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The plague doctor was a common fixture of the medieval world, with his bird-like costume that was believed to resist the plague.

People in the fourteenth century did not know what caused the plague and many believed it was a punishment from God. They did realise that coming into contact with those infected increased the risk of contracting the disease yourself. Cures and preventative measures were not at all effective.

Suggested Preventions and Cures How they were supposed to work What they actually did
Carry Flowers or wear a strong perfume The smells would help to ward away the disease Nothing
Drink hot drinks The victim would then sweat out the disease Nothing
Carry a lucky charm The charm would ward off the disease Nothing
Use leeches to bleed the victim This would remove infected blood Nothing
Smoke a pipe of tobacco The smoke would ward off the disease Nothing
Give a strong dose of laxatives This would cause the victim to completely empty his bowels, thus removing the disease. Strong doses of laxatives can cause death from dehydration.
Coat the victims with mercury and place them in the oven. The combination of mercury and heat from the oven would kill off the disease. This could actually increase the likelihood of death – mercury is poisonous and the heat from the oven caused serious burns.

Many doctors, knowing that they could do nothing for plague victims, simply didn’t bother trying to treat the disease. Those that did made sure that they were as protected as possible from the disease by wearing the ‘uniform’ shown above.

Leather Hat

The hat was made of leather. It was worn to show that the man was a doctor and also to add extra protection to the head.


The beak that was attached to the mask was stuffed with herbs, perfumes or spices to purify the air that the doctor breathed when he was close to victims.

Glass Eye

Glass eyes were built into the mask to make sure that the eyes were fully protected.


The mask covered the head completely and was gathered in at the neck for extra protecti


The full-length gown was made out of thick material which was then covered with wax. Underneath the gown the doctor would wear leather breeches.

Leather Gloves

The doctor wore leather gloves to protect his hands from any form of contact with the disease.

Wooden Stick

The Plague Doctor carried a wooden stick so that he could drive people who came too close to him away.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Stuart Dynasty. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to the Stuart Dynasty.

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April 11, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/the-stuarts-the-plague-doctor>
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