B is for Bubonic Plague

Free image from Wiki Commons

Free image from Wiki Commons                                The port mentioned is Weymouth.

Probably not what you were thinking for the letter B.  What the heck does the plague have to do with romance novels? Well, the Bubonic Plague or Black Death was a very important part of the medieval period and helped me create excellent conflict in my first novel, Time Enough to Love.  In fact, my one sentence pitch for the book is:  Romeo and Juliet during the Bubonic Plague with a happy ending.

Free image from Wiki Commons

Free image from Wiki Commons

The Bubonic Plague was a disease that originated in China in 1330 and was spread through trade routes to the west via the fleas that live on rats.  When the rats died, the fleas moved to other hosts, usually human, and infected them.  The first major outbreak of plague in Europe, called the Black Death, began in Italy in 1347.  By 1348 it had spread to France and England and by 1349 had circled the globe, killing approximately one third of the population of Europe.

There were actually three bacterial strains of the plague infecting people during the 14th century outbreak.  According to the PubMedHealth medical encyclopedia, the first was bubonic plague, an infection of the lymph nodes.  Symptoms onset occurred usually 2-5 days after exposure an included: fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, seizures, and painful swelling of the lymph nodes (called buboes).  Mortality rate was approximately 50%.  Treatments consisted of good diet, rest, and relocating to a non-infected area.  If the swollen buboes burst, the patient often recovered.

The second strain was pneumonic plague, an infection of the lungs. This strain was

Dance of DeathFree image from Wiki Commons

Dance of Death
Free image from Wiki Commons

airborne, transferred from human to human by moisture droplets present during coughing.  This strain of plague had a higher mortality rate, and shorter incubation period, usually 2-3 days after exposure.  And the third strain, septicemic plague, an infection of the blood, was the most virulent.  Death could occur even before symptoms appeared.  It usually lasted less than a day and had a 100% mortality rate.

Fear of the plague made parents forsake their children, husbands abandon their wives.  Finally the only people willing to nurse the sick were the nuns and monks in holy orders.  Their numbers quickly became decimated because they worked intimately with victims of the disease and then became victims themselves.

Beak Doctorfree image from Wiki Commons

Beak Doctor
Free image from Wiki Commons

One of the most prevalent images found regarding the bubonic plague is this one of a physicians’ costume during the epidemic.  The beak contained herbs and flowers that the doctors inhaled to protect themselves. Flowers were considered a sovereign remedy for warding off the plague. According to Charles Mee Jr.’s article on the Black Death, people were encouraged to carry posies near their nose to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them.”

Not the usual stuff of romance novels perhaps, but a fascinating look into a major epidemic that changed the face of medieval Europe.

This entry was posted in Alphabet Post, On Research, On Time Enough to Love, On Writing, On Writing Historical Romance and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to B is for Bubonic Plague

  1. wawipiha says:

    I suggest “The Dark Traveller” by Cindy Wright.This book is really good and it is about the Black Death!It is well written and it has illustrations that can help enhance the reader’s experience. You will be shock to know how many pseudo-cures had been created to fight the Bubonic Plague. Some are sure to make one shudder.
    DO NOT MISS OUT this GOOD READ! Trust me,this book is really worth your money.

    Like

  2. Fabulous post Jenna. Very interesting. BTW.. terrific idea posting the alphabet. Blog topics are hard to come up with sometimes. This is brilliant 🙂
    Rose

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  3. Cait says:

    Nice post Jenna! I live in Blackheath — so called becaused there are hundreds of bodies buried there from the Black Death…! It’s a very interesting topic…nice one!

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  4. Great post, Jenna!! I had to read a book called The Black Death when I was studying to be a social studies teacher. Mideval Europe definitely wasn’t a happy place to be during that time period.

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  5. Very interesting information. I plotted out a book during the plague time, but I’m not sure I’ll ever write it.

    Thanks for sharing! I never knew the song had been debunked.

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  6. Wow. Interesting. I never knew about the septicemic plague. Definitely wouldn’t want that one. Thanks for sharing. I learned something new today.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Yep, that was the one you really don’t want to get. The bubonic one was actually the least transferable and the best chance of surviving. Still not anything I’d like to come down with. Thanks for stopping by, Sharon!

      Like

  7. D'Ann Lindun says:

    Every time this subject come up, I get a cold chill. Yikes! Wouldn’t it have been horrible to live then? I’m so glad I live now…!

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Times were definitely hard during the Middle Ages. But like I said, the plague is actually still running around out in the western part of the US. Not to alarm you, D’Ann! They have drugs for it now!

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  8. Liza OConnor says:

    Well this is a bright and cheery topic. To cheer myself up, I must think of the Monty Python movie where an old man is carried from the house. “But I’m not dead yet”
    “Sorry,” say’s the cart driver. “But he says he’s not dead yet.”

    “Close enough” the son says…

    Now that I write that down, it’s not’s terribly funny, leaving me ashamed that I always laugh when I watch the scene.

    So now I’m depressed and ashamed…well done Jenna! B is for BOOOOOO!

    lol just kidding.

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  9. Carrie-Anne says:

    I heard somewhere that everyone alive today who’s descended from European stock is here because our ancestors were strong (or lucky) enough to survive the Plague. It’s hard to imagine what it must’ve been like to be among the survivors when so many others died. One of my favorite books, Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, takes place in part during the Black Death in Germany. Another of my favorite books, Forever Amber, also includes the Plague, though during the 17th century outbreak in England, not the gigantic wave all over Europe.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I can absolutely believe that, Carrie-Anne. So many people died that the gene pool in Europe was greatly reduced. And the plague, as you indicated, kept rearing its head throughout Europe and Asia well into the 17th century. Doing this research I found out that there are still a few cases diagnosed today in the United States! And that’s kind of scary too. Thanks for coming by!

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  10. Daryl Devore says:

    when my troupe went to England we went on a haunted walk and the effects of the plaque seem to be everywhere and created a lot of ghosts.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Oooh, you must give me details, Daryl! Whenever I get to go back to England I’d love to do a haunted walk. And of course with my interest in the plague, this sounds like a no-brainer! Thanks for coming by!

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  11. Karen Wilson says:

    you are a treasure trove of history Jenna and I love it. Can’t wait for the letter C.

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  12. Fascinating post and the comments were too. It had to be a terrifying time. The idea of a plague of any kind still can cause a panic. I’ll have to check out your Time Enough for Love.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Panic is the word, indeed. We’ve had epidemics not nearly so dire and everyone goes to pieces. I can’t imagine the terror of something like this. Time Enough to Love will be released as three novellas during the spring and summer. Betrothal, the first book, will hopefully be out in April. The other two at 2-3 month intervals. Thanks for visiting today!

      Like

  13. Sue says:

    thanks for the post. One of my side interests is medicine through the ages. I am gearing up for the a-z challenge in April – a lot of work! and also watching the worlds skaking from right here in London!

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  14. Brenda says:

    I also heard the song, Ring Around The Rosy was not about the plague.
    Excellent post, Jenna. One of my fav topics. Grim, yes, lol, but it has always fascinated me. I’ve studied up on the topic extensively.

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Me too, Brenda! We’re plaggies! LOL The death of Princess Joanna of England to the plague was the kernel of the idea for my novel Time Enough to Love. And I loved being able to use a lot of what I’d learned about the plague in the book. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  15. The plague has always given me the willies. But it’s also fascinating…I watched an NCIS episode a couple years ago in which Tony was infected by pneumonic plague – and they used the ring around the rosie thing. Interesting that it’s been debunked! I guess Hollywood writers don’t know it all – lol!!

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  16. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would have been to live through that time. Thanks for the post. I tweeted.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Terrible too because people abandoned their spouses and children for fear of catching the disease. If you lived, think of the guilt of being a survivor. Thanks for coming and the RT. 🙂

      Like

  17. Interesting post Jenna…I had heard the same thing as Tori about Ring Around the Rosie, but I’d heard it in a history class in high school and the teacher there debunked it…but still an interesting thought. It seems to fit so perfectly.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Yeah, I really hated to let go of that little tidbit. *sigh* But it was such a terrifying time, and people didn’t know what was causing it, so they did come up with some very crazy ways of preventing the plague–like self-flagellation. I didn’t really want to get into that, but it’s true. Scourge yourself and God will save you from the disease.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Like

  18. NancyS.Goodman says:

    I love historical stuff like this. Great post. Tweeted

    Like

  19. And…the plague, and aforementioned posies are what gave us the Ring Around the Rosy poem, if I remember correctly.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Thanks for coming by, Tory. I’d always heard that, and was about to include it in the post, then I checked Snopes who said it was untrue. So I hesitated to include it. Still, it was such a grim time, I can so see it being true!

      Like

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