.[52] As a result of these events, London was largely rebuilt and Parliament enacted the Rebuilding of London Act 1666.[58] The street plan of the capital remained relatively unchanged, but some improvements were made: streets were widened, pavements were created, open sewers abolished, wooden buildings and overhanging gables forbidden, and the design and construction of buildings controlled. The use of brick or stone was mandatory and many gracious buildings were constructed. Not only was the capital rejuvenated, but it became a healthier environment in which to live. Londoners had a greater sense of community after they had overcome the great adversities of 1665 and 1666.[59]

Rebuilding took over ten years and was supervised by Robert Hooke as Surveyor of London.[60] The architect Sir Christopher Wren was involved in the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral and more than fifty London churches.[61] King Charles II did much to foster the rebuilding work. He was a patron of the arts and sciences and founded the Royal Observatory and supported the Royal Society, a scientific group whose early members included Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton. In fact, out of the fire and pestilence flowed a renaissance in the arts and sciences in England.[59]

Plague pits have been archaeologically excavated during underground construction work. Between 2011 and 2015, 3,500 burials from the 'New Churchyard' or 'Bethlam burial ground' were discovered during the construction of the Crossrail railway at Liverpool Street.[19] Yersinia pestis DNA was found in the teeth of individuals found buried in pits at the site, confirming they had died of bubonic plague.[3]

See also



  1. ^ Haensch, Stephanie; et al. (2010), "Distinct Clones of Yersinia Pestis Caused the Black Death", PLOS Pathogens, 6 (10): e1001134, doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134, PMC 2951374, PMID 20949072
  2. ^ "The Great Plague of London, 1665". Contagion, Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. Harvard University. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b "DNA in London Grave May Help Solve Mysteries of the Great Plague". 8 September 2016. Archived from the original on 9 September 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  4. ^ "DNA confirms cause of 1665 London's Great Plague". BBC News. 8 September 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  5. ^ Barbieri, Rémi; Drancourt, Michel; Raoult, Didier (2021). "The role of louse-transmitted diseases in historical plague pandemics" (PDF). The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 21 (2): e17–e25. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30487-4. PMID 33035476. S2CID 222255684.
  6. ^ "Spread of the Plague". BBC. 29 August 2002. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  7. ^ Ibeji, Mike (10 March 2011). "Black Death". BBC. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  8. ^ Moote (2004), pp. 60–61.
  9. ^ Porter, Stephen (2001). "17th Century: Plague". Gresham College. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  10. ^ Moote (2004), pp. 10–11.
  11. ^ Pepys, Samuel (1665). "March 1st". Diary of Samuel Pepys. Univ of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22167-2.
  12. ^ Leasor (1962) pp. 12–13
  13. ^ Leasor (1962) pp. 14–15
  14. ^ Leasor (1962) pp. 18–19
  15. ^ a b c d Leasor (1962) pp. 24–27
  16. ^ Porter 1999, p.15
  17. ^ Leasor (1962) p. 42
  18. ^ Bockemühl J (1994). "100 years after the discovery of the plague-causing agent—importance and veneration of Alexandre Yersin in Vietnam today". Immun Infekt. 22 (2): 72–5. PMID 7959865.
  19. ^ a b Stanbridge, Nicola (8 September 2016). "DNA confirms cause of 1665 London's Great Plague". BBC News. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  20. ^ Barbieri, Rémi; Drancourt, Michel; Raoult, Didier (February 2021). "The role of louse-transmitted diseases in historical plague pandemics". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 21 (2): e17–e25. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30487-4. PMID 33035476. S2CID 222255684.
  21. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 7.
  22. ^ a b Bell Folio Soc. edn., pp. 10–11.
  23. ^ a b Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 12.
  24. ^ a b Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 13.
  25. ^ Porter 1999, p.116
  26. ^ Porter 1999, pp. 117–119
  27. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., pp. 3–5.
  28. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 10.
  29. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., pp. 7, 8.
  30. ^ Appleby, Andrew B. (1980). "The Disappearance of Plague: A Continuing Puzzle". The Economic History Review. 33 (2): 161–173. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1980.tb01821.x. PMID 11614424.
  31. ^ Leasor (1962) pp. 46–50
  32. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., pp. 14, 15.
  33. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 16.
  34. ^ Bell, Folio Soc. edn., p. 17.
  35. ^ a b c Leasor (1962), pp. 60–62.
  36. ^ Pepys, Samuel (1665). "April 30th". Diary of Samuel Pepys. Univ of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22167-2.
  37. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 47, 62.
  38. ^ a b Vincent, Thomas (1667). God's Terrible Voice in the City. London: George Calvert. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  39. ^ Leasor (1962), p. 103.
  40. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 66–69.
  41. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 141–145.
  42. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 174–175.
  43. ^ Moote, Lloyd and Dorothy: The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year, Baltimore, 2004. p. 115.
  44. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 166–169.
  45. ^ Porter, Stephen (2009). The Great Plague. Amberley Publishing. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-84868-087-6.
  46. ^ Pepys, Samuel (1996). The Concise Pepys. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. pp. 363, 16 September 1665. ISBN 978-1853264788.
  47. ^ a b Leasor (1962), pp. 99–101.
  48. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 155–156.
  49. ^ "Eyam, England quarantined itself during bubonic plague deadlier than coronavirus - the Washington Post". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 3 March 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  50. ^ "Fighting the Plague in Tudor Norwich". Norfolk Record Office. 1 August 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  51. ^ "Documents Relating to the Great Plague of 1665-1666 in Bristol". Bristol Record Society. 22 September 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  52. ^ a b c d Leasor (1962), pp. 193–196.
  53. ^ Leasor (1962), pp. 250–251.
  54. ^ Porter 1999, p.155
  55. ^ Porter 1999, p.154
  56. ^ Porter 1999, pp. 148–150
  57. ^ Porter 1999, pp. 155–156
  58. ^ "An Act for rebuilding the City of London". Statutes of the Realm: volume 5 - 1628–80, pp.603–612. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  59. ^ a b Leasor (1962), pp. 269–271.
  60. ^ The Rebuilding of London After the Great Fire. Thomas Fiddian. 1940. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  61. ^ Hart, Vaughan (2002). Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding Ancient Wonders. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09699-6.


External links

32 Annotations

First Reading

vicente  •  Link

sample Before we leave to discourse of the Casualties, we shall add something concerning that greatest Disease, or Casualty of all, The Plague.
There have been in London, within this Age, four Times of great Mortality, that is to say, the years 1592, and 1593, 1603, 1625, and 1636.…
death toll: Anno 1636 from April to December... 23359
Whereof of the Plague .... 10400

Terry F  •  Link

Great Plague of London
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The Great Plague (1665-1666) was a massive outbreak of disease in England that killed 75,000 to 100,000 people, up to a fifth of London's population. The disease is generally believed to have been bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted via a rat vector. Other symptom patterns of the bubonic plague, such as septicemic plague and pneumonic plague were also present....This episode of plague in Britain is thought to have arrived with Dutch trading ships carrying bales of cotton from Amsterdam. The disease had occurred intermittently in the Netherlands since 1654."…

Robert Gertz  •  Link

And a link to an article by one of the champions of an alternate theory on the plague, (namely that the spread of the epidemic and environmental conditions strongly suggest it was not y. pestis but a virus), Justin Champion (I know, I know)…

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Likewise arguing against the y. pestis...In this case that other diseases (cholera) must have been involved with y.p., Graham Twigg. (I have to say I've found his argument on temperature unconvincing).…

A cautionary short note by medical historian RS Roberts on accepting early accounts of the plagues at face value...…

(I had a similar discussion with the listserv group of the American Society for Microbiology... In short we need a better system for properly defining and catagorizing plague descriptions from the 17th century back, especially from the 14th century. Too many accounts were not only copied by multiple hands across the centuries with loads of error and details added often for effect but then were compiled in the 19th century by historians and antiquarians with little or no medical training who added their own distortions. Many articles and books we read on the ancient and medieval plagues today are therefore badly flawed in their source materials-so read them with a grain of salt...and one rule of thumb: The more certain they are as to the causes of plague, the more likely they are not doing the details.)

That said one of the best accounts of the 1665 plague is of course a work of fiction, Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year"…

And finally, some background by Steven Greenberg, medical historian, on public health measures available at the time, along with the interesting argument that the Stuart regimes were quite active in trying to increase public awareness of plague… I hope to include one of the articles discussing anthrax as a possible co-culprit.

CGS  •  Link

cures : modern for our pets , still use some of those mentioned in the Harvard Letters [ see MR]:
The dog collar was not invented yet .
some of the modern flea modification:

"dark brewer's yeast, garlic, .....

peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, lemon grass oil, thyme oil and eugenol.....
of rosemary and cedar oil.....Cedarwood, Citronella and Rue.[ oils of Pennyroyal, Eucalyptus,not available then]....
now morph into
Pyrethrins are natural extracts made from flowers of chrysanthemum plants.
Citrus extracts, [contain d-Limonene or linalool.]
amongst other chemical derivatives
see other comments…

CGS  •  Link

A good account:
"...It was the month of May that the plaque was first notice of;..."
bills of mortality. 9, then 8 , then 9, then 3 then 14 then 17, then 43............
first week of June 43 to 112 then 168 then 470
pg 9.

Terrible voice in the city by Br. Thomas Vincent See Wikipedia…

Sjoerd  •  Link

For a Lecture (text & video) on the subject by Stephen Porter, Assistant Editor, Survey of London Section, English Heritage. Author of The Great Plague.


cgs  •  Link

notes from DeFoe at Guttenburg etexts

, whither, they say, it was brought (some said from
Italy, others from the Levant) among some goods which were
brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought
from Candia; others, from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence
it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.[4]......…

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Recipe for 'Plague Water' (1683)

Hannah Woolley.
The compleat servant-maid; or, The young maidens tutor.
London, 1683. @ pp. 42-3

The Surfett of plague watter: good aga[i]nst any infectionus; d[is]eases & to drive any thing from the hart; it is to be made in [M]ay or [J]une:

Ta[ke] sage: saladine: rosemary: wormwood: Balme: rosasoles: mugwort: pympernell: scabious: egrimonye: rue: mint: scordium: cardus: Betonye: Dragon: cowslips Flowers: marigolds Flowers: of each a larg[e] han[d]full: tormentell rootes: angelico: alycompane: pyonye: zyduiary: lycorich: of each one o[u]nce: & a Lettel safron: [shred] the herbs well & smale: alltog[e]ther & bru[i]se the roots: steepe them all in a gallon of whit[e] wine: or sake [sack]. Sa[ck] is better: for 2 days & 2 nights: stir[r]ing them once a day: putt them in a earthen pott: & bee sure to stop is close: you may ma[ke] 2 stillfull of th[i]s quantetie if you please: or else one: destill it in a ordinary still (1): ta[ke] of the first running one pint: of the second running one quart: of the Last one pint: which is the fittest for chillderinge: of the first 2 spoonfull will s[e]rve: of the second 4: of the Last for chilldren: 2 or 3 spoonefull: you may give it at any time: when you see o[c]catione: warme it a Lettel: & sweeten with sugar: when you use it: of with surrip of gilleFlours: or violetts: this is my Lady Shirleys: recipte…

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The plague did not reach Nottingham until 1667, and a most curious thing was noticed:

"Knob Yard and Vat Yard remind us that Narrow Marsh was at one time the tanners' quarters of Nottingham, for the "knobs" mentioned are the pieces of refuse which were cut from the hides and burnt, while the vats referred to are the tan-pits.

"The tanners in Nottingham must have been attracted to Nottingham for the proximity of Sherwood Forest with its many oaks would give them a plentiful supply of the oak bark necessary for their trade.

"Barker Gate (another way of saying Tanners' Street, as the ancient name for a tanner was a barker) is one of the oldest streets of Nottingham and it is thought the tanners settled there in order to be near the water of the little river Beck, which has now disappeared underground. ... Eventually the waters of the Beck were insufficient for their purpose, and so the trade migrated into Narrow Marsh, but it was not entirely confined to Narrow Marsh, for there were tan pits at the east end of St. Peter's Church yard, and a great house at the corner of Pepper Street and St. Peter's Church Walk is built upon the site of a tannery.

"In 1667 there were 100 master tanners in Nottingham ...

"Tanners Hall Court was a courtyard leading off Maltmill Lane, and in it was situated an old building called Tanners Hall. Apparently the tanners used it as their guildhall. ...

During the plague, which visited Nottingham about 1667, Tanners Hall was used for Assize purposes, for it was found that the stench and effluvia arising from the tanning process was an excellent disinfectant and the whole of the Marsh area seems to have been free from plague which was raging in the other parts of the town. So marked was this, that the more opulent citizens eagerly purchased or rented houses within the area in order to escape the terrible visitation which was going on elsewhere.

My question to you all: Was a similar "safe area" around tanneries noted anywhere else? Maybe this is a clue to the virus -vs- rat debate.

Lots more info at:…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I just found this story from the 1630's, I'm guessing:

"On one occasion in the House of Commons a packet was delivered to Pym; it contained the dressing of a plague sore, with the following letter: 'Mr. Pym, doe not think that a guard of men can protect you if you persist in your traitorous courses and wicked designs. I have sent a paper messenger to you and if this does not touch your heart a dagger shall, so soon as I am recovered of my plague sore. In the meantime you may be forborne because no better man be endangered for you. Repent, traitor.'

"The writer apparently kept his word, for not very long afterwards a person somewhat resembling Pym was stabbed in Westminster Hall by an assassin who escaped."

The Unibomber, 17th century style!…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Leviticus 14 – St. James Bible…

33And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
34When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession; 35And he that owneth the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house: 36Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in to see the house:37And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall; 38Then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days: 39And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house; 40Then the priest shall command that they take away the stones in which the plague is, and they shall cast them into an unclean place without the city: 41And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place: 42And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones; and he shall take other morter, and shall plaister the house.
43And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away the stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plaistered; 44Then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. 45And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the morter of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place. 46Moreover he that goeth into the house all the while that it is shut up shall be unclean until the even. 47And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes; and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes. 48And if the priest shall come in, and look upon it, and, behold, the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plaistered: then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. 49And he shall take to cleanse the house two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop: 50... 51... 52... 53... [all about killing birds and using cedar wood, etc.] 54This is the law for all manner of plague of leprosy, and scall,

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

It was inevitable at this time that someone would do a compilation of 1665 diary information, and I find this article "enjoyable" ... if a bit depressing. Hopefully our 2020 version won't deteriorate this far; I wonder if Pepys' stoicism was remarkable or normal; will I be able to do what must be done as well as these gents did? so many thoughts:…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

According to the article below, mithridate was the aspirin of the 17th century. It was prescribed for everything, and was on every apothecaries' shelf.

Andrew Marvell MP's father wrote a recipe for mithridate which he passed along to his son. On it in the poet Marvell's hand is a note that it was used during the 1665 outbreak of plague.

Sadly in 1678 the 57-year-old Andrew Marvell MP had the ague (what we now call malaria, and a mild form of which was rampant in London and southeast England).

People knew about the life-saving effects of quinine for the ague, but being a good Protestant, Marvell didn't want to take anything which had gone through Jesuit hands in South America. It is now proposed that he took his father's recipe for mithridate, which contained opium.

Andrew Marvell had written a poem during Cromwell's reign warning people about the dangers of opium, but that was 35 years ago, and presumably he had forgotten his own caution. He died "mysteriously", and his friends cried "MURDER!" But now historians think it was an accidental O.D. -- delivered by a recipe he inherited from his father.…

For mithridate see…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

My notes taken from the BBC's "EPIDEMIC The Great Plague", 4 episodes in the 2020 season.

In 1720 Marsailles gets the final epidemic of this kind of plague. The University there has current on-going investigations and experiments which show that body lice and human fleas spread it, not rats.
This accounts for why the London outbreak started inland in the parish of St. Giles, and not in the Port / Thames areas. Lice and fleas live in clothes. One is enough to infect a person, and it moves on within 24 hours.

The plague spread from St. Giles (northwest of the city walls) in the poor slum areas to other poor neighborhoods, all outside the walls. The rich people inside London Wall like Pepys had very few outbreaks of plague … hygene, and the vigorous beating of sheets and clothing killed them off.
Fleas also live in straw mattresses. Poor children slept in one bed. Poor people share these things, so if one flea was brought home, the entire family were doomed.
After death, the "Zorba the Greek" phenomenon often happens: the neighbors acquire the furniture … if they take the mattresses and/or the clothes, they spread the disease without ever seeing the original family.

The great bell of St. Giles-in-the-Field tolled 20 times a day at the height of the plague, so you could hear the approach of the contageon, which must have been terrifying, and helped to fuel the largest mass exodus from London which followed (so they said ... I suspect the WWII evacuations were bigger).

This first episode is available on YouTube, free:…

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

London’s dogs and cats were killed at the beginning of the plague outbreak in 1665. This might be surprising because, in 1484, Pope Innocent had empowered the Inquisition to burn all the cats -- and the cat lovers.

As a result of the drastic drop in the cat population, the number of rodents increased throughout Europe (and presumably also in the then-Catholic British Isles). Consequently, millions of rats carrying fleas infected with the bubonic plague spread the Black Death across Europe.

When the persecution of cats ended in the late 17th century, cats started hunting rats again, and Europeans experienced the advantage of having these natural hunters keep their towns more rodent free.

Pepys, Evelyn and Cosmo are silent about how true this was in London. I think the English had long ago re-embraced their cats, even if that was just a political statement against the Pope and Inquisition. Plus cats are periodically found in the walls of Tudor buildings, presumably left there to keep out the evil spirits.
Info from…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Unsurprisingly, researchers are now comparing Pepys' Diary with modern COVID diaries. An except from one report":

"Diaries written during the Great Plague are not so numerous. Of the few available, the most valuable is that of naval administrator Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), whose exceptionally detailed and candid journals form by far the most comprehensive firsthand account of plague-stricken London.

"I have been reading Pepys’s diaries alongside the modern COVID diaries, and have been struck by the common themes in how people navigated their pandemic experiences.

"Throughout the COVID pandemic, statistics of cases and deaths were everywhere, and were key to how we judged the impact of the virus. As diarist JF wrote on June 5 2020:
"'It was time to watch the Corona Virus update and I was shocked to find that over 40,000 people have now died from the disease in this country and it’s not over yet!'

"Relatively accurate information was also widely circulated in 17th-century London via the 'bills of mortality' – weekly lists of deaths according to cause and location. Pepys wrote on September 7 1665:
"'Sent for the Weekely Bill and find 8252 dead in all, and of them, 6978 of the plague - which is a most dreadful Number - and shows reason to fear that the plague hath got that hold that it will yet continue among us.'

"All of the modern and historical diaries I have looked at include these statistics – some sparingly, others with meticulous regularity. As cases rose, restrictions were enforced and the effects of plague and COVID loomed large in the lives of our diarists, narratives shifted to confusion and blame. Pepys was largely sympathetic to the government’s handling of the plague and, in February 1666, criticised those who flouted the rules and endangered others:
"'In the heighth of it, how bold people there were to go in sport to one another’s burials. And in spite to well people, would breathe in the faces … of well people going by.'

"COVID diarists reacted to those who didn’t follow guidelines in a very similar way, as DR wrote in March 2020:
"'Not everyone is playing it very well, though, with panic-buying, one last night at the pub and a mass exodus to the coast. Stupid and selfish in equal measure.'

"The response and actions of the UK government, and individual members of parliament, also afforded much attention. An anonymous diarist wrote in May 2020:
"'People are being allowed out more but the illness is still out there & there’s no treatment or vaccine yet … There are fewer deaths because of social distancing. If they let everyone get on with the ‘new normal’ surely more people will get sick?'

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


"A more optimistic theme to emerge in the diaries was the ability to find positivity amid the chaos. Pepys and modern diarists were thankful for the blessings of health, family and security. They praised those who went the extra mile to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on those around them, despite the risk to their own health. An entry from New Year’s Eve in 1665 reads:
"'My whole family hath been well all this while, and all my friends I know of, saving my aunt Bell, who is dead, and some children of my cozen Sarah’s, of the plague … yet, to our great joy, the town fills apace, and shops begin to open again. Pray God continue the plague’s decrease!'

"DW’s diary from April 2020 expressed appreciation for time out in nature, as well as sympathy for others living in more difficult situations:
"'It was lovely walking through the wood. The air was filled with birdsong. It made me realise how lucky I am to live in a village where I can walk from my front door into fields and woods along defined paths. It must be awful to live ten floors up in a high rise block with two children, and not be allowed out except for once per day.'

"Comparing COVID with historical events such as plague, the Spanish flu epidemic and the second world war was a core element of the pandemic narrative, and for good reason. History connects.

"It is easy to look around us and see the vast differences between the world we live in now, and that which Pepys traversed almost 400 years ago. But by exploring the innermost thoughts of people with an element of shared experience, we see that fundamental aspects of the human condition endure. When faced with uncertainty and upheaval, our instincts are to record, find answers, and reclaim joy."…

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.


Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.