'For the safte and preservation of the toune' : plague and the poor in early modern Aberdeen
This thesis examines the incidence and effects of plague in early modern Aberdeen. In so doing, it refutes the presumption that Scotland lacks the sources necessary to allow the impact of past epidemics to be gauged and redresses the current imbalance in the historiography of plague studies. The unparalleled survival of Aberdeen's bureaucratic records allows detailed study of the city to be undertaken and enables the focus of responses to plague to shift from Italy to Northern Europe. Sixteenth-century Aberdeen was one of the nation's largest and most important burghs. Its supposed 'isolation' belied its diverse offerings, from which towns across the North Sea particularly benefited. The city as susceptible to plague yet suffered a comparatively low incidence of outbreaks. Free from plague for the entire fifteenth century, magistrates passed innovative regulations to combat the French Disease and subsequently dealt with two major plague epidemics, in the 1510s and 1540s. Aberdeen shared many of its myriad effects - social instability, disruption of government, and commercial disaster. Subsequent impoverishment overwhelmingly dictated the bureaucratic treatment of the poor; unlike elsewhere begging was not inherently considered a threat to social health, despite the acknowledgement that plague flourished amongst society's most deprived (and depraved) members. Poor relief became necessary only during outbreaks, when government had to implement temporary solutions in the absence of regulated charitable provision. Thereafter the city avoided outbreaks for a century. After the Reformation of 1560 plague was acknowledged as a divine punishment, whereas beforehand epidemics had been met with no apparent religious reaction. In three areas - the incidence of outbreaks, the bureaucratic treatment of the poor and the absence of a religious response - Aberdeen's experience of plague belies many traditional assumptions about early modern epidemics.