The codpiece and the pox were two common sights in 16th Century Europe. Was there a relationship between them? King Henry VIII was famed for the size of his codpiece. He probably boasted about the size of his cod as well. [Can you guess from the context the word for which cod is a Renaissance euphemism?] I’m sure you’ve got it right.
Did he use the codpiece for his pox?
This is a brief history of the codpiece. As you see in the picture it sticks out to show off yet hide. 16th-century gents favoured this mysterious garment. Why did they use it? Was it a cover up for their cases of syphilis? Modern historians speculate that’s the case .
Syphilis – also called the pox – was a deadlier sight. Its appearance in Europe is still shrouded in some mystery. Most medical historians believe it came from the Americas and arrived primarily through the harbours of Naples. In 1494-95, when the French Army of Charles VIII conquered Naples with ease, they partied wildly with the women of the city. A few months later, as they returned to France, they spread the deadly disease with them. Mercury was a common treatment. Was the codpiece used to hide the unsightly pox?
It became known as the French disease in Italy and the Italian disease in France. By any name it was deadly. As Heather Libby says in her post, Syphilis was a scary epidemic in the 16th century.