10 January 2022

1349

1349 was the year that The Black Death reached Yorkshire. By that time, the deadly plague that had spread around Europe and Asia was progressing via  aerosol infection - human to human - rather like COVID 19. People were dying like flies. There were no vaccination programmes and hardly anybody wore masks. It was thought that the plague was being spread by rats or fleas that lived  on their fur but such theories were redundant for, no matter how it began,  it was now riding on the exhaled breaths of infected people.

The population of England in 1348 was an estimated  4.8 million. Three years later in 1351 it had fallen to 2.6 million  Can you imagine that?  In such a very short time our population had been reduced by half. Families were decimated. Whole towns and villages were emptied. Graveyards were filled to overflowing. Death was everywhere making our current pandemic seem like a walk in the park.  It was the same in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In fact every European country felt  the terrible shadow of The Black Death.

Early in 1349, the population of prosperous Norway was probably 400,000. In the summer of that year, The Great Pestilence was imported from England and it spread like wildfire killing half the population in just two years. Afterwards, it took three hundred years for Norway's population to return to pre-plague levels. In the intervening years, the proud and independent country had become part of the wider Danish empire - subjugated and beholden to the Danish parliament in Copenhagen.

In Yorkshire, priests who sought to comfort grieving families themselves became very susceptible to The Black Death. They died in such numbers that many churches were without presiding priests for years after the pandemic had subsided.

The people who lived or died in 1349 were just like us. They had hopes and dreams and memories. They laughed and they cried. They shivered and they sweated. Try as I might I simply cannot imagine what daily life must have been like as the Christmastime of 1349 approached.  Who would attend the annual feasting and who would be left to even prepare the feasts? Fear must have throbbed in every heart. Maybe folk wondered why God was allowing the slaughter to continue and was he even there at all?

1349... a momentous year. One that should never have been forgotten. I think I will say more about The Black Death tomorrow.  To me at least, it was a fascinating period in our history.

31 comments:

  1. You've got me thinking about what covid would be like if we had no vaccine or other modern health practices. How would covid compare to the black death?

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    1. Who knows? Thank God we do not live in 1349.

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  2. People must have thought it was the end of the world and for many it was. A horrific disease. The only kind of disease that comes close to the kind of death rates that happened back then, are the hemorrhagic fevers, like ebola, that exist today.

    It's a strange time to be alive.

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    1. I wonder why I heard nothing about The Black Death in school history lessons.

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    2. Really? You didn't study it in school? We learned about the Black Death in our history classes. (And in literature too, where appropriate -- as in Daniel Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year.")

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  3. Was The Black Plague only one year? I think about it every time I think about Covid sweeping the earth.

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  4. Sorry, I re-read and see it was three years.

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    1. I chose 1349 as it was the year in which The Black Death really took hold.

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  5. When I think about the fear stirred up by covid, I know it must have been exponentially more for those poor people with no scientific understanding and no assistance.
    And what about the practical issues? who was left to bury the dead, grow the food, bake the bread etc etc. People then surely had more skills for looking after themselves than we do in these times where everything comes from a supermarket but skills can only solve so many problems.
    The people who survived must have thought they were bulletproof!

    I look forward to your next installment

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    1. Your speculations are similar to mine.

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  6. It certainly was earth-shattering. And just like today, people were looking for explanations. They were not accusing Bill Gates of wanting to implant a microchip in everybody with the vaccine, but their theories were just as wild and absurd.
    In hindsight, it is amazing that our species has survived the Black Death and not been completely wiped out. As you say, it took some places a long time to get back to pre-plague population numbers. But oh, how we have made up for that since!

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    1. As I say - in 1348, the population of England was about 4.8 million. Now it is something like 58 million. I think that Germany was especially hard hit by The Black Death.

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  7. Without 'This is the BBC London calling', I wonder how much people knew about the virus in advance? I suspect nothing for most. Suddenly people were dying and no one knew why. I had not heard the death figures before. Remarkable.

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    1. Some would have thought that God was punishing them for their sins.

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  8. Fascinating but horrific.

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    1. Sounds like Boris Johnson's campaign slogan.

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  9. The Spanish flu death rate was far worse. Even these figures people don't agree on the death statistics saying it could be between 25 and 100 million.

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    1. I beg to differ Dave. In 1991 it was estimated that 25 to 39 million people died from the so-called Spanish flu but this was WORLDWIDE. At the height of The Black Death 25 million died in Europe alone and they continued to die in outbreaks that continued for the next three hundred years. WORLDWIDE it is estimated that up to 200 million died from The Black Death.

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  10. It must have been very frightening -they didn't have the scientific knowledge back then and no idea of how to halt it or cure it

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  11. Few people could read or write in 1349, so there would not be the wealth of personal information we would see today. Official documentation would be supplied by those who had some form of education, the Clergy being those nearest to the people, and would be limited to births, deaths and marriages in the Church register.
    I studied Social and Economic History at GCE A Level, but can't recall learning much about the Black Death either. Mostly it was about the devastating effect it had on decimating populations throughout the then known world.
    One thing is certain - for future historians there will be no shortage of even the most trivial information about our lives in the time of Covd-19! Will they shake their heads in amazement at the supermarket battles over toilet paper - then search to find out what the heck it is!

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    1. Perhaps in the future, people will not need to wipe their bottoms.

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  12. The numbers are staggering. Probably the stupidest comment I've heard about the current pandemic was this: "only" 5 million people have died of the covid world wide. 500 million died during the Spanish flu pandemic, trying to minimize the dangers of covid. You can stop them dead in their tracks by simply saying, "You DO understand that in 1917, antibiotics had not yet been discovered." The 1300s had so little scientific understanding that the death toll is shocking but not surprising. It really does shock me that people are so willing to reject science and return to the thinking of the dark ages.

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    1. Nowhere near 500 million died from the so-called Spanish flu. Even 40 million would, I believe, represent an over-estimate. America is creeping to a figure of a million deaths from COVID - currently 861,366 - similar to the entire population of San Francisco.

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    2. I am sorry. An extra 0 hopped in there.

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  13. Impossible to imagine.

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    1. I guess you are right but we can ponder.

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  14. Just last night my oldest presented me with her presentation on this very subject which she will be presenting today in school. I was amazed at how little I knew about the subject and the devastation it left behind.

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  15. National Geographic Magazine had an excellent issue that discussed and compared all the major pandemics throughout history, including more than one outbreak of the Black Plague. I've always thought it was a fascinating subject. In a similar vein (touching on far more than just plagues), you might be interested in the book The End is Always Near by Dan Carlin.

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  16. I'm thinking that if (when?) our hospitals are overrun that it may become a bit like the Black Plague. I read a fiction book about the time and it was sobering. Geraldine Brooks was the author; I can't remember the title.

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