Friday, November 27, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Wherefore are you, good men of letters, so little susceptible of shame, as always to be fostering and inflaming the feelings of jealousy and hatred in the hearts of Princes? Wait at least till we are dead, and then write whatever you please; for avarice, party feeling, and other passions will no longer draw a veil over your eyes; and it is only when purified of these, that history will be real history, and fit to live for posterity."

Emperor Charles V
to Christian Nasseus of Cambray,
who in a 1540 historical account represented
King Francis I in the harshest of colors

[Quoted in Correspondence of the Emperor Charles V,
ed. Wm. Bradford (1850)]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

May you all enjoy dear friends, good food, and true gratefulness of heart today.

Thank you so much for your interest and support.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"For the first voice the infant hears is its mother's, and attempts to form its first babbling to her speech; for at that age it can do nothing but imitate, and takes its first sense experiences, the first furnishings of mind from what it hears its mother say or sees her do; therefore, it is more in the mother's power to shape her child's character
than anyone thinks."

Juan Luis Vives (1453-1540), Spanish humanist
De institutione feminae christianae
(The Education of the Christian Woman), 1524

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Plague Battle Continues

[This post is a continuation of the documented description of the plague epidemic in Chalons-sur-Saône in 1578-79. The first installment can be read here.]

The town of Chalons-sur-Saône made an admirable civic effort to curb the spread of the plague and to care for the afflicted during the 1578-79 outbreak, but this effort took its toll on the town finances and social fabric. The cost of feeding and housing the ill, paying the wages of doctors, barber-surgeons, maulgognets, and saccards, and disinfecting houses increased to such a degree that the town had to take out two substantial loans. Yet even that was not enough. In October, the council decided to levy a tax of 2000 livres on the privileged and the clergy. The former paid; the latter resisted. The clery did contribute to the program, and generously, but they refused to be forced to do so by the municipality. The city took them to court, although the case was not resolved until after the plague had passed. The verdict found the clergy guilty, and from then on, in times of plague, religious orders were obliged to turn their alms over to the magistrates.

Healthy inhabitants, fearful of succumbing to the illness, fled to their holdings outside of town. Court cases were suspended; the collège closed down. The only people left were the sick and those devoted to helping them. The number of able-bodied inhabitants dwindled to such an extent that it compromised the town's security. With the Wars of Religion in full swing, townspeople were required to participate in the watch and guard. Anyone leaving to attend fairs or to travel had to supply a healthy man to watch in his place. Eventually, even the clergy were forced to take watch duty. The countryside was at the mercy of rampaging Huguenots and Catholics who ignored Burgundy's declared neutrality. Concerned, the Governor of Burgundy ordered the raising of a small army in September, but Chalons was unable to supply troops for the force. Fortunately, the plague proved to be a stronger deterrent than any army could have been, and the threats to the city never materialized.

Meanwhile, as winter approached and it became too cold to continue housing the sick in the poorly constructed cadolles, the municipality took the extreme measure of moving the stricken back into their own homes. Behind padlocked doors and windows, the ill and suspected ill were secluded for six weeks or until death, whichever came first. A precise neighborhood tally of the victims was submitted each day to the mayor.

The epidemic abated near the end of November, only to reappear, stronger than before, in the spring. In February 1579, the mayor again sounded the alarm. Due to the season, no thought was given to constructing new cadolles; instead, the hospital was evacuated of its non-contagious patients so that the plague-stricken could be housed there. The progress of the epidemic was rapid. In March, an entire faubourg outside the town walls was declared infected. Healthy residents moved inside the walls and the gates to the faubourg closed, effectively sequestering it.

Although most medical professionals battled the epidemic with devotion and compassion, on occasion their courage ran out. A barber-surgeon who had served in the earlier outbreak refused to assume his duties in this new one. He was thrown into prison and only agreed to practice when threatened with the loss of his goods and license. However, in May, when the hospital's barber-surgeon lay dying, he refused to go bleed him. The threats of the magistrate did not move the barber; he disappeared from town. The authorities quickly waived the exam and swore in a new barber-surgeon, who demanded that his fees be paid in advance and that he receive a complete new wardrobe when his service had ended.

Things continued to worsen over the summer. Hospital space proved insufficient, so the sick were housed in the barn of the Carmelite monastery. Preventitive measures, such as the burning of upholstered furniture and the closing of inns, were enforced. Though the illness once again abated in the fall, it continued to crop up again and again in Chalons and the surrounding area during the last decade of the sixteenth century. During a particularly bad outbreak in 1596, when the town's misery was compounded by famine, paupers were expelled from the gates with a crust of bread and two pennies. The watch would not allow entry to any travelers who could not produce a certificate from a non-infected area.

Marcel Canat de Chizy's 1879 monograph concludes with two interesting anecdotes. The first recounts the presence of a woman among the barber-surgeons who served in 1578. The widow of the sieur Monnot took part in the municipal deliberations as a chirugien. The historian claims there can be no doubt that Madame Monnot had been received as a master barber-surgeon, for she had two apprentices studying under her, both of whom advanced sans examen in order to battle the plague.

The second anecdote relates how in November 1578, the two daughters of one Joachim Robert were stricken. To avoid the danger of infection inherent in living with the girls, Robert petitioned the mayor to allow him and his wife to move into a room at the hospital. Remember, the hospital was reserved for the non-contagious sick; Robert evidently felt it was the safest place to avoid contagion. The town council did not appreciate his logic -- they told him to go occupy one of the several houses he owned in the countryside. So much for paternal love in time of duress!

[Canat de Chizy's monograph can be read in French at GoogleBooks.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Fool," said my Muse to me,
"look in thy heart,
and write."

Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586), British poet and courtier
Astrophel and Stella (1581), Sonnet 1

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sixteenth Century Records in St. Augustine, Florida

Twenty-six years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Gabriel Hernandez, a Spanish soldier, married Catalina de Valdez in St. Augustine, Florida. The record of their marriage, handwritten by Father Diego Escobar de Sambrana and dated 1594, is one of the earliest known European documents in the United States. It is one of thousands of church records that chronicle the births, marriages and deaths of the Spanish settlers--missionaries, soldiers, and merchants--who lived in St. Augustine from 1594-1763. Scattered throughout this country and others through the centuries, these documents have recently been gathered and returned to the Diocese of St. Augustine, which is working on digitizing them. You can read the full article about this fascinating project here.

Of course, my novelist's mind immediately starts wondering about Gabriel and Catalina. How did they meet? Was their marriage a happy one? Did they return to Spain or spend their lives in the Florida colony? Imagine if someone had told them that 415 years later, their marriage would be front-page news...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[C]ar combien que par la volonté de Dieu, telle maladie soit envoyée aux hommes, si est ce que par sa saincte volonté les moyens et secours nous sont donnés pareillement de luy, pour en user comme d'instrumens à sa gloire."

"For in as much as through God's will such an illness is visited upon men, so it is that through His holy will He equally gives us methods and remedies, to be used as instruments for His glory."

Ambroise Paré, surgeon and scholar
De la peste [About the plague], 1568

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Plague upon Your Town

Although the incidence of bubonic plague, the infamous "Black Death" of the fourteenth century, slowly decreased over the course of the Renaissance era, plague was still very much part of sixteenth century life. Outbreaks of plague occurred sporadically throughout Europe, following the movement of goods from port to port and of soldiers returning home from war. Edinburgh suffered a bout of plague in 1529, as did London in 1537-39 and 1547-48; Paris, where outbreaks were frequent, suffered a particularly virulent one around 1564. In 1570, 200,000 people lost their lives to plague in the vicinity of Moscow; Lyon lost 50,000 individuals in 1572; in 1576, 70,000 inhabitants of Venice succumbed. Plague during the sixteenth century was largely confined to cities and towns. Outbreaks usually occurred during the summer months, when rat fleas are most active. Death came quickly to victims: 80% of those infected died within five days.

In the course of my research on plague in the sixteenth century, I came across a small book entitled Deux ans de peste à Chalon-sur-Saone, 1578-79 [Two Years of Plague in Chalon-sur Saone, 1578-79], published in 1879 by Marcel Canat de Chizy, the town archivist. The book provides a fascinating account, culled from the town's historical record, of how the municipality dealt with a particular outbreak of the disease. Interesting to me was how the care of the sick became a community effort, motivated both by Christian charity and the more self-interested desire to limit the extent of the contagion.

In July of 1578, the mayor of Chalon announced to the nervous inhabitants gathered outside the town hall that two cases of plague had surfaced. He exhorted the townspeople to contribute to the effort to provide medical aid, lodging and sustenance to the afflicted.

First, medical assistance was organized. The town benefited from the activity of three types of medical professionals: doctors, apothecaries, and barber-surgeons. The barber-surgeons were under the municipality's direct control and governed by a set of statutes. In order to be licensed as a maistre, or master, a barber-surgeon had to pass an exam in the presence of the magistrates and the doctors. The statutes required surgeons to provide aid to the plague-stricken; since this was a risky endeavor, apprentice surgeons who accepted the task were granted the privileges of a master without having to take the exam. Two apprentice surgeons took the oath to serve the afflicted; they were granted the status of master and a salary of 6 écus per month, plus food for themselves and their families and exemption from militia duty during the term of their service.

The town engaged the services of two lower levels of caretaker during the outbreak: maulgognets and saccards. Maulgognets cared for the living: they were what we might call nurse's aids, men and women who provided basic services for the incapacitated. Saccards took care of the dead: they collected and buried the bodies. In addition to their wages, saccards were granted the clothing of the deceased (cruel recompense, indeed!). If they survived until the end of outbreak, they were housed in seclusion outside the town for two weeks in order to "air out."

The town hospital could only accept non-contagious patients; what to do, then, with the rapidly increasing number of infected, who needed to be separated from the healthy? Flimsy wooden shelters covered with straw, called cadolles, were constructed outside of town to house them. The victims were crowded into these shelters as soon as their infection became evident. Often those only suspected of being infected were forced to move into the cadolles with the ill, a guaranteed death-sentence. The sergents-de-ville escorted the pestiférés to the cadolles at specific times of the day along a prescribed path, so that the healthy might avoid them.

The town provisioned the sick for free. The mayor appointed a directeur de vivres who organized the collection and preparation of food, which was delivered daily to the town hall and transported to the cadolles by the sergents. These exposed and overworked sergents received ten extra sols pay per day and a pair of shoes for their services.

Christian charity, at least in the early stages of the outbreak, proved admirable: donations of food for the sick overwhelmed the town hall and distributions were made without fraud. The mayor and city officials performed their extra duties with zeal. However, as the number of sick rapidly increased and weeks stretched into months, the situation began to deteriorate. The healthy began to desert the town for the countryside, leaving the sick without aid and the city unprotected during a time of war.

[Sources: You can read Canat de Chizy's monograph in French at GoogleBooks. Other sources include Encylopedia Britannica (1911 edition) and Mark Harrison's Disease and the Modern World: 1500 to the Present (2004).]

Next post: Panic sets in.