For a while archaeological evidence has been accumulating for the presence of syphilis in medieval society in contradiction of the widely held belief that the disease came to Europe following Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1492, and first made itself apparent at the siege of Naples a couple of years later.
This evidence is reviewed and other possible evidence included from literary and visual sources in a recent article in The Conversation.. This appears to make a sensible case. It can be read at Manuscripts and art support archaeological evidence that syphilis was in Europe long before explorers could have brought it home from the Americas
I was particularly struck by the author’s suggestion that the death of King Edward IV in 1483 could be attributed to syphilis. I had not seen this idea before, although the cause of that monarch’s seemingly sudden and unexpected demise has attracted speculation for a long time, from a chill that turned to pneumonia, food poisoning and appendicitis. Syphilis would perhaps fit in with what we know of the King’s private life, especially if combined with the well-attested effects of over-indulgence in food and drink, and maybe the argument of his in many ways irrational move against Clarence in 1477-8 fits in with the mental effects of ventral disease. Whether of not this was the cause of his death it does help to carry forward discussion about the events of 1483.