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Michigan State University

Defoe and the Plague in London 1664-1665: Remedies

Guide accompanies a small book exhibit in the Lobby of the Main Library.


Remedies or Treatments for Plague in London 1664-1665

  • Smell or chew something sweet smelling or pleasant in case you encounter bad smells, a dead body, or a graveyard.  They used perfumes, Venice treacle (often made in Venice, with 65 ingredients!) or pomanders composed of combinations of rue, angelica, wormwood, snakeroot, myrrh, aloes, camphor, citron, rose leaves, or oil of amber.
  • Flee!   Go where there is purer air.
  • Quarantine!  The origin of the word is from the French word for forty which is quarante.  Shut yourself and your family members up in your house; do not go out!
  • People had to paint a red cross on their front door, and put up a notice that said "Lord Have Mercy on Us," if anyone living there had plague or had died from it.
  • Purify the air by keeping fires burning day and night in the streets.  The poor also burned old shoes and items made from animal horn.  People burned brimstone, pepper, hops, frankincense.  
  • Smoke tobacco.
  • Kill animals known to carry or harbor plague, such as dogs, cats, rats.
  • Burn the clothing and possessions of people who had plague and those who died from it.
  • Physicians bled patients, lanced the buboes, tried to keep patients calm, and had them smell pouches of sweet-smelling herbs.
  • Bury the dead promptly.  
  • Avoid excitement and try to live more moderately.
  • Separate the sick from the well?  Unlike on the Continent, London did not routinely do this because they did not have enough pesthouses.
  • Put your own spiritual house in order.
Michigan State University