Plague in Scotland : Outbreak

Plague epidemics ravaged Europe from the 6th to the 17th centuries. The first known outbreak in Scotland of 669 appears to have been very contained; it affected only the Lothians. Actual epidemic outbreaks are first recorded for 1349-50 and 1362.

Detail from 'Ane Breve Description of the Pest' by Maister Gilbert Skeyne, Doctoure in Medicine, 1568.
'Ane Breve Description' of the Pest by Maister Gilbert Skeyne, Doctoure in Medicine, 1568.

According to some witnesses, the first of these wiped out up to a third of the population. While the 15th century saw two major outbreaks, during the entire 16th century Scotland suffered from serious plague outbreaks. It affected mostly the Central Belt, but also Dumfries, Fife, St Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen and Elgin. There is very little recorded evidence of the plague affecting the Highlands and Islands, but occasional references and the fact that folk medicine remedies against the plague existed suggest that these sparsely inhabited areas also experienced plague outbreaks.

Epidemics and more contained incidents in Scotland went on at short intervals until the mid-17th century. However, the Great Plague of 1665-1667 did not reach Scotland. To a large extent, this was due to the preventive measures put into place by the Scottish government. The Privy Council passed a series of acts which forbid trade with countries affected by the plague, in particular England and the Netherlands.

Even after the disease had dwindled there, further acts imposed a forty-day quarantine on goods imported from these places. Economically, such an interruption of trade was very disruptive, not least since England and the Netherlands were two of Scotland's main trading partners.