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Florence Under SiegeSurviving Plague in an Early Modern City$
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John Henderson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780300196344

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300196344.001.0001

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Plague and Public Health: Treating the Body of the City and the Body of the Poor

Plague and Public Health: Treating the Body of the City and the Body of the Poor

(p.84) Chapter 4 Plague and Public Health: Treating the Body of the City and the Body of the Poor
Florence Under Siege

John Henderson

Yale University Press

This chapter examines the ways in which the combined administrative and medical expertise informed the developing strategies of the Italian government during the early stages of the epidemic. While conforming to more general public health policies of Italian states, it also considers how far the Florentine experience of plague was mediated through existing local structures and the political status quo. The influence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II, remained very evident, as he sought to intervene in and to influence the developing policy of the magistrates of the health board, which was constituted by patricians who were members of his court. Meanwhile, the voluntary lay religious group, the Archconfraternity of the Misericordia, played a vital role in the transport and burial of the sick and the dead. While their porters and grave-diggers were paid, the members of the fraternity themselves performed their tasks from a sense of Christian charity towards the poorer members of society, a motivation which formed the obverse of the government's decrees against marginalised groups, such as prostitutes and Jews. A mixed motivation also informed the strategies of the medical staff in the service of the Sanità (health board), and the chapter looks at their role—sometimes distant, sometimes interventionist and sometimes compassionate—in inspecting the sick and recommending a wide range of treatments for the more affluent and the humble.

Keywords:   Italian government, epidemic, public health policies, Florence, plague, local institutions, Ferdinand II, health board, medical staff

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