The Black Death was responsible for the death of 1.5 million (out of a total estimate of four million) during 1348 to 1350. Medieval England did not have enough medical knowledge to handle the disease. It attacked England on six more occasions after 1350 up until the end of the century.
The ‘Black Death’ is the title of a fatal plague (also known as bubonic plague) that ran wild during the 14th century. It is thought to have been brought over from Asia in 1348 and inflicted more than one outbreak in that century, but its effect on English society was awful.
Until very recently, fleas were believed to be responsible for the disease brought in by rats in towns and cities. The fleas were thought to have injected people with the disease when they bit into them.
Since 2014, forensic scientist and archaeologist evidence gathered from human remains in north London provides the fact that it is not possible fleas were the cause of such a fast spreading infection - it would have had to be carried through the air. Once it entered the lungs of the poor, it then spread amongst the rest of the population by sneezing and coughing. Death came very fast for the more weak victims by the spring of 1349 the plague had managed to kill six out of 10 living in London.
Giovanni Boccaccio lived in Florence during the time of the plague. Below is an extract from his description of the plague, written in 1348.
“This pestilence was so powerful that it spread from the ill to the healthy like fire among dry or oily materials. It was so bad that it could be communicated not only through speaking or associating with the sick, but even by touching their clothing or anything else they had touched. What I must say here is so strange that if I and others had not seen it with our own eyes I would hesitate to believe it, let alone write about it, even if I had heard it from trustworthy people. The pestilence spread so efficiently that, not only did it pass from person to person, but if an animal touched the belongings of some sick or dead person it contracted the pestilence and died of it in a short time.”
Writings indicate that the majority of victims were dead within three to four days. The Black Death spread so suddenly because of the living conditions in cities and towns. Locals were living very close to each other and did not know about contagious diseases. Even after victims had died the disease could still be spread to those handling them as they did not have any protection.
People tried everything to avoid the Black Death - some extreme conditions included whipping themselves in the hope that God would forgive their sins and spare them from the plague.
Society was heavily impacted by the Black Death as so many had died who were responsible for different roles - fields did not get ploughed as men working on them had the disease, there was no manpower for the harvests and animals did not have anyone to look after them.
So for these reasons villages would face starvation as they could not be provided with food from nearby towns and villages. Another consequence was the increase of food prices up to four times, which meant more difficulty for peasants.
Survivors of the plague felt they had escaped it for a reason and that they were special, believing God could have protected them. So they invested in improvements to the way they were living from then on.
The Black Death is seen to have led to the Peasants Revolt, as after the plague outbreak lords gave encouragement to peasants that they should leave the villages they lived in to work for the lords, but when the peasants arrived the lord would not let them return to their homes. This resulted in the peasants finding better opportunities somewhere else, and upsetting the original Feudal System used to keep peasants linked with the land. This movement carried out by the poor was ironically encouraged by lords supposed to be benefitting from the Feudal System.
In 1351, the government brought out the Statute of Labourers to restrain peasants who were wandering around the countryside in search of better wages. It stated that no peasants could receive more wages than those paid in 1346, lords or masters should not offer more wages than the wages paid in 1346, and peasants could not leave the village to which they belonged.
Some peasants did choose to ignore the statute, but most of them knew disobeying it would result in being punished severely. The peasants became very angry, leading to the Peasants Revolt in 1381; so it can be claimed that the Black Death ended up leading to the Peasants Revolt.
See also: Cures for the Black Death
"The Black Death of 1348 to 1350". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.