Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City

by John Henderson


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A vivid recreation of how the governors and governed of early seventeenth-century Florence confronted, suffered, and survived a major epidemic of plague

Plague remains the paradigm against which reactions to many epidemics are often judged. Here, John Henderson examines how a major city fought, suffered, and survived the impact of plague. Going beyond traditional oppositions between rich and poor, this book provides a nuanced and more compassionate interpretation of government policies in practice, by recreating the very human reactions and survival strategies of families and individuals.

From the evocation of the overcrowded conditions in isolation hospitals to the splendor of religious processions, Henderson analyzes Florentine reactions within a wider European context to assess the effect of state policies on the city, street, and family. Writing in a vivid and approachable way, this book unearths the forgotten stories of doctors and administrators struggling to cope with the sick and dying, and of those who were left bereft and confused by the sudden loss of relatives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300196344
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 08/20/2019
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 840,197
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

John Henderson is professor of Italian renaissance history at Birkbeck, University of London, and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. His publications include The Renaissance Hospital and The Great Pox with Jon Arrizabalaga and Roger French.

Table of Contents

List of Plates, Maps, Figures and Tables ix

Abbreviations, Currency, Weights and Measures xiv

Acknowledgements xvi

1 Plague and Public Health in Italy and Europe 1

Plague and Italy's Reputation in Europe

Historians and Plague in Italy

Plague in Florence: Themes and sources

Part I Florence Under Siege: Coping with Plague

2 The Invasion of Plague in Early Modern Italy 23

Plague Approaches Florence: Border controls and cordons sanitaires

Plague on the Outskirts of Florence, Summer 1630

Plague Mortality in the City, 1630-1

3 Medicine, the Environment and the Poor 51

Doctors and Diagnosis: 'A certain sickness with suspicion of contagion'

Preventive Measures and the Environment

'Filth is the mother of corruption': The sanitary survey August 1630

Marginalisation of the Poor: 'It was not the time to make the body of the city worse with such malign humours, the most inclined towards putrefaction'

Poverty and Charity: The growth of 'misery, necessity and sickness'

4 Treating the Body of the City and the Body of the Poor 84

Official Reactions in August

Public Health and Prevention

The Control of Plague

Doctors and Medicine: Treating the body of the poor

5 The Impact of Plague and Quarantine 118

The Spread and Impact of Plague

Coping with Death

Quarantine and the City

Quarantine and the Countryside

Part II Religion, Isolation and Survival

6 Religion in the Time of Plague 149

The Plague Approaches: The Church and preventive measures

Plague at its Height and the Practice of Religion

Celebrating with S. Antonino: The plague relents

Plague, Religion and the Grand-Ducal Court: The cult of Domenica da Paradiso

Religion and Quarantine: 'Providing for the health of the soul is more important than [providing for the health] of the body'

SS. Annunziata and Plague

The Madonna dell' Impruneta and the Return of Plague, 1633

7 Lazaretti and Isolation: 'More feared than death itself'? 183

First Experiments and the Hospital of Messer Bonifazio

The New Isolation and Quarantine Centres

Lazaretti: Form and function

'The Medicines in this Period Play an Important Role'

Spiritual Medicine

Assessing Patient Mortality: 'More feared than death itself?

Life, Death and Serving the Poor Sick: 'I desire that you pray God for me, because I am suffering under the heaviest of crosses'

Life in the Lazaretti: The perspective of the staff

8 Surviving Plague 229

Plague and the Law

Punishment and Enforcement

Prosecution: General Categories

Prosecuting the Popolo

9 Epilogue: The Return and End of Plague, 1632-3 277

Notes 286

Bibliography 335

Index 346

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