Did Anne Boleyn get sweating sickness?

Mar22,2019 #sweating sickness

I’m back with my latest instalment in the “Questions about Anne Boleyn” series of videos.

Sweating sickness was a strange illness which affected England in five outbreaks between 1485 and 1551. It caused panic because of just how fast it could kill.

In Showtime’s “The Tudors”, we see Anne Boleyn, played by Natalie Dormer, coming down with sweating sickness and managing to fight it off, while others, such as the king’s good friend William Compton, are not so lucky.

But is this true? Did Anne Boleyn really get sweating sickness and, if so, what happened?

Let me tell you all about it in this video…

And here is my one on sweating sickness:

Do check out the other videos in the “Questions about Anne Boleyn” series too – you can find them in a playlist here.

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9 thoughts on “Did Anne Boleyn get sweating sickness?”
  1. I find Sweating Sickness absolutely terrifying. The plague is scary enough but we know where it started, how it spreads and can see it under a microscope. Sweating Sickness appears, does it’s business very quickly and leaves with no apparent rhyme or reason. If it could be positively identified I don’t think it would be quite so frightening.

    Excellent video Claire. I watched it a couple of years ago on YouTube and enjoyed seeing it again.

    1. Hantavirus has similar symptoms and survival rates.
      It is caused by inhaling the dust of a rat/mouse nest, urine, feces
      In conditions where rodents thrive humans are more likely to come in contact with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is rare in the USA. Most people don’t come into direct contact with the most common carrier which in the USA is the deer mouse. And, even if they do not all deer mice are carriers.

      Some have speculated that The sweating sickness was a strain of Hantavirus.

      (cotton and rice rats, and deer mice are known carriers)

      1. I hadn’t heard that comparison to Hantavirus before. Certainly sounds plausable when you consider the conditions in whichpeople lived back then being so close to animals that carried it. Just as terrifying. Thank you for that insight.

  2. Sweating sickness was particurlaly terrifying for the English as the video explains, it killed swiftly, it was mysterious and deadly and we are no more knowledgable about it today than our ancestors, there have been a number of theories could it have been a strain of the flu? Certainly the symptoms are similar, blinding headaches and muscle cramps, sweating as to where it got its name, but flu rarely kills young people like it can the old and weak, people died of the sweat in their thousands and it was no respector of persons, the rich and poor both suffered, Henry V111 was terrified of it but maybe it was the fear of leaving his kingdom with a young girl at its helm than the sickness itself, it sped at an alarming speed but we know flu is highly contagious in itself and one sneeze can send hundreds of droplets through the air carrying the deadly virus and infecting many, the infection lingers on an item for some time ready to strike at some person who then touches it, in our modern world it is so easy to catch a virus by commuting, mingling in the pub shopping etc, and it was no different in the 16th c at court where there were hoards of people the sweat was in its element, one can imagine the panic, recent studies have shown that viruses are airborne, which explains the Black Death its deadly sister, which ravaged most of Europe and eventually found its way to our little island, there was no antidote no medicine that could save the unfortunate victim and as the death toll rose, hundreds were buried in communal graves dug hastily to accomadate them, the sweat appeared and vanished just as quickly and it seemed to only affect English people, there were some foreigners who were affected, but not so much and they certainly never died from it, because of that I believe it was an illness brought over from the continent, the English had no resistance and only the very stronger ones survived, Anne Boleyn and her father and brother were very fortunate, it was said however if you got it and survived then you had built up a resistance to it, so if you caught it again the symptoms would not be as great, again it is like the cold and flu viruses, however we know the flu does mutate, maybe over time the sweat would have mutated, it claimed many victims including the two young sons of the Duchess of Suffolk one barely an hour after the other, Mary Boleyns husband William Cary died, leaving her worried for her future and her two children, the King on hearing his beloved had caught it became frantic with worry, and as the video shows, we can see his anxiety in the hastily penned letter he wrote her, he must have harangued his physician Dr. Butts as he stood in the courtyard waiting to board his carriage or horse, not to appear at court until she was safe and well, Butts must have been terrified of his kings fury if she were to die, he must have prayed over and over on the long journey to Kent, for if Anne Boleyn did not survive the doctor would surely be blamed, the care of a victim of the sweat was to retire to bed, and be covered with plenty of blankets, the windows closed as fresh air was dangerous and to sip the awful concoctions that were given you, to lie in bed on a hot day covered in blankets and sweating profusely must have been intolerable for the victims, and it that were me I would have thrown of the covers and had all the windows opened, if I were to die then I would wish my last hours to be as comfortable as possible, as we know Anne survived as did George and her father, fortune had chosen for Anne a brilliant future, had she died like thousands of her contemporaries in the quiet seclusion of Hever Castle, then she would have been consigned to history as merely the girl who caught the eye of King Henry V111, she died tragically young and the King was heartbroken but he eventually recovered, and we can only speculate as to what would have happened to Katherine of Aragon, Anne as she recovered must have felt she had God on her side, in early times plague and illness, poor harvest etc were seen as a sign of the almightys displeasure, did he not wreck vengeance on the world with the flood that Noah built the ark for?, no doubt he had sent the sweat as a sign he was displeased with England’s King for his treatment of his true queen, Anne however, must have believed she was destined for greatness as she arose from her bed and thanked God for preserving her life, clearly he had sent his angels to guard over her so she could become queen of this realm and give her a longed for prince.

  3. Yes, Anne. George and Thomas Boleyn got the sweat but not when they did in the Tudors which set the event during the 1518 outbreak not the 1528 outbreak which was when Henry wrote frantically to Anne and sent his doctor to her. Henry fled with many others to the country with his wife and daughter and the Boleyn family were split up, sorry haven’t watched the video as have been at the hospital all day with Steve and his opp and just got the email, but one went with the King and can’t remember which. Anne was at Hever, so was Thomas I think. Henry wrote passionate and desperate letters of love which are stained with tears on the original letters. The sweat was frightening, you could catch it in the morning and be dead in hours, there was no cure, you made it or you didn’t. The young were particularly susceptible to it and thousands died in London alone. Although the last official outbreak is often recorded as being 1551, there are similar cases for the remainder of history, although they may not have been epidemic. There is the video on What Is the Sweating Sickness which outlines several diseases that are similar to the sweat up to the nineteenth century. It was a horrible and dangerous disease, although people did survive and the population became immune as a result. The Duke of Norfolk survived, as did Cardinal Wolsey. The Tudors may have mixed the two outbreaks but the reality of the sweat and the fear it instilled in everyone, Henry in particular. Fires burn in the city as people flee and the dead are brought out. The servants dropping at the feet of the King and his exile from everyone and nightmares are very realistic and poignant. The smell of vinegar fills the London air to warn and to disinfect. Smoke is used to cleanse and protect everywhere in the palace. The dead are buried or burnt in haste and their bedding and clothing burned as well. The empty seats of the fallen courtiers at the memorial service, their place marked by their garter badge or office chain as you know there sat a knight just weeks earlier, was very moving as music remembered them. Sir William Crompton and William Carey were among those taken, the latter leaving Mary Boleyn as a widow with two small children. It was a true portrayal of the sweat, even if it did put the 1518 and 1528 events together. Yes, Anne did have the sweat in 1528 and Henry sent his doctor to care for her.

  4. Thanks Christine, we were there at 7.30, he was meant to be first on the list, but got moved down so he wasn’t done until 1 p.m, then he had a catheter and we had to wait, then he had to go to the loo before he can go home, so it was six before we could leave. We got home about seven. We were quite tired but he is fine. He has a pair of beautiful black surgical socks which have to stay on until tonight. Anyway we are going to our local Church for some beautiful cakes and tea at 2p.m.

    Thanks for asking. Hopefully his water works will get back to normal now. It was the side affects of the radium therapy.

  5. The video is very harrowing because it clearly shows just how devastating this terrible and frightening disease was and how dangerous it was. Henry was terrified that he might lose the woman he loved, many of his friends, relatives (the Marquis of Dorset and Gertrude Courtney were his cousins) the members of his Privy Chamber, either died or became very sick and we hear of children and people dying in the streets. The letters Henry wrote to Anne are beautiful and they are heart wrenching. It really annoys me when I hear people say he didn’t love anyone but himself. Of course he did, but it went badly wrong and Henry was scarred and changed by the long years of a bitter divorce and a number of brain injuries as well as the power he was forced to take in order to marry Anne, the path to putting her on the throne was his Supremacy. Love turned to hate during their last year of marriage, without any real logical explanation, historical or any real insight from the various fields of medicine and science and Henry fatally ordered the trial and execution of a woman he had passionately loved, on scantily gathered evidence of incest, adultery and treason.

    Henry’s passion comes through in his letters to Anne and the extremes he went to marry and process her body, mind, soul and heart. Anne was his dearest sweetheart in 1528 and they had a future mapping out before them, the Pope was sending his special representative to try the annulment case in England and Anne and Henry hoped to be man and wife soon afterwards. Now in June 1528 he faced the terrible reality of life without her and he couldn’t live without her. He was terrified of the disease but was even more frightened of losing his beloved Anne. The letters show his fear and distress, his alarm and panic, his heartbreak and his love for Anne. There are actually tears on the paper. There are ink blots and stains. This was not just a King but a man in love, in a panic and desperate because he believed he could lose the woman who would become his wife and if the Lord blessed them, the mother of his sons. Henry didn’t have the benefit of hindsight, 500 years afterwards, he only lived in that moment and he only felt in that moment, he only loved and felt terror and grief in that moment. His letter fears for Anne’s life, but because others have survived, including her own brother, who had gone with the Court, he expressed hope that all will be well with Anne.

    Thank you, Claire, for this lovely video and for sharing those beautiful pictures of the love letters in your magnificent book. Very kind of you.

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