“The Sweat” or “Sweating Sickness”

A dreaded illness that took numerous lives in the Tudor period. It is also known as “Sudor Anglicus”. There were 5 outbreaks occurring in the summers of 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551. One chronicler wrote of the first outbreak: “A new kind of sickness came through the whole region, which was so sore, so painful and sharp that the like was never heard of to any manners rememberance before that time”. There were some notable victims of the disease, including young Henry and Charles Brandon, Dukes of Suffolk. Young Charles Brandon only held the title of Duke of Suffolk for one day after he followed his older brother to the grave at about the age of 13.

The characteristics of the disease were its sudden onset, headaches, profuse sweating (hence the name), fever, muscle pain, difficulty breathing and usually death in a short space of time, often only a day.

The disease has caught the attention of both modern historians and modern pathologists who have tried to analyze the recorded symptoms and find an illness known today that might fit. If you do a search on pubmed.gov, you will turn up roughly two dozen publications in medical journals on the disease. One of the more likely causes is a disease similar to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which there was a large outbreak of in the southwestern US in 1993. Anthrax has also been suggested as a possibility. Undisturbed graves of victims of the English sweating sickness have been found and it is possible that a DNA analysis will finally give us an answer.