1439: Kissing Is Banned In England In Response To The Black Plague

By | July 14, 2020

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(National Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

Here ye, here ye: No more smoochies! That's what Henry VI proclaimed on July 16, 1439, not because he was a romance-hating monster; he just wanted to keep as many of his subjects alive as possible. During the 15th century, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe, and even before social distancing was a thing, Henry realized it was one of the best ways to keep people from getting sick. Obviously, kissing was right out. Henry's proclamation definitely saved a few lives, but it took more than a ban on kissing to pull society back from the brink of Black Death.

The Plague Crisis

Beginning around 1348, this little thing called the Plague tore through Europe. Initially appearing on England's south coast, the Plague worked its way inward until nearly half of the population perished from the illness. It burned itself out after a few years, but strains of the bacteria continued to ravage the country on a regular basis throughout the 1400s.

Born in 1421, what King Henry VI lacked in modern scientific knowledge, he made up for in experience. The Plague was simply a way of life by the time he came on the scene, so he clearly understood the threat the illness posed and how it appeared to be transmitted. It's generally accepted that the first quarantine occurred in 1377, and while news didn't travel as quickly in the Dark Ages as it does today, it's likely that Henry or his people were aware of the benefits of keeping your distance from someone who might be sick.

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(National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

Just One Big Makeout Sesh

In 15th-century Europe, kissing was as common as shaking hands today. It didn't matter who you were greeting: Men, women, family, and strangers all kissed one another as casually as we toss off a "Good morning!" on our way to the subway. You might recognize this as a great way to spread germs, and while no one back then knew the mechanics of the transmission of disease via bodily fluids, Henry was smart enough to observe that those who got too close to sick people tended to become sick people.

He may be known as a mad king, but Henry's kissing ban was fairly on point. He may have ordered his people to fall in line because he didn't want his subjects putting their mouths on him personally, but by issuing the proclamation of July 16, 1439, he showed that he cared about the people he was governing.