London Plague Quiz

If you think it’s bad now, 355 years ago London was struck with one of the most devastating epidemics in European history. A little known fact is that cabbies’ licences are called ‘bills’, a reference to one having a bill of health. At a time of self-isolating just how much do you know about this earlier (but not the first) plague?

Questions

1. In which London parish was the first recorded plague death of the 1665 outbreak?

St Martin-in-the-Fields
St Giles-in-the-Fields
St Botolph without Aldgate
St George in the East


2. How long had it been since the previous outbreak of plague in London?

11 years
29 years
50 years
62 years


3. Which of the following is not a form of plague?

Hepatic
Pneumonic
Bubonic
Septicaemic


4. When someone fell ill with the plague, for how many days was their property to be quarantined?

14 days
28 days
40 days
60 days


5. What was the common term given to buboes in the seventeenth century?

Tokens
Blackeyes
Satan’s pustules
God’s curse


6. In which of the following did King Charles II not shelter from the plague outbreak?

Canterbury
Hampton Court
Oxford
Salisbury


7. With London’s city gates locked, Londoners travelling outside the city had to present a certificate of health. Who was responsible for signing this?

The Bishop of London
The Lord Mayor of London
The Royal College of Physicians
The Lord of the Admiralty


8. The physician of diarist Samuel Pepys, Dr Alexander Burnett, is believed to have died of the plague in 1665, but how is it thought that he contracted the disease?

Dissecting the corpse of a plague victim
Tripping and falling into a plague pit
Having relations with his maid
Eating at the French Ordinary Court


9. With virtually all qualified physicians fleeing London, the capital’s sufferers were left in the hands of amateur ‘plague doctors’. How were most of these individuals recognised on the streets?

Showing an order from the Mayor of London
A beak-shaped mask and long overcoat
A bell that a servant rang while walking the streets
A bag with a red cross


10. Due to fears of contamination from touching anything from London, courtiers were reluctant to handle news pamphlets produced here during the outbreak. A new publication was born out of this. What is it called today?

The London Gazette
The London Courier
The Oxford Gazette
The London Record


11. How did people keep track of the total number of deaths from the plague as the epidemic progressed?

Weekly Bills of Mortality
Bulletin of the Royal Society
News pamphlets
Hearsay


12. During the height of the outbreak, where did Parliament sit?

Cambridge
Oxford
St. Albans
York


13. Although we now understand fleas on black rats were responsible for bringing the plague, what creature did they attribute the plague to in 1665?

Dogs
Pigeons
Cats
Red Kites


14. In which month of 1665 was the total death toll in London highest?

January
March
June
September


15. A ‘plague house’ was a residence in which an occupant had fallen victim to the disease. Unlike today, such property was identified by having a red cross and a notice painted on the front door. What wording was used?

Heaven Awaits
Pray For Us All Who Pass
Lord Have Mercy Upon Us
God Preserve Our Souls


Answers

1. In which London parish was the first recorded plague death of the 1665 outbreak?

St Giles-in-the-Fields


St. Giles in the Fields
The first person recorded as having fallen victim to this epidemic died in January. This death was followed by another the following month, although there was little alarm at this stage as the area, know as a rookery, was one of the poorest in the capital.


2. How long had it been since the previous outbreak of plague in London?

29 years

Bubonic plague had last visited the capital in 1636, although the toll of 10,000 recorded deaths was the lowest of England’s epidemic outbreaks in the seventeenth century up to that point. In addition, several years up to 1665 saw more localised outbreaks of plague occur in parishes of London.


3. Which of the following is not a form of plague?

Hepatic

Although bubonic plague, involving swelling of the lymph nodes, was the most common form of plague, pneumonic was the most infectious, and septicaemic the most deadly with patients sometimes dying within twenty-four hours of symptoms appearing, only the more recent Spanish Flu killed that quickly.


4. When someone fell ill with the plague, for how many days was their property to be quarantined?

40 days

The quarantine period of forty days was stipulated by the Lord Mayor of London and followed guidelines set by the Royal College of Physicians, which was consulted for help in managing the outbreak.


5. What was the common term given to buboes in the seventeenth century?

Tokens

Most common in the armpit as well as the groin, ‘tokens’ were generally black spots caused by a build-up of blood in the area. Removal of these was attempted on occasion but the consequences were usually found to be counterproductive as the procedure could lead to septicaemic plague taking hold.


6. In which of the following did King Charles II not shelter from the plague outbreak?

Canterbury

Just like today, the Royals fled the capital. In July 1665, the King and his court fled London for the apparent relative safety of Hampton Court but soon moved further afield to Salisbury. When the plague was subsequently reported in Salisbury, he decided to decamp to the traditional royalist city of Oxford.


7. With London’s city gates locked, Londoners travelling outside the city had to present a certificate of health. Who was responsible for signing this?

The Lord Mayor of London

Obtaining a certificate of health was not easy. It required medical approval in a time when few doctors were on hand. Desperate to relocate, however, many people forged their own certificates, and those who could afford to move away from their businesses got out of the capital until the death figures fell dramatically.


8. The physician of diarist Samuel Pepys, Dr Alexander Burnett, is believed to have died of the plague in 1665, but how is it thought that he contracted the disease?

Dissecting the corpse of a plague victim

One of Burnett’s servants had contracted plague in June 1665, with the result that Burnett placed his house under quarantine. When no other members of his household contracted the disease, the quarantine was lifted. However, Burnett subsequently succumbed to plague himself, believed to be as a result of his attending the first-ever post mortem of a plague victim.


9. With virtually all qualified physicians fleeing London, the capital’s sufferers were left in the hands of amateur ‘plague doctors’. How were most of these individuals recognised on the streets?

A beak-shaped mask and long overcoat


Plague doctors’ outfits were designed to protect the plague doctor from the illness they were treating. The beak-like feature of the mask was filled with scents for purification of the air they breathed in. In addition, they carried a cane. Its use is debated today but is believed to have been a means of examining victims without the need to touch them directly.


10. Due to fears of contamination from touching anything from London, courtiers were reluctant to handle news pamphlets produced here during the outbreak. A new publication was born out of this. What is it called today?

The London Gazette


The need for an issuance of a news publication from outside London led to a new source produced in the location of the royal court at the time. This was called the ‘Oxford Gazette’ and became a popular read among the upper echelons of society. When the king and court returned to London, the publication moved with them and became the ‘London Gazette’.


11. How did people keep track of the total number of deaths from the plague as the epidemic progressed?

Weekly Bills of Mortality

Bills of Mortality

The weekly Bills of Mortality were issued by each parish and detailed the numbers of deaths and their causes. It was by following these that fears of the epidemic first grew, and when in May 1665 the number dead from plague surpassed 100 it fell in line with a definition of an epidemic.


12. During the height of the outbreak, where did Parliament sit?

Oxford

The sitting of Parliament in 1665 was initially postponed as a result of the epidemic. Eventually, Parliament decamped to Oxford, to where the King’s court had also taken up residence. Once in Oxford, Parliament resumed its session in October 1665.


13. Although we now understand fleas on black rats were responsible for bringing the plague, what creature did they attribute the plague to in 1665?

Cats

In an attempt to stop the spread of the plague, it was ordered that stray cats be destroyed. The irony of this was that it increased the problem as the number of rats grew as a result of fewer cats catching them.


14. In which month of 1665 was the total death toll in London highest?

September

From its winter beginning, the disease overall claimed more and more lives as 1665 progressed into the summer months. This reached its peak in the week of 19-26 September when more than 7,100 deaths from the plague were recorded. England experienced a hot summer that year and the number of plague cases reached their zenith with the highest temperatures.


15. A ‘plague house’ was a residence in which an occupant had fallen victim to the disease. Unlike today, such property was identified by having a red cross and a notice painted on the front door. What wording was used?

Lord Have Mercy Upon Us

The painting of the cross and prescribed wording was mandated by law and served as a warning for others to avoid the property. As the surviving residents of plague houses were required to stay indoors until the forty-day quarantine had passed, a guard was to be posted outside, supposedly helping to provide food and drink for those inside. This didn’t always go to plan and there are reports of residents lowering rope from upper windows to hang the guards preventing them from leaving their homes.

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