Sayegh lecture Restoration & Plague, page



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Sayegh lecture

Restoration & Plague, page



Lecture 25: Restoration Culture and the Resurgence of the Plague

I. Introductory Comments—papers, probably next Tuesday, though will try to get them to you on Thursday. Study guide will be available on Thursday.

II. The Restoration, 1660-1685

A. Intellectual Development of the Seventeenth Century—the seventeenth century in Britain was a time of great intellectual accomplishment.

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B. Politics and High Culture—much of the political debate of the Restoration was the dying embers of the Interregnum. There were plenty of people who were dissatisfied with the turn England took in restoring the crown, but Charles II was not a bad king—he understood the populace and he was very interested in maintaining a popular position with his people. He was smart and savvy politically, though England got engaged in some problematic wars during his reign. Charles II entered his crown like his father—destitute. He needed money. Parliament didn't want to give him money because they felt that so many years living in France made him too Popish. He made a settlement with Louis XIV called the Treaty of Dover (1670); part of the reason he signed this treaty was to obtain money from France which he couldn't receive at home, but it asked him to settle the breach with Rome, which, in after thought, seems highly unlikely. What he did do was stop punishments against Nonconformists and Roman Catholics. In the midst of all of this, he engaged in what is known as the Third Dutch War, which ended very poorly for England. He refused to pay the loans granted him by merchants (through a "Stop the Exchequer") and catapulted many of the rising middling orders into bankruptcy. This also had adverse effects on the Crown's ability to get money and its credit was shot. This incident and the affair leading up to it (an intransigent Parliament) suggested yet again the problems when there is no such thing as government finance.

C. What is the "culture" of the Restoration? How did it differ from the previous period? The period of the Restoration for English Literature and English history often ends arbitrarily at the beginning of the eighteenth century (1700). But this is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is the middle of the reign of King William, who ruled with Mary from 1688-1694, and then on his own until 1702. Second, William and Mary's reign signified a whole different kind of political and cultural twist in England. With their accession to the throne, the compromises of the Restoration were built even further into the requirements of the monarch. Finally, I don't think it's really correct: the Restoration was a time at which the monarchy was replaced by the heir of Charles I. At the very latest, the period of the "Restoration" should end at 1688 with the Glorious Revolution. In any case, the point of the dates is debateable. The Restoration is characterized by a change in theatrical developments—most notably the first legal use of women on the stage. One of Charles II's mistresses was a well-known theatrical player
(Nelly Gwynn).

III. The Plague

A. What was the plague? the plague is a disease that is spread via bodily fluids. The germs from the plague lived on fleas that fed on infected rats. When the fleas moved to their human hosts, they transferred the infected fluid to the person. Symptoms of the plague include high fever, aching joints, swelling of the lymph nodes, dark blotches caused by bleeding beneath the skin. The most common form of the plague to hit Europe was Bubonic plague, but at the same time it was the least toxic. It can also be spread from droplets from sneezing and coughing, thus it is quite virulent. This form of the plague is called pneumonic plague. Recent reports and studies from anthropologists suggest that perhaps the plague that decimated about 1/3 of the English, Irish and Scottish population may have been spread by human contact rather than flea infestation. This theory has been scoffed at by researchers at the London School of Tropical Medicine and elsewhere as "unscientific" guesses at the nature of the disease.

B. Resurgence? Did it go away and return? The plague first appeared in England in the fourteenth century (1348) and reached London in 1349. In the middle ages, the plague was extraordinarily deadly, wiping out much of the population. While the end of the fourteenth century saw a regression of the spread of the plague, it never went away. There would be occasional outbursts of plague. While the major deaths as a result of the first outbreak ended by 1351, there was another outbreak a decade later. In fact, between 1350 – 1450, it has been estimated that Europe lost between 19 and 40 million people. This death toll was so large that it was not until the sixteenth century that Europe began to recover from the demographic decline.



C. Charles II and the Plague in London—the plague year, as it was called by Defoe in his fictional account, was 1665 – 1666. Before the plague hit England, it was running rampant in Holland which was an additional impetus for Charles II to disrupt trade with the Dutch. Not only was there a continual trade war with them, but the practical considerations of preventing plague from hitting England was crucial. The effect, though, was to limit the trade that England had with the Continent. The Plague soon entered into London. In 1665, England's trade was paralyzed by the outbreak. As the plague spread throughout the metropolis, death again was rampant. London may have been the major city of the British Isles, but it was not a "modern" city with "modern" conveniences. It was a city that was built up on top of itself over centuries. Buildings were crooked and waste was not disposed of very properly. The city was growing across the Thames, especially in the area of Southark. Urban growth did not necessarily mean urban development in the modern sense. As a consequence, the demographic and geographic situation of London in the later seventeenth century was ripe for the spread of the plague. The plague killed somewhere between 70,000 – 100,000 Londoners during this outbreak.

IV. Concluding Comments—Next time we will talk about the Great Fire of London. The Fire not only destroyed the plague that decimated the London Population, but it also literally destroyed the City.


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