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1665 A.D.:  The Year of the Last London Plague!

 

  The arrival of 1666 A.D. saw the end of an extremely trying year (slightly more) for the resilient but hard struck British people.  War (with the Dutch) was ongoing, the dread plague had struck the vicinity of London with a vengeance, a horrendous fire had burned for days and torched a large central portion of London next to the Thames River, and the rhythms of life were essentially in total disarray for the many affected citizens.  They were left homeless in many cases, grieving for lost loved ones, and struggling to earn money and survive.  It was an episode of the most extreme national testing and trial for this island nation which had emerged as the new 'most powerful empire on Earth' (at least arguably.)  The horrendous period was even ushered in and escorted out with the appearance of two different great comets in God's heavens.  How odd then that the year 1666 not only contains the dread '666' number associated with the crushing afflictions described in the Bible's Book of Revelation, and that it is the only year (it seems) since the zenith of the Roman Empire that will ever contain each Roman numeral in descending order!:  M (1,000) - D (500) - C (100) - L (50) - X (10) - V (5) - I (1)  =  1666 A.D.  A very portentous time period indeed.  No wonder that in the midst of these troubles there were those who wondered if this was the prophesied end times visitation of the wrath of God.  But no, that is still coming, and it will be, as the scripture makes chillingly clear, immeasurably worse.  When that coming trial draws near to its close scriptures assure us that the sight of a man will be a rare sight upon the Earth (Isaiah 24:6)! 

 Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.

 

And, as per Isaiah 13: 10 - 13,  men will become as rare as gold!:  

10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

12 I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.

13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.

 

  Biblical scripture makes it plain that Yahweh has sometimes used plagues of various types to cause peoples and nations, even his own chosen people the Israelites, to correct their course....to cease in their sinning concerning some matter or matters.  This is usually following warnings of other types, such as the reading of His laws aloud, or the exhortations of His prophets to the people that they should stop sinning.  He has sometimes used plagues and sicknesses to cause the enemies of His people to become weak and to become afraid of His power. 

  Though I do not say that all illness and all outbreaks of sickness are a God-sent plague, though they may or may not be, I do know that nothing occurs apart from the knowledge of God.  Scripture says as much clearly.  No falling sparrow goes unnoticed.  So we know that no human dying of a sickness or disease goes unnoticed.  In some cases God may allow this sort of death because mankind, through sin, brought death into the world.  Sometimes God may use this sort of death because it serves some purpose that He intends.  And in some cases God may send such sickness among a people for the same reason.  He may allow it, He may use it, He may send it.  He is all-knowing.  He alone is good, not us.  We are wicked in our nature.  God is not.  But He punishes both sin and sinners.  And all humans are sinful.  None are fully worthy, and in fact none of us are very worthy at all. So, it is not that we are unrighteously chastised when we are made to suffer, because we are clearly told throughout the Bible's pages that sin is deserving of punishment.  But rather it is true that we are shown unearned mercy when we live in peace, health, easy times, and abundance despite being sinners.

  In Great Britain in the year of our Lord 1664 A.D. the British Empire was growing powerful and extensive.  It was in the middle of a two century span - 1583 to 1783 -  that would be called the 'First British Empire.'  Her ships were reaching far, her colonial holdings expanding.  But in her heart she had grown somewhat away from God with the distractions of national glory and far flung wealth looming large.  So said the people who were to survive the coming plague.  Many of them later declared it had come as punishment for a city and people grown wicked in the eyes of God. 

  At that time - 1664 - a bright comet came and stayed visible in the sky above London for a fair amount of time.  It was described by some to be a prevalent thought among Londoners that it portended some disaster.  And God does indeed say that the lights in the heavens can be used for signs and wonders. 

  And about then the plague broke out, and it lasted through 1665 and even into early 1666 - a plague since confirmed by sampling the teeth tissue of some of the buried victims as being what we refer to as Bubonic Plague -  and around 80,000 to 100,000 unfortunate persons perished in and near London where the outbreak was most keenly felt.  This was said to be 20% to 25% of London's population at that time, it being considered to be the residence for approximately 1/2 million people.  A great number also fled the city entirely as the plague worsened, leaving it much depopulated.  They stayed with friends, relatives, or acquaintances in other British cities, some took up residences in safer country towns and found work there.  Some even camped in the open fields of the country side through weather and winter, eating what they could, counting themselves lucky to be alive and far from the plague.  Certain of those fleeing London were already infected and spread the plague out to the country towns, but it was never so bad as in the big city.  The country side was largely spared.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

        

Buboes, the hard swollen lumps that come with Bubonic Plague, are very painful and often rupture, becoming necrotic.  They can be in groin, arm pit, neck, and sometimes other locations.  Lancing them was considered helpful, but in 1665 A.D. only about 1 in 5 people recovered according to some sources.  Others reported a 10% to 90% death rate when untreated, so mortality rate varies.  Those infected normally saw symptoms in 2 to 5 days.  Death usually occurred within the first 10 days for those who died.  It came with fever, chills, and a severe head ache.  It was a horrific malady.

 

  Those who remained in the city were often the very rich, who could afford to turn home to fortress and wait it out, and the very poor who could not afford to leave.  Unemployment became a huge issue as shops shut down both from death and desertion by shop owners, and from the greatly reduced number of shoppers.  People understood quite well that avoiding close contact with others increased survival odds.  People walked in the middle of the road.  They spoke to each other at a distance.  Shopping changed:  goods were set out on a table, then the shopkeeper would back away.  The purchaser would step forward and drop the required coins into a jar of water as the shop keeper watched, and then they left with their purchase. Water was believed to cleanse the coins.  It seemed to work!

  The city government provided plague related work for many of these poor unemployed persons as guards and health checkers.  If someone in a residence was believed to have contracted plague...if they seemed to be showing symptoms...unemployed poor women who had accepted the job of being 'searchers' would go to the residence and look the reported person over closely, giving them a make-shift physical exam.  Searchers often contracted the plague, but times were desperate for the poor, and it was a paying job.  

  If those 'searched' showed the signs, such as the fevers, the pains, the swollen hardened nodes in the groin and arm pits and elsewhere, then the searchers would report the house to be a plague house.  Once diagnosed as a plague house all of the residents were shut inside their house, quarantined, for 40 days.  And two unemployed male poor persons would watch the house 24 hours a day, in 12 hour shifts, around the clock.  It gave them some a job for food, etc., for their families.  No one was to leave, and no one was to enter.  The guards would bring food and necessities to the house in their off hours perhaps, or arrange it brought the next day.  They were the life line for the poor shut in souls for the next 40 days.  But they were also the enforcers.  The house was boarded up with a large cross placed upon the door, along with the words "Lord have mercy on us.".  People knew what it meant:  death was visiting that household...though in truth some lived through the plague. 

  Many people successfully bribed their guards to let them out, it is said.  And many people crawled out back windows, etc., sometimes at night when it was easier to go unnoticed.  The quarantine system would have been successful had people been obedient to their quarantines, but too often they were not.  Sometimes out of fear they left their dying relatives behind and the supposed healthy members of the family fled the city.  Sometimes they merely crawled out and went shopping or sight seeing, or secretly visiting family or friends.  People are people.  The quarantine had some good effect, but it was not air tight, so it was limited.  

  Some of the unemployed poor men took work with the city in carrying the dead to carts, then pulling the carts to mass burial pits.  "Bring out your dead!", they would call.  They were said to be pretty much fearless in handling the bodies, resigning themselves to their fate - be it live or die - early into the job.  They sometimes wore pieces of cloth over their faces, sometimes put ointments in their nostrils.  Surprisingly, many were said to survive. 

  Some burial pits within the city confines held over 1,000 bodies, large pits dug down clear to the water table.  Layer upon layer of corpses were arranged.  Some commented that those doing the burying would help themselves to the clothing and burial clothes the dead were wrapped in just to make a little extra money...likely another way the plague spread!  So the bodies lay there naked and ghastly.  Some weeks saw over 5,000 die within the walls of the old Roman city of London and the towns (called 'liberties') grown up against the outside of the walls. 

  People became very religious.  There were groups who went about praying and singing Christian praise songs by the close of the outbreak.  There were some, during the worst of it all, who openly wondered whether God would allow any in London to survive!  There were demonstrations of public penitence and shows of fearful humility.    

   It was not the first time England had suffered through the plague....it had passed through most of Europe repeatedly, in waves, over the previous several centuries since first arriving in Europe in the 1340's.  But this episode in 1665 was a severe outbreak, and has also been, as of this date, the last time that England has suffered a widespread plague outbreak. May it never happen again. 

  When it was nearly over, another comet came, and was seen for a time over the skies of London.  It was a bright and pleasing looking comet, some reported.  It was viewed by many as a renewing of God's mercy, and some even wrote that those who had the disease tended to more often survive it from the point of the 2nd comet's appearance onward, as if God had partially sapped the strength of the plague.    

  And then in 1666, as the first menace of the plague wound down, the great London fire broke out as well, burning down much of the city.  Some Londoners thought the fire was a punishment for gluttony, as it began at Pudding Lane and ended at the 'Golden Boy of Pye Corner', and a monument was built near where the fire finally stopped which mentioned this belief.  Punishment by their Almighty God was much on their mind just then.  But some have commented that the extensive fire destroyed many (thousands) of the houses where the rats dwelled that had the fleas which transferred the plague bacteria.  No one in that day and age seems to have known that it was these fleas which transferred the plague bacteria from rat to man, but it was learned in later times - through Alexandre Yersin in 1894 - that it occurs mostly that way.  The bacteria is even now named Yersinia Pestis after Alexandre Yersin.  And then, once people have contracted it, they can transfer it to each other. 

  But still, the fire may have worked as a cleansing blessing as the much reduced plague was not totally extinguished at the time of the fire, but was becoming so.  Yet the possible advantages bestowed by the terrible blaze was no doubt of little consolation at the time to the displaced Londoners, made homeless in their many thousands, refugees by the hand of this fiery destruction.  London was rebuilt of brick and stone mainly, in the burnt out areas, lest it should ever burn so severely again.          

  It was without a doubt a time of great trial for what was arguably the world's most powerful city.  But for a brief time the people of London, many at least, returned to their God.    

 

 

      

 

 

 

 

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