The English Sweating Sickness

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

By Susan Abernathy

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 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 Mary Boleyn’ sister and King Henry VIII’s great love 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 in England after it was last seen in 1578.

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