Decimated by Plague, Died of Heartache

It goes without saying for most experienced family historians that the search for family connections leads one along strange and unexpected paths. For example, an explanation for how John Tuttle of Ringstead in Northamptonshire made his way to Saint Albans in Hertfordshire, and met and married the widow Joan (Anterbus) Lawrence is a mystery.

There is, however, a greater untold love story involving Joan Anterbus (which spelling is how the family’s name appears in Saint Albans parish records).

Joan Anterbus was born to parents Walter Anterbus and his second wife, Joana Arnolde, who married February 8, 1586/7, in Saint Albans Abbey.

Joana was baptized April 28, 1571, as Joana Arnald or Arnolde. She was one of seven children born between 1562 and 1573/4.

Unfortunately, we have no details about what follows. The Saint Albans Abbey parish records as transcribed provide none. What we can surmise is that the wife of John Arnolde, the mother of these children, was probably named Joan, as was her mother and one of her daughters.

The family, as were dozens of others in Saint Albans, were victims of the plague that ravished London and nearby villages for five years, 1578-1583. (See below.)

The first Arnolde burial was Joane, on June 14, 1578. A mere two weeks later, two of her daughters were buried: Elizabeth Arnolde on July 1 and a second Elizabeth on August 29. This may or may not have been a double entry. The Elizabeth Arnold, daughter of John and Joan, was baptized November 29, 1562. She would have been about sixteen.

John Arnolde, most likely the son of John and Joan, was baptized February 6, 1573/4. He would have been about four or five when he was buried November 28, 1578.

Martha Arnolde, baptized, May 22, 1569, and Rebecca Arnolde, baptized August 10, 1572, would have been twelve and nine respectively when they were buried July 28 and July 29, 1581.

Only three young girls survived the plague in the Arnolde household: Anne, baptized July 18, 1565; Sara, baptized September 7, 1567; and Joana, who was to become the wife of Walter Anterbus in February 1586/7. Perhaps the older girls were healthier than their younger siblings or maybe they developed a degree of immunity while taking care of their family.

To this sad tale we have to add the death of their father, “Mr. John Arnolde”, who was buried November 10, 1582/3. There is no doubt that he may well have died of a broken heart.

The 1578-1783 Black Plague in England

In May 1577 there were two burials in Saint Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire; in June, there were another two, and in July there were five, two of which came from the Rogers family. These could have been related to natural causes–however, they were not. It was the beginning of the black plague finding its way from London streets to the countryside, most likely brought by merchants and other travelers.

A few months later, in September 1577, the first death in the Goulstone family came with that of Thomas alias Fuller. The following June there was another family member, Grisill Goulston. In July 1578 there was a serious uptick in burials for the Goulston family: Elizabeth, Penelope, and Jane Goulston were all buried on July 1st; a second Thomas was buried on the 2nd and Francis on the 3rd. This brought the total to seven, an unusual number for a single family compared to prior years.

This activity heralded a new plague era for Saint Albans in particular and England in general. Parish clerks became uncomfortably aware of the five-year plague period of 1578-1583. (See Charles Creighton, A History of Epidemics in Britain available online.)

[In 1578 London] … the statistics that the deaths from all causes had risen to more than three hundred in a week before Michaelmas—a small mortality compared with that of 1563, or of any other London epidemic of the first degree. From other letters, relating to plague at St Albans, Ware and other places near London, it may be concluded that the citizens had escaped from London to their usual country resorts in plague-time. On August 30 there were said to be sixty cases of plague at St Albans, and on October 13 Ware is said to have been ‘of late’ infected. Plague-deaths are entered also in the Hertford parish registers in 1577 and 1578 …

Saint Albans, by the way, is a mere twenty-five miles north of London. Weekly figures in London, beginning in January of that year, stayed in the double digits until August, when deaths related to the plague epidemic reached 162 in a single week, peaking at over 230 for three weeks, before dropping back below 200. In 1578 there were more than 3500 deaths attributed to the plague. In 1579 there were less than 700; 128 in 1580; 987 in 42 weeks of 1581; and just shy of 3000 in 1582.

While the increase in deaths are noted in the Saint Albans parish registers, they are not identified as plague deaths, only as burials. There is no way to differentiate.

Saint Albans experienced a parallel increase in plague-related deaths to that of London. A January 29, 1578 letter reported that deaths in London had increased from seven to thirty-seven deaths in a brief span of three weeks.

In May 1577, the number of burials at Saint Albans had risen to eight; in June, there were 27; July, 45; August, 68; September, 62; October, 44; November, 27; December, 14. By January 1578-9, the number of burials began to drop off significantly, with only four that month, three in February, and one in March. There was a small increase in April, with eight burials. The numbers dropped off again in July, with only one burial, but there were four each month in July 1579 and May 1580.

This was apparently a premature lull before the next uptick in burials in July 1581, with eighteen, and in August, with another thirteen. Another brief drop-off in burials ended in March 1582, with six; April with eleven; and October, nine. The monthly burial rate for 1583 through 1588 averaged one to four, with the only larger number being in July 1583, when there were six.

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