Black Death

Black Death




The Black Death was a strain of Bubonic Plague that came from Asia eastwards and made it’s way to Europe in 1347, it arrived in England in 1349 it came here carried on a boat probably by Black rats. Or more precisely fleas that lived on the Rats and they would bite humans. It spread with alarming speed. The armpits and groin would produce large agonising swellings or buboes and the victim would start coughing blood, before dying a painful terrorfying death.

Morris Dancing 14th Century
This illustration from the 14th Century shows Morris dancers. Morris dancing is still carried on, especially where rural pubs are located.

In 1302/5 there were a number of years, known as the years without a summer. The crops failed and people nearly starved. The population (Perhaps as many as 4 million, there are no accurate figures) from that point, were living near to starvation, although things improved slightly and progressively got better you had a population that at the time the Black Death struck, was malnourished in the extreme. This only made the death rate worse.
It has been estimated that between a third and a half of the population died. There were in many cases not enough living to bury the dead. In a burial ground purchased through the piety of Sir Walter Manny for the citizens of London. More than 50,000 bodies were said to be interred. That was one site there were many in London. An estimated 60,000 died in Norwich (then a major centre for wool). More than one half of the priests in Yorkshire are known to have died.
14th Cent Coronation
This 14th Century picture shows the Coronation of a king

This had a devastating effect on society. The country was torn with riot and disorder. The first Plague was followed by others milder each time but no less disjointing to society. Landowners and wealthy craftsmen were threatened with ruin, by what seemed the extravagant demands of the labouring poor for higher wages. Wandering ‘landless men’ were for the first time masters of the labour market.
The old feudalism and with it Serfdom, had nearly died out before the Black Death struck.

The Black Death killed Serfdom off completely.


More and more men (and it was mainly men) had started to become copyholders. This meant they had a lease to work land and make a profit from it. Freeholders owned the land they worked, copyholders rented it for a set period from a landlord. The whole of this system suddenly galloped forward.

14th Century Archery butts
Archery was compulsory as a sport, and was to play a decisive role in the 100 years war. basically the battles of Cressey, Poitiers, and most famous of all Agincourt were won due to the English and Welsh longbowmen

Because of the shortage of people, labourers could now earn enough to save. Any marginal farm land was left for grazing only, the best land was used for crops. Because there were less mouths to feed the health of the nation improved. But the amount of wealth in the land stayed nearly the same, it was divided amongst less people. Many widows of farmers, hence landowners, found they were suddenly courted by minor nobles or better class traders, likewise the wealthier Farmers, could move up in society by marrying the widows of nobles who had died.

Indeed the strict divisions that had formally existed between the classes were suddenly blurred, they didn’t disappear, but they were less formal.
As time progressed Labourers who had their wits about them became copyholders and freeholders, copyholders became freeholders, and generally people were better off and better fed than they would be again, until the 18th Century.

14th Century lady & youth
Women were not totally downtrodden, and many financially sound women benefited from the ‘pestilence’. Finding they could move up in society, as they were courted by merchants and nobles alike.

The Background to all this was the Hundred Years war, which had started in 1337 and would last until 1444. Chaucer was to write the Canterbury tales sometime after the peasants revolt, and Wycliffe did the first translation of the Bible into English.
The result of the Black death was the Peasants revolt in June 1381. When Wat Tyler and John Ball led a revolt against a new tax, this was put down but in the end the English people were better off. But at a terrible cost in life.
In his book ‘Domesday’ Michael Wood, estimates the Population of England at the time of the Domesday book (1086) to be about 1.5 million, some other ‘experts’ place a higher figure of between 1.75 and 2 million, however the 2 million is definitely the highest estimate, and most speculative. Due to global warming (yes nothing is new) during the 11th to 13th Century the population of England probably boomed to between 4 million and some estimates suggest the unrealistic 7 million. However 5 million is certainly not too unrealistic, although 4 millions would fit in with later estimates of popualtion in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Black death cut it between 1/3 and 1/2, plus there were further lesser years of ‘Pestilence’, right through the 14th century, reducing it further. The upshot was that by the 16th Century (Henry VIII) the estimate for the population is thought to have risen back to 2.75 million. From then on it then began to rise fairly steadily due to two factors. The improvements in agriculture mean the calorifc value per acre rises, so supporting a higher population, plus trade vastly increases and so in years of shortage the English can afford to import grain to cover any shortfall.
14th Century catching butterflies
Children catching butterflies this is from a 14th century book.

Note this Essay is available through Yahoo Answers, and was posted by me back in 2012.
I have posted it here for use as a resource, and an easy link for myself when posting on Q & A forums mainly Yahoo Answers, I shall fill in further details of references etc as time goes on, and also expand the post, but I am publishing this now, because it still keeps cropping up in Yahoo and other Q & A forums.
Unfortunately I keep having posts marked as spam on some ‘Lesser’ forums, I did one post on ‘Wikia’ Q & A, on Music in the Early Medieval period with references, and links to appropriate sites with examples of modern ‘experts’ in their field, singing Medieval music, it took me over an hour, and was removed as Spam? Numpties.