In 1495 a horrific new disease appeared in Europe. Acquired by sexual contact and initially spread through Europe by mercenary soldiers from the army of King Charles VIII of France returning from a successful invasion of Italy, this new disease was extraordinarily unpleasant. Commentators at the time described dark green “boils that stood out like acorns,” accompanied by a stench so vile that if you smelt it you would imagine yourself infected, and by pains so severe that it was “as if the sick had laid upon a fire”.
This new disease went by a variety of names, including The Great Pox, but most people preferred to blame it on the neighbours: the British called it the “French disease,” the French called it the “Italian” or “Neapolitan disease” and the Italians called it the “Spanish disease”. Today it is more widely known now as syphilis, an infection caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. Read more.