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A corpse on the dead cart during the Great Plague (from "Fever").

The Great Plague (1665-1666) was a massive outbreak of disease in England that killed 75,000 to 100,000 people, up to a fifth of London's population. The disease was probably bubonic plague, an infection by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted by fleas.

At the time, Nick Knight and his master, Lucien LaCroix, had just recently returned to the city.
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The buboes on the neck of a plague victim are shown to the crowd in "Fever".

Although one might expect that the large number of dying would make easy prey, in fact the taint in their blood was detectable to the vampires' keen sense of taste. LaCroix was particularly annoyed that, because of the fear of disease, the playhouses were closed.

It was Nick who noted the assiduous professionalism of Gerald Archer, a doctor who continued to treat the ill despite the risk to himself. In the face of opposition from a local religious figure, Archer insisted that the disease was a medical phenomenon, not a visitation of God's justice upon the wicked.

His courage inspired Nick to bring him across so that he might attend his patients without fear. However, Archer instead began preying upon them without due caution to detection. The preacher whipped up a mob against him, used a cross to cow him, and destroyed him by fire. Nick and LaCroix prudently left London that night.

Course of the Plague in LondonEdit

The Great Plague is thought to have been brought to England from the Netherlands, where there had been intermittent outbreaks of bubonic plague since 1599. It probably crossed the Channel with Dutch trading ships carrying bales of cotton from Amsterdam.

The first areas struck by plague were the dock areas outside London, where poor workers crowded into ill-kept structures. The first recorded case was on 12 April 1665.
Symptoms of bubonic plague

The main symptoms of bubonic plague.

By July 1665, plague was in the city of London itself. King Charles II of England and his court left the city for Oxfordshire. However, the aldermen and the majority of the other city authorities opted to stay at their posts. Businesses were closed when most wealthy merchants and professionals fled. Only a small number of clergymen, physicians, and apothecaries chose to remain, as the plague raged throughout the summer. Plague doctors traversed the streets, diagnosing victims, although many of them were unqualified physicians.

Several public health efforts were attempted. Physicians were hired by city officials, and burial details were carefully organized. Authorities ordered fires to be kept burning night and day, in hopes that the air would be cleansed. Substances giving off strong odours, such as pepper, hops or frankincense, were also burned, in an attempt to ward off the infection. London residents were strongly urged to smoke tobacco.

The death toll peaked in September 1665 at seven thousand per week, and began to slow in late autumn. By February 1666, it was considered safe enough for the King and his entourage to return to the city. Nevertheless, plague cases continued until the autumn. Then, on September 2nd and 3rd, 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the most crowded housing. At about the same time, the plague outbreak tapered off.

After the fire, London was rebuilt on an urban plan originally drafted by architect Christopher Wren which not only included widened streets and reduced congestion, but also basic sewage-drainage systems, under the idea that rats might have caused or spread the plague.

The Plague Outside LondonEdit

Though concentrated in London, the outbreak affected other areas of the country. Perhaps the most famous example was the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. The plague allegedly arrived with a merchant carrying a parcel of cloth sent from London. The villagers imposed a quarantine on themselves to stop the further spread of the disease to surrounding areas. This did succeed; but the cost to the village was the death of around three-quarters of its inhabitants.

Despite the losses in London, the 1665-1666 epidemic was actually on a far smaller scale than the Black Death of 1347 and 1353, which affected all of Europe. It is only remembered as the "Great" Plague because it was one of the last widespread outbreaks in England.

Adapted from the Wikipedia article on the Great Plague.
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