Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords Related Events
1348 -

The Black Death

The Black Death (the plague) ravaged England in the 1340's, reducing its population by at least one third. The effect of the plague on agrarian society was complex, leading to attempts to reimpose feudal rights and contributing to outbreaks of violence, such as the Peasants' Revolt. Eventually, it led to the virtual disappearance of villeinage in England and great prominence of the middle class, marking the end of feudal society.

A pre-condition to the plague was the Great Famine of 1315 - 1316. The famine was caused by too much rain in the autumn of 1314 and a very wet summer of 1315. The seed could not germinate and even if it did the grain later just rotted on the fields. The conditions were very much the same in 1316 and there was also not enough seed corn left. There was also a shortage of salt as the coastal salt pans could not evaporate.

The effects of the famine were an increase in prices and in crime, a raid against the Scots by the foot soldiers in Berwick that was contrary to explicit orders, and even worse conditions for the poor. Noblemen gave far less alms and reduced the size of their households. Not only people but also live stock suffered from malnutrition, and diseases spread so that there was a reduction in wool exports as well.

The first occurrence of the plague in England was in June 1348. It was brought into the country on ships from Gascony, which landed in the West Country. By the autumn of that year the plague had spread to all parts of the kingdom and it took two years to disappear again. However there were new outbreaks in 1360-62, 1369 and 1375.

The plague is now known to have been carried by rats and communicated to humans via black fleas. There were two forms of the plague; bubonic and pneumonic. The bubonic plague features large swellings in the armpits or groin and led to death after about six days. The pneumonic plague was more dangerous, as is could also be transmitted from person to person. It led to death within three days.

It is not possible to give exact figures of death rates but it seems safe to assume that at least one-third of the population was killed by the plague in 1348-50.
History, Middle English Period, Political