Plague Writing in Early Modern England

James Shapiro writes:

Alongside the burial record for Oliver Gunne, an apprentice who died in Stratford-upon-Avon in July 1564, are the words hic incepit pestis: ‘Here begins the plague.’ ‘God’s tokens’, the black or purplish spots that were a telltale sign of bubonic plague, had presumably been found on Gunne’s body. Over the previous six months, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church had registered a score of burials; in a town of just under 1500 inhabitants, that was more or less what would be expected. But in the half-year that followed he recorded more than 200 burials, a seventh of Stratford’s population. The plague’s fatality rate ranged from 50 per cent to 80 per cent, so as many as one in four townsfolk may have been infected. Women, who tended to the sick, suffered disproportionately, as did the old and the young.

(LRB 31 March 2011)