16 Jul: The Death Of Kissing

Kissing was a big deal in the Middle Ages: for signing contracts, for greeting colleagues, and for showing deference to the King – a tradition that ended on 16th July, 1439, when Henry VI issued a decree imploring his citizens to stop kissing his ring.

Some 400 years before the modern concepts of hygiene and germs had been scientifically established, the 18 year-old monarch clearly had an instinct that clamping down on kissing might stop the spread of the bubonic plague – a deadly disease that had been rampant for 100 years.

In this episode, Olly, Arion and Rebecca explain why one village soaked their supplies in vinegar; reveal how to write a letter to the King (with appropriate levels of flattery); and consider the merits of banning bearded men from handling milk… 

Further Reading:

• BBC profile of Henry VI: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/henry_vi_king.shtml

• ‘Here ye, here ye: No more smoochies!’ (History Daily, 2020): https://historydaily.org/kissing-ban-england-response-black-plague-1439

• ‘What Made The Black Death So Deadly?’ (The Infographics Show, 2019):