#WednesdayFact – Anne Boleyn survived sweating sickness in 1528

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Nick Dunning as Thomas Boleyn in Showtime's "The Tudors".Did you know that Anne Boleyn survived sweating sickness?

In June 1528, Anne Boleyn fled from court to her family home, Hever Castle in Kent, after one of her ladies came down with sweating sickness. King Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, fled to Waltham Abbey.

Unfortunately, at Hever, Anne came down with the sweat, as did her father, Thomas Boleyn. Anne’s brother George, cupbearer to Henry VIII, became ill with it at Waltham and the royal couple quickly moved on to Hunsdon to try and escape the illness. Fortunately, Anne, Thomas and George survived, but they were incredibly lucky. French ambassador Jean du Bellay recorded that by the end of June 1528, two thousand people had died of sweating sickness in London.

The king was panicked when news reached him that his sweetheart, Anne Boleyn, had come down with sweating sickness. He wrote her a letter and sent his second best doctor, William Butts, to treat her. Click here to read the king’s panicked words to Anne.

Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey, along with courtiers William Compton and Francis Poyntz, died that June.

Sweating sickness was very serious. In 1517, chronicler Edward Hall recorded that “This malady was so cruel that it killed some within three hours. Some within two hours, some merry at dinner and dead at supper”. There were major outbreaks of sweating sickness in England in 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551 before it disappeared.

Image: Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Nick Dunning as Thomas Boleyn in Showtime’s “The Tudors”.

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One thought on “#WednesdayFact – Anne Boleyn survived sweating sickness in 1528”
  1. Anne fled to the sanctuary of Hever when her maid fell ill but she was obviously infected, we are told a virus is inside us for three days before we suffer the symptoms and so her maid being in close contact had already passed it onto her, imagine the extreme panic this deadly disease inflicted on the people, those at court and the unheard masses in London, it really was the silent killer as you could be ‘merry at dinner and dead at supper’, and the eyewitness reports we have of people collapsing suddenly in the streets, maybe those were the fortunate ones if they could be described as such, for a long drawn out death is not desired, and maybe those who did die suddenly had the luxury of not suffering many of the unpleasant symptoms either, Henry V111 had a mortal fear of illness but his fears could have been fostered by the sudden death of his elder brother Arthur who had not been sickly at all except towards the last year of his life, without his demise he would never have become king, he had his realm to consider unlike the man in the street and his noble contemporaries, he and the court fled from London and his unhappiness at being parted from his beloved is apparent in the letters he wrote her, however, one can see the difference in the second which shows us so clearly his absolute fear for her safety, the frantic sentences garbled together the splotches of ink and we can visualise his face etched with anxiety as he put quill to parchment, he tried to soothe her by informing her that not many women die from this illness, indeed it did as one physician noted, seemed to affect more young men of the upper classes, we hear no more of Anne but she must have been bedridden and her mother was hovering over her trying to feed her with broth and mopping her sweating brow, both women were very attached to each other, and Elizabeth Boleyn must have been beside herself, across the corridors maybe her father also was suffering, so we can feel for this genteel lady whose husband and daughter were both dangerously ill, the good news was that George had also had it but survived which must have cheered the family, Elizabeth herself never contracted it but sometimes that happens in families, my own mother years ago was running around looking after me my sister and our father who had all come down with the flu, she remained immune however, we do not know if the recovery process was slow in the case of the sweating sickness but it was noted that Anne herself was absent from court for most of that year, and only returned much later, it probably caused extreme tiredness and lethargy and maybe depression, and the doctors could well have advised isolation for a good few months, it was a medical mystery at the time and remains so to this day, for the English said of it as ‘being nothing like they had known before’ and also for the way it suddenly vanished, like a black cloak had suddenly been lifted, there was a few outbreaks after that, one appearing about two centuries later then it disappeared for good, in its history the first outbreak was in the latter part of the 15th century and is believed to have come from the continent brought over by English soldiers, it could well have been that the sailors from ships docking in the ports brought it over in the later outbreak which Anne Boleyn fell victim to, it is thought that the kings own sister, the Princess Mary Duchess of Suffolk was also a victim, if she had the sweat then she was not so fortunate for she died young, and just as tragic, her widow also with his third wife lost his two young sons from the sweat, both young lads at university but he was by then dead himself, it was his grieving wife who had to contend with her loss, Anne’s brother in law William Carey died also and Cardinal Wolsey caught it but survived, some of Thomas Cromwells family died, why some died and some did not is a mystery, but it could have been a respiratory illness which affected the lungs and fatal for the victims leads to organ failure, in such cases in the 16th century nothing could be done, and the sudden deaths of some could have been attributed to such where the heart the lungs and kidneys collapse starving the brain of oxygen, leading to instant death, many of ordinary citizens must have died to but their names are lost to us, the second most deadly plague which was to infect London occurred over a hundred years later in the reign of Charles 11, called the Black Death it still stirs up feelings of dread and terror today, and the amount who died then in Britain was catastrophic.

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