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“A most excellent medicine”: Malaria, Mithridate, and the death of Andrew Marvell

Mottram, Stewart


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Dr Stewart Mottram
Director of Research, School of Humanities, and Reader in English


The poet Andrew Marvell (1621-78) died suffering from vivax malaria, a common disease in the seventeenth century, endemic in estuary regions of eastern England. This article explores Marvell’s death alongside the literature and history of malaria and malaria treatments in this period. Marvell was long assumed to have been poisoned by political enemies until the rediscovery in 1874 of Richard Morton’s late seventeenth-century medical account, which blamed Marvell’s death on medical incompetence, noting that the anti-malarial quinine would have saved him. The article uncovers important new findings in the Marvell archives, re-examining Morton’s account in light of the manuscript, Hull History Centre C DIAM/1 to argue that Marvell was in fact killed by the opiate, mithridate. The article offers new understanding of Marvell’s death and of the popularity of opiates as malaria treatments in Marvell’s day, of relevance to students of English literature, historical epidemiology, historical geography, and medical history.


Mottram, S. (in press). “A most excellent medicine”: Malaria, Mithridate, and the death of Andrew Marvell. Seventeenth Century, 1-27.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 7, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 17, 2021
Deposit Date Mar 8, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal The Seventeenth Century
Print ISSN 0268-117X
Electronic ISSN 2050-4616
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-27
Keywords Andrew Marvell and malaria; Andrew Marvell and manuscript culture; Hull History Centre C DIAM/1; John Evelyn, Fumifugium (1661); Malaria in English literature; Malaria in English history; Mithridate
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Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly

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