Plague doctors are commonly associated with the 14th Century epidemic, though there is no historical evidence to suggest that the grotesque healers had yet come into play.
The believed inventor of the plague doctor uniform is Charles de l’Orme, the chief physician to Louis VIII. He created it in 1619, and it was used for over 100 years. The terrifying suit was made to look like a bird, with a long leather beak, thick goggles, a black leather coat over top a lighter leather shirt, black goat skin boots, leather gloves, and a black top hat also made of leather to indicate that the wearer was a doctor.
Plague doctors would stuff the end of the beak with herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, garlic, and myrrh to battle the noxious smells coming from the plague victims. Sometimes these herbs were set aflame so that the smoke would also protect the doctor. The smoke would then trickle out of the beak, making the doctor appear even more demonic and reaper-like.
Along with the uniform, many plague doctors would carry a long staff used for examining patients, as well as beating back some of the more aggressive ones. Some patients also believed they had been given the plague by God as some sort of punishment, and thus would occasionally ask the doctor to beat them with their canes as a form of repentance.
This suit was created because it was believed that the bubonic plague was spread through “foul air”, though in fact we now know that the plague was really spread through sharing bodily fluids, as well as pests such as rats and fleas.
The suit would have helped to protect the wearer from the plague to some degree, but not enough to stop the doctors from contracting the deadly sickness. This was in part due to air holes at the end of the beak, where bodily fluids such as blood and pus would enter when the doctor would perform bloodletting and lancing on the unfortunate victims (bursting the large pus-filled cysts).
Because the majority of these doctors were inexperienced or even completely unqualified, the treatments were often cruel and unusual, performed with no scientific or medical reasoning. Treatments included the fore mentioned bloodletting and lancing, covering the open and festering cysts with human excrement, and even pouring hot mercury on the cysts and then putting the patient into a large oven to burn the cysts off. These methods often just accelerated an already painful death.
As a tattoo, plague doctors are often done in a heavy black work style (due to the nature of the uniform). They are also popular in realism, American traditional, neo traditional, and black and grey.
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