The BLACK DEATH was a pneumonic plague pandemic, which reached England in June 1348, and died down by December 1349. It was the first and most severe manifestation of the Second Pandemic , caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria . The term "Black Death" was not used until the late 17th Century.
Originating in China, it spread west along the trade routes across Europe and arrived on the British Isles from the English province of Gascony . The plague seems to have been spread by flea-infected rats, as well as individuals who had been infected on the continent. Rats were the reservoir hosts of the Y. pestis bacteria and the Oriental rat flea was the primary vector.
The first known case in England was a seaman who arrived at Weymouth, Dorset , from Gascony in June 1348. By autumn, the plague had reached London, and by summer 1349 it covered the entire country, before dying down by December. Low estimates of mortality in the early twentieth century have been revised upwards due to re-examination of data and new information, and a figure of 40–60% of the population is widely accepted.
The English government handled the crisis well, and the country did not experience the extreme reactions that were seen elsewhere in Europe. The most immediate consequence was a halt to the campaigns of the Hundred Years\' War . In the long term, the decrease in population caused a shortage of labour, with subsequent rise in wages, resisted by the landowners, which caused deep resentment among the lower classes. The Peasants\' Revolt of 1381 was largely a result of this resentment, and even though the rebellion was suppressed, in the long term serfdom was ended in England. The Black Death also affected artistic and cultural efforts, and may have helped advance the use of the vernacular.
In 1361–62 the plague returned to England, this time causing the
death of around 20% of the population. After this the plague continued
to return intermittently throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, in
local or national outbreaks. From this point on its effect became less
severe, and one of the last outbreaks of the plague in England was the
Great Plague of London
* 1 Background
* 1.1 England in mid 14th Century * 1.2 The Black Death
* 2 Progress of the plague * 3 Medical practice
* 4 Victims
* 4.1 Death toll
* 4.1.1 Impact of the Black Death: 1349
* 4.2 Social distribution
* 5 Consequences
* 5.1 Economic, social and political effects * 5.2 Religious and cultural consequences
* 6 Recurrences * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 Sources
ENGLAND IN MID 14TH CENTURY
The Battle of Crécy established England as a military power.
It is impossible to establish with any certainty the exact number of
inhabitants in England at the eve of the
Black Death , and estimates
range from 3 to 7 million. The number is probably in the higher end,
and an estimate of around 6 million inhabitants seems likely. Earlier
demographic crises − in particular the Great Famine of 1315–1317
− had resulted in great numbers of deaths, but there is no evidence
of any significant decrease in the population prior to 1348. England
was still a predominantly rural and agrarian society; close to 90% of
the population lived on the countryside. Of the major cities, London
was in a class of its own, with perhaps as many as 70,000 inhabitants.
Further down the scale were
Politically, the kingdom was evolving into a major European power,
through the youthful and energetic kingship of Edward III . In 1346,
the English had won a decisive battle over the Scots at the Battle of
Neville\'s Cross , and it seemed that Edward III would realise his
grandfather Edward I 's ambition of bringing the Scots under the
suzerainty of the English crown. The English were also experiencing
military success on the continent. Less than two months before the
Battle of Neville's Cross, a numerically inferior English army led by
the king himself won a spectacular victory over the French royal
forces at the
Battle of Crécy . The victory was immediately followed
by Edward laying siege to the port city of
THE BLACK DEATH
Main article: Black Death The migration of the Black Death across Europe
The term "Black Death" – which refers to the first and most serious
outbreak of the Second Pandemic – was not used by contemporaries,
who preferred such names as the "Great Pestilence" or the "Great
Mortality". It was not until the seventeenth century that the term
under which we know the outbreak today became common , probably
derived from Scandinavian languages. It is generally agreed today
that the disease in question was plague , caused by Yersinia pestis
bacteria . These bacteria are carried by fleas , which can be
transferred to humans through contact with rats .
A study reported in 2011 of skeletons exhumed from the "Black Death"
Genotyping showed that it was a newly evolved strain, ancestor of all modern strains and proved the "Black Death" was caused by bubonic plague. Modern medical knowledge would suggest that because it was a new mutation meant immune systems would have had little or no defence against it, which helps to explain its virulence.
The "Black Death" seems to have originated in
PROGRESS OF THE PLAGUE
In this year, in Melcombe, in the county of Dorset, a little before the Feast of St. John the Baptist, two ships, one of them from Bristol, came alongside. One of the sailors had brought with him from Gascony the seeds of the terrible pestilence and through him the men of the town of Melcombe were the first in England to be infected. Grey Friars' Chronicle
According to the chronicle of the grey friars at King\'s Lynn , the
plague arrived by ship from
Gascony to Melcombe in Dorset – today
normally referred to as Weymouth – shortly before "the Feast of St.
John The Baptist " on 24 June 1348. Other sources mention different
points of arrival, including
From Weymouth the disease spread rapidly across the south-west. The
first major city to be struck was
During the first half of 1349 the
Black Death spread northwards. A
second front opened up when the plague arrived by ship at the
In order to treat patients infected with the plague, various methods were used including sweating , bloodletting , forced vomiting, and urinating. Within the initial phase of the disease, bloodletting was performed on the same side of where the physical manifestations of the buboes or risings appeared. For instance, if a rising appeared on the right side of the groin the physician would bleed a vein in the ankle on the same side. In the case of sweating , it was achieved with such medicines as Mithridate, Venice-Treacle, Matthiolus, Bezoar-Water, Serpentary Roots and Electuarium de Ovo. Sweating was used when measures were desperate; if a patient had tokens, a severe version of risings, the physician would wrap the naked patient in a blanket drenched in cold water. This measure was only performed while the patient still had natural heat in his system. The desired effect was to make the patient sweat violently and thus purge all corruption from the blood which was caused by the disease.
Another practice was the use of pigeons when treating swellings. Swellings which were white in appearance and deep were unlikely to break and must be anointed with Oil of Lillies or Camomil. Once the swelling rises to a head and is red in appearance and not deep in the flesh, it can be broken with the use of a feather from a young pigeon's tail. The feather's fundament was held to the swelling and would draw out the venom. However, if the swelling dropped and became black in appearance since it had taken in coldness, the physician had to be cautious when drawing the cold from the swelling. If it was too late to prevent, the physician would take the young pigeon, cut her open from breast to back, break her open and apply the pigeon (while still alive) over the cold swelling. The cupping therapy was an alternative method which was heated and then placed over the swellings. Once the sore was broken, the physician would apply Mellilot Plaister with Linimentum Arcei and heal the sore with digence.
Although historical records for England were more extensive than those of any other European country, it is still extremely difficult to establish the death toll with any degree of certainty. Difficulties involve uncertainty about the size of the total population, as described above, but also issues regarding the proportion of the population that died from the plague. Contemporary accounts are often grossly inflated, stating numbers as high as 90%. Modern historians give estimates of death rates ranging from around 25% to over 60% of the total population.
The pioneering work in the field was made by Josiah William Russell in his 1948 British Medieval Population. Russell looked at inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) – taken by the crown to assess the wealth of the greatest landowners after their death – to assess the mortality caused by the Black Death, and from this arrived at an estimate of 23.6% of the entire population. He also looked at episcopal registers for the death toll among the clergy, where the result was between 30–40%. Russell believed the clergy was at particular risk of contagion, and eventually concluded with a low mortality level of only 20%.
Several of Russell's assumptions have been challenged, and the tendency since has been to adjust the assessment upwards. Philip Ziegler , in 1969, estimated the death rate to be at around one third of the population. Jeremy Goldberg , in 1996, believed a number closer to 45% would be more realistic. A 2004 study by Ole Jørgen Benedictow suggests the exceptionally high mortality level of 62.5%. Assuming a population of 6 million, this estimate would correspond to 3,750,000 deaths. Such a high percentage would place England above the average that Benedictow estimates for Western Europe as a whole, of 60%. A death rate at such a high level has not been universally accepted in the historical community.
In 2016, Carenza Lewis reported the results of a new method of assessing the death toll. She argues that pottery before and after the Black Death is datable because there was a change at that time from the high medieval to the late medieval style, and that counts of pottery of each type therefore provide a useful proxy for long term changes in population. She and her colleagues analysed pottery sherds from test pits in over fifty continuously occupied rural settlements in eastern England, and found a decline in the number of pottery producing pits of 45%. Norfolk had the greatest drop of 65%, while there was no drop in 10% of settlements, mostly commercial centres.
Impact Of The Black Death: 1349
Archbishop Zouche of
The ‘Great Mortality’, as it was then known, entered Yorkshire around February 1349 and quickly spread through the diocese. The clergy were on the front line of the disease, bringing comfort to the dying, hearing final confessions and organising burials. This, almost by necessity, put them at a greater risk of infection.
Estimates suggest that the death rate of clergy in some parts of the archdiocese could have been as high as 48%. This is reflected in the Ordination Register, which shows a massive rise in ordained clergy over the period – some being recruited before the arrival of plague in a clerical recruitment drive, but many once plague had arrived, replacing those who had been killed. In 1346, 111 priests and 337 acolytes were recruited. In 1349, 299 priests and 683 acolytes are named, with 166 priests being ordained in one session alone in February 1350.”
Russell trusted the IPMs to give a true picture of the national average, because he assumed death rates to be relatively equal across the social spectrum. This assumption has later been proven wrong, and studies of peasant plague mortality from manor rolls have returned much higher rates. This could be a consequence of the elite's ability to avoid infection by escaping plague-infected areas. It could also result from lower post-infection mortality among those more affluent, due to better access to care and nursing. If so, this would also mean that the mortality rates for the clergy – who were normally better off than the general population – were no higher than the average. ...destructive Death (who seizes young and old alike, sparing no one and reducing rich and poor to the same level) has lamentably snatched from both of us our dearest daughter, (whom we loved best of all, as her virtues demanded). Edward III in a letter to King Alfonso of Castile
The manorial records offer a good opportunity to study the
geographical distribution of the plague. Its effect seems to have been
about the same all over England, though a place like
There seem to have been very few victims of the
Black Death at higher
levels of society. The only member of the royal family who can be
said with any certainty to have died from the
Black Death was in
France at the time of her infection. Edward III's daughter Joan was
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL EFFECTS
Among the most immediate consequences of the Black Death in England was a shortage of farm labour, and a corresponding rise in wages. The medieval world-view was unable to interpret these changes in terms of socio-economic development, and it became common to blame degrading morals instead. The landowning classes saw the rise in wage levels as a sign of social upheaval and insubordination, and reacted with coercion. In 1349, King Edward III passed the Ordinance of Labourers , fixing wages at pre-plague levels. The ordinance was reinforced by Parliament's passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351. The labour laws were enforced with ruthless determination over the following decades. Peasants\' Revolt : rebel leader Wat Tyler is killed on the left, while the young Richard II pacifies the crowd on the right.
These legislative measures proved largely inefficient at regulating
the market, but the government's repressive measures to enforce them
caused public resentment. These conditions were contributing factors
to the Peasants\' Revolt in 1381. The revolt started in Kent and Essex
in late May, and once the rebels reached
It is conspicuous how well the English government handled the crisis of the mid-fourteenth century, without descending into chaos and total collapse in the manner of the Valois government of France. To a large extent this was the accomplishment of administrators such as Treasurer William de Shareshull and Chief Justice William Edington , whose highly competent leadership guided the governance of the nation through the crisis. The plague's greatest effect on the government was probably in the field of war, where no major campaigns were launched in France until 1355.
Another notable consequence of the Black Death was the raising of the real wage of England (due to the shortage of labour as a result of the reduction in population), a trait shared across Western Europe, which in general led to a real wage in 1450 that was unmatched in most countries until the 19th or 20th century. The higher wages for workers combined with sinking prices on grain products led to a problematic economic situation for the gentry . As a result, they started to show an increased interest for offices like justice of the peace , sheriff and member of parliament . The gentry took advantage of their new positions and a more systematic corruption than before spread. A result of this was that the gentry as a group became highly disliked by commoners.
RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL CONSEQUENCES
The omnipresence of death also inspired greater piety in the upper
classes, which can be seen in the fact that three Cambridge colleges
were founded during or shortly after the Black Death. England did not
experience the same trend of roving bands of flagellants , common on
the continent. Neither were there any pogroms against the Jews ,
since the Jews had been expelled by Edward I in 1290. In the long
run, however, the increase in public participation may have served to
challenge the absolute authority of the church hierarchy, and thus
possibly helped pave the way for the
The high rate of mortality among the clergy naturally led to a shortage of priests in many parts of the country. The clergy were seen to have an elevated status among ordinary people and this was partly due to their closeness with God, being his envoys on earth. However, as the church itself had given the cause of the Black Death to be the impropriety of the behaviour of men, the higher death rate among the clergy led the people to lose faith in the Church as an institution − it had proved as ineffectual against the horror of Y. Pestis as every other medieval institution. The corruption within the Catholic priesthood also angered the English people. Many priests abandoned the terrified people. Others sought benefits from the rich families who needed burials. The dissatisfaction led to anti-clericalism and the rise of John Wycliffe , an English priest. His ideas paved a path for the Christian reformation in England. Some people didn't lose their Christian faith, if anything it was renewed; they began to long for a more personal relationship with God − around the time after the Black Death many chantries (private chapels) began to spread in use from not just the nobility, but to among the well to do. This change in the power of the papacy in England is demonstrated by the statutes of Praemunire .
Black Death also affected arts and culture significantly. It was
inevitable that a catastrophe of such proportions would affect some of
the greater building projects, as the amount of available labour fell
sharply. The building of the cathedrals of Ely and Exeter was
temporarily halted in the years immediately following the first
outbreak of the plague. The shortage of labour also helped advance
the transition from the Decorated style of building to the less
elaborate Perpendicular style . The
Black Death may also have
promoted the use of vernacular English, as the number of teachers
proficient in French dwindled. This, in turn, would have contributed
to the late-fourteenth century flowering of English literature,
represented by writers such as
Geoffrey Chaucer and
The Black Death was the first occurrence of the Second Pandemic , which would continue to strike England and the rest of Europe more or less regularly until the eighteenth century. The first serious recurrence in England came in the years 1361−62. We know less about the death rates caused by these later outbreaks, but this so-called pestis secunda may have had a mortality of around 20%. This epidemic was also particularly devastating for the population's ability to recover, since it disproportionately affected infants and young men. This was also the case with the next occurrence, in 1369, where the death rate was around 10−15%.
Over the following decades the plague would return – on a national
or a regional level – at intervals of five to twelve years, with
gradually dwindling death tolls. Then, in the decades from 1430 to
1480, the disease returned in force. An outbreak in 1471 took as much
as 10–15% of the population, while the death rate of the plague of
1479–80 could have been as high as 20%. From this point on
outbreaks became fewer and more manageable. This was to a large extent
the result of conscious efforts by central and local governments –
from the late fifteenth century onwards – to curtail the disease.
By the seventeenth century the Second Pandemic was over. One of its
last occurrences in England was the famous
Great Plague of London
Globalization and disease
Crisis of the Late Middle Ages
Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
* List of
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* v * t * e
* Migration * Causes * Consequences * Persecutions * Notable deaths * In medieval culture * In England
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