The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year / Edition 1

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In the winter of 1664-65, a bitter cold descended on London in the days before Christmas. Above the city, an unusually bright comet traced an arc in the sky, exciting much comment and portending "horrible windes and tempests." And in the remote, squalid precinct of St. Giles-in-the-Fields outside the city wall, Goodwoman Phillips was pronounced dead of the plague. Her house was locked up and the phrase "Lord Have Mercy On Us" was painted on the door in red. By the following Christmas, the pathogen that had felled Goodwoman Phillips would go on to kill nearly 100,000 people living in and around London—almost a third of those who did not flee. This epidemic had a devastating effect on the city's economy and social fabric, as well as on those who lived through it. Yet somehow the city continued to function and the activities of daily life went on.

In The Great Plague, historian A. Lloyd Moote and microbiologist Dorothy C. Moote provide an engrossing and deeply informed account of this cataclysmic plague year. At once sweeping and intimate, their narrative takes readers from the palaces of the city's wealthiest citizens to the slums that housed the vast majority of London's inhabitants to the surrounding countryside with those who fled. The Mootes reveal that, even at the height of the plague, the city did not descend into chaos. Doctors, apothecaries, surgeons, and clergy remained in the city to care for the sick; parish and city officials confronted the crisis with all the legal tools at their disposal; and commerce continued even as businesses shut down.

To portray life and death in and around London, the authors focus on the experiences of nine individuals—among them an apothecary serving a poor suburb, the rector of the city's wealthiest parish, a successful silk merchant who was also a city alderman, a country gentleman, and famous diarist Samuel Pepys. Through letters and diaries, the Mootes offer fresh interpretations of key issues in the history of the Great Plague: how different communities understood and experienced the disease; how medical, religious, and government bodies reacted; how well the social order held together; the economic and moral dilemmas people faced when debating whether to flee the city; and the nature of the material, social, and spiritual resources sustaining those who remained.

Underscoring the human dimensions of the epidemic, Lloyd and Dorothy Moote dramatically recast the history of the Great Plague and offer a masterful portrait of a city and its inhabitants besieged by—and defiantly resisting—unimaginable horror.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Medical History - J.N. Hays

The authors... have produced a readable and reasonable account that should now be the first choice of readers who want to know the story.

Ancestors Magazine

The Mootes write with an impressive combination of storytelling and scholarship... Their work provides an example that local historians might consider copying for other locations in Britain.

London Review of Books

The Mootes' enthusiasm at their archival discoveries flavours their lively account of the Plague Year.

Sixteenth Century Journal

This is now the best book available on London's 1665 plague epidemic.


Extraordinarily accomplished... A book of rare distinction, one that is able to analyze a city in crisis while never losing sight of the individual lives contained within it. From the tiniest microbe to the most blustery regal proclamation, there seem to be no aspect of Pestered London to which the Mootes did not have access.

New England Journal of Medicine

In this excellent book, husband and wife Lloyd and Dorothy Moote, a historian and biologist, respectively, have brilliantly captured the human, medical, and political dimensions of the Great Plague in London and the surrounding areas.

The Great Plague is a great read. The authors skillfully integrate evidence from a number of sources, and their enthusiasm for their subject is infectious.

— Tom Beaumont James, PhD, FSA


In this crowded field, this jewel of a book brings a new dimension by telling the story of how the rich and the poor who stayed rather than escaped survived rather than died, maintained order rather than succumbed to chaos, and provided support and sustenance rather than betrayal and impedance.

Journal of the American Association of Forensic Dentists

This is a great story of the great plague of London in the 1660s... Fascinating.

Medical History
The authors... have produced a readable and reasonable account that should now be the first choice of readers who want to know the story.

— J.N. Hays

Sixteenth-Century Journal
This is now the best book available on London's 1665 plague epidemic.
JAMA - Tom Beaumont James

The Great Plague is a great read. The authors skillfully integrate evidence from a number of sources, and their enthusiasm for their subject is infectious.

Publishers Weekly
The Mootes have written an extraordinary and insightful account of life in London during 1665, when nearly 100,000 people died of the plague. They detail the havoc unleashed upon the city and the efforts of the large number of people who stayed behind rather than fleeing. The Mootes apply their knowledge of history (Lloyd Moote) and microbiology (Dorothy Moote) to analyze the results of their original archival research, most notably the city's weekly "Bills of Mortality" and unpublished documents including publicly distributed pamphlets, personal correspondences, business ledgers and medical records. The story they tell is of two Londons, the working poor of the "alleys and cellars and tenements," and the rich, titled and merchant classes, and how they become "interdependent" during 1665. In a powerful narrative device, the authors often incorporate the words of real people, including Samuel Pepys, who continued risky business arrangements and a "wide range of exotic adventures"; Symon Patrick, the rector of metropolitan London's wealthiest congregation; and Nathaniel Hodges, a doctor who valiantly sought to find a cure for the disease in the face of popular healers selling self-proclaimed "wonder drugs," as well as outdated medical practices. The book also details how the Restoration government was woefully unprepared for dealing with the plague; an epilogue on the development of microbiology and antibiotic cures forcefully argues that modern society still needs to be better prepared for future infectious diseases. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sickness had always spread in the most poverty-stricken areas of London, but in 1665-when the plague first struck a member of a more "substantial household"-it became clear that no particular class of people would be immune. A. Lloyd Moote (history, emeritus, Univ. of Southern California) and retired medical research specialist Dorothy Moote provide a detailed and fascinating account of this human tragedy. While medical professionals argued over cures and causes, merchants and tradespeople fled to the country in droves. The poor, who lacked savings, remained in the city, and the parish became their refuge. Through donations from wealthier citizens, the parishes established relief, burial procedures, and wages for searchers, nurses, and buriers. Through the eyes of the city magistrate, Samuel Pepys, we learn about the economic repercussions as "the early modern world of capital and labor was in danger of coming unglued." By the end of the year-long plague, more than 68,000 would die; it's amazing that the city survived to face yet another disaster: the Great Fire of 1666. Recommended for all public libraries.-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801884931
  • Publisher: Hopkins Fulfillment Service
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Edition description: 20
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

A. Lloyd Moote is an emeritus professor at the University of Southern California and an affiliated professor at Rutgers University. He is the author of four books on seventeenth-century European history. Dorothy C. Moote, now retired, was a medical research specialist at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles. They live in Princeton, New Jersey.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
List of Tables xiii
Preface xv
Prologue 1
Part I Beginnings 17
1. Winter, 1664-1665 19
2. The Other London 38
3. Signs and Sources 57
Part II Confusion 73
4. Fleeing or Staying? 75
5. The Medical Marketplace 95
6. Plague's Progress 113
Part III The Abyss 137
7. The Doctors Stumble 139
8. Business Not as Usual 158
9. Requiem for London 177
10. Contagion in the Countryside 198
Part IV Surviving 215
11. The Web of Authority 217
12. Not by Bread Alone 233
13. The Awakening 244
Epilogue: Of Once and Future Plagues 263
Appendix A. Bills of Mortality for Greater London 293
Appendix B. Parish Records of Saint Margaret Westminster 296
Appendix C. Parish Records of Saint Giles Cripplegate 298
Appendix D. The Three Plague Pandemics 302
Notes 303
Acknowledgments 345
Index 347
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