Great Plague of London

Drivers of death carts in London would go street-to-street extolling people to "bring out your dead" at the height of the London plague outbreak in 1665
Drivers of death carts in London would go street-to-street extolling people to "bring out your dead" at the height of the London plague outbreak in 1665

Historical Context

In 1665 and 1666, the last great outbreak of bubonic plague to hit England swept through the capital, London. The outbreak was much smaller in scale than the Black Death of the 14th century, but was still notable for having killed as many as 100,000 people - about a quarter of the city's population - in eighteen months.

By July 1665 the plague was spreading rapidly in London. Many fled, including the King Charles II, if they were wealthy enough to afford it. Parliament was moved to Oxford University from Westminster Palace. Many of the city's businesses closed. Diarist Samuel Pepys wrote much about life in the city during the plague, and of empty streets.

By September, as many as 7,000 people a week were dying, and many were thrown into mass graves. The true toll was likely to be much higher, since the deaths of poor were not recorded.

The University of Cambridge closed down during the outbreak, forcing a young Isaac Newton to continue his studies from home - during this time he expanded significantly on his new idea about the laws of gravity, among other things.

By November the outbreak started to taper off, and the King returned in February the next year when it was considered to be safe enough. Disaster would strike London again in 1666, with much of it being destroyed in the Great Fire of London that September.

Drawing Info


Artist: Unknown
Location drawn: London, England

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1665-06-07 Great Plague of London: Samuel Pepys writes in his diary of houses marked with a red cross in London's Drury Lane, meaning somebody inside is infected with the plague and must be locked in for 40 days or until death
  • 1665-09-26 Height of the Great Plague of London as 7,165 people die throughout the previous week
  • 1665-10-09 Due to the Great Plague of London, the British Parliament meets at the University of Oxford rather than the Palace of Westminster

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