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Ennever & Enever family history & ancestry. Click here to return to the home page WJ Ennever (1869-1947). From the portrait by J Seymour R.A., exhibited in the Royal Academy.

The Innivere family at the time of the Plague or Black Death (1665-6)

London Scenes of the Plague 1665-6 (Museum of London)

It is difficult to imagine our ancestors alongside the great events of the past and even more difficult to find any records that do this for us.  For example, in the 17th century the majority of written evidence would have been concentrated on only the great events and the wealthy or influential members of society and our family therefore did not feature (with the exception of an 18th century divorce by Act of Parliament).  In finding the early baptism records for the Innivere (as the name was generally recorded at the time) family in Waltham Holy Cross, Essex the number of burials in 1665/6 was very noticeable (see table below).

In the year 1664/5 (see Q16 here for information about double-dating) there were between 1 and 11 burials in the parish each month.  In 1665/6 there were as many as 38 (September) until the number decreased in the winter, only to increase again in the following spring and summer months of 1666/7 to as many as 24.  The practice of the time was not to record ages or causes of death and so the parish records give no answer to these large increases1.

The significant event in London in 1665 was of course the Plague or Black Death and as Waltham Cross is little more than 10 miles from central London it would be surprising if the plague had not reached the parish.  Cursory checks have found no contemporary references to the plague in the area, however.  In his later book which is more of a novel rather than a historical account published in 1719, A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe suggests that the plague may indeed have been in or close to the parish. 2.  It is surprising that the parish records hold no real clue as to the reason for this dramatic increase in deaths but the plague was known to be far more virulent in the summer months.

All the indications are then that this Innivere family were living in a parish affected by the Plague or Black Death of 1665-1666.

 

Month 1664/5 1665/6 Notes
Baptisms
Marriages
Burials
Baptisms
Marriages
Burials
Mar
6
2
10
4
2
4
 
Apr
4*
0
7
5
3
18
* incl Roger Innivere
May
8
3
9
4
1
18
 
Jun
2
1
9*
4
4
19
* incl Tho: Boreham "a very old man"
Jul
2
0
9
3
1
24
 
Aug
5
2
30*
0
1
16
* incl William Peacock, Weaver, "an ancient man"
Sep
6
3
38
6
3
17
 
Oct
8
1
27*
5
3
13
* incl Tho: Gutridge killed with a Powder-Mill
Nov
10
3
13
5
2
7
 
Dec
7
4
8
3
4
2
 
Jan
10
1
11
7
2
11
 
Feb
5
4
2
3
7
5
 

 

The story of the Plague/Black Death   Show details

In the year 1665 death came calling on the city of London. Death in the form of plague. People called it the Black Death, black for the colour of the tell-tale lumps that foretold its presence in a victim's body, and death for the inevitable result. The plague germs were carried by fleas which lived as parasites on rats. Although it had first appeared in Britain in 1348, the islands were never totally free of plague, but it was like an unpleasant possibility that people just learned to live with while they got on with their business. This time it was different.

In 1663 plague ravaged Holland. Charles II forbade any trade with the Dutch, partly out of wise concern, and partly because his realm was engaged in a fierce trade war with Holland which eventually erupted into armed conflict. Despite the precautions, the early spring of 1665 brought a sudden rise in the death rate in the poorer sections of London. The authorities ignored it. As spring turned into one of the hottest summers in memory, the number of deaths escalated and panic set in.

The rich flee

The nobility left the city for their estates in the country. They were followed by the merchants, and the lawyers. The Inns of Court were deserted. Most of the clergy suddenly decided they could best minister to their flocks from far, far away. The College of Surgeons fled to the country, which did not stop several of its members from writing learned papers about the disease they had been at such pains to avoid. The court moved to Hampton Court Palace.

The gates are closed

By June the roads were clogged with people desperate to escape London. The Lord Mayor responded by closing the gates to anyone who did not have a certificate of health. These certificates became a currency more valuable than gold, and a thriving market in forged certificates grew up.

Desperate measures

By mid July over 1,000 deaths per week were reported in the city. It was rumoured that dogs and cats spread the disease, so the Lord Mayor ordered all the dogs and cats destroyed. Author Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Years estimated that 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed. The real effect of this was that there were fewer natural enemies of the rats who carried the plague fleas, so the germs spread more rapidly.

Anyone in constant contact with plague victims, such as doctors, nurses, inspectors, were compelled to carry coloured staffs outdoors so that they could be easily seen and avoided. When one person in a house caught the plague the house was sealed until 40 days after the victim either recovered or died (usually the latter). Guards were posted at the door to see that no one got out. The guard had to be bribed to allow any food to passed to the inmates. It was not unknown for families to break through the walls of the house to escape, and in several cases they carefully lowered a noose over the guard's head from an attic window and hung him so they could get away.

Lethal letters?

Londoners were shunned when they managed to escape the city. Even letters from the capital were treated as if they were poisonous. Letters were variously scraped, heated, soaked, aired and pressed flat to eliminate "pestilential matter".

The Plague peaks

Throughout the summer the death rate escalated, reaching a high of over 6,000 per week in August. From there the disease slowly, oh so painfully slowly, receded until winter, though it was not until February of 1666 that King Charles thought it safe to return to the city. How many died? It is hard to say, for the official records of that time were patchy at best. The best guess is that over 100,000 people perished in and around London, though the figure may have been much higher.

Heroism in the midst of horror

One footnote to this tale of horror.  The plague broke out in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, brought on a shipment of old clothes sent from London. The villagers, led by their courageous clergyman, realised that the only way to stop the spread of the plague to surrounding villages was to voluntarily quarantine the village, refusing to leave until the plague had run its course. This they did, though the cost was 259 dead out of a total of 292 inhabitants. Each year this heroic event is commemorated by the Plague Sunday Service in Eyam.   3

'Biology of Plagues' (an alternative view) 

Could the plague have been caused by a human borne virus rather than the rat borne fleas and re-emerge?  The authors of this book think it's possible. 
Show details

For the whole of the 20th Century it was universally believed that bubonic plague (a disease of rodents) was responsible for the plagues that ravaged Europe for over 300 years after the Black Death appeared in 1347.

This is completely contrary to the experience of people of that time who recognised that it was a lethal, infectious disease, spread person-to-person, and they quickly determined an effective quarantine period. This medical view persisted until 1900.

Now, two researchers in the School of Biological Sciences have shown by applying modern concepts of epidemiology, molecular biology and computer modelling to the detailed analysis of historical records, that the causative agent was not a bacterium but a virus with unusual epidemiological characteristics.

This piece of interdisciplinary detective work was undertaken by Dr Susan Scott and Professor Christopher Duncan, and it enabled them to establish the plagues of Europe within a new geographical, historical and demographic framework.

The process by which they reached their conclusions is described in the book ‘Biology of Plagues’ published by Cambridge University Press. The book also contains a warning that it could happen again.

Several authors have drawn attention to the potential dangers of lethal infectious diseases that suddenly emerge, apparently from nowhere, and threaten our civilisation. Examples are HIV, Ebola and the influenza pandemic of 1917-19.

The Black Death arrived in Sicily in 1347 and during the next three years it spread remorselessly northwards, reaching Norway and crossing to England and from there to Scotland, Ireland and probably Iceland and Greenland. The mortality of the pandemic was truly terrible: at least 25 million people (25-75% of the population) are estimated to have died. It presaged the age of plagues during which France was continually ravaged, with several outbreaks in widely separated towns in almost every year. Infected people travelled to England and other parts of continental Europe, bringing irregular and devastating epidemics. The age of plagues in Europe continued for over 300 years until it suddenly and mysteriously (and thankfully) disappeared in 1670.

The Black Death was immediately accepted as an infectious disease, spread person-to-person and the physicians and health authorities of northern Italy led the world in establishing suitable health measures. By the late 14th Century they had already identified a 40-day quarantine period which was strictly maintained throughout Europe for 300 years. A community knew that it was safe if there had been no plague deaths for 40 days. Henry VIII decreed that this time should be reduced, but this decision was speedily reversed when it proved to be completely ineffective.

So, the plague was universally accepted for 650 years as an infectious disease, spread person-to-person until the biology of bubonic plague was brilliantly elucidated at the end of the 19th Century. Bubonic plague is a bacterial disease of rodents with a complex biology involving resistant and non-resistant species and is spread by their fleas. It is endemic in a variety of rodents across vast areas of Asia today. Occasionally it spreads to humans via peridomestic rats causing a potentially lethal disease which is usually treatable with modern medicine. It has been universally believed, contrary to previous opinion, that bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) was also the infectious agent of the plagues that beset Europe from 1347 to 1670.

In ‘Biology of Plagues’ Dr Scott and Professor Duncan detail the compelling evidence which shows that this view is incorrect. For example, quarantine measures are completely ineffective against bubonic plague and the Brown Rat did not arrive in Europe until 50 years after the plague had disappeared. Indeed, the authors conclude that Yersinia pestis was the most unlikely candidate for the causative agent of this disease.

It was decreed in Elizabethan times that the parish burial registers should designate those who died of the plague and so medical historians have invaluable and unique records of the plagues in England over some 100 years. Scott and Duncan have reconstructed the families in communities where the plague struck and have shown how the infection spread through them. The most interesting fact to emerge with complete consistency is that the time from infection to inevitable death was very long, some 37-38 days. This was made up of a latent period of 10-12 days, which was followed by an infectious period (with no overt symptoms) of 20-22 days, followed by a 5-day period showing symptoms before death. So, a victim had 32 days to travel by foot, horseback or sea, carrying a lethal infection that neither he nor anyone else knew about. The finding confirms the 40-day quarantine period and has been used in computer modelling to explain why a ‘typical’ plague epidemic in England lasted 8-9 months. The authors name it haemorrhagic plague to distinguish it clearly from bubonic plague.

The HIV virus today enters human white blood cells via a molecular entry port on the cell surface termed the CCR5 gene product. A mutation of this gene confers protection against HIV and occurs at high frequency in Europe, but not in Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Molecular biologists have determined that this mutation probably appeared about the time of the Black Death and its frequency was then forced up by the pandemic and by the never-ending series of plague epidemics in Europe that followed. A rising proportion of the population slowly became resistant to haemorrhagic plagues in this way.

What then was the causative agent of haemorrhagic plague? After an examination of the symptoms (particularly the haemorrhagic red spots on the chest - (‘God’s tokens’) and the primitive autopsy reports of the dissolution of the internal organs, Scott and Duncan suggest that it may have been a form of filovirus, distantly related to Ebola.

Could haemorrhagic plague emerge again? If it did so, infectious individuals, apparently healthy and not showing any symptoms, would rapidly spread the disease throughout the world by modern transport because of the long incubation period. The mortality would be catastrophic.  4

 

Sources

1  Waltham Holy Cross parish records Essex Record Office
2  A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe Google Books
3  Britain Express  Britain Express
4  'Biology of Plagues' published by Cambridge University Press (my thanks to Tom Tribe)

 

Author:  Barry Ennever

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