Contagion, Honour and Urban Life in Early Modern Germany

  • Mitchell Lewis Hammond


In his famous treatise On Assistance to the Poor (De Subventione Pauperum), printed in Bruges in 1526, Juan Luis Vives waxed indignant over the sick poor who risked infecting others by begging in public places. ‘What sort of situation is this,’ he asked, ‘when in every church — especially at the solemn and most heavily attended feasts — one is obliged to enter into the church proper between two rows of the sick, the vomiting, the ulcerous, the diseased with ills whose names are unmentionable …?’ What was more, the presence of the sick was a risk to the young, the old and pregnant women, ‘especially since ulcers of this sort are not only forced upon the eyes but upon the nose as well, the mouth, and almost on the hands and body as they pass through. How shameless such begging!’1 Vives’ words resonated with particular force because an outbreak of a highly contagious illness, the so-called ‘French pox’, had erupted across Europe only three decades earlier, bringing with it severe pain and swollen pustules that terrified people who encountered the infected. When city officials confronted such crises, Vives believed, they should act ‘in the same manner as the medical profession who cannot eradicate diseases completely from the population but bend every effort to cure them’.2 City councils and urban residents across Europe shared these concerns, especially since the sixteenth century was a period of growing urban poverty as well as a tumultuous era of epidemic outbreaks.


Sixteenth Century City Council Urban Life City Dweller Puerperal Fever 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Mitchell Lewis Hammond

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