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Black Death

Medieval life and Times

Black Death
The Medieval Times encompass one of the most exciting periods in the History of England and Europe. One of the most important historical events of the Medieval era is the Black Death.  What were the key dates of this famous historical event? What were the names of the Medieval people who were involved in this historical occasion? Interesting facts and information about the Black Death are detailed below.

Important Facts about the Black Death
Interesting information and important facts and history of the disease:

  • Key Dates relating to the event: This terrible plague started in Europe in 1328 and lasted until 1351 although there were outbreaks for the next sixty years
  • Why was the disease called the Black Death? The disease was called the Black Death because one of the symptoms produced a blackening of the skin around the swellings. or buboes. The buboes were red at first, but later turned a dark purple, or black. When a victim's blood was let the blood that exuded was black, thick and vile smelling with a greenish scum mixed in it. 
  • How the disease was spread: The Black Death was spread by fleas that were carried by rats or other small rodents
  • The spread of the Black Death followed all of the Trade Routes to every country
  • The Black Death of the Middle Ages was believed to have originated in the Gobi Desert
  • Key People relating to the event: Nearly one third of the population of died - about 200 million people in Europe
  • The 1328 outbreak in China caused the population to drop from 125 million to 90 million in just fifty years
  • 7500 victims of the disease were dying every day
  • The Black Death in England raged from 1348-1350
  • Why the Black Death was important to the history of England: The population drop resulted in a higher value being placed on labour - the Peasants Revolt followed in 1381. Farming changed and the wool industry boomed. People became disillusioned with the church and its power and influence went into decline. This ultimately resulted in the English reformation

Black Death Symptoms
The symptoms of the Black Death were terrible and swift:

  • Painful swellings (buboes) of the lymph nodes
  • These swellings, or buboes, would appear in the armpits, legs, neck, or groin
  • A bubo was at first a red color. The bubo then turned a dark purple color, or black
  • Other symptoms of the Black Death included:
    • a very high fever
    • delirium
    • the victim begins to vomit
    • muscular pains
    • bleeding in the lungs
    • mental disorientation
  • The plague also produced in the victim an intense desire to sleep, which, if yielded to, quickly proved fatal
  • A victim would die quickly - victims only lived between 2 -4 days after contracting the deadly disease

Black Death Victims in Medieval Times - Treatments
The Black Death victims in Medieval Times were terrified of the deadly disease. The plague held a massive mortality rate between 30 and 40%. Victims had no idea what had caused the disease. Neither did the physicians in Medieval Times. The most that could be done was that various concoctions of herbs might be administered to relieve the symptoms - there was no known cure. Headaches were relieved by rose, lavender, sage and bay. Sickness or nausea was treated with wormwood, mint, and balm. Lung problems were treated with liquorice and comfrey. Vinegar was used as a cleansing agent as it was believed that it would kill disease. But bloodletting was commonly thought to be one of the best ways to treat the plague. The blood that exuded was black, thick and vile smelling with a greenish scum mixed in it.

  • Black Death Treatment: Black Death was treated by lancing the buboes and applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and garlic. Various other remedies were tried including tobacco, arsenic, lily root and dried toad!

Black Death in England - 1348-1350
The Black Death reached England in 1348. Bristol was an important European port and city in England during the Medieval era. It is widely believed that Bristol was the place where the Black Death first reached England. The plague reached England during the summer months between June and August. The Back Death reached London by 1st November 1348. London was a crowded, bustling city with a population of around 70,000. The sanitation in London was poor and living conditions were filthy. The River Thames brought more ships and infection to London which spread to the rest of England. The crowded, dirty living conditions of the English cities led to the rapid spread of the disease. Church records that the actual deaths in London were approximately 20,000. Between 1348 and 1350, killed about 30 - 40% of the population of England which at the time was estimated to be about five to six million. Many people were thrown into open communal pits. The oldest, youngest and poorest died first. Whole villages and towns in England simply ceased to exist after the Black Death.

Black Death during the Elizabethan Era

The Black Death Victims in Medieval Times - The daughter of the King of England
The Black Death struck people and took its victims from all walks of society. King Edward III (1312 1377) was King of England during the terrible period of the plague. Edward had arranged a marriage for his  favourite daughter Joan Plantagenet. Joan was born in February 1335 in Woodstock. Joan was to marry King Pedro of Castille, the son of Alfonso XI and Maria of Portugal. The marriage was to take place in Castille. Joan (sometimes referred to as Joanna ) left England with the blessing of her parents. The Black Death had not yet taken its hold in England and its first victims had only been claimed in France in August 1348. Joan travelled through France and contracted the deadly disease. She died on 2 Sep 1348 in Bayonne of the Black Death.

The Black Death and Religion
During the Middle Ages it was essential that people were given the last rites and had the chance to confess their sins before they died. The spread of the deadly plague in England was swift and the death rate was almost 50% in isolated populations such as monasteries. There were not enough clergy to offer the last rites or give support and help to the victims. The situation was so bad that Pope Clement VI was forced to grant remission of sins to all who died of the Black Death. Victims were allowed to confess their sins to one another, or "even to a woman". The church could offer no reason for the deadly disease and beliefs were sorely tested. This had such a devastating effect that people started to question religion and such doubts ultimately led to the English reformation.

Consequences and Effects of the Black Death plague
The Consequences and effects of the Black Death plague were far reaching in England:

  • Prices and Wages rose
  • Greater value was placed on labour
  • Farming land was given over to pasturing, which was much less labour-intensive
  • This change in farming led to a boost in the cloth and woollen industry
  • Peasants moved from the country to the towns
  • The Black Death was therefore also responsible for the decline of the Feudal system
  • People became disillusioned with the church and its power and influence went into decline
  • This resulted in the English reformation
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