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People threw all of the waste outside of their windows, which included, their feces, dead cats and dogs, and also kitchen waste. Eventually, when it would rain, the rain would wash all of the rancid waste into local waters. There were “regulations against people washing clothes in or near waters used for drink, or against washing the entrails of beasts after slaughter”(Rowse 156). “…it is evident from innumerable documents how frequently they were broken” (Rowse 156). As long as people lived in small groups, isolated from each other, there were not many incidents of widespread disease. But as civilization progressed, people began clustering into cities. As the cities grew and became crowded, they also became the nesting places of water-borne, insect-borne, and skin-to-skin infectious diseases. The Elizabethans shared communal water, handled unwashed food, stepped in excrement from casual discharge of manure, and used urine for dyes, bleaches, and even treatment of wounds.
As A.L. Rowse mentions, “many of the citizens possessed chamber pots, usually made of tin, or close stools.” The close stools were put in the cockloft, the sleeping quarters of the Elizabethans. This would obviously reek of horrible odors and force the townsmen to dump them as soon as possible into the slimy cobblestone streets.
Many rats and rodents flocked to the littered streets, finding morsels of anything that would satisfy their hunger. This is where the transportation of the plague would come to play. As the rodents feasted on the waste, the plague-infested fleas would jump to the nearest passerby. “The most devastating to England was the bubonic plague. Also known as, “"The Black Death", because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and medieval medicine had nothing to combat it”(Rice). London was afflicted over a dozen times during the 1500’s (Miller and Orr)”. Winters were usually mild, allowing the rats and rodents, which carried fleas to stay active throughout the winter months.
“Typhus fever is another disease born of bad sanitation. It is also known as, "jail fever" or "ship fever," because it was so common among men held captive in such putrid surroundings. The disease was highly contagious and usually transmitted through human feces and lice that infested the unclean bodies of the Elizabethans.
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"Sanitation and Plagues of Elizabeth?s England." 123HelpMe.com. 20 Jan 2020
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Another one of history’s most violent killers is Cholera. The disease was usually caused by swallowing water, food, or any other material contaminated by a Cholera victim. Casual contact with an infected bathroom, clothing, or bedding might have been all that was needed for this silent killer to do its job.
Families’ fleeing from the cities and towns of London was not unheard of. Many of the wealthier families would move to their country homes when many of the frequent outbreaks would occur. Queen Elizabeth went to great lengths as well to protect herself and her court from the common outbreaks. Elizabeth would order all of the plays and alehouses be closed at once. Then, “ she would move her court to Windsor Castle. She erected gallows and ordered anyone coming from London be to be hung immediately”(Miller and Orr).
Writers of the Elizabethan time described the various plagues in great detail in their diaries and notes. The Elizabethan’s went through the agony and fear of the outbreaks of the great plagues of their time. Be it of water-borne, insect-borne, and skin-to-skin infectious disease, they were all connected to the unsanitary conditions of the Elizabethan’s everyday life. By using the notes of the writer’s, it helped the Elizabethan’s advance to the future by improving the sanitary conditions of waste disposal and advance in medical practices.
Outline- Sanitation and Plagues of Elizabeth’s England
Thesis: Elizabethan’s lived in houses that were extremely close to one another, which made it quite easy to disregard such a necessity to keep the streets and living surroundings clean.
1. Living conditions
2. Discharge of waste
1. Bubonic plague
2. Other outbreaks of plagues
IV. Elizabeth’s way of dealing with the plague
Miller, Liam and Evan Orr. “Elizabethan England: Plague”. 14 Mar 2002
Rice, Aaron. “The Black Death: Bubonic Plague”. David O. McKay School of Education, Bringham Young University. 8 Dec.1998. 14 mar. 2002
Rowse, A. L.. The Elizabethan Renaissance: The life of the Society. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.