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Tudor Minute October 10 – Smallpox Strikes Again

Hey, this is Heather from the Renaissance English History Podcast, and this is your Tudor Minute for October 10.

Today in 1562, 29 year old Elizabeth I got a bad cold. It was actually smallpox. At first she didn’t believe that she could actually get smallpox, which was a highly contagious and very often deadly disease which could cause disfigurement, and still has no cure or treatment. She did not believe that Her Majesty could get an illness like this, and I highly suggest you check out the scene from Elizabeth R which showed how she was so angry at her doctors for implying that she could get such a disease. After that, she became so ill that she couldn’t speak, and there was real concern that she would die, and worry about the succession. For a week she battled a very high fever, and it seemed that she would not live.  

At the time, her heir was Mary Queen of Scots, who was Catholic, and British Protestants were fearful of what would happen if a Catholic came to the throne after their recent experience with Elizabeth’s sister Mary. Under the terms of Henry VIII’s will, her second cousin Katherine Grey – who was the sister of Lady Jane Grey who had lost her life after the rebellion against Mary – could claim to the throne. But it was a tenuous claim, and Mary Queen of Scots’ was clearly a more direct line.

Fortunately, Elizabeth survived, so there was no need to worry. But those who cared for her did become ill, one of which was Mary Dudley, the sister of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s soulmate. She also survived, but her face was left badly marked.

That’s your Tudor Minute for today. Remember you can dive deeper into life in 16th century England through the Renaissance English History Podcast at englandcast.com.

Episode Link:

Seamus O’Calleigh talking Tudor Medicine at the Tudor Summit