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Sweat and die: The story of strange medieval disease

Sweat is essential for the body to regulate temperature. But it turns out that in 1485-1551 Europe was covered by a whole epidemic of sweating. Incomprehensible nature, which claimed thousands of lives.

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The disease was first recorded in 1485 among the soldiers of Henry Tudor, who won the Battle of Bosworth, arrived in London and ascended the throne under the name of King Henry VII.

At that time, the people who were in contact with his army began to die en masse. And in a month and a half, a strange disease wiped out about 15 thousand people.

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Then the epidemic subsided. But it resumed with renewed vigor in 1507, 1517 and 1528. For the last time, even the king had to wind around the country to escape from an incomprehensible infection.

The wave spread to other European countries and only by 1551 was there a lull.

Subsequently, doctors and researchers racked their brains – what was it? Not plague, not cholera, not smallpox. Mortality from a strange sore reached 50%, and the process proceeded very quickly: a person who was ill in the morning could already die by the evening. The first days were critical in the case of the “sweating disease”: you survived, so you will live.

What is strange, the infection did not “choose” the old, the sick and the poor, but, on the contrary, the young, wealthy, strong, that is, people who ate normally, took care of their health, lived in good conditions.

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The disease began with a fever, the person sweated profusely, then there were pains in the abdomen, neck, lower back. After that, nausea and vomiting were added, and sweating went even more actively. Streams literally poured from people, and the sweat had a specific, very unpleasant odor.

Those who recovered did not develop immunity. There have been many deaths after re-infection. Since the epidemic of “sweating” began after the battle, the researchers suggested that the soldiers awakened some ancient bacterium or virus, which began to spread further.

Another version explaining the epidemic was the mass reproduction of rodents – rats and mice. After the end of the War of the Roses, an economic recovery began. The people wanted to quickly return to a normal peaceful life.

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They actively cut down forests and built houses and outbuildings from wood, where mice and rats felt at ease.

Therefore, another version explaining the cause of the epidemic was a virus from old trees, which was awakened and actively spread. At the same time, it was not overcome, the virus simply mutated into something less deadly and, accordingly, less noticeable.

Contemporaries put forward different versions, including quite exotic ones: typhus, anthrax, even some aggressive form of tuberculosis.

Relatively recently, already in our century, researchers from a hospital in Brussels made the assumption that the symptoms resemble hantavirus with a very high mortality. But the exact answer to the question of what caused the “English sweat” has not yet been found.

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Jake Carter

Jake Carter is a researcher and a prolific writer who has been fascinated by science and the unexplained since childhood. He is always eager to share his findings and insights with the readers of, a website he created in 2013.