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The Pestilence - or - the Black Death

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Victor Cohen

on 16 May 2014

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Transcript of The Pestilence - or - the Black Death

The Pestilence - or - the Black Death
In the mid-14th century, the plague
pandemic - first known as the Great Dying or the Pestilence, and then later as the Black Death - arrived from Central Asia to afflict Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Carried by infected fleas that infested black rats, the plague appeared first in Europe and
the Middle East in ports, than traveled along rivers and roads into towns and cities, progressing finally into rural areas.
During the half-century of plague outbreaks in the 14th century, Europe lost anywhere from 30% to 60% of its total population. In cities, the death toll was higher due to population density.
Though rich and poor alike were affected,
the poor were much more likely to die -
thatched roofs, straw floor and bedding made
great home for rats, unlike stone floors, tile roofs
locked-away food supplies.
Though rich and poor were affected, the poor died more often - their thatched roofs, straw beds and floors were good breeding grounds, unlike the stone floors, tile roofs and secluded houses of the lords.
Social, political effects of this pandemic?

1. Serious labor shortage - much of the workforce has died, creating an increase in wages and standards of living for survivors - and also higher prices for goods (because of higher salaries).

2. Rich became richer - more wealth concentrates
in fewer hands (inherited from dead relatives).

3. "Working class" also stronger - scarcity of labor leads to greater freedom, higher pay - class conflict.

4. Loss of confidence in Church and political authorities - flagellants, pogroms.
These conditions set the stage in England for the Peasant's Rebellion of 1381 - with a little help from the ruling class and a priest.

Specific factors that led to this uprising, the first of
its kind in England?
The Statue of Laborers - 1351

As the pestilence ended, serfs and freemen could demand higher wages for their work, and did. This was both a response to the labor shortage - as well as the increase in the cost of living as a result of higher prices for goods.The Statue set wages at pre-pandemic levels, making it a crime to get or pay increased wages.
John of Gaunt and the Poll Tax - 1377

Edward III, the King of England during both
the Black Death and the 100 yrs war (1337 - 1453)
died, leaving his grandson, Richard II (a 10 year old)
as King. The real power was John of Gaunt, the boy's

To raise money to continue the fight with France -
Gaunt and his advisors instituted a "Poll Tax" - a tax on every adult (14+) - which rose from 4 pennies to 12 pennies by 1380.
The Church had lost considerable popular support
in the wake of the pandemic - and as a major landowner, supported the new taxes.

But not every member of the Church felt the same . . .
John Ball - 1366 - removed from church for
radical views, becomes wandering preacher; imprisoned and then freed again- tours Essex
and Kent - imprisoned again in Maidenstone
In your own words - describe these conditions. Be specific.
1381 - John of Gaunt sees the tax isn't
as profitable as he and his advisors
Thomas Brampton, tax collector
incites a riot attempting to collect
the Poll Tax a second time.

Sir Robert Belknap, a circut court
judge, tries to calm people, but suffers
a similar fate, and a spontaneous uprising
gets underway.
June 7 -
Wat Tyler becomes the leader of the rebellion.
Maidenstone Castle is attacked, and John Ball
is freed.
"From the beginning, all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage and servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who should be free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God in which ye may (if ye will!) cast off the yoke of bondage and recover liberty!"
June 10 - Rebels march on Canterbury, sack the Archibishop's palace.
June 11 - Rebels march to London, breaking into manor houses and destroying records.
June 12 - 30,000 rebels gather together under Wat Tyler outside of London, catching the King and his council by surprise - and with only 500 troops.
June 13 - Rebels demand King's leading advisors be executed - John of Gaunt, Archibishop of Canterbury, Robert Hales, the King's treasurer, and John Legge, the creator of the Poll Tax.
June 14 - The king meets Tyler and the rebels, who make their demands:
1) the end of all feudal services
2) the freedom to buy and sell all goods
3) a pardon for all offences committed during the rebellion.
The king agrees - and passes out charters. Many rebels return home.
Later that afternoon, the Archbishop, Hales, and Legge are caught and executed by the rebels.
June 15 - Tyler and Richard meet again - Tyler makes more demands:
1) the end of tithing
2) the abolition of bishops
3) redistribution of wealth
4) equality before the law
5) freedom to kill animals in the forest

Instead - Tyler is killed by the mayor of London and the rebels are dispersed.
By June 23 - King's charters are revoked, and rebels are hunted down - 2000 killed in Essex and Kent.
John Ball is caught - and drawn and quartered in the presence of Richard III.
Homework: Based on what you know of the medieval era, if you were the king, how would you view peasants after this event? Would you keep the Poll Tax, or discard it? Why, or why not? (Remember - the war with France is nowhere near over yet.)
"After the aforesaid pestilence, many buildings, both large and small, in all cities, towns, and villages had collapsed, and had completely fallen to the ground in the absence of inhabitants. Likewise, many small villages and hamlets were completely deserted; there was not one house left in them, but all those who had lived in them were dead. It is likely that many such hamlets will never again be inhabited."
"The Triumph of Death" - painted in 1562 by Pieter Bruegel
The Pestilence - or the Bubonic Plague - is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis that lives within the gut of the flea. As it reproduces, it fills up the digestive system of the flea, preventing it from ingesting any nutrients. This ravenous flea proceeds to try and eat from its host, but cannot - and instead regurgitates the plague bacteria into the host, which becomes infected - and generally dies within 4 days.
The bubonic plague has been active for a long time - it created a world-wide pandemic in the 6th century known as the "Plague of Justinian," resurfaced in the 14th century as the "Black Plague," and has made periodic appearances ever since. According to the World Health Organization, the most recent outbreak of the bubonic plague occurred in Peru in 2010, though there have been outbreaks around the world almost each year since 2000. The plague has been used as a weapon in biological warfare as well - first with the Mongols in 1347, who launched infected corpses over city walls as part of the siege of a town; during WWII, Japanese armed forces dropped bombs loaded with infected fleas over China.
The actual cause of the bubonic plague was not known until the late 19th century. During the middle ages, people nevertheless had ideas about how to slow the spread of the disease, as well as how to cure it:

Some were religious in nature - Repent, pray, do penance for your sins; punish yourself by whipping - your pain may pay for your sins; carry inscriptions embodying the sacred name of God.
Some solutions seemed based on careful observation of how the disease seemed to spread:

Avoid congested areas; keep strangers from entering the town; burn the clothes, bedding and possessions of the deceased; confine the sick to their own homes; flee, preferably to mountains or other isolated places
Many "cures" were based on the idea that a person needed to have the poison drained from them:

Sear buboes with a red-hot iron; cut open and drain the buboes; draw off impure or excessive blood by bleeding; purge the body with laxatives.
Many preventative measures were based on the idea that the disease was spread through "bad" air, and so called for ways of improving or securing the air around people:

Fill your house with pleasant-smelling flowers, sprinkled with vinegar and rose-water; burn aromatic woods in your house; cover windows with waxed cloth; inhale a "smelling apple" made of spices ad bound together with paste.
Sadly - one solution involved persecuting Jews, who were accused of poisoning wells, even though Jews were dying from the disease like everyone else. Jews were killed en masse in Spain, France, Switzerland and many German cities - in spite of the fact that the Pope condemned these actions, and that many civic leaders - including the King of Spain - sought to protect this community. By 1351 - up to 210 Jewish communities, both large and small, were exterminated - resulting in a vast shift of the European Jewish population to the east - into Poland, whose ruler seems to have been successful in preventing these massacres.
Of course - even eyewitness accounts of these massacres were aware that part of the motivation behind these attacks was financial; Jews, as moneylenders, were owed money by many among the nobility - these debts were canceled and Jewish property divided among the town after these mass executions.
The name "bubonic" plague comes from the characteristic swellings at lymph nodes. The infection would begin with a high fever - 105 degrees - then move into convulsions, vomiting, and the painful swellings, or "buboes," which could grow to the size of an apple. Between 2/3rds and 4/5ths of those infected died; if you caught pneumonic plague - which infected the lungs - death was 100 % guaranteed within hours. It was not until after WWII that an effective treatment - antibiotics - was found.
Clearly - none of these measures were effective - the pestilence was an unstoppable force that had the impact on Europe - and the world - of a nuclear war.
Bruegel's painting is a part of a distinct medieval genre of paintings commonly known as the "Dance of Death," or if you're French, "Dance Macabre." This was an artistic theme attesting to the universality of death, regardless of your station in life.
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