Plague Hospitals, Poverty and the Provision of Medical Care in France, c. 1450–c.1650

Neil Murphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article examines the expansion of plague hospitals in early modern France. It shows that the development of these institutions was an urban initiative and that there was only limited involvement from the crown before the mid-seventeenth century. While there is a typically highly negative view of French plague hospitals, with these institutions being seen as death traps where the infected were simply sent to die, they played a vital role in providing the poor with access to specialist care. Plague hospitals were staffed by physicians, surgeons, nurses, and apothecaries, who provided a range of important medical treatments to the infected. Municipal governments developed these specialist hospitals for the plague sick—and only the plague sick—and sought to provide them with the type of environment early modern medical experts believed to be the most conducive for healing. The article situates the development of these hospitals within the wider context of health care provision in early modern France. Overall, it shows that the development of plague hospitals was a key manifestation of the drive toward providing professional medical care to the poor.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbershab066
Pages (from-to)825–853
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number4
Early online date10 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


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