The English Sweating Sickness is a bit of a mystery. It swept through the upper class of England, leaving most, though not all, victims dead within 24 hours of contracting the sickness, and then simply disappeared, and hasn’t been seen since. It is unclear what the disease was or where it came from, but accounts of it sound horrific, and the people that passed away from it died very uncomfortable deaths.
This sickness terrified the upper classes, sending them scattering from court. It affected mostly the upper class. Notable people suffered from the disease in Henry VIII’s court, most of them dying, like William Carey for example (the husband of Mary Boleyn, Queen Anne’s sister and Henry VIII’s previous mistress). However, there were cases of people surviving it, as well. Anne Boleyn and her father, Thomas, both survived the English Sweating Sickness. The disease started with symptoms such as aches, throwing up, fever, and abdominal pain. It was also noted to come with a “sense of apprehension.” After that, the chills would start, but didn’t last long, and then it led into the sweating. The sweating was so intense that it became the main thing associated with the disease, therefore the disease was called “The Sweate.” The sufferer would get very, very weak and would start experiencing the feeling of not being able to catch their breath. They would also experience chest pains and palpitations of the heart, before death eventually took them.
Outbreaks of this spread throughout Europe, but primarily stayed in England. There were outbreaks in 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528, and 1551. After the last outbreak, it simply disappeared entirely. Researchers today are not entirely sure what the Sweating Sickness was, and many believe it was a type of disease similar to hantavirus, which is contracted by breathing in certain rodents’ urine. However, that disease is not spread person to person, which the Sweating Sickness was. There is also another clue to the Sweat not being hantavirus. Hantavirus is native to the Americas, and the first outbreak happened in 1485, before there was contact between the continents. If it had been brought back to Europe from the Americas, the first outbreak would have been brought back in 1492, seven years after the first outbreak actually happened.
Henry VIII was terrified of diseases, and when the Sweat broke out, he used religion to calm himself. Anne Boleyn returned to Hever Castle, her childhood home, and we know today that she suffered from the Sweating Sickness because of the letters Henry wrote to her while he was still trying to woo her and break away from the Catholic church. He said in the letter that he would, “gladly bear half of [her] illness to make [her] well.” Henry sent his best doctor, William Butts, to Hever to take care of her. When Anne survived the deadly disease, he was awarded the job of Royal Physician.
Though the disease didn’t kill literally everyone it attacked, it was the cause of many, many deaths, leaving most of them dead within 24 hours. With its sudden disappearance, and because nobody knows where exactly it came from, or what it was, it will probably remain a mystery forever, unless they dig up some of the graves of the people who lost their lives to, which they have no plans of doing.
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