What was sweating sickness?

Sweating Sickness was a serious illness which appeared at different intervals during Tudor times and which claimed many lives. This illness, known also as the "English Sweate" affected England first, and then spread into Europe, with a series of epidemics between 1485 and 1551. It is not known exactly what caused it or even what it was because it disappeared entirely after 1578.

Symptoms of sweating sickness included "a sense of apprehension", shivers, dizziness, headaches, pain in the arms, legs, shoulders and neck, and fatigue or exhaustion. The illness had different stages - the cold shivery stage followed by the hot sweating stage. It could kill in hours.

Possible causes - There are various theories as to what caused the sweating sickness including poor hygiene, "relaspsing fever" ( a disease spread by lice and ticks) and hantavirus. None of these theories really relate 100% to sweating sickness though.

Interestingly, sweating sickness seemed to be more virulent among the higher classes. Some believe that it may have been sweating sickness which claimed the life of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother, and others thought to have suffered from it include Anne Boleyn, William Carey (husband of Mary Boleyn), who died from it, and many members of Henry's court.


139 thoughts on “What was sweating sickness?”

  1. Cookie says:

    Does the sweating sickness still exist today?

    1. Bruno Thor says:

      My reading on the subject indicates it does not exist today. As we do not know with certainty what caused it and it not persist after 1578 (that we are aware of), it seems unlikely that it is around today. We have plenty of newer plagues and diseases to worry about today, especially if one is around hospitals frequently.

      I have not read everything about this mysterious illness and I could be completely wrong in my response to the question. I asked my doctor if there was a cause found and he replied “no.”

    2. Forgiven says:

      Didn’t you read? It says in the first paragraph, “it disappeared entirely after 1578.”

      1. Alan Hoyle says:

        Indeed it does say it disappeared entirely after 1578. However, since it also says that we do not know for sure what the disease was exactly, how can one be sure that it disappeared? Maybe it died back & returned a few decades later – who knows? All we can be sure of is that the name of the disease disappeared.

        1. Claire says:

          No, it’s not the name of the disease that disappeared, it’s the disease that fitted that description, those symptoms etc. which disappeared.

      2. Vickie says:

        Snarky much?

    3. Lana says:

      Reading the posts as I binge watch “The Tudors” got to wondering if the fur embelleshed robes, coats, blankets, etc. of the upper class might have been home to some creature from any number of animals ?

      [Bacterial infections] will create high spiking fevers as I know from experience. And in 1981 the mystery of why I got sick was never solved. This infection also created a heart valve infection. I was tested again & again for possible causes including Lyme Desease & Parvo. A coctail of antibotics finially clear this up.

      Hopefully, today’s DNA retains memory of their desease to protect modern society.

      1. Nicole says:

        Out of interest, have a look at Q fever caused by bacterium Coxiella bernetti (from tick bite). Heart valve injuries may also occur.

  2. HollyDolly says:

    I don’t know if the sweating sickness is still around.It might, but the name has probably changed.
    I really don’t now much on how clean and hygenic upperclass homes were.
    Maybe because the home of the average poor person or maybe middle class wasn’t that clean, the people ,the average man and woman might have had some sort of ammunity to the diease.
    If I remember from science, when the first vaccine for small pox came out, it was noted that dairy maids and those who seemd to work around cattle didn’t get small pox.They got a milder form called cow pox, and it was from this that the small pox vaccine came about,but don’t hold me to it.
    Been a long time since I studied this in school.

    1. Nicole says:

      I remember reading when I was growing up how the North Americans tried to get the English/Europeans to bathe more often because they stunk. So maybe your theory is accurate. Maybe the upper class were more clean/more immune.

      1. Jen says:

        The sweaty sickness was more virulent within the higher classes…not necessarily the poor, which undermines the theory of hygiene in the lower classes…at least in this case. and NO…it is not classified under any other illness. It completely and mysteriously disappeared after 1578, just as it mysteriously appeared in Henry VII’s reign. No one really knows what it was…so no one can really answer if it could reemerge in the present or future. Heaven help us if it does.

        1. Laura says:

          Heaven help us, indeed. We may have to begin slicing open backs to rid us of this foul disease

      2. Pete says:

        That would be the people of the Indian continent made the English wash as they stank and only bathed twice a year. The word shampoo is an Indian word, however it isn’t an American word. Dumb arrogant yank trying to rewrite history again.

        1. Jeffrey says:

          Nice. Such a brilliant correction of the “dumb arrogant Yank” made small minded by the childish remark at the end,

        2. Agee says:

          This Yank is wondering about people on this supposed “Indian continent,” considering it’s been 20 million years or so since India was its own continent. Guess I’m just a dumb, ignorant Yank.

      3. Deinse215 says:

        BUT, Nicole the “sweating sickness” struck the UPPER CLASS mostly, meaning the cleaner, healthier people, so your comment is ridiculous!!!

        1. Lisa says:

          “upper class” people didn’t bathe either, so no, they weren’t cleaner.

        2. Elizabeth says:

          Deinse215, the lower classes were far more exposed to viruses and bacterium than the upper classes, which meant they developed better immunity. And the “cleanliness” isn’t about bathing, but hygiene in terms of waste disposal and mere handwashing. Typhoid Mary, for example, was spreading it because she was wiping her bum and then cooking.
          Claire, could you just give Dense-y the heave-ho? She really is an offensive lout with a trash mouth and driving decent people away, such as the virologist who would have no reason to lie about her position. We Canadians are so tired of being mistaken for her ilk. Dense-y, you really are the reason why people name-call about Americans. This site is geared toward intelligent, open-minded autodidacts.

      4. Jo Sieber says:

        the French are the worst even now about bathing. the upper classes were not much cleaner maybe changed their clothes little more often

  3. David says:

    Has anyone asked someone in the medical field of today what their take on this would have been?? I think it was a form of Flu….like many of the heavy duty flu’s that have covered the globe today or maybe even Limes diease which can be caught from animals like deer and spread I believe from one person to another. The only thing that really throws me is like Claire mentioned, some and probably most died within hours of acquiring the bug…?
    That is one harsh strong illness and Anne should have thanked her lucky stars that she did not become a victim. Am I correct that Cardinal Wolsey also acquired this sickness??
    Poor Mary Boleyn, she just gets her problems solved and marries William Carey, how perfect for Henry, than a bug kills her husband. Poor woman could not win for loosing!

    1. Bonnie says:

      Lyme disease is not person-to-person transmissible. Your flu theory is as plausible as any. – From a pediatrician

      1. Momof3 says:

        I am a virologist and it is unlikely that it was flu because it never affected infants who are highly susceptible to the flu. I am also highly doubtful it was hantavirus, even though that is a popular theory. Although hantavirus has in some cases spread person to person, it spreads to much less than one person per infected individual. The sweating sickness spread to an estimated 10 people or more. That is much higher than the flu. Another interesting factor was that exercise during and after the period of apprehension helped people to survive. That could work for the flu theory because you recover much faster if you keep active, but that would be the opposite of the case with rapid blood borne diseases.

        1. Drew Palmer says:

          Please reconsider your field of study. Most of your comments are factually inaccurate.

        2. Deinse215 says:

          I do not believe you are as educated as you’re pretending to be, because your facts are wrong.

        3. Casak says:

          No. Just, no. You’re factually incorrect about literally everything. And also, the exercise did not help. It was as useful as the lineaments and bleeding. A virologist wouldn’t depend on a tv show for accuracy.

          You’re information on H.v is bordering on criminally incorrect.

    2. Omaira says:

      yes Cardinal Wolsey fell ill of it the same time as Anne, and almost half, maybe more, of Henry’s court, fell ill, if not died from it. It was also more lethal in London, and Henry thought the countryside to be safer. As for Mary Boleyn though…she was married before she became Henry’s mistress- in January 1520. but yes, she was really unlucky until it turned out how much luckier she was than her siblings

      1. Charlene says:

        We don’t know that she was married before she became his mistress. Our absolute entire knowledge of their affair is that they had sex at least once. That’s all we know for certain.

        Everything else is conjecture and extrapolation.

    3. Ebony says:

      Remember the scene where they put live birds in the pastry? That was typical of an upperclass meal. I’m wondering if maybe the fact that they are things tainted by live birds and other animals without proper cleaning (bird poo) that may be the reasoning why it was more common among the upper class

      1. What ever it was the symptoms were like Hepatitis,
        These are things that happen with high liver toxicity, and people die fast because the liver can not handle certain toxins and the body get poisoned.

        1. Casak says:

          Not even a little. One literally became ill and died in one day. That is not possible wit hep.

    4. Jessica says:

      Anne bolyn wasnt lucky lol She ended up being imprisoned and beheaded. Im sure the fever lost its strength with the time due to the hygiene methods. Maybe it was in the water nothing was filtered. Most likely since we all get vaccines now and days our immune systems are stronger kill off what ever it was

    5. Casak says:

      Of course they’ve asked. The article is literally what the experts believe.

    6. Shannon says:

      H1N1 could kill in hours and struck down the men and women in their prime due to cytokine storm in the lung tissue.

      After two seasons of being virulent, it mutated into a less deadly form. The sweat, if a virus, may have followed the same evolutionary trajectory and mutated into a milder disease.

  4. Megan says:

    A new hypothesis (well, 1997ish–if you can call that new) is that the sweating sickness was actually hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that was found in the American southwest in 1993 and is spread by (surprise!) rodents. Reports indicated that if you survived the first 24 hours then you would be fine, but the illness typically killed within a few hours of the first symptoms.
    You can read a brief article on it here: http://discovermagazine.com/1997/jun/thesweatingsickn1161

    1. Deinse215 says:

      Interesting! Thanks for the link!

  5. jenn says:

    no, this was NOT the flu, and it didnt completely resemble any other sicknesses, it hit the healthy the worst, and it appeared and dissapeared so rappidly…

    its not around today, and there are scientists who have thought about digging up a duke who died of this disease, but they say this type of genetic material is unstable and may not have survived..

    this sickness is a mystery…

  6. Jessica Clements says:

    The “sweating sickness” also called the “english sweate” is now believed to be a hanavirus., such as the hanavirus pulmonary syndrome. The symptoms of the two diseases are extremely similar.

  7. bobbi burns says:

    Considering that England had during that time, many moats and ponds of still water, why not from mosquitoes? And what viruses do them bugs carry?
    England got it the worst and first.
    It also has the most in the way of castles and swamps and bogs
    It would affect the nobility because they did basically nothing in physical activity and would affect the farmers the least because they worked continuously not allowing skeeters to land on them and draw blood.
    The disease may have disappeared entirely because farming practices changed over the course of time and swamps got filled in.

    I caught the h1n1 flu and I did not sweat. I just had trouble breathing and coughed up my liver and other guts. But that was a 9 day virus(with no drugs) and it is gone.

    I guess we will always speculate on what it was, since the invention of soap and chlorine that means today is not then.

  8. charlie says:

    it unlikely to be malaria as they would have looked at it as they have compared the sweat to every known illness also the poor would have been affected if it was as mosquito’s like the smell of sweat and the rich used a herb bag that naturally repelled them as I have a mix recipe of it from the 1400, I wonder if it was a type of poisoning as castles were built may have disturbed some natural element and contaminated the castles water supply and the poor only had the river really for water or maybe infected meat or fruit that the rich always had imported in from other countries. it only became apparent when the French arrived in England and didn’t last long after the Tudor dynasty is a bit well odd

    1. Momof3 says:

      Poisoning does not spread from person to person.

  9. irina says:

    The hantavirus epidemic in southwestern US correlated with certain natural factors. If I remember, there was an abundance of pinon pinenuts which caused an upswing in the white footed mouse population. The rodents increasingly encroached on human populations. I beieve the virus is spread through disturbed dust from rodent droppings. (A friend of mine got a less severe form of it sweeping up mouse droppings in a shed in the Pacific northwest.) Also plague epidemics were found to occur in drought years. There was something about the gut of the flea becoming blocked so they spit when they bit. I can’t see how fleas could suffer from drought. Didn’t the sweating sickness happen in spring as well as summer?

    1. Pauline says:

      I was nursing in Arizona during the outbreak of hantavirus. It was spread by the dust which was carrying the feces of the White mouse…..it was a very dry year. I can’t think of any circumstances that would be similar in UK during Tuder times. I have for many years thought it was a strange strain of flu which come and disappear.
      Just my idea.

    2. Natalie says:

      Not necessarily poison, but if you or 20 others eat per say some mushrooms which were sold at an country side , like the open markets in London and they were toxic, a persons liver if the toxicity could kill you within hours or days depending how strong your liver was.
      Any of you that have had food poisoning know how horribly the pain is, and in most cases without treatment you will dye quickly especially if you have ingested a lot.
      The symptoms are very similar to the sweating sucking.

  10. raven says:

    Last I knew, the hantavirous made your organs liquify and leak out your body. So I very much doubt it was that!

    1. Harold says:

      I think you’re thinking of ebola.

      1. Pauline says:

        For sure!

  11. Travis says:

    Why hasn’t H1N1 been brought up as a possibility? Swine flu is extremely virulent, is mostly fatal to overactive immune systems (ie: those between the ages of 20 and 35) and happens very fast.

    I’m just throwing this out there because someone I worked with died during the epidemic a few years back and I almost died myself. My entire household caught it within 2 days of each other.

    1. ladylayne says:

      Someone did bring up H1N1. It might be good for people to read what others wrote before they blog.

      1. Deinse215 says:

        don’t be such a b***h

        1. Claire says:

          Can we keep things polite, please, name-calling is not acceptable. Thanks.

      2. Pauline says:


  12. Baroness Von Reis says:

    All I have to say is, I’m sure it ‘s a IIlness that you don’t ever want to get! Baroness x

  13. Father Barry says:

    It seems to me that no one here has considered that the cause for this disease is not a virus but in fact the direct hand of God dealing out his righteous judgement against the sinful and the wicked.

    1. nicole says:

      No it was just a random epidemic that plights mankind same as it does today. James 1:13

    2. JAE says:

      Seriously? Does anyone really believe this nonsense?! If God can deal out “righteous judgement”, why are murderers, rapists, pedophiles and worse not dropping like flies? There is no God. There is only man and his desire for wealth, power and social control that endlessly lead us to war and death – too often in the name of God.

      How can educated intellectually advanced individuals actually believe in such a thing as a judgemental all-knowing and powerful God? God makes no rational sense. In another 2500 years, perhaps mankind will look back at Christianity as we currently view ancient Pagan religions. And hopefully we won’t be fighting and killing in the name of some new “true” God!

      1. Natalie says:

        I will pray for to have faith mostly in yourself but that is your life. We are talking medical not religion . Please refrain to the opinions related to the subject.
        Thank you for your consideration.

    3. Deinse215 says:

      So, where is this “HAND OF GOD” when three year olds are being force fed c@@ks? Your comment is superstitious, self serving B@LLSH#T

      1. Claire says:

        Deinse215, I agree with your sentiments but please can we keep things polite.

    4. Jessica says:

      If you’re a religious I can see why you would think god did this or simple bad karma since the king went against the church however i believe in god myself and know god wouldnt plague inncocent people cause of Henry the 8 they said thousands died at times. I highly doubt god would do that. I do believe it was hygiene lack of knowledge in the medical field. They also didn’t have vaccines like we do now antibiotics to treat infections. Very high fever causes delirium so It was a infection or virus/flu. Weak immune systems had a big part since some people actually survived it.

    5. M Fergus says:

      Children died of this illness. I would rather stick to science. I do not believe God passed ‘righteous judgment’ on innocent children.

    6. Hannah Burridge says:

      Oh yes, because infants are so wicked and so should be punished by the sweating sickness…what is god? A child himself it seems.

  14. Danielle says:

    I refuse to believe that if there is a God, he is the vengeful, vindictive God suggested. As it was prevalent amongst the aristocracy, were only the wealthy wicked? Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t believe God has had a “tangible” presence since the old testament. Please don’t list miracles and whatnot as evidence as they are based on Man’s assessment and faith. If you want to believe in such a malevolent God, this is your right and your choice. I do not find it very charitable or Christian.

    1. Shelly says:

      Perhaps you should read the old testament and see for yourself how malevolent God was and come up with your own assessment.Like it or not God is a God of Judgement and has not disappeared like the sweating sickness plague. When your finished with the old testament maybe try reading the new testament where you will find his tangible presence. I know I did.

      1. tatty by by says:

        Well the old testament one is the god of the Hebrews – the evil, vindictive and downright nasty one.
        The new testament one is the god of the Christians, Jesus Christ, a god of love and forgiveness.
        They are not the same god at all.

        1. rachelle says:

          I am a devout Christian and can tell you that God is God. Sending his son did bring about forgiveness of ones sins and the prospect of being saved, because God, Old or New, loves us so much. BTW, have you read the last chapter of the New Testament? Revelations?

        2. Polly says:

          What a nasty anti-semitic thing to say. The last time I checked the God of Christians Jesus Christ was a Jew and all of his teachings are based on the old Testament Jesus was a “good Jew”. They are all the same God, Jesus is considered a prophet Under Judaism, he was one of many. Even under Christianity he is not God although there conflation of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit/Ghost and is usually referred to as the son of God. If you think the Hebrew God is a mean and nasty one then I am sure, your “Christ” would share tears at your ignorance.

        3. J says:

          tatty, you lovely genius, Jews and Christians do believe in the same god, so your comment is entirely ignorant and incorrect.

          Furthermore, if Danielle wants to preach about being Christian, why does she disavow the supposed miracles? The reality is if there is a god, it has no interest in you or your beliefs. You aren’t important enough.

      2. Deinse215 says:

        Well since, in the Old Testament, God tells slaves to be good and obedient, even if their masters are abusive…… why has this “HAND OF GOD” not struck down those who helped slaves escape? Why has this “HAND OF GOD” not struck down those who repeatedly rape tiny children, or have sex with the same sex partners… since the Old Testament says these things are abhorrent to God, and He supposedly destroyed cities for it?
        It seems to me that this, “HAND OF GOD” is something superstitious people cling to.

  15. Bryan J. says:

    I have done extensive research on diseases of the time periods between the 13th through the 17th centuries and “The Sweat” as they called it has boggled me, and apparently everyone else since it disappeared in the late 1500’s. However I do have a theory and please feel free to give me your feed back.
    First; the disease originated in England which everyone knows is a place of many swamps, bogs etc. and a wet climate. Mosquito’s flourish in these environments and in my opinion would be the carrier of this mysterious disease. I say this because the symptoms, however more severe, are very similar to that of malaria, which has claimed it’s share of lives itself. And the fact that the sickness appeared to be seasonal; cases and deaths seemed to start in late spring and end in late fall or around October, back up my theory. This would also account for people believing that it was being spread from person to person when in fact it may have been from being bitten by the same batch of mosquito’s as it appeared to happen to groups of people in the same areas. This theory makes the most sense to me the question is, if the insects remained there which as we all know mosquito’s come back every year; how could it have just disappeared?
    Very mysterious indeed, we may never know what this illness was and I hope we never do. If we did that most likely would mean it has returned and that, is a very scary thought!

  16. woody says:

    i have been following comments on this subject and wondered when someone would bring god into it.It is clear a huge number of people died of this sickness but nowhere near as many as those killed in the name of one god or another.maleria,cancer,typhoid,smallpox,STICK RELIGION ON THE LIST.

  17. Tony says:

    The symptoms are well recorded and no modern medical examiner has been able to identify the bug. Lack of Hygene and water purity and other common social aspects have all been looked at though nothing seems to fit the bill fully. What seems unique is the speed of killing. literally within a day or sometimes within hours of symptoms first showing. Then of course the mystery of its disappearance. Nothing we have today either natural or human made, acts that fast. Add to that the fact that some survivors caught it several times. I have never heard of a disease that did not leave its victims with a high degree of immunity. Having it once and surviving did not make you safe. I bet modern developers of biological warfair would slay to know what it was and add it to their arsenal.


    1. Janet says:

      Not quite true. Malaria does not infect you once and then leave you immune. Neither does the flu or pneumonia. I’m sure there are many others.

      1. Panavar says:

        Using flu/cold as an a example of an illness you don’t gain an immunity to is invalid because these two viruses mutate at a phenomenol rate. At any given time there are 100’s of different strains of cold & flu virus so every time you develop a could or flu it is because you have come into contact with a different mutation of the virus. When you come into contact with a strain you have previously encountered you do not become I’ll because are immune to that particular strain.

        1. MissKarma says:

          Most sane thing said here

    2. Sandra says:

      When cholera epidemics broke out people often died within hours of becoming sick. They were so badly dehydrated so quickly that they died. It wiped out entire families in England and the U.S. but cholera still exists. Its origins were hard to track down and a fascinating book to read about it is Steven Johnson’s “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.” Fascinating look into the hunt for the origin of an epidemic and the ones who discovered it.

      Maybe whatever microbe caused the sweating sickness had its own natural predator among the too-small-to-see “germs” and it was wiped out that way. Whatever it was that caused it had a fairly short run.

  18. Bob says:

    Interesting reference — The Epidemics of the Middle Ages
    By Justus Friedrich Carl Hecker-pgs 164-345–available free via google books —
    Most ” Flu’s” start with headache malaise then fever, defense mechanisms, that usually “breaks with a profuse sweating”. But, on occasion internal temperatures reach a point to cause significant damage to internal organs and processes, encephalitis potential brain stem damage, brain herniation…Curious is the outbreaks in London among the more affluent during the summers. What would have this group gathered at that less affluent would not have – religious ceremonies, educational, business, parties, — and what food and drink would they have access to that others may not have???
    Was there a difference with the religious ceremonies practiced between London and Scotland and parts of Europe during this time??

    Thank you for an opportunity to participate

  19. Audrey says:

    I read that this disease died out ( that sounds suspicious to me-not morphed, but died out) in the late 1500’s. Since it was pretty much confined to the nobility, it makes me consider a poison, a bad wine batch-a spice or food not allowed to the common people. Possible accidental or deliberate ingesting of a toxin. I can’t claim to be a doctor or anything like that, but it does seem that poison of some sort has had a long and illustrious place in the nobilities’ lives, or deaths. Just an idea.

    1. Sandra says:

      When cholera epidemics broke out people often died within hours of becoming sick. They were so badly dehydrated so quickly that they died. It wiped out entire families in England and the U.S. but cholera still exists. Its origins were hard to track down and a fascinating book to read about it is Steven Johnson’s “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.” Fascinating look into the hunt for the origin of an epidemic and the ones who discovered it.

      Maybe whatever microbe caused the sweating sickness had its own natural predator among the too-small-to-see “germs” and it was wiped out that way. Whatever it was that caused it had a fairly short run.

      I wonder how accurate it is that it only or mostly hit the nobility because I read that it spread across England and wiped out half the population of some towns, and it spread to Ireland, Scotland and most of the continent except for Italy and showed up only in Calais in France. However accurate Wikipedia is, it says that infants and small children weren’t affected. A mystery for the ages, for sure.

  20. susan says:

    it has always sounded to me like flu. Strange that it only appeared during the tudor times. malaria?, but I think they knew what that was. And why mostly the upper classes. They lived much better than the poor

    1. Christine says:

      It sounds like bird flue to me, people were falling dead like flies in the early 20 th century that was Spanish flu but now scientists have discovered that it was in fact Bird flu, the sweating sickness seems to have all the symptons aching limbs exhaustion or yes could have been malaria that’s a killer and in those days, poor sanitation and hygiene was prevalent, how awful their suffering was, thank god we live in these times now with all it’s medical advancements.

      1. Queen Anne says:

        I like your theory of Bird Flu. I think they stopped eating Swan’s tongues in the 16th century

  21. Sarah says:

    Thinking along the lines of how the “wealthy” lived ie: cold damp castles with slits for windows and heavy tapestry, probably carpet thickness, to keep out the cold. Heavy clothing which you couldn’t wash and poor sanitation, put together the swamps, wells, bogs and rodents it’s no wonder some diseases were born. If the theory of the poor didn’t get the Sweating Sickness because they were outside in the fresh air and worked hard and ate fresher foods could be one reason why they didn’t succumb to the disease. Around the Tudor times dwellings were changing. No longer the castles to keep out thy enemies but manor houses with air and light – lots of windows being built. It just might be that the nasty little “bug” died of its own accord due to the fact that the environment was changing.

    1. Christine says:

      Your right Sarah the upper classes mostly ate huge quantities of meat and pastry whearas the poor consumed fresh vegetables and fruit as it was cheap and they grew their own, the upper classes suffered from vitamin c deficiency not sure about the fresh air though as they rode their horses a lot, diet does play a role though and of course when you see the awful concoctions they used for their illnesses I think I’d rather put up with the disease. They swallowed spiders and things like that yuk.

  22. Lesley says:

    A thought to those who have suggested a mosquito-born virus like malaria. What little I know is that these are tropical diseases. I don’t think England has ever in the tropics – at least since humans have existed.

    1. Claire says:

      Malaria was actually a big problem in some parts of England in the 16th century and there are many mentions of people suffering bouts of “ague”, which is now known to be malaria. The marshlands of coastal southern and eastern England were particularly known for it. You can read more about it in a medical essay at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7898959 and also in the history of Romney Marsh at http://www.theromneymarsh.net/history/.

  23. Tabdds says:

    One possibility only alluded to is the possibility of a “susceptible population”. The curious charteristic of this disease mainly affecting the nobility and then suddenly dying out may indicate a genetic ” survival of the fittest”. It could have been anything from a toxic mold to vector borne virus that killed off all the susceptible hosts at the time they were susceptible. One more theory!

  24. Sandye says:

    Actually, Native Americans thought Europeans smelled, but I believe that is because euros ate dairy causing the body to have a different odor.

  25. Penny says:

    Loved reading all the blogs. Wondering why no one has thought of:



    Just a theory to cast amongst the mix.

    1. Natalie says:

      Too many people, they would have had to eaten the same things. There were no FDA back than. Yes a definite food poisoning effectively that the liver enzymes could not handle the type and also the amount. Very painful and fast death.
      If this happened in our era you would need a liver transplant to survive .

  26. Debie says:


  27. Lorev says:

    Thinking about sweating sickness affecting mainly the better off…Among the differences between lifestyles of rich and poor would be the heavy woollen drapes and carpets, even upholstered furniture, in their homes, and the furs they possessed. Might something similar to anthrax be the cause? The symptoms sound quite similar to inhalation anthrax.

  28. wes says:

    The Spanish Flu killed 50 million people worldwide (give or take) including my aunt in the early part of the twentieth century, and burned itself out. Different flus have different symptoms and mutate constantly. It was a WWI soldiers flu because they were in close contact, even with the enemy, and they travelled everywhere, just like upper class English. The Tudor compatriots caught a flu and spread it amongst themselves because the classes were segregated and it burned out. Seems like the only answer to me.

    1. Patricia McDonald says:

      I had flu several times during childhood and into my adult life,other members of family n ver caught it.I too would be very cold but within an hour would be in bed with raging temperature and joint pain.How I survived I will never know but recently have been diagnosed with an immune e deficiency which maybe is why I got it and nobody else did.

      1. Sandra says:

        Patricia, a lowered immunity would certainly make you susceptible to infections such as the flu. I hope you can get treatment for it. Back in the 1970’s there was a swine flu scare here in the U.S. and everyone was encouraged to get the vaccine. I had just had my second baby and I got the vaccine and I have never been so sick in my life. I have always thought it gave me the flu. It’s the sickest I’ve ever been. You wonder why the big scares and then the vaccines make people sick as I heard of others who became ill after taking it. Back in the 15th century and before I guess people either got better or they died.

  29. wes says:

    I guess I’m showing my age, but remember when we thought AIDS was some by-product of homosexuality? Just because a population has a disease doesn’t mean they did anything specific to cause it; it just means it’s isolated, and can be as random in selection as HIV. Stretching the subject, but if that particular bug had gotten spread amongst us heteros first, considering our greater population and opportunity to spread the disease, Earth would be a very lonely place.

    1. Orphelia says:

      t did get into the hetrosexual population first – In Africa. It was only ever developed countries where when HIV did emerge, that it firstly emerged in the homosexual population, then in the IV drug using community. Worldwide, however, it is and has always primarily been spread through hetrosexual activity. As to your belief that Earth would have become a very lonely place if HIV had first gotten into the hetrosexual population, which it in fact did, look at what happened in some of the African countries after HIV first firmly got a foothold and people began dying from AIDS in the thousands. With both mothers and fathers of childbearing age dead, often infected young children were left to either fend for themselves, or raised by grandparents. Often whole villages and towns were left without any adults of childbearing or working age. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and others essential to the running of a village or town all dead. Yes, some parts of Earth did indeed become lonely places in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

  30. wes says:

    If the young and healthy were affected the most, what if the disease caused an overreaction of the immune system? Those people with the best immune systems would be hit the hardest, almost like an allergy, and die of their own body’s response.

  31. kristie says:

    I’m surprised nobody has even thrown out meningitis…duh!

    1. Claire says:

      I don’t think the symptoms fit completely with the type of meningitis which we see in epidemics – a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. Swesating sickness had the high fever but its symptoms, according to John Caius, were:

      Pain in the back, shoulder and extremities, accompanied by a “flusshing” – Muscle pain (myalgia) and redness
      “Grief” in the liver and stomach – abdominal pain
      Headache and “madnes” – Headache and delirium
      “Passion of the hart” – Cardiac palpitation
      “A marueilous heauinesse and a desire to sleape”
      “The short abidinge” – Possible death within 12 to 24 hours of the first symptom

      Read more: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/sweating-sickness/#ixzz32Wp22b5W

      1. Sandra says:

        With the apprehension right before people got sick, delirium, headache, etc made me wonder if it started as a neurological disease, maybe a virus that went to the brain and other organs. Of course, high fevers could cause delirium, too and even a strep infection can cause bad headaches. It’s very interesting to think about, though.

        1. Amber says:

          My mind went straight to viral meningitis, too. I live in a college town, and I can remember growing up that at least one dorm kid died every year. Their friends or roommates always said that they thought they had a hangover or bug, went to sleep, and never woke up. My son’s meningitis was accompanied by tonic seizures which could explain symptoms like “flushing” and heart palpitations.

  32. lady jane says:


  33. Carol says:

    I wonder if (since the time span was roughly 75-80 years) it was a poison. Since only the nobility got it and perhaps two people knew how to make the poison (given life spans were shorter at that time) and then perhaps the concoction died with the last person who knew how to make it, which is why it stopped abruptly. (Or perhaps it was something they were importing at the time that was delicious but deadly)

  34. Sharon says:

    Just thinking that it could be like swine flu or bird flu or even another type of flu for a food or maybe even a drink that they had then but no longer eat or drink maybe. There was a wide path between the wealthy and the poor…most of the poor ate very little meat, could it have come with a specific animal or fish maybe that was eaten during that period of time?

  35. John says:

    Maybe it was bad wine.

    1. Cheryl Crimmins says:

      Children were given sweet wine and beer as young as 2 years old after no longer nursing..I don’t know what sweet wine is but young children did not get it…seems like you were dead in 12 to 24 hours even Ebola does not kill that fast and Malaria was a longer term disease…could it be that the troops coming home from the war of the roses bring something from the rotting bodies of the dead ?

  36. Joan Gauld says:

    The first recorded epidemic of sweating sickness followed the arrival of the future Henry V!!th with his foreign mercenaries around 1485. England was infected with various diseases during the middle ages, the sweating sickness is just one of them, probably a consequence of early ‘globalisation’! Like most of these diseases at this time the sweat had outbreaks periodically, until it seems to have died out, possibly as a result of a build-up of immunity in the population. Why did the sweat affect the wealthy more? As servants got sick too, perhaps it was not wealth or social position, more the increased likelihood of contact with infected persons, at court or in monastic communities rather than in the more isolated villages populated by the poor. Mediaeval medicine was more likely to have been available to the wealthy, and the ‘remedies’ at that time seemed to have done more harm than good; perhaps this was a factor in the mortality amongst the wealthy? Tudor diet amongst the wealthy lacked vitamins and minerals, who ate less fruit and vegetables than the poor, and this could also have contributed to a worse outcome following infection. The infection had a recognised pattern of symptoms, and killed quickly, suggesting it was viral. The fact that it killed so quickly would have meant outbreaks were shorter in duration and so less easily spread (folk died before they could spread the disease, a bit like Ebola). Glad I didn’t live in the middle ages!

    1. Natalie says:

      Very good , however Hepatitis is a very spreadable disease especially if cook food or prepared it and did not wash properly. Poor bathroom hygiene not washing hangs than cooking for large crowds, which would be why it started with nobles since they were part of all courtiers, and spreads easily.
      I am going with that assumption, it makes most sense from my research.
      Thanks for listening.

  37. Lynda H. says:

    Megan was correct…I learned in college, medical school, that the pathogen was similar to the illness we had in the a Southwest in 1993. It was actually carried by rodent feces. The pathogen would become more airborne when the floors were swept and the rodents’ feces, which had become dried, turned to dust and swirled around the room. Rodents were prevalent everywhere during the Middle Ages; they had no way of deterring the creatures. Imagine, the wealthy, upper class had more food stuffs and warm from availability of wood for fires, both of which drew the rats inside the households. If I were a rat,mi would choose a warm, food-laden domicile where I had ample places to scurry and hide vs a small, poor, cold, damp home with spares vittles upon which to devour!

    1. Lynda H. says:

      Forgive the typos; am on iPhone without my glasses. Haha.

      1. Cheryl Crimmins says:

        Lynda could it BE that the servants sweep the Castles more than the so called lower class of poor peasants did, in being clean spread rodent do doo…and the some of the statement s said the Nobles did not eat fresh vegetables and fruits not true at some of the parties that the Nobles had they had 200 course meal with , rabbits, swan, warm salad from the castle garden ,, and fruits from Spain, pies,cakes,jellies and jams the list goes on and on another word they are like and Gueens…

  38. Lil says:

    The sweating sickness is still available still in 2014 it come with Hanta virus and also Hanta pulmonary virus quite serious . You can also get it from West Nile .
    It is a come back.

  39. James says:

    I am a Christian and I, sincerely, dislike when religious fanatics reply with absurd “God is the cause of it” solutions when there is always some type of natural or scientific answer to this fascinating issue. And even if God was the cause of this there is still a scientific explanation for it, that may sound contradictory but it’s my belief that God uses natural processes to do his bidding.

  40. Michelle says:

    To me the sweating sickness does sound like a virulent strain of the flu…there are several strains of this illness so it is not that surprising that it died out and was probably replaced by a new strain as still happens today.

  41. Kay says:

    It sounds like there is could similarities between the potential origin of this disease and “Milk Sickness” in the US. The illness was most prevalent in the spring. Cattle ate a poisonous plant when pastures were suffering due to weather conditions and new plants were popping up in the woods. The toxin passed to humans that drank their milk or ate butter. The plant, white snakeroot, was less accessible to cattle in later years due to deforestation. The toxin only appears in the fresh form of the plant and is absent after the plant has dried up. Perhaps there was another toxic plant in England that was the culprit.

  42. Sarah says:

    Just as HIV is now becoming watered down perhaps the sweating sickness has now become the common cold.

  43. Mary says:

    To me sounds like a poisoning from a toxin that existed on a food or a any other kind of widely consumed imported product (that could be salt,a spice or anything else that was used in order to preserve or give taste to food) .
    The existence of some kind of toxin explains a lot. First why this disease spread mostly on wealthy population and people in cities, that most of them were ports. This disease didn’t spread to Scotland and north of England, but spread to port cities like Hamburg, Antwerp, Amsterdam and countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway, ( who all have ports ) but not in France an neither in Italy obviously because they didn’t import, use and/or consumed the same thing.

    What caused the disease must have been something that only urban population and wealthy people had access too. That would explain also why infants and little children didn’t caught the disease. Because infants back then were breast fed till quite old ( for today’s standards) age while this substance was something that little children couldn’t consume. The toxin poisoning can explain also why nobody had immunity to this disease. Those who manage to recover, they consume it again.

    Another thing that makes me suspect that this was a toxin related disease is the fact that started from nowhere on 1485, 1492, then again on 1502, 1507, 1517 and then again on 1528 with last outbreak on 1551 and then stopped completely and that its outbreaks didn’t last for long which means that this deadly substance was consumed for as long the supplies lasted and explains also the irregularity of this disease’s outbreaks depending every time on when and where this stuff was imported. It probably stopped suddenly because they stopped importing and consuming this substance whatever this was.

  44. Bruce says:

    I’ve read all the above with interest, but am none the wiser. But am left wondering why so many people become abusive just because someone else offers a contrary opinion?

    1. jeri says:

      Me Three

  45. Natalie says:

    Bruce I agree with you.

  46. MissKarma says:

    I think it’s safe to consider the fact that many of the modern diseases mentioned here, swine flu, bird flu, h1n1, all flus are mutations of the flu virus. Virus’ have a protein layer that they change, which is what makes it impossible to create a cure, they are ever evolving. We could simply be looking at a cross section of history that highlights natural selection. A particularly virulent form of flu infects many, the weak die, the strong survive. Like any flu, once your body kills it you are immune to it and never get it again. Once the flu has made its rounds to the population it no longer has the ability to infect the survivors and must seek new hosts. The new evolved version of the flu may not have been as violent and not as easily recognizable as related to this sweating sickness. I for one ( and I’m sure many can remember) some flus are WAY worse than others.
    A fever is the body’s natural defense to a virus, burning off your internal iron ( a virus’s ) food, and starving out the virus. If the virus was particularly strong the fever would run hotter and presumably longer. Some were strong enough to survive, some weren’t. But as it is believed a flu makes your body stronger.the sting outlived the virus and it moved on and died out on an island with an isolated population.

    1. Colleen Frances Guilfoyle says:

      I’ve recently been watching the Tudors and became interested in the sweating sickness. If you Google about it now there is a lot of evidence showing that it “may” have been an early more virulent form of hantavirus. The same rapid progress of symptoms, simaler symptoms, attacked rural areas first, suggesting rodents were the cause and attacking healthy adults not elderly and children like most flu viruses. Its very interesting. There was an out break in the southwest” four corners” in America in 1993. A very quick aggressive disease. The death rate is 38% now so maybe we built up some immunity over the centuries.

  47. Dr. Michael. says:

    Here is a thought, the water taste and color in 1400’s was quite bad and lead to the development of a cultural trend; the of flavoring of water. Another trend of tea time to remember to consume flavored water might lead one to conclude that the engish of this time were not well hydrated. Simply combining the cultual development with some other interesting symptoms like headaches and extreme abdominal pain, heavy sweats, may present a stronger case for cholera.

  48. Liza says:

    Mary’s comment from 2015 about the possibility of the introduction of a specific toxin seriously resonates with me. One big factor that anyone has yet to mention about the English aristocracy and nobility is that they often ate off of , ate with and drank out of items made of silver. Considering silver comes with it’s own antibiotic, antiviral and antimicrobial abilities…it would have had to have been a pretty stout virus indeed…

  49. Kelley says:

    They figured it was a form of viral pnemonia.

  50. Kelley says:


  51. anthrax says:


    1. Cheryl Crimmins says:


  52. Gary Pennington says:

    A cause theory should explain some of the curious things reported about the disease (have seen reports of these but of course the account might be wrong)

    *effected mostly young men (teenagers to middle age)
    *effected English and Germanic people mostly (French, Turks, only caught mild cases)
    *did not effect Scotland and Ireland (climate effect or Celt genetics vs. German genetics)
    *quick death in a few hours after symptoms started
    *disease started after periods of prolonged rain
    *some men caught it more than once
    *as stated seemed to effect upper classes (could be just that it didn’t discriminate with
    upper and lower classes and the upper class cases are more publicized)
    *what did people do who survived an infection: went to bed, didn’t eat and drink much for
    24 hours, didn’t move, covered all parts of their body

    so one thing to me that best agrees with this is malaria with a particular type of plasmodia parasite as the cause that isn’t seen today (when the parasite was released into the blood it killed much quicker than today’s malaria which is caused by the types of parasites common today. Some parasites are more likely to kill certain sexes and age groups, this one was worst for young to middle age males and if the person was an ethnically Northern Germanic male). The mosquitoes habitat was removed over time as swampland in England was removed and so the disease has vanished.

    I’m not an expert on these things but I am a scientist so I’m curious.

  53. Mihda says:

    What did the tudors do to cure this sickness?

    It would be very helpful

  54. Laminator says:

    How many people had the ‘Sweating Flu’ killed by 1556, in % ?

  55. Jakob says:

    I am more than willing to bet that the ‘sweating sickness’ was an outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The symptoms pretty much all match, intense sweating, lungs filling with fluid, spiking fever, and a rapid escalation of severity seem to all be present in both illnesses (even the black spots observed in some sweating sickness cases can be observed when hantavirus is transmitted by a tick or flea bite) Additionally, small outbreaks of this disease still occur today.

    1. Cheryl Crimmins says:

      Jakob why did the higher ups get it and not the peasants you would think that the so called lower class would be more likely to get it..

  56. Maveth says:

    I have wondered if maybe the reason it affected upper class more than lower class had something to do with diet. Wealthy people during that time had access to things lower class didn’t, like sugar. Not to say that the illness was caused by sugar, but that sugar is currently proven to decrease the immune system’s ability to fight bacteria. If you were wealthy at that time, you were likely to have consumed sugar and sweetened wines every other day, it would then make sense why extreme exercise would work. You’d be burning off stored sugar in the muscles and improve the chance that your body could combat the illness. It would also explain why a baby wouldn’t contract it, but a full grown adult noble would.

  57. MimiR says:

    There is no European hantavirus. There is no evidence there ever was a European hantavirus. There are strains native to the New World and to East Asia, and that is all. The hantavirus of Arizona is a purely native disease, though the American Indian tribes never identified it as a particular disease because it does behave somewhat mysteriously–it took until the 20th century for it to be identified at all.

    It is possible that the hantavirus spread from merchants or soldiers returning from contact with the Islamic empire who had themselves become infected through exposure from trade, and because the rodents that hosted the disease didn’t do very well in England, it became extinct after some time.

    But a viral meningitis seems more likely, with the feelings of enormous dread. Person-to-person contact also sounds more like a type of viral meningitis. Some of the most deadly diseases disproportionately effect young people between the ages of 10 and 30–a cytokine storm is caused when an immune system overreacts to an infection, and it can be incredibly deadly. The high death rate of the Spanish Flu among the healthiest portions of a population are often blamed on this effect. Viral meningitis is just a description of where the virus acts, not the name of a specific disease–many different viral infections can cause viral meningitis, and it’s usually not terribly dangerous TODAY, but this is simply because the brain is not a primary target of the modern viruses that cause viral meningitis.

    Anyway, a lot of the assumptions here are wrong about living conditions in the past. People did not have effective mouse traps and rat traps, but they hired professional rat-catchers, mouse-catchers, and terriermen to control rodents. They washed not seasonally but daily–not deep baths in cold weather, but what we’d call sponge baths, and hands were washed before and after every meal. Houses didn’t have a bunch of rushes thrown all over the floor with dogs and bones in it–floors were kept clean-swept, and fragrant herbs and rushes were special-occasion additions, which were added to make the rooms smell nice before big events (probably with the understanding that people stank without deodorant in a hot room after a certain number of hours). Great washes of laundry were typically done on a very irregular basis, perhaps as rarely as once every three months, but dirty linens were stockpiled between these great washes, and personal linens would be done as required in between. It was very hard to avoid getting infected by some kind of parasite at some point, especially when traveling, as the provisions at inns were famously bad, but when an upper class household did become infected by bedbugs, for instance, they went half-crazy tearing apart the bedrooms and all the bedding to try to kill them all. Many people felt that fully immersing oneself in water was dangerous in cold weather, and was best reserved for hot days, but they were not against the sponge-bath in any weather–and even a fear of the bath in cold weather was a Renaissance idea that was defunct by the early 1800s, as the people of the Middle Ages were generally enthusiastic about baths, especially the royalty, who had special bath-houses constructed, and by the 1800s, the idea that cold baths were particularly good for the health was general, and people were told that their old feather beds made them weak by being too warm.

    The references to those people who were proud of their filth comes mostly from the 18th century, and they are recorded by people who were disgusted by the behavior of those they condemned. The references to infested headdresses have a parallel with the accusations of the crazy behavior of some celebrities today. The anecdote about a noblewoman’s revolting fingernails was made because it was revolting–if it were normal, it would pass without notice, but there was, in that society, almost no one who had the moral authority to force her to conform to the hygienic niceties of that age, so she could do what she wanted, however outrageous. Pretty much the only thing she couldn’t get away with was insulting the king (probably) or sleeping around. Beating her maids wouldn’t even elicit a comment! Being gross and smelly would.

    As for the silly Indian who was going on about “shampoo,” “shampoo” meant massage, not any kind of product, for centuries. The British had no tradition of body massages, and so they called it “shampoo” from Eastern languages, where boys were frequently hired to massage men. The motion of rubbing the skin was eventually applied to something that was rubbed onto the skin. The modern hair “shampoo” on Western shelves is entirely a product of modern Western chemistry, and it was used to indicate that it was not an alkaline soap (which destroys hair permanently) but rather an acidic detergent that was safe for hair and meant to be rubbed onto the scalp in a shampooing motion.

  58. Misty says:

    Anyone notice the similarities between the sweat and viral meningitis? I mean, I’m not in the medical field, but it just seems interesting to me.

  59. Melanie says:

    I have a question for everyone. Do you guys think the sweat is what kept Henry VIII from having more living children? Just think about it, two of his wives had the sweat and were only able to give him one living, healthy child. It just makes me wonder if it messed with fertility and it just wasn’t known because people just assumed it was a woman’s fault if she did not bear children.

  60. Brenda L Barr-Gilbert says:

    Symptoms of sweating sickness included “a sense of apprehension”, shivers, dizziness, headaches, pain in the arms, legs, shoulders and neck, and fatigue or exhaustion. The illness had different stages – the cold shivery stage followed by the hot sweating stage. It could kill in hours. These symptoms are the same ones for Bacterial Meningitis.

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