In November 1498, the city authorities in Edinburgh announced a sweeping new set of rules and regulations to protect residents of the city from the latest outbreak of plague.
Five years previously Edinburgh had been effectively quarantined (by medieval standards) as a safeguard to limit the spread of plague, and some of these practices were reinstituted in 1498 as a further effort to control the outbreak of this deadly pestilence.
Specific measures brought in by law included:
Anyone caught harbouring visitors without having received permission to do so were not only banished from the city, but their goods and possessions would be seized by the authorities and redistributed for the greater good of the community. Travellers who were discovered to have visited Glasgow without permission would be refused re-entry to Edinburgh for forty days - the Latin for which helps give us the modern word 'quarantine' - and any English cloth discovered in the city would be confiscated and burned. Perhaps most severely of all, parents of unaccompanied children in the streets would be fined forty shillings (approximately £1,000 in modern currency) - children without parents would be taken into custody.
The effects of the plague on the city were devastating. It is known that victims of the plague were isolated by shipping them to Inchkeith island in the Firth of Forth, where they surely would have died lonely, painful, deaths - the last outbreak of plague in Edinburgh in 1645 saw plague pits being dug in the Burgh Muir (near Bruntsfield and Morningside today) and on Leith Links.
A once-popular story of victims being bricked up in their houses on Mary King's Close is now largely considered to be an urban myth and not an accurate retelling of the history, although visitors to Mary King's Close today will find out more about the city's history of plague illness and the precautions, treatments and consequences of the illness during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Find out more about the city's history of illness, death and disease with my customised Edinburgh walking tours!
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