The Great Plague (1665–1666) was a massive outbreak of bubonic plague that killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20 percent of London’s population. It was the last major outbreak of the plague in England. There had been previous outbreaks in 1636 (10,000 died), 1625 (35,000 died) and 1603 (30,000 died). The English outbreak is thought to have arrived with Dutch trading ships carrying bales of cotton. The dock areas outside of London, and the parish of St Giles in the Fields, which housed many poor workers, were first hit.
By July 1665, many Londoners were falling victim to the disease. King Charles II, his family and his court left the city for Oxfordshire. Businesses were closed as most wealthy merchants and professionals fled.
The City Corporation ordered a cull of dogs and cats to try to contain the outbreak. However this allowed rats, the real carriers, to flourish. Authorities ordered fires to be kept burning night and day, in hope that the air would be cleansed. Substances giving off strong odours, such as pepper, hops, or frankincense, were also burned in an attempt to ward off the infection. London residents were strongly urged to smoke tobacco.
Although concentrated in London, the outbreak also affected other areas of the country. The village of Eyam in Derbyshire lost 75 percent of its inhabitants.