Bubonic Plague

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When Bubonic Plague visited England in 1348, it was called the Great Mortality. We know it as the Black Death that lasted until 1352 and killed vast populations in Asia , North Africa , Europe , Iceland , and Greenland . In total, it extinguished as much as fifty percent of the world's population.

In England , bubonic plague on average killed at least one-third of all inhabitants between 1348 and 1349. In London alone, one out of two people died during the visitation. The bottom line is that every English man, woman, and child at the time encountered plague in some way, and all feared it.

After 1352, the plague became endemic in England , flaring up routinely and then yearly from 1485 to 1670. Within those two centuries, the plague regularly contributed to dramatic increases in English mortality. English plague tracts and tales came into existence and grew in number: Langland railed against plague -time physicians in Piers Plowman; Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale takes place in plague -time, unlike the other previous accounts of the same story; Hans Holbein--essential painter of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More--died of plague in 1543; Erasmus wrote many letters on his being nearly imprisoned at Oxford while plague raged in London; Spenser used plague as a setting for his "Prosopopoia or Mother Hubbard's Tale"; it is assumed that John Fletcher died from plague in 1625; Jonson lost a son to the plague and immortalized him in poetry. The list is much longer. It was not until well after 1720 with the last great plague in Marseilles that the litany would wane. 1

The fear of plague was inherent in Renaissance English society. At least two periods of extensive mortality occurred on average with each reign of an early monarch. The Black Death is generally related with Europe and the period 1346-1350 but it neither began nor ended then. The earliest records of this pestilence are in China . In 46 AD an epidemic in Mongolia killed two-thirds of the population. In 312 northern and central China became a wasteland and in the province of Shensi , only one or two out of 100 taxpayers survived. In 468, 140,000 inhabitants died in the Chinese cities of Honan , Hopei , Shantung and others.

Plague spreads

During the next 900 years this pestilence traveled gradually all over China and the Middle East though major outbreaks were not frequent. By 1346 it had reached the...

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...selves. New industries arose to meet the demand. English manufacturers created a new, and more lucrative cloth-manufacturing industry based on the power of water mills, rather than cheap labor that was no longer available.

Governments also had to adjust. Land was neglected, rents were not paid, and tax returns declined. This had a severe effect on the war, as the salaries of mercenary soldiers increased while available tax returns decreased by more than 50 percent. 10 The French also suffered from the collapse of the system of free military service as a feudal requirement. There were fewer trained soldiers available and those that were still around wanted a lot more money or merely had better financial prospects doing something else.

As a result of the Plague, the French went over to a system of paid, professional, army, something the English had been doing for a long time. Coming at a time when taxes were lower than before, this led to smaller armies.

The post-Plague world was one with immensely better opportunities for creative and skilled persons. Whereas the Black Death killed off medieval society, it gave birth to the first phase of our own industrialized consumer society.

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