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Life in a Time of Pestilence
The Great Castilian Plague of 1596–1601


  • Date Published: August 2019
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108498203

£ 29.99

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About the Authors
  • From the Middle Ages onwards, deadly epidemics swept through portions of Spain repeatedly, but the Castilian Plague at the end of the sixteenth century was especially terrible. In late 1596, a ship carrying the plague docked in Santander, and over the next five years the disease killed some 500,000 people in Castile, around 10 percent of the population. Plague is traditionally understood to have triggered chaos and madness. By contrast, Ruth Mackay focuses on the sites of everyday life, exploring how beliefs, practices, laws, and relationships endured even under the onslaught of disease. She takes an original and holistic approach to understanding the impact of plague, and explores how the epidemic was understood and managed by everyday people. Offering a fresh perspective on the social, political, and economic history of Spain, this original and engaging book demonstrates how, even in the midst of chaos, life carried on.

    • Offers a fresh perspective on the social, political, and economic history of early modern Spain
    • Resists characterising the period as one of death and destruction, instead focusing on how the people of Castile carried on living, even in the midst of chaos
    • Engagingly written and full of surprises, vividly combining social, legal, and political history
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Mackay revisits the most deadly early modern Spanish epidemic to challenge the time-worn cliché of the utter collapse of political and social order. This is extensive archival research - and well-honed critical thinking - at its best.' James Amelang, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

    'MacKay's account stands out for the originality of its approach. Through innumerable examples, she tells the story of a society that does not passively succumb to the approach of disease but looks for ways to halt its onward march and deal with its consequences. In doing so she brings us poignantly close both to the victims and the survivors.' John Elliott, University of Oxford

    'Plague studies are legion, but this is in a class by itself. Beautifully written and deeply- researched, this engaging study breathes life into one of those moments in history otherwise associated with suffering, stagnation and death.' Richard L. Kagan, The John Hopkins University

    'MacKay excavates the extraordinary experience of epidemic disease to lay bare the values and concepts that structured the lives of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spaniards. Deeply researched, elegantly argued, this book brings to life the everyday political culture of early modern Spain.' A. Katie Stirling-Harris, University of California, Davis

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2019
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108498203
    • length: 288 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 159 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.6kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction, 1. Site 1: palace
    2. Site 2: road
    3. Site 3: wall
    4. Site 4: market
    5. Site 5: street
    6. Site 6: town hall
    7. Site 7: sickbed

  • Author

    Ruth MacKay
    Ruth MacKay has worked as a university lecturer, newspaper editor, writer, translator, and interpreter, having been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Fulbright Commission, amongst others. She is the author of The Limits of Royal Authority: Resistance and Obedience in Seventeenth-Century Castile (Cambridge, 1999), 'Lazy Improvident People': Myth and Reality in the Writing of Spanish History (2006) and The Baker Who Pretended to be King of Portugal (2012).

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