A night of syphilis at Hampton Court

Don’t be alarmed, for on Monday evening we simply enjoyed a fascinating glimpse into the history of syphilis, from its first recordings in medieval times to its terrifying growth during the current century. Along the way we looked at its prevalence in the royal courts, in particular figures such as renowned libertine the 2nd Earl of Rochester, a friend of Charles II.

Hilariously – though perhaps typically – all the European nations believed that syphilis had started off elsewhere, in an alien land. So it was known alternatively as French disease, Italian disease, Polish disease, German disease, Spanish disease, Christian disease, and of course English disease. From the images we saw though, possibly the most accurate of its monikers was simply: foul disease.

After an eye-opening talk, Julia Hyland (Outreach for the History of Medicine Unit, University of Birmingham) went on to make up some willing audience members with syphilis sores on their hands. As you can see above, the make up wounds appeared so realistic that the ‘victims’ must have received some very strange looks on the train home that evening!

You can listen to the podcast here

And if that piques your interest, check out our new programme of talks, tours and workshops for summer and autumn 2012, online now.

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