'In middest of death': Medical Responses to the Great Plague of 1665 with Special Reference to John Allin

Lara Thorpe

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis uses the under-utilised correspondence of John Allin, ejected minister and irregular physician, to explore medical responses to the Great Plague of 1665. Allin’s letters give a privileged look at the day-to-day life of a sophisticated medical mind at work treating the sick during London’s last plague epidemic; this thesis uses these letters as a guiding thread to consider a variety of medical responses to the epidemic. A major theme here is the question of medical innovation during the Plague of 1665, an important corrective to previous work which treats early modern plague medicine as homogeneous and unchanging. By the 1665 epidemic, medical practitioners in London functioned under a centuries-old understanding of the disease and its cures. However, the dissemination of Helmontian and iatrochemical dogma and therapies into London’s medical economy in the 1640s and 1650s resulted in changed to plague treatment. This work aims to contribute to our understanding of early modern pharmacology by arguing that the result of this Helmontian influence was the increasing importance of and dependence on commercially obtained ingredients and medicines as treatment for plague. This thesis uses a detailed analysis of the ingredients recommended as parts of the remedies detailed in plague literature to reinforce and enhance recent historiography that argues that purchased, readymade medicines were increasingly relied on over the course of the seventeenth century. Amongst its other contributions, this thesis also details the print culture of the vernacular medical pamphlets about plague produced in 1665, making the case that printers and medical practitioners formed a complex and interlinked network, working together to advertise and distribute medical texts, services and wares. This thesis also considers parish-assigned plague nurses, giving original research which uncovers biographical details about them and makes the case that they were competent medical practitioners in their own right.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Horden, Peregrine, Supervisor
  • Champion, Justin, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Apr 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Plague
  • Plague nurses
  • Proprietary medicine
  • Society of Chemical Physicians
  • Plague literature
  • Restoration London
  • Great Plague of 1665
  • public health
  • London parishes
  • plague medicine
  • chemistry
  • alchemy

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