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Chronicle of the Black Death

1348

Chronicle of the Black Death

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  • Intro

    The catastrophic plague known as the Black Death hit Europe in 1348 and swept through the continent rapidly. It would eventually kill between a third and half of the population. These huge death tolls sparked off a chain of events that would change the position of the peasant in England forever. Because so many had died, there were far fewer people to work the land: peasants were therefore able to demand better conditions and higher wages from their landlords. Many advanced to higher positions in society.

     

    This chronicle, written at the cathedral priory of Rochester between 1314 and 1350, includes a firsthand account of the Black Death, describing the changes in the everyday lives of people across the social scale: ‘there was such a shortage of servants, craftsmen, and workmen, and of agricultural workers and labourers...[that] churchmen, knights and other worthies have been forced to thresh their corn, plough the land and perform every other unskilled task if they are to make their own bread.’

     

    Shelfmark: Cotton Faustina B V

  • Transcript

    Black Death Chronicle

    Extract in present day English:

    A great mortality ... destroyed more than a third of the men, women and children. As a result, there was such a shortage of servants, craftsmen, and workmen, and of agricultural workers and labourers, that a great many lords and people, although well-endowed with goods and possessions, were yet without service and attendance. Alas, this mortality devoured such a multitude of both sexes that no one could be found to carry the bodies of the dead to burial, but men and women carried the bodies of their own little ones to church on their shoulders and threw them into mass graves, from which arose such a stink that it was barely possible for anyone to go past a churchyard.

     

    As remarked above, such a shortage of workers ensued that the humble turned up their noses at employment, and could scarcely be persuaded to serve the eminent unless for triple wages. Instead, because of the doles handed out at funerals, those who once had to work now began to have time for idleness, thieving and other outrages, and thus the poor and servile have been enriched and the rich impoverished. As a result, churchmen, knights and other worthies have been forced to thresh their corn, plough the land and perform every other unskilled task if they are to make their own bread.

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