Living with the Plague

Most people have heard of the Black Death that ravaged Medieval Europe. Less well known is that the bubonic plague returned again and again.

Michel Serre, “Scène de la peste de 1720 à la Tourette.” The last major plague in Europe occured in Marseilles in 1720.

Covid-19 is a unique and novel catastrophe. But in the early-modern period, most people lived through a plague. In fact, they probably experienced it more than once. The threat of plague was one of the defining characteristics of life in medieval and early-modern Europe. Sometimes plague outbreaks were widespread. Others affected only particular cities. In London, the Great Plague of 1665-1666 was the worst plague outbreak since the Black Death. Around 15% of the population died.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys: An Eyewitness Account

What was it like to live through a plague? What did people know about the disease, and how did they respond? The Diary of Samuel Pepys, a statesman and naval administrator, provides some answers. Over an 8 month period, his diary gives us a day-by-day eyewitness account of how the plague unfolded. Click on the timeline below to learn about the experience of plague, in Pepys’ own words.

This online exhibition was curated by Prof. Tawny Paul and the students in History 191: Poverty through the Ages.