A Tudor quarantine

A Tudor quarantine

Did you know that self-isolation & quarantine actually has a long history in England?

Every period of history has suffered epidemics, from the Black Death and Spanish Flu to Covid-19. Everyone has had their own ways of dealing with these epidemics, but you might be surprised to find out how similar they are!

During the Tudor times, sweating sickness and the plague were big concerns for many people. Henry VIII, especially, had a deep-rooted fear of infection. Whenever infection broke out in Tudor England, he would put court life and business on hold, much like we have these past few months. The Tudors believed if they moved around a lot, especially in the countryside, it would lessen the chance of catching infection. As well as doing that, Henry VIII would even put himself in self-isolation if he heard rumours of fevers, plague or sweating sickness! He wouldn’t see anyone while in isolation and would only allow his servants to pass meals through hatches in the door.

The first state quarantine measures were put in place in 1517. Victims of infection had to quarantine by law. Only one person was allowed to leave a quarantined house and only to buy food and other necessities. While outside that person would have to carry a large rod so other people would know to socially distance from them. A large pole was also fastened to the quarantined house to warn the community to keep their distance.  

‘take special regard and make diligent search amongst you from time to time that there be no resort, sojourning, nor lodging of any strange persons within any of your houses in our said college which shall come from London or any other place where any infection is’

 “and in case any of you or yours be infected or shall fortune to be infected, that then ye do see the doors of the house to be shut up where the infection is or shall happen to be amongst you, and that no recourse of people be made there, nor none of the persons of the said house do go abroad but only one to bring in meat and drink and other necessaries for the persons within the said house”

The first ‘state’ quarantine measures in England (1517): St George’s College Archives, Windsor, IV.B.2

Sweating sickness 1528

When Henry VIII heard about an outbreak of ‘the sweat’ in 1528, he immediately ordered his court to break up and he travelled from ‘safe house to safe house’. Meanwhile, his mistress Anne Boleyn went into quarantine at Hever Castle when she developed sweating sickness. Despite his passionate love for her, he did not visit her, but instead sent his second-best physician to see her with a love letter!