If you lived in Tudor England, you worried about the various illnesses that could strike without warning. One of the most terrifying, however, was not the plague but the sweat. The English Sweating Sickness, as it was often known, was a disease that struck England several times in the years between 1485 and 1551. Outbreaks took place in 1485, 1507, 1528 and 1571. One outbreak which took place in 1502 is rumored to have taken the life of King Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur, paving the way for Henry to take the throne. An image of Arthur, Prince of Wales is seen here.
It brought with it a number of symptoms. Individuals who had contracted the sweat would often feel a sensation of impending doom or tragedy. They often felt severe pain in their necks, their backs and their arms. They often felt extremely tired and profound exhaustion was another one of the most common symptoms.
In later stages, victims would break out in the heavy sweating that would give the disease its name. They would also feel exhausted and were often delirious as well. They had an urge to sleep and often never woke up from this sleep.
The sweating sickness is very different than many of the other illnesses that swept through the British population. Unlike the plague, the sweating sickness did not seem to have any rashes or skin problems associated with it. Death often happened much more quickly with the sweating sickness than with any of the other illnesses that were common at the time. As well, where someone may have developed immunity to an illness such as smallpox or the plague by living through an outbreak, this was not the case with the sweating sickness.
Although each outbreak was responsible for the deaths of many people, it appeared that the later outbreaks were particularly severe. One of the worst was the fourth outbreak, which took place in 1528. It affected the court of King Henry VIII and a large number of members of court perished during this outbreak. King Henry, who was always nervous about the chance of contracting an illness, was forced to flee to the country and accounts written at the time showed that he changed his residence each day in order to avoid contracting the disease.
Experts have been able to determine the cause of illnesses such as small pox and the bubonic plague. The cause of the sweat, however, is still unknown. It is true that there were a large number of people living in very crowded conditions and it is also true that good hygiene and cleanliness were rare. One theory is that the disease was spread by ticks and lice. The other is that it tended to spread most often when ticks and lice were at their most active. There have been a number of different theories but the belief that it is either a form of remitting fever because of these facts or that it was spread by a form of hantavirus are two of the most common.