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The Sweating Sickness

Engraving of Death and the Cardinal, Death and the King, from Guyot's 'La Danse Macabre, 1485

Here follow two translated extracts from letters written in June, 1528, by Monsieur du Bellay, French Ambassador to the court of King Henry VIII. They offer a contemporary account of the onset and course of the Sweating Sickness epidemic of that year; the fourth major outbreak of the disease. Du Bellay details the members of court who suffered or died from it and comments on the King's relationship with Anne Boleyn, who had the sickness at her father's house.

The original manuscript, Bethune MS v. 8602, has not yet been digitized. I have made these translations from the transcriptions printed in J. LeGrand's Preuves de l'Histoire du Divorce de Henry VIII, vol III, 1688. The transcription, as printed, has a few minor errors, which I have corrected and noted below. —AJ

Letters of Monsieur du Bellay, Bishop of Bayonne,
to the Grand Master,1 and Marshal of France.

June 18, 1528.

"One of the ladies of the chamber, Monseigneur, of Mademoiselle de Boulan found herself infected with the sweat, in great haste the King departed and went twelve miles from hence, & I am told that the Lady was sent, as suspected, to the Viscount, her father,2 who is in Kent. As for now, Monseigneur, the love has not diminished. I do not know if the absence, combined with the difficulties with Rome, can bring this about.

This sweat, of which I speak is, Monseigneur, a sickness which has taken hold here over the past four days, and is the easiest to die of; one has a slight headache & ache in the heart, suddenly one begins to sweat, and there is no point to calling the Doctor, because if one covers oneself the least bit in the world, or covers oneself a little too much, within four hours, or sometimes in two or three, one is dispatched without delay, as one does with those terrible fevers, but it is no big thing, for there have not been those infected in London during this time more than around two thousand.

Yesterday, having gone to swear the truce,3 they could be seen, like flies, rushing from the streets and shops into their houses to suffer the sweat as the sickness overtook them. I found the Ambassador of Milan departing his lodgings in great haste, because two or three had suddenly been taken ill with it. If it must be, Monseigneur, that all the ambassadors have their share of this, at least in my case, you will not have gained your objective, because you will not be able to boast that you have starved me to death, & the King will have gained the advantage of nine months of my service at no cost, though it has not gained him the least profit.

By God in Paradise, Monseigneur, if this fire & fury should visit me, & if I should have to pass through the pit and the fire, I should not regret it so much as those who have it easier than me,4 but may God keep them so. To get back to London, I assure you that the priests have a better time of it than the doctors, except they cannot accommodate all the burials; if this continues, wheat will soon sell at a bargain.5 It has been twelve years since the last epidemic, in which ten thousand people died in the course of ten or twelve days, it is said, but that was not as severe as it is starting to be now; Monsieur the Legate6 had come for the term, but soon rebridled his horses again, & there will be neither summons nor term, everyone is so terribly afraid."

June 30th, 1528.

"The Lady is still with her father; the King keeps changing lodgings due to this pestilence, a good many of his people having died of it in three or four hours. Of those you know, only Poowitz7, Carey8, and Compton are dead, but Fitzwilliam, the marquess [Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter], my lord William,9 Brown, Carew, Bryant, who, at present, is a part of the privy chamber, Norris, Wallop,10 Chesney,11 Kingston, Paget, and generally all those of the bedchamber except one, have either had the infection, or presently have it. It was said yesterday that some of them were at the point of death; I do not know if they shall escape it. The King has shut himself away alone, to protect himself; God willing, no difficulties will befall him.

At Monsieur the Legate's they play the same game, but, when all is said, those who are not exposed to the wind, do not die. Of the more than forty thousand infected in London, less than two thousand have died; it is true that he who puts even a hand out of bed during the twenty-four hours, suddenly becomes as stiff as a wall."12

AJ Notes:

1. Anne de Montmorency. As Grand Master, he was the head of the Royal Household of French King Francis I.
2. The published transcription reads "brother" instead of "father." This is a clear error in transcription, which should
    read "pére" instead of "frére", because Sir Thomas Boleyn was Viscount Rochford until 8 December 1529, when
    he was created Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde. It was at this time that the title was granted to Anne's brother,
    George Boleyn. That she was "still with her father" in the second letter supports this conclusion, as does the fact
    that George Boleyn was not in Kent at this time, but with the King at Waltham, where he had the illness.
3. The truce between England and France, for "an abstinence of war for eight months" beginning June 15, 1528;
    it went into effect on June 20.
4. Unlike the plague, the Sweating Sickness did not kill more of the poor or elderly; rather, it seemed to affect
    the wealthy, who had a rich diet, more than the lower classes. Du Bellay means that, since he was not wealthy,
    he should not have as much to fear from it as those who lived lives of ease.
5. The price of wheat was high in 1528; Du Bellay means that, if large numbers were to die of the disease, there
    would soon be more supply than demand, causing the high price of wheat to decline.
6. Cardinal Wolsey, who had had 'The Sweat' during the 1517 outbreak.
7. Error in transcription. It should read 'Poointz' for Sir Francis Poyntz, Esquire of the Body to King Henry VIII.
    He died on June 25, 1528, of the sweating sickness. He had just returned to England from a mission to Spain.
8. William Carey, of Aldenham, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII, husband
    to Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's sister.
9. Sir William Brereton (c1487-1536), Groom of the Privy Chamber.
10. Sir John Wallop (c1490-1551).
11. Sir Thomas Cheney (var. sp. Cheyne, Chesney, Cheyney), (c1485-1558); Treasurer of the Household and
      a member of Henry VIII's Privy Council.
12. "Roide comme un pan," reads the source. D'Aubigné, in Histoire de la Réformation (1853) expands this to
      "roide comme un pan de mur," meaning "stiff as a section of wall."

      To cite this page:

      Jokinen, Anniina, trans. "Two Letters by Monsieur du Bellay, June 1528."
      Luminarium. 16 Mar 2018. [Dated you accessed this page].

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This page was created on March 16, 2018. Last updated May 11, 2023.

Index of Encyclopedia Entries:

Medieval Cosmology
Prices of Items in Medieval England

Edward II
Isabella of France, Queen of England
Piers Gaveston
Thomas of Brotherton, E. of Norfolk
Edmund of Woodstock, E. of Kent
Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster
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Richard of York, E. of Cambridge
Richard Fitzalan, 3. Earl of Arundel
Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March
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Richard II
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Lords Appellant, 1388
Richard Fitzalan, 4. Earl of Arundel
Archbishop Thomas Arundel
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Thomas Fitzalan, 5. Earl of Arundel
Henry V
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Charles VII, King of France
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The Battle of Hedgeley Moor, 1464
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The Battle of Edgecote, 1469
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Henry VI
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Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1450

Tudor Period

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Field of the Cloth of Gold, 1520
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Edward Stafford, D. of Buckingham
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John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
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Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
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John Russell, Earl of Bedford
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George Talbot, 4. E. Shrewsbury
Francis Talbot, 5. E. Shrewsbury
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     6th Earl of Northumberland
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George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon
Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter
George Neville, Baron Bergavenny
Sir Edward Neville
William, Lord Paget
William Sandys, Baron Sandys
William Fitzwilliam, E. Southampton
Sir Anthony Browne
Sir Thomas Wriothesley
Sir William Kingston
George Brooke, Lord Cobham
Sir Richard Southwell
Thomas Fiennes, 9th Lord Dacre
Sir Francis Weston
Henry Norris
Lady Jane Grey
Sir Thomas Arundel
Sir Richard Sackville
Sir William Petre
Sir John Cheke
Walter Haddon, L.L.D
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Sir John Mason
Nicholas Wotton
John Taylor
Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Younger

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio
Cardinal Reginald Pole
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London
Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London
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John Aylmer, Bishop of London
Thomas Linacre
William Grocyn
Archbishop William Warham
Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham
Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester
Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford

Pope Julius II
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Pope Pius V

Pico della Mirandola
Desiderius Erasmus
Martin Bucer
Richard Pace
Christopher Saint-German
Thomas Tallis
Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent
Hans Holbein, the Younger
The Sweating Sickness

Dissolution of the Monasteries
Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536
Robert Aske
Anne Askew
Lord Thomas Darcy
Sir Robert Constable

Oath of Supremacy
The Act of Supremacy, 1534
The First Act of Succession, 1534
The Third Act of Succession, 1544
The Ten Articles, 1536
The Six Articles, 1539
The Second Statute of Repeal, 1555
The Act of Supremacy, 1559
Articles Touching Preachers, 1583

Queen Elizabeth I
William Cecil, Lord Burghley
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Thomas Bromley

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick
Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon
Sir Thomas Egerton, Viscount Brackley
Sir Francis Knollys
Katherine "Kat" Ashley
Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
George Talbot, 6. E. of Shrewsbury
Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury
Gilbert Talbot, 7. E. of Shrewsbury
Sir Henry Sidney
Sir Robert Sidney
Archbishop Matthew Parker
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
Edward Courtenay, E. Devonshire
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3. Southampton
Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9. E. Nothumberland
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
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Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
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The Isle of Dogs, 1597

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The Stuarts

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Anne of Denmark
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The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
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John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
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Long Parliament
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Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
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Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
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Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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