black plague & neurotic gloom: no belief no deny

Skepticism and timorous uncertainty marked the second half of the fourteenth century.The generation that survived the plague could not believe, but did not dare deny. It groped toward the future, with one nervous eye always peering over its shoulder toward the past. It was a kind of neurotic gloom, a state of mind similar to that which permeates contemporary Western society.   What arose from the Black Plague that began in 1346,was, among the survivors, a new skepticism about life and God and human authority. Within three years, every third man, woman and child in Europe was dead….

Pieter Bruegel. The Triumph of Death. "One of the deadliest pandemics the world had ever experienced is the Black Death. This bubonic plague outbreak have started in Central Asia and reached Crimea in 1346. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population, reducing the world’s population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. The plague returned at various times, resulting in a larger number of deaths, until it left Europe in the nineteenth century. Read more:

Boccaccio: “Such was the multitude of corpses brought to the churches every day and almost every hour that there was not enough consecrated ground to give them burial, especially since they wanted to bury each person in the family grave, according to the old custom. Although the cemeteries were full they were forced to dig huge trenches, where they buried the bodies by hundreds. Here they stowed them away like bales in the hold of a ship and covered them with a little earth, until the whole trench was full.” Read More:

Yet the mark of the Black Death was seen not only in the cemeteries. The sharp fall in moral standards, noticed in so many parts of Europe at this period, was nowhere more striking than in London. Criminals flocked into the city, and chroniclers tell of the great increase in lawbreaking. After this period, the city began to enjoy a dubious reputation for wealth and for wickedness.

Froissart. Defeat of the jacquerie. "The Jacquerie was a popular revolt in late medieval Europe that took place in northern France in 1358, during the Hundred Years' War. The revolt centered in the Oise Valley north of Paris. These rebellions were known as the Jacquerie after the peasant revolutionary Guillaume Caillet, popularly known as Jacques Bonhomme ("Simple Jack") or Callet. The revolt was suppressed by French nobles led by Charles the Bad of Navarre." read more:

One third of a continent’s population cannot be so quickly eliminated without considerable dislocation to its economy and social structure. One can expect to find conspicuous changes in the life of the European community immediately following the Black Death. Some traces of the scars will survive into the succeeding decades or even centuries. It is not questioned that the Balack Death did not so much introduce radical changes as vastly accelerate changes already underway. England had already begun to move from the manorial system by which the villein held his land in return for services rendered to a new relationship in which land was rented and services paid for in cash.

The sudden disappearance of so much of the labor force meant that those who already worked for wages were able to demand an increase, while the rest clamored to share in the freemen’s privilege. If the landlord refused, conditions were peculiarly propitious for the villein to slip away and seek a more amenable master elsewhere. Though the genesis of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 may be found far earlier, it was the Black Death that ultimately created the conditions in which rebellion became inevitable.

"During the time of the plague which was also known as Black Death many people believed that the Jews were responsible for this. Jews were accused of poisoning wells and were tortured to confess. This time in Jewish history became known as “the valley of tears.” Many Jews were killed by the plague and more by persecution. During this time more than 350 massacres of Jews were counted. " Read More:

Any account of the Black Death that ignored its impact on the minds of its victims would be notably incomplete. People felt, fairly or unfairly, that the Church had let them down. It had failed to protect its flock, had forfeited its claim to special status. The decades that followed the plague saw not only a decline in the spiritual authority of the Church but also a growth of religious fervor. The second half of the fourteenth century was marked by resentment at the wealth and complacency of the Church and by fundamental questioning of its philosophy and its organization.

In England it was the age of Wycliffe and of Lollardry, a new and provocative anti-clericism. In Italy, it was the Fraticelli, dissident Franciscans who believed that poverty was the essence of Christ. The second half of the fourteenth century was a time of spiritual unrest, of disrespect for established idols and a search for strange gods. In the end the Reformation would have happened anyway, but the tempo would have been slower, opposition more intense, reaction more immoderate.

"Other than the deposition of Richard II, the Peasants' Revolt in 1391 was the greatest historical event to occur while Chaucer was writing the Canterbury Tales. This image, by Jean Froissart, depicts the turning point of the rebellion. William Walworth, mayor of London, strikes down Wat Tyler, who led the rebellion along with John Ball and Jack Straw, in the presence of the young King Richard II. The rioting continued for some time after, but after the sudden loss of their leader and the subsequent dispersal of the main body of peasants, the revolution was essentially finished

ot; Read More:


When the Black Death reached Britain in 1348, the Church had to suddenly explain why its own people were dying, when the plague was supposed to be killing only heretics, infidels, and nonbelievers. The Church was hard pressed to find answers, especially when people began to die quickly, many of whom had not received their last rites and were doomed to spend millennia in purgatory. Priests, fearing they might catch the highly contagious pestilence, would not even perform last rites to the dying.Read More: a

Hans Holbein the Younger. Death and the Count, from The Dance of Death, c.1538 Read More:

Jean Froissart. Peasant Rebellion 1358:Thus they gathered together without any other counsel, and without any armour saving with staves and knives, and so went to the house of a knight dwelling thereby, and brake up his house and slew the knight and the lady and all his children great and small and brent his house. And they then went to another castle, and took the knight thereof and bound him fast to a stake, and then violated his wife and his daughter before his face and then slew the lady and his daughter and all his other children, and then slew the knight by great torment and burnt and beat down the castle. And so they did to divers other castles and good houses; and they multiplied so that they were a six thousand, and ever as they went forward they increased, for such like as they were fell ever to them, so that every gentleman fled from them and took their wives and children with them, and fled ten or twenty leagues off to be in surety, and left their house void and their goods therein. These mischievous people thus assembled without captain or armour robbed, brent and slew all gentlemen that they could lay hands on, and forced and ravished ladies and damosels, and did such shameful deeds that no human creature ought to think on any such, and he that did most mischief was most praised with them and greatest master. I dare not write the horrible deeds that they did to ladies and damosels; among other they slew a knight and after did put him on a broach and roasted him at the fire in the sight of the lady his wife and his children; and after the lady had been enforced and ravished with a ten or twelve, they made her perforce to eat of her husband and after made her to die an evil death and all her children. They made among them a king, one of Clermont in Beauvoisin: they chose him that was the most ungraciousest of all other and they called him king Jaques Goodman, and so thereby they were called companions of the jaquery. They destroyed and brent in the country of Beauvoisin about Corbie, and Amiens and Montdidier more than threescore good houses and strong castles. In like manner these unhappy people were in Brie and Artois, so that all the ladies, knights and squires of that country were fain to fly away to Meaux in Brie, as well the duchess of Normandy and the duchess of Orleans as divers other ladies and damosels, or else they had been violated and after murdered. … Read More:
Daniel Defoe: It was thought that there were not less than 10,000 houses forsaken of the inhabitants in the city and suburbs, including what was in the out-parishes and in Surrey, or the side of the water they called Southwark. This was besides the numbers of lodgers, and of particular persons who were fled out of other families; so that in all it was computed that about 200,000 people were fled and gone.

It was now the beginning of August, and the plague grew very violent and terrible in the place where I lived, and Dr Heath coming to visit me, and finding that I ventured so often out in the streets, earnestly persuaded me to lock myself up and my family, and not to suffer any of us to go out of doors; to keep all our windows fast, shutters and curtains close, and never to open them; but first, to make a very strong smoke in the room where the window or door was to be opened, with rozen and pitch, brimstone or gunpowder and the like; and we did this for some time; but as I had not laid in a store of provision for such a retreat, it was impossible that we could keep within doors entirely.

However, I attempted, though it was so very late, to do something towards it; and first, as I had convenience both for brewing and baking, I went and bought two sacks of meal, and for several weeks, having an oven, we baked all our own bread; also I bought malt, and brewed as much beer as all the casks I had would hold, and which seemed enough to serve my house for five or six weeks; also I laid in a quantity of salt butter and Cheshire cheese; but I had no flesh-meat, and the plague raged so violently among the butchers and slaughter-houses on the other side of our street, where they are known to dwell in great numbers, that it was not advisable so much as to go over the street among them.

It is true people used all possible precaution. When any one bought a joint of meat in the market they would not take it off the butcher’s hand, but took it off the hooks themselves. On the other hand, the butcher would not touch the money, but have it put into a pot full of vinegar, which he kept for that purpose. The buyer carried always small money to make up any odd sum, that they might take no change. They carried bottles of scents and perfumes in their hands, and all the means that could be used were used, but then the poor could not do even these things, and they went at all hazards.

Innumerable dismal stories we heard every day on this very account. Sometimes a man or woman dropped down dead in the very markets, for many people that had the plague upon them knew nothing of it till the inward gangrene had affected their vitals, and they died in a few moments. This caused that many died frequently in that manner in the streets suddenly, without any warning; others perhaps had time to go to the next bulk or stall, or to any door-porch, and just sit down and die, as I have said before.

These objects were so frequent in the streets that when the plague came to be very raging on one side, there was scarce any passing by the streets but that several dead bodies would be lying here and there upon the ground. On the other hand, it is observable that though at first the people would stop as they went along and call to the neighbours to come out on such an occasion, yet afterward no notice was taken of them; but that if at any time we found a corpse lying, go across the way and not come near it; or, if in a narrow lane or passage, go back again and seek some other way to go on the business we were upon; and in those cases the corpse was always left till the officers had notice to come and take them away, or till night, when the bearers attending the dead-cart would take them up and carry them away. Nor did those undaunted creatures who performed these offices fail to search their pockets, and sometimes strip off their clothes if they were well dressed, as sometimes they were, and carry off what they could get.

If I may be allowed to give my opinion, by what I saw with my eyes and heard from other people that were eye-witnesses, I do verily believe the same, viz., that there died at least 100,000 of the plague only,…Read More:


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