Clare College Cambridge

July 2011 - The Great Plague

Although the devastation caused by the Great Plague between 1665 and 1666 was great, no members of any of the Cambridge Colleges appeared to have succumbed to it, even in July and August 1666 when mortality caused by the plague was at its highest in Cambridge. 

It has been suggested that most members of Cambridge Colleges left for their houses in the country which certainly suggests a reason as to why members of the Colleges were unaffected by the plague. The entries in the College buttery book (ref CCAD/6/2/1/10) support this theory with a 'w' being written beside each member's name if they weren't present in College. Some of the more senior members had 'pd' (a contraction of the word 'paid') rather than a 'w' beside their name which suggests they also weren't in College but had paid the usual fees that they were required to give to the buttery whether they were in College or not. To view the two pages from the buttery book that cover most of the same period covered by the mortality bills please click here.

For the week shown below in the mortality bill (ref: Safe C/ 2:27), of the 80 men listed as members of the College in the buttery book only 24 remained in College. This coincides with the large numbers of deaths from the plague that same week which is a common pattern to be found in the buttery book at this time. During the time of plague the numbers of members of the College who stayed increased or decreased in line with the mortality rate in Cambridge which seems to reflect that members of College left when the plague appeared to be most deadly and returned when it was not so widespread. It was not until February 1667 that all members of the College appeared to return.  

It is also easy to imagine the Colleges using their relatively isolated positions by the Cam with the open countryside beyond to shut themselves off from the rest of Cambridge and thus prevent the spread of the plague within the Colleges.

Unfortunately there is no record as to how the plague affected College staff and servants. It is possible that College staff and servants could be among the numbers listed in the mortality bill below but for now we can only speculate.