During Louis XIV's reign smallpox had overtaken the plague, syphilis and leprosy as the leading cause of death in Europe. Paris was seized by epidemics in 1719 and 1723.
By the early 18th century 400.000 people died each year in Europe (the number is not counting Russia) of smallpox and every 10th child in France died due to the disease in this period. Of those infected about 30 % died and even if you were fortunate enough to survive there was another side effect. One that might mean more to the courtiers than to the common person: pockmarks. Just about 65-80 % of those who survived had quite obvious pockmarks which were usually dominant on the patient's face. Often this would mean the ruin of a young lady looking to get married. Marie Antoinette's sister, Maria Elisabeth, was one such lady who was celebrated for her looks until she contracted smallpox which left her permanently scarred; she was then withdrawn from the marriage market and died unmarried.
|This is a pretty good example of the kind|
of scars smallpox would leave
There was no actual cure for the sickness but by the 17th century it was widely accepted that the disease spread through personal contact which meant that people were usually encouraged to stay away from patients sufferings from the illness. Louis XIV was - reluctantly - persuaded not to go and see the Duchesse de Conti when she suffered from the illness. After the death of Louis XV Versailles was abandoned for a time in favour of the other châteaux for fear that smallpox would be lingering.
|Edward Jenner, the Brit who invented the smallpox|
It had been noted that those who had once had smallpox could not be infected again which gave birth to a new idea. It was during the first part of the 18th century that so-called inoculation emerged which was a sort of vaccination. The doctor would take a "sample" of puss from an infected person and would then introduce it to a person who had not had the disease (usually a leg or an arm were chosen). In this way it was hoped that the patient's body would ride out the illness and would then be immune.
|Collection of inoculation tools and a drawing of a patient|
Deaths from smallpox:
Louis Armand, Prince de Conti
The Grand Dauphin
The Duchesse d'Olonne
Marie Charlotte de La Tour d'Auvergne, Princesse de Beauvau
Gaston de Lorraine, Comte de Marsan
Jules de Rohan, Prince de Soubise
Louis Joseph de Lorraine, Duc de Guise
Anne Julie de Melun, Princesse de Soubise
Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné
Duc de Bourgogne (father of Louis XV)
Courtiers with smallpox:
Marie Anne de Bourbon, Princesse de Conti
Louise Françoise de Bourbon, Duchesse de Conti
The Duc de Saint-Simon