The Great Pox

The French Disease in Renaissance Europe
Arizzabalaga, Jon
Henderson, John
French, Roger
Date published: 
January 1997

A century and a half after the Black Death killed over a third of the population of Western Europe, a new plague swept across the continent. The Great Pox - commonly known as the French disease - brought a different kind of horror: instead of killing its victims rapidly, it endured in their bodies for years, causing acute pain, disfigurement and ultimately an agonising death. In this new study three experts explore the impact of the new plague and society's reaction to its challenge. Using a range of contemporary sources, from the archives of charitable and sanitary institutions that coped with the sick to the medical tracts of those that sought to cure it, they provide the first detailed account of the experience of the disease which later generations knew as 'syphilis' across Renaissance Italy, as well as in France and Germany. Jon Arrizabalaga is Researcher in the History of Science at The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Barcelona. John Henderson is Senior Research Fellow at the Wellcome Institute, Cambridge. Roger French is University Lecturer in the History of Medicine, Cambridge.