March 21, 2012

Happy Wed. -7 here and sunny. Lovely day. I saw the sun actually “rising” in the east this morning.

I’m nearly done reading an interesting book on the Black Death of 1348-49 that devastated Europe, killing as many as half of the population. It was more deadly in the south, killing 60 to 80 percent of people in some communities, and killing “only” a quarter or a third of the population as it spread further north. The plague originated in Asia and spread by ship to Sicily, then Italy, then France and Spain, then England, and later the Low Countries and Germanic and Nordic areas. The book details the coming of the plague to the small town of Walsham, England, in East Anglia, north of London. It is based on contemporaneous records, but the author combines what we know of the plague from multiple sources and narrates the story using names of people known to have lived in this small English town. The advance of the plague through Europe led to widespread rumors and “news” (there were no newspapers) from travelers. Many people thought it was the end of the world. The only remedy was to pray that God would see their true repentance for sins and avert the disaster.

However, the plague reached England in early summer of 1349 in the southern ports and Bristol, the second largest city in England, quickly spread to London, and gradually made its way north to Walsham. In April and May 1349 the plague killed about half the inhabitants of the town, striking down rich and poor, men and women and children, clergy and artisans and laborers and drunks. Some people had immunity to it, but no one knew how the plague was transmitted (flea bites), and medicine as we know it was practically non-existent. Proper burial of victims became impossible due to their numbers and the fact people were frightened to come in contact with anyone who was afflicted. After the plague dissipated, food and land were plentiful, and workers’ wages rose due to a shortage of labor. The king commanded that everyone be paid the old rates, but landowners quickly learned that they had to pay more to lure workers to their fields to tend the crops. As many people rose in the world from virtual serfdom to participation in a free market, they expected to rise socially as well. This horrified the upper classes, who tried to repress the “common folk.” In 1381 England witnessed the Peasant’s Revolt, one of the most remarkable such uprisings in European history, which is another story. Interesting period.

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