Sweating Sickness or the English Sweat

Posted By on May 16, 2014

Sweating sickness first reared its ugly head in England in summer 1485 and there were four further outbreaks – in 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551 – before it completely disappeared in England, never to be seen in that land again. Anne Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn and George Boleyn caught it in summer 1528 and survived, but others, including Mary Boleyn’s husband William Carey and William Compton, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool, were not so lucky.

In the following video, I examine its symptoms, the epidemics, who was affected, treatments and remedies, and theories about its cause. I hope you enjoy it.

There are now 22 videos on The Anne Boleyn Files YouTube channel so do have a good browse.

Sweating SicknessI have also written a book on Sweating Sickness. Here are the details:

MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and accessible way.

Claire Ridgway, author and creator of The Anne Boleyn Files, is known for her easy-going style, but with an emphasis on good history and sound research. In Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell, Claire Ridgway examines what the historical sources say about the five epidemics of the mystery disease which hit England between 1485 and 1551, and considers the symptoms, who it affected, the treatments, theories regarding its cause and why it only affected English people.

Paperback: 50 pages
Also available on Kindle (ASIN B00N4VWI70)
Publisher: MadeGlobal Publishing/CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 30, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 150099622X
ISBN-13: 978-1500996222
Available on Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble.


  • T Forrestier, Tractatus contra pestilentiam thenasmonem et dissinteriam, Rouen, 1490, quoted in The English Sweating Sickness (Sudor Anglicus): A Reappraisal, John A. H. Wylie and Leslie H. Collier.
  • Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall
  • “A boke, or counseill, against the disease commonly called the sweate or sweating sicknesse” (1552), John Caius
  • “The English sweating sickness of 1551: an epidemic anatomized”, A Dyer, Med. Hist., 1997
  • “The English Sweating Sickness, 1485 – 1551: A Viral Pulmonary Disease?”, Mark Taviner, Guy Thwaites and Vanya Gant
  • “The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters 1356-1534, 1523-1524” by Desiderius Erasmus, R. A. B. Mynors, Alexander Dalzell
  • On the Special Susceptibility of the Fair-haired Races of Europe for Contracting Sweating Sickness by Dr Arthur Bordier, Anthropology Society of Paris, Meeting of March 3, 1881
  • A History of Epidemics In Britain, Volume I (1891), Charles Creighton
  • Population, Plague, and the Sweating Sickness Population, Plague, and the Sweating Sickness: Demographic Movements in Late Fifteenth-Century England, R. S. Gottfried, Journal of British Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 12-37
  • Were the English Sweating Sickness and the Picardy Sweat Caused by Hantaviruses?, P. Heyman, L. Simons and C. Cochez, 7 January 2014, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI)
  • Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 2: 1509-1519, 945
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 2: 1515-1518

10 thoughts on “Sweating Sickness or the English Sweat”

  1. Theresa Roche says:

    Thank you so very much for this excellent video on the sweating sickness. It kept me gripped from start to finish. Henry VIII sent his own physician to tend Anne Boleyn when she fell prey to the illness didn’t he? (was it a Dr Butts?) Claire, please was Anne of Celtic extraction – I found the comment about Anglo Saxon/Celtic survival rates interesting.

    1. N. Warren says:

      Anne was also of Norman descent, Danish and Irish .

      Anne Boleyn and all Henry III’s wives except Anne of Cleves were descended from a knight named William Marshall, the first Earl of Pembroke and Regent to Henry III. William lived from 1146-1219 and was known as the GREATEST KNIGHT WHOEVER LIVED. His wife was Isabell Fitzgilbert de Clare, the daughter Richard Strongbow de Clare ( he conquered Ireland for England and married Maude, the Great, Great grandaughter of Irish king, Brian Boru.

      The couple had 10 children, 5 sons who all died without issue . And 5 daughters who being very wealthly married quite well and bore many children. These daughters of William Marshall were the ancestors of most of the crowned heads of Europe… Including Queen Isabella of Spain and her daughter

  2. Carol says:

    Most interesting – I’ve often wondered what this disease was, let’s hope it never appears again!

  3. Charlie Jordan says:

    Thanks so much for producing and sharing this. It was visually engaging and informative. I’m not sure what tools you used, but it’s a job well done.

    Thanks for including your sources and I very much appreciate that you attributed your sources in the course of the information.

    Thanks for including captions; they were, however, somewhat off and sometimes the result was funny. (Can’t remember now any specifics…just chuckling a few times.)

    Great job. Thanks.

    1. Claire says:

      There were a couple of errors but there was no way Tim was going to correct them after spending a day rendering them, but there were only a couple and the spellings were all from the original sources so were rather bizarre at times – “the” instead of “thee” for example.

      Glad you enjoyed it though!

  4. Ceri C says:

    Excellent talk. Thanks Claire.

  5. Esther says:

    Very interesting talk …. could the reason for the disease’s disappearance be due to some genetic change in the people?

  6. BanditQueen says:

    Very valuable and excellent video and resource on the Sweating sickness; especially the references to the disease coming back in the 19th century and the cases across Europe. What is frightening about this disease is that no-one really has identified exactly what strain of virus or bacteria the disease comes from and how it could be treated. What would happen today if it returned with an even more virile strain? With the amount of travel today and free contact and population growth and movements; this could spread very quickly and become a pandemic. Some of these diseases from the past just appear and vanish and we are none the wiser as to the real cause of why some people were able to survive and others were not. It is a mystery for historiologists (people who study the cause of a disease and its develpment through blood work) to resolve.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I must have second sight with the frightening reality of corona 19 appearing now, the Sweat was the same back then, nothing they could do either. Really bad. Stay safe everyone.

  7. alex says:

    Excellent video, I’d always been puzzled by the sweat, which initially I thought was a form of very virulent flu, which I thought was not known at the time. I stand corrected! Suffering from the disease and recovering seems not to have granted any immunity, leastways not for any great length of time, since several people are mentioned as having it twice. Perhaps it mutated quickly as flu does, and finally mutated intself into something so mild it did not kill and was scarcely noticed. This does frequently happen with diseases, which either become milder or else they disappear, since if they kill so many of their hosts there is no time to spread the illness. It seems unlikely on the face of it that it could affect only the English, unless it depended on some cultural factor of everyday life. It may have needed a genetic predisposition I suppose, although it clearly was not a genetic condition. It is very hard for a disease to kill so quickly as the sweat is said to have done, this can only have happened by it raising the body temperature so high that normal body function ceased, and the advice for treating it sounds very dubious, not at all how we would treat a fever now.

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *